How I’m Reigniting My Creative Spark During the Time of COVID

What has it been like to launch a post-apocalyptic book that takes place following a period of economic collapse and mysterious pandemic during an actual economic downward tailspin, series of stay at home orders, and side of civil unrest to boot? Well, let me be the first to tell you it’s been as rewarding as you would expect it to be.

In short, my book launch flopped.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for you to send me a slew of sympathy notes. It’s okay. If you are reading these words, I already assume you are an empathetic soul who appreciates the arts or at least a supportive friend. Also, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected this outcome. I made my peace with it before I hit the publish button.

Lies and LegacyI could have waited for market conditions to improve. That’s what a number of traditional publishers have done. I didn’t, though, because who knows when that time will be and the series had already gone on long enough between volumes. I decided, if nothing else, I owed the readers who’d kindly given me a chance, closure. I owed myself closure too.

However, what I didn’t expect was the absolute loss of my creative spark following this decision. I’d written before that Lies & Legacy was the book that almost broke me. In the weeks following its publication, I found myself wondering if perhaps there was no ‘almost’ about it.

I’ve been seriously considering giving up the dream of achieving literary success to free up my time to focus more on my commercial non-fiction writing. It would be the sensible thing to do. Not only does my non-fiction efforts pay more reliably (and better), but it is also exponentially less stressful to produce. There is no lying awake dwelling on a one-star review or agonizing over how to address a stubborn plot hole. However, between you and me, it is not nearly as satisfying.

I found I couldn’t do it.

Still, it is one thing to say you eventually want to return to writing novels. You have to have the overwhelming determination and desire to create in you too, and mine was gone—just gone—and there was no telling when it might come back. And so, instead of writing, I spent the first half of the year doing what so many other people have done during this time. I baked (I now make a great soft pretzel). I gardened (I recently harvested my first potato). I pretended I was okay with everything when I was in front of my kids. I randomly burst into tears at the slightest provocation when I wasn’t. I did what I thought I had to do.

However, I realized one day, if I didn’t force myself back into the chair, then I might as well admit giving up the dream was no longer my choice to make. I could no longer wait for inspiration to strike—it was clearly practicing safe social distancing. Instead, if I wanted to return to fiction, I had to reignite my creative spark myself.

I returned to the basics. I cracked open one of the first craft books I’d ever purchased: the 90-day Novel (affiliate link) and followed instructions. I wrote for five minutes that first day. Five minutes was enough. I did it again the second day and the day after that. I was on a roll. Until I wasn’t. Days went by. However, a funny thing happened during this time. I wasn’t writing, but I’d planted a seed and it seemed the smallest fragment of a story had taken root in my brain.

I tried again—much to my other half’s chagrin as he’d rather enjoyed me not waking up with the sun for a pre-dawn writing sprint. Before I knew it, I had 1000 words on the page. Then 2000.

I now have over 20,000 words on the page of my latest WIP, and the start of a brand new series, which, one day in a not too distant and brighter future, I hope to share with you. It’s far from a steady blaze, but my creative spark is once again breaking up the night, and for the first time, in a long time, the dream doesn’t seem nearly as far away.

How am I reigniting my creative spark?

Simple—one word at a time.

Lies and Legacy is go for launch

I’ve hummed the refrain from It’s My Party by Lesley Gore more than once over the last few days. You see, I had every reason to celebrate this week. After seven years of work and over a quarter-million words, I’d finally added the phrase ‘The End,’ to my science fiction trilogy, Project Gene Assist.

Unfortunately, the universe has a funny sense of humor. My series, which, I repeat, germinated in my brain seven years ago, set before and after a perfect storm of abusive technology, economic collapse, and a mysterious illness. The first book is the events leading up to the panic and societal upheaval, the second and third take place in the aftermath.

It was supposed to be thought-provoking, cautionary, and/or escapism.

It was supposed to be set in the future.

Most importantly, it was supposed to be fiction.

