August #AuthorTip: Define Your Own Success

Last but not least, a tip for preserving your inner happy:

The secret to being successful and happy is to define what “success” and “happiness” mean to you and not let anyone tell you otherwise.

True, most authors have big dreams of becoming a #1 NYT Bestseller and everything that comes with it: fame, interviews, movie deals, merchandise lines… but there are a few whose aims are somewhat humbler. For some, getting that publishing deal at all is the ultimate achievement. For others, just finishing that darn book they’ve been working on for the last 30 years would be the biggest success. Some authors are writing family histories just for their relatives, to share stories of generations past. Others might just be looking to keep all the bedtime stories they tell their kids in one volume, illustrated by their children. And then there are authors who just want to know that someone out there is reading their work and storing it carefully on a shelf with their most beloved volumes.

Maybe the best way to measure success is in steps. Set achievable goals, and when you reach them, set your aim on the next step up. But realize that none of those achievements will mean a thing in the long run if you sacrifice too much to achieve them. Always keep sight of what’s truly important in life, because chances are it’s not going to be that “New York Times Bestselling Author” tagline on the cover of your book.

This concludes my #AuthorTip series (for now). I sincerely hope you enjoyed these posts and found them helpful.

I have been asked why I don’t have a Donate button on this blog. The reasons are both logistical and personal. But if you still want to show your appreciation, the most welcome way would be with a purchase of one or more of my books. I have quite a few of them to choose from, in several genres. You can read more about them on my author website:

Thanks for your support! <3

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August #AuthorTip: Treat Yourself

Continuing this post series with a tip for celebrating your achievements:

The best thing ever for a writer is to see their book on a bookshelf–whether it’s their own at home or in a bookstore. But a lot of witers don’t publish their books in print. It can be expensive and/or time-consuming to set up a print book and they’re likely not going to sell very well because eBooks are more affordable for readers.

So how do you mark the glorious occasion of a release day if you don’t have a “trophy” to hold up?

Some people get their book covers blown up to poster size and framed. Other people do magnets, or scrapbooks. Some shrink the covers down into charms for a bracelet. Sensing a theme here? The idea is have something specific to the book and personal to you to commemorate its birth, and the best way to do that is by utilizing the most easily identifiable part of it: the cover.

My trick was to print cover flats. I would create a faux back cover with the blurb, my website URL, and maybe thumbnails of the other books in the series (if applicable). I would order 4×6″ color postcards from GotPrint with the cover on one side and the faux back cover on the other. This served two purposes:

  1. I now had something to add to my collection, which I could keep neatly contained in a simple photo album
  2. I now had something to give out when people asked about my latest release

Of course, I eventually had to go one step farther and make a custom album:

Since most of my books are now out in print and neatly filling my bookshelves, you’d think the album had become redundant. But actually, it’s become a neat trip down memory lane. It has preserved all the old covers my books used to have before I updated them. Good times…

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August #AuthorTip: Practice Balance

Continuing this post series with a tip for not going broke–financially, emotionally, and socially:

Practice balance–in your finances and in your life.

The first rule of business is that you need to spend money to make money. Well, that may be true, but you can still be smart about where you invest it. Budget yourself and don’t spend more than you can afford. Set aside some portion of your royalties for marketing expenses, and some for necessary ones like editing and cover design. You don’t have to spend a lot to put out a beautiful book, and you don’t have to spend a lot to promote it. Look for free or low cost options online, and skip the print media (those are usually much more expensive and don’t give you nearly as much reach as the Internet).

Likewise, balance your time between your writing job and life in general. Spend time with your family, go out with your friends, take a day or two just for yourself. Get plenty of sleep, and don’t skip meals. Don’t let your passion become your jailer. It’s too easy to get swept up in all the things that you need to or want to do around your books (and believe me, the list is never ending…) and if you let it, it’ll consume your mind, body, and soul. Yes, we all “write” all the time, even if it’s just thinking about that new story we’re working on, or a new marketing technique we want to try out, but you need to be able to switch off every once in a while. Writing is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s not worth your health, your family, or your relationships.

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August #AuthorTip: Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Continuing this post series with a versatile tip:

Don’t quit your day job–

–unless you have the funds or passive income to keep you in the lifestyle you’re used to while you write full time.

