My top secret 2014 performance review

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to sit down and analyze the performance of staff at the day job in painstaking detail. I look forward to the process as eagerly as they do. Who doesn’t love to see in writing the ways in which their work can improve even if the words are no real surprise? I know I sure do when it’s my turn. That’s totally why I’ve been having a virtual argument debate with my editor’s notes over the last several weeks.

One of the biggest upsides about being an independent author is the ability to be in control of everything (except forcing people to buy your book). I’ve often heard it compared to going into business for one’s self. We are the authorpreneurs! YAY!

So, if this is truly a business and not just a hobby, perhaps it is time to schedule a performance review with my staff.

Please come in Allie.  Would you shut the door and have a seat?

Now, I’ve been looking at your annual report and while you’ve done a great job gaining additional exposure on WordPress when comparing 2013 to 2014, but you haven’t pulled in nearly the numbers as some of your counterparts at other firms. Why do you think that is?

Hmmm…. Likely it is because I am terrible at writing eye-catching titles.

How can you improve this?

Phone a friend? No? Well then maybe I will start trying out some of the hundreds of catchy title formulas out there in 2015 and see how that works out for me.

Well that can’t hurt. Seriously, your titles have been atrocious at times. I mean ‘Is that a fire hydrant or a really odd garden gnome?‘ Really?

Umm… we agree, that wasn’t my best work. In my defense, I had spent on my creativity on content that day. The tank was dry.

What about social media? What are you doing to improve your exposure in that area?

I’m actually advertising my blog less on Twitter, and interacting more. I told myself that for every tweet I send out, I would find at least four by others to favorite, retweet, or reply to.  I’ve made some really enjoyable connections and now I barely pay attention to my follower count, and yet on the occasions I do, I see it continues to grow.

How about Facebook?

Facebook doesn’t always show my updates in feeds, even if a person has liked my page. There is little I can do there except hope that the handful of people who actually see my updates feel like sharing them with their network. Therefore I don’t see myself spending more energy there than I already have been.

Looking over your other marketing efforts, I see that you tried out a number of things early in the year like paid ads, a Goodreads giveaway, and review exchanges, but your efforts dropped off mid year. Are you planning on trying any of these things again this year?

I ran a second Goodreads give away toward the end of the year when An Uncertain Faith was re-released as well as a free promotion of the book. I used paid ads at the beginning of the year and didn’t use paid ads at the end. Interestingly enough I received an almost identical number of entries in the Goodreads give away each time with about as many resulting reviews. So no, I don’t think I will be using paid ads again.

What about the review exchanges?

I learned that review exchanges are not for me. I’d rather my book was reviewed by someone who was interested enough in my blurb or my blog to pick it up rather than someone who is just reviewing it because they feel obligated to.  I worry too much that my book might get lampooned or insincerely praised just because of how I liked theirs. It feels like being in an old Western gun duel. I am however making a point of reviewing the books that I’ve picked out of my own free will more often.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. You know that the best way to be successful in this business is to release more books. Why then is your second project taking so long to release?

I could blame it on a number of things. My day job changed mid-year. I had to make significant changes to the structure, etc. But I boils down to one thing. I forgot how to properly manage my time. I’ve already taken major steps to address this. Now I only have a few chapters left to rewrite before it can be sent out for another round of complaints critique. I’ve also entered a few short story contests. Hopefully as a result I will have something else out there with my name on it in 2015.

Do you have any questions for me?

Will I be getting a raise this year?

You didn’t tell me you dabbled in writing humor.

Is that a no?

Good luck with the contests.

Mock report card

All type and no play make Allie an out of shape girl

 

 

 

It’s a breakout!

An Uncertain Faith

I am about to suffer monstrous indigestion, and no, it won’t be caused by excessive food or drink…Okay so maybe some of it will, but the majority of my discomfort will be caused by nervous butterflies resulting the re-release of my book An Uncertain Faith. The e-book version will be going live on Friday, November 28th on Amazon and Smashwords (pre-order is available), with the print edition making its way onto the shelves shortly afterwards.

As way of saying thank you for your support over this last year, from now until December 24th, you can download a free copy at Smashwords using the coupon code PK82H.

 


Several of my business books talk about the importance of identifying the one thing that you want to be great at and then design your business practices and product offers around that niche. My dentist office has not read any of these books.

The practice I go to has a massaging chair in the waiting area as well as marble tile floors, soothing music, and a fireplace cheerfully burning. If it wasn’t for the sounds of drilling and spitting in the background, the spa-like conditions might make you might forget that you are about to be shamed for not flossing enough.