My book’s launch was supposed to include a number of things like:

Lies and Legacy

  • Signed paperback copies: sadly, orders of non-essential products that weren’t currently on the shelves have been delayed by major retail outlets. By all means, please order a paperback if interested—just understand it just might not reach you for a few weeks.
  • Light hors d’oeuvres & finger foods: bread and flour are in short supply around here, but that’s not the worst of all. According to my co-workers, there’s even been a run on dinosaur-shaped frozen chicken nuggets in some places.
  • A full house of close friends: if groups weren’t already limited, my current paper product inventory would have required me to ask guests to bring their own roll of toilet paper as an entrance fee.
  • More than one glass of wine: okay, this is still part of the plan—it’s just now happens to be a major part of the plan and the reason hosting a Facebook live event is unlikely to be the best idea for me this week.

So, yeah, the timing stinks. However, while it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to (but I’ll try not to because there are a lot of people out there suffering more than me), I’m going to launch this book and celebrate its release anyway. In fact, I’m making an even more conscious effort during these times to celebrate all my daily wins—big and small.

Other notable wins:

  • Maybe it’s the quarantine/social-distance enforced cooking or maybe it’s the six months of dedicated meal tracking & step counting using the Noom app (affiliate link) but I’ve officially lost all the weight I put on bringing my non-book babies to life.
  • The local paper interviewed me about life as a reluctant homeschool mom & remote full-time worker (my advice to other parents: let things go—like housework or expectations that your kids will quietly sit in the background looking charming and well-behaved while your world is being filmed for strangers to see) – https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article241329721.html
  • I KNOW what my kids did all day at school instead of just hearing a grunt or ‘I forget,’ when asked, and have been enjoying a lively discussion of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (affiliate link) with my 8yo.
  • My kids actually WANT to go back to school (though tell me they are glad I’ve been home with them).
  • I’ve gotten most of my garden planted

Speaking of gardening, the leaves on the trees are budding, which reminds me that just like winter gives way to spring, this time too will someday become a distant memory. While that day can’t get here soon enough, at least I can take some small comfort knowing I controlled what I could. I did my best. I released a book.

You can order Lies & Legacy or start at the beginning with The Fair & Foul

 

 

5 Reasons Your Book Takes Forever (and a Day) to Launch

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — writing the book is the easy part. For the past several weeks I have been practically chained to my desk getting Lies & Legacy ready for its big debut. Why does it take so long to publish a book after announcing the manuscript is done? I’m glad you asked.

If you are going to market via the traditional, or in some cases, the small press route, this is because the publishing house only wants to release a certain number of books at any given time so as not to compete against themselves. It’s an understandable concern, but frustrating from both the reader’s and the author’s perspective who are eager to get their hands on the book.

If you are publishing independently, it’s because of the following reasons:

1. Title Setup Forms

To independently sell a book, in a bookshop or online, it needs to first be setup in a retailer’s database. This means there are forms. So many forms. You have to register your book’s ISBN, which is an identification number used in the US and other markets by booksellers to ensure that books with the same title or author name don’t get mixed up on orders.

Then there are retail setup forms that need to be to filled out. If you are feeling masochistic ambitious, you can set up your book on each of the retail platforms individually. WideWizard is a browser extension that can help speed up this process. However, a distributor like Draft2Digital (affiliate link) will do this for you (but some take a portion of your sales, so there’s that).

2. Author Proofs

If you’re only interested in publishing an ebook, you can skip this step. However, if you are like me and want an actual physical book to gaze at lovingly, place on display like a trophy for all the world to see, or simply read, there’s the proof stage.

Technically, you can approve a book on Amazon or IngramSpark without ever actually laying your hands on a physical page, but I don’t particularly recommend it. I’ve learned the hard way that gremlins delight in sneaking in last-minute typos — the type you can’t catch in electronic format, no matter how many times you run your manuscript through editing software.