The hard truth is that writing/publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. In fact, there is no guarantee that your books will make any money at all, let alone enough to live on. If you don’t have enough savings to carry you through the dry spells or another source of income to pay the bills, don’t risk everything you have on a full-time writing career. You can still write while you hold down a job–most authors do. It’s harder, but it’s doable.

But aside from financial considerations, having a full- or part time job has other advantages, too. It gets you out of the house so you see sunshine, get out of your head, rewire your brain to something else for a little while. You meet people (a hard thing to do if you write from home full time) and have a unique opportunity to introduce them to your books. Will all of them be supportive or even interested? No. But if there is even one or two who decide to check out your books, it’s one or two more readers than you would have had otherwise. And if they like what they read, they are more likely to help spread the word because they work with a published author!

The people with whom you spend the most time are your most likely promoters. That means family, friends, and coworkers. Don’t underestimate the power of a captive 9-5 audience. 😉

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August #AuthorTip: Avoid Harmful Comparisons

Continuing this post series with a tip for not letting other authors’ successes destroy your confidence:

Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes with someone else’s highlight reel. Learn and embrace your writing cycle.

A lot of times, you might see authors posting truly impressive word count updates and feel like you’re dragging your feet. Or you might see someone publishing four titles a year while you’re struggling to put out one. The thing is, you rarely see someone’s struggle online–we tend to keep that bottled up pretty well and only post our triumphs. It’s both a boost for us and a way to make it look easy. We want to make ourselves look good. Like we know what we’re doing… ’cause we totally do! No, seriously. 😉

But you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Could be those four books had been written over the last ten years. Could be someone writes 20,000 words in a week and then doesn’t turn on the computer for the next month. Everyone writes at their own pace, and that works for them. Rather than try to emulate them, learn what works for you, and embrace it.

Do you write a little every single day? Great! Keep at it. Do you write in massive bursts for weeks and then need a month or so off to recharge (like I do)? That works, too. Do you word-vomit the first draft in record speed and then go back to flesh it out over ten months and fifty drafts? Go for it. Do you prefer to write cleaner first drafts to see the story take shape on the page as you go? You do your thing!

The point is, whatever gets you from Chapter 1 to The End is what you need to be doing. There’s no universal formula to make you write faster or better, you just have to sit down and do it, and not let other people’s achievements undermine your own. Don’t compare, don’t envy, don’t emulate… just write.

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August #AuthorTip: Protect Your Health

Continuing this post series with a tip for staying healthy:

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that writing can be hazardous to your health. It’s long hours of staring at a computer screen, typing away on your keyboard, writing in notebooks, or tapping on your mobile device. It’s a constant seesaw between imagining fictitious worlds and characters, and tedious practical planning and budgeting. You sacrifice your social life, your evenings, nights, and weekends.

But one thing you should not sacrifice is your health and well-being. Make sure your office setup is conducive to long hours of computer work. Invest in a good ergonomic keyboard, buy glasses that filter blue light so you don’t get eye strain. Take breaks to stretch your legs, drink plenty of water, and don’t skip meals. Get plenty of rest and exercise when you can, preferably outside in the fresh air.

Take the same careful care of your mental and emotional health. Don’t stress yourself over things you can’t control. Make backup plans so you don’t get caught off guard. Take time off to decompress and take your mind off things. Build a support system of friends and loved ones you can talk to about book stuff and life stuff–people who will drag you out of your hermit cave on occasion and among the living.

In short: don’t forget there is life outside of the one you’re writing about. 🙂

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August #AuthorTip: Coping with Bad Reviews

Continuing this post series with a tip for preserving your cool, publicly and internally:

You will never be able to please everyone and that’s okay. That’s life, and it’s all good. But be aware that, as a result, bad reviews will happen. It’s just a fact of writer life. You might even get terrible, rude, totally insulting reviews that have less to do with the book and more to do with the reviewer’s mood. Coming to terms with this now will make life much easier going forward.