Unfortunately, this means you have to wait for your book to be printed, bound, packaged, and shipped to your door before you can move on to the next step. That said, there is something magical about receiving that first proof copy — even if it is has a big banner on the cover making it clear the book is ‘not for resale’ or if it does contain more than a few errors.

3. Revisions

As I mentioned, there are gremlins in publishing. I’ve received proofs with my name cut off on the spine, page numbers missing, length too tall, and random blank pages inserted in the middle seemingly with no sense of rhyme or reason. Seriously, NEVER publish a book without requesting a physical proof.

This means your files will require a round of revision. You’ll have to update your files and make sure that this time you REALLY take the time to visually inspect each and every single page (all 300+ of them, in my case). I don’t care how sick you are of reading your own story. DO IT.

4. Buzz Building

Superfans are awesome. Superfans count down the minute to your launch. They add your launch date to their calendars in permanent ink and put in a request to take the day after your launch off of work if only so they can stay up all night reading. Unfortunately, most people aren’t superfans — no matter how much they say they love your work.

excerpt of Lies and LegacyYou have to build excitement while reminding people you have a book coming out. There are a number of ways to do this: post repeatedly on Facebook (but not too much or you can get yourself reported as spam. You can hop around other people’s blogs or post sneak previews on your own. (Psst – You can see an excerpt of Lies & Legacy on mine).

You can pay to get featured in a newsletter or negotiate a swap. You can also signup with a service like BookSweeps.com to be a part of a giveaway. Just note, you often have to schedule these at least six weeks in advance.

5. Reviews

While there’s no one way to launch a book, you’ll have the most success if you have reviews to go with it, as apparently few people (outside of the superfans) enjoy being the first to give your book a try. But it’s getting harder and harder every day to ensure your book has reviews when it is time to go live.

Amazon will flag reviews it deems as coming from a potentially biased connection. Sure, occasionally a real-life friend or acquaintance’s review will still get past Amazon’s quality checks, but I know of reviews being reduced to digital ether simply because the review came from an author’s Facebook page follower.

I’ve reached out to known book bloggers in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, offering an advance copy in the hopes they might provide an honest review. However, they are under no obligation to do so and there is always the risk Amazon won’t accept the review, which is why they also are free to post it when and wherever they want. It’s totally up to them.

This is why I have also started using BookSprout.co to handle my advance review requests. It takes me out of the equation. (It also has a sales report and keyword research tool if you are interested).

All I had to do was give them my ebook files and links where I’d like to see reviews posted. They take care of all the rest.

I worried about pirates the first time I used them, but the site seems to police itself. I also worried about the quality of the reviews, but all I’ve thus far received have been thoughtful and well-written.

By the way, if you want to give them a try as a reader, I should mention there are a handful of advanced review copies of Lies & Legacy still available.

T-minus next to only a few more days to go.

Lies & Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book 3 launches March 26, 2020

The Book That Almost Broke Me

I did it.

I wrote another book.

Ok, in fairness, I wrote another manuscript. The book part will be a few weeks longer yet as it still needs to go through early reads, professional edits, and formatting. But I wrote another book. (Update – the book is done and scheduled for launch on March 26, 2020)

So what, you might be saying. You’re a writer — a novelist — that’s what you’re supposed to do. I thought so too until I tried to write this one.

However, this time was different from the rest.

Perhaps it was the fact that it is the final book in my science fiction trilogy. It was as if my characters refused to share their story with me, knowing it likely was their last.

Perhaps it was the new house or the new job. Maybe my brain needed its old combination of background and routine to get into its groove.

Perhaps it was my family. The kids are getting older now. I am unfortunately finding they aren’t as willing to go to bed before the sun completely sets, just because their mom needs to hit her daily word count. Nor have our weekend become any less full.

Perhaps it was simply me.

amuse yourself with more writer problem memes at https://writerblueprint.com/writing-memes/

I should have finished this manuscript in February. That was my intent. I would take a break from the blog for the holidays and focus, instead, entirely on it. When February passed, I said, eh, it’s a short month anyway, I’m not that far behind.

Weeks stretched into months and still the most glorious words in the writer’s language, ‘the end’ continued to elude me.

I wrote during this time. Don’t get me wrong, but it was a steaming pile of word turd mixed with verbal vomit left behind to fill a blank page and little more. Thanks for that imagery, you might be thinking. Just be glad you weren’t the one expected to clean it up.

This is all to say, I might be late, but I’m still here.

I set a goal — I missed it — but I didn’t let a self-imposed deadline stop me.

Instead, I found a way to finish what I started.

I wrote a book.


Update: Lies & Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book Three is available for pre-order at books2read.com/u/bMpYAv

Project Gene Assist Series Banner

Getting Started: Writer Problems Edition

Why do so many people who talk about one day writing a book fail?

Because finding those first words to mark on an otherwise empty page is a thousand times tougher to do when you decide this time you are going to start getting serious. Instead of writing anything, you simply sit there, staring at a white screen or a blank sheet of paper until you either get too frustrated, bored or otherwise called away by the real world. It can be brutal.

It’s not quite as hard as it is to stick with a novel weeks and weeks later when you’ve reached that saggy center typically devoted to world building, supporting character development or introducing the occasional red herrings, and all you want to do is move on to the next big idea, but pretty darn close.

But back to the empty page.

One of the reasons it is so difficult to get started is that many writers, myself included, feel pressure to shine with the very first line. There are a hundred, gazillion articles and pieces of advice out there (that’s likely an underestimate) on what you should do or not do when opening your story.

Don’t start with your character waking from a dream.

Do start with a flashy first hook of a line that will make the reader want to continue.

Failure to follow these rules, or open your story right will cost you, readers. credibility, sales. The love and respect of your family (who you suspect secretly wish you’d abandon this whole writing for a living dream and focus your effort on something more realistic – like getting the kids to school on time or paying bills). So, there’s no pressure to get it right or anything.

It took me a couple of tries, but eventually, I figured out a trick for getting over this fear –

Write the ABCs. Write your grocery list. Write absolute garbage. Just write something. I’ve found that words are like guests at a party. No one wants to be the first on a dance floor, but once one or two are out there and appear not to have a care in the world, the rest will follow.

That being said, I am now faced with an entirely new and unexpected writer problem.

You see, one of the benefits of my nice shiny new home is the fact I now have my own dedicated office where I can do all sorts of writerly things rather than force-fitting a forty to sixty-hour working week into a two-foot by two-foot square, partitioned from a larger room. The drawback is I haven’t had a clue what to do with all this extra space. It’s like the blank page staring at me, and I’m having a difficult time knowing where to get started.

The desk my other half so painstakingly made for me was built into the walls of our last place. Meaning, I am working with a relatively blank slate at the moment as far as furnishing goes. More specifically, I’m working off a card table.

Oh, and the zero key is still missing. Yes, its nothing but the best for me.

Logically, I know I solving at least one of those problems should be easy. I just have to find a desk I like and hope that the rest of the room’s design will soon follow. However, this is proving to be no simple task. It needs to be wide, but not too wide, as I want to be able to walk around it. With storage for my style guide and other tools, and I want it to be made of wood, but not the manufactured wood that falls apart the second you try to move it.

In short, I want it to be perfect. Hence, here I am, weeks later, paralyzed by indecision, still writing out the word zero and trying not to jostle the surface too much so as not to knock my coffee over. Even so, I’ve somehow managed to write close to 70K words on my latest work in progress (the third and final book of my Project Gene Assist series).

Part of me now worries changing my setup now will upset the creative muse (she is a fickle thing indeed), while another part is pretty sure I would be further along if I’d made a decision sooner. In either case, while I still have a long way left to go before I can say I am finished with this one, it’s, at least, a start. And the start is the hardest part indeed.