Tips on how to handle bad reviews:

1. Have a private cry and share with your friends in private for emotional support
2. Read good reviews and feedback to offset the bad and remember how awesome you still are
3. Try to find something constructive in the review and use it to improve with the next book
4. if the review is abusive, report it through proper channels to the website where it was posted
5. Let it go, forget about it, and move on to preserve your own health and sanity

What you should NOT do, under ANY circumstance:

1. Rant/whine/complain about it online (including social media and your own website) where it will definitely affect your public image and business relationships
2. Argue with, attack, or slander the reviewer either directly or indirectly (this is childish, and just plain bad business)
3. In any way encourage your friends/readers/followers to argue with, attack, or slander the reviewer (this is bullying–don’t be that person)

Remember: Only you can prevent Facebook drama. Be the bigger person.

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August #AuthorTip: Maintain Your Zen

Continuing this post series with a tip for overworked, I-can-do-it-all Indies (like me):

Don’t lose sight of why you do what you do.

You’re a writer. That’s your thing. You may be a lot of other things besides that (cover designer, publisher, marketer, public figure, etc.) but when you write, you’re a writer, and that’s what matters most. Not the fame, not the paycheck, not author appearances, panel discussions, book signings, interviews, or any of that crap. What matters is what you put on paper: your stories.

Whenever I lose sight of that, whenever my focus shifts to all the things I can’t do and haven’t accomplished, it depresses the hell out of me for about 10 minutes. That’s how much time I allow myself to dwell on that crappy thing that happened, or the great thing I expected that didn’t happen. After that, I look at where I am, how far I’ve come, what I’ve accomplished. I look at a bookshelf of my printed books–physical proof of decades of hard work–and it makes me smile. Because I did that. There are thousands of printed pages on that shelf, and they’re all mine.

I can’t control how others take to what I write, or to me as the author, but I can sure as hell control what I write, and how I spend my time and energy. And in the end, that’s what it all comes down to. I can choose to complain about what isn’t, or celebrate what is. And I’ve always been a rather happy-go-lucky kind of person.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Learn from mistakes or failures, and then move on.

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August #AuthorTip: Self-Confidence and Humility

Continuing this post series with a tip for trusting yourself and your book:

Don’t look to others for validation. You can never please everyone, and trying will only make you miserable.

It’s no secret that you need pretty thick skin in this business. Critics lurk in every corner of the world, including right at home. And “haters” will go out of their way to make you feel like complete and utter shit, sometimes under the pretense of “helping you.”

Here’s the thing. No one starts out a best seller. You have to write a million words before what you put on paper starts to resemble an enjoyable book. You are always learning, and growing and the feedback won’t always be glowing praise. But there’s a huge difference between constructive criticism, which points out issues and suggests ways to fix it, and just plain hateful critique that just breaks you down to make the other person feel better.

You have to learn to accept the former with humility and grace and look at the comments objectively. It’s not personal, it’s an opportunity to learn–because we are all constantly learning and looking for ways to do just a little better than last time. It’s part of the journey and if you reject it, the only person you’re cheating is yourself. Your readers won’t put in the effort into reading your books if they see you’re not willing to put in the effort to write them as best as you can.

The latter, you’re under no obligation to listen to, whether it comes from your mom, a well-known author, or your best friend. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt, especially if it comes from someone whose opinion you deeply value. When there’s a strong emotional connection, it can be difficult to separate a personal opinion from constructive feedback.

And we’re talking about your book baby here; there will always be a strong emotional response to anything anyone says. So how can you tell if the feedback is constructive or just plain cruel? It helps to distance yourself, take a breather and take an objective look at what they said. Is there anything in their feedback that you can use to improve the story? If so, swallow your pride do it. If not, let it go and move on.

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August #AuthorTip: Remember Your Origin Story

Continuing this post series with a tip for staying grounded:

Never forget where you came from and how hard you had to work to get where you are now. Your toils are your badge of honor–they prove what you’re capable of and that any new obstacle can be overcome. But don’t mistake confidence with arrogance. Your achievements don’t give you the right to put down others. If anything, they give you the responsibility to help raise them up.

If you see someone struggling, offer to help them along. If someone asks for guidance or advice, give it. That doesn’t mean you go around randomly pointing out mistakes people have made (seriously, don’t be that person, it only makes you look like an idiot). It means making yourself available to those who can benefit from your years of experience if they need it and ask for it.

Your success was likely a complex formula of your own perseverance and the help of any number of other people. Honor their contribution by paying it forward and helping another fledgling writer find his/her wings.

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