I was back for the second time in as many weeks as my dentist had found cavities during my last cleaning. Joy. The cavities weren’t very deep, but needed to be addressed. She told me I wouldn’t even need to have my teeth numbed as if the idea of having a drill in my mouth without a painkiller was somehow less scary than a shot to the gums. One side was done, but rather than finishing the job, my dentist was called away to look after another even less fortunate patient. I sat in that chair, staring at a sign reading use of cell phones are prohibited. Soft music continued to play in the background. It occurred to me that I had the opportunity to do something I rarely have the chance to do. I could take a nap, or at least close my eyes and relax while I waited.

Several minutes passed. Finally my dentist and hygienist returned. They explained that one of the other dentists had been hospitalized that morning and they were trying to make sure that her patients still were seen. They wanted to let me know just how much they appreciated my patience. I had just experienced fifteen glorious minutes of uninterrupted me time. I was hardly put out by the ‘inconvenience’ and told them as much.

I must not have reacted as they expected. The hygienist brought in a warm scented neck pillow, but it didn’t end there. After the last cavity was filled she also brought me a pair of gloves filled with Paraffin wax on the house. (Seriously – how many dental practices do you know that offer beauty treatments as a supplemental income stream?)

Then they left again. More minutes passed. I felt the wax and the neck pillow begin to cool. Tick. Tock. I had only expected to be gone from the office an hour, an hour and a half tops. Now it was getting close to two. I tried to move – to gain someone’s attention. The pillow around my neck limited my head’s range of motion and the gloves on my hands prevented me from addressing the problem. I had allowed myself to become literally trapped in my comfort zone. I realized then that I was only going to be able to get on with my life by finding a way to break free.

As I typed this after the fact, know the gloves did eventually come off. I broke free. But I know this won’t be the last time. I will have to escape my comfort zone again and again because, as the saying goes, that’s where the magic happens.

Preparation can only take you so far

 

And the winner is…

Back in October I decided to terminate my agreement with my publishing channel. While this decision will provide me with greater creative control of my existing work, it also presented a major challenge in that I did not own the rights to my original cover design. I was going to have to address this as books don’t tend to sell without covers no matter how many times we are told not to judge them.

I reviewed my options:

  1. Sit back and sell nothing waiting for a big time publisher to sweep me off my feet and offer to pay for everything. Because that’s how it works, right…
  2. Do it myself with Photoshop and hope that the casual viewer doesn’t notice the rough edge where I accidentally erased out too many pixels, but hey it is only the cost of a stock photo license!
  3. Purchase a ready-made cover that might possibly, sorta, kinda, maybe represent a scene or theme from my book. Although, if I find a pre-made cover not requiring a full-page of explanation, does that mean the content of my work is so cliché that a suitable cover is on standby? Does that really matter? This option would be shoestring budget friendly. Meaning I could afford to actually do additional marketing with said cover.
  4. Hire a professional hoping that with my limited experience I’m able to identify someone capable of reading my mind in 2-4 tries (and in as many weeks or less) well enough to produce a cover that not only do I like, but readers do as well. Because if reader’s don’t, I just bought myself a nice new decoration for my shelf and little else.
  5. Launch a design contest and throw myself on the mercy of designers, some amateurs playing with Photoshop, some seasoned veterans, but all as hungry to distinguish themselves as I am. Sure, it could potentially cost more than hiring a single professional, but I’d have the one thing I was looking for when I started down this whole road – more choice (and a money back guarantee).

I thought long and hard about my options. It seemed that every 4th tweet that crossed my feed was “Bad Cover = Bad Sales!” No pressure!

After my eyes had gone blurry from viewing pages and pages of images and designer portfolios, I ultimately designed to bite the bullet and launched the design contest (I chose 99designs.com). Entries began to roll in. A few of the early designs looked similar to my Photoshop mock-ups. I felt justified. Talented even (I refused to worry that I made the wrong decision). I began to think maybe if this whole writing thing didn’t work out I could earn some spare change selling my own pre-made covers.

Additional entries started to roll in, and wow! I thought to myself, what an interesting idea – I wouldn’t have considered doing that! Now I understand what separates my Photoshop dabblings from experienced professionals. Keep them coming. In the words of my 2yo, “More! More!”

I found myself with over 160 entries in less than a week, and more than half of them were completely unique (I believe my experience may be atypical – I was told to expect 30). Suddenly all that choice I wanted so badly a week ago was overwhelming. How can I pick just one? What if I pick the wrong one? Too much choice was almost as paralyzing as having no choice. I was once again stressed, but it was worth it.

Thankfully, the contest offered the option of sending out a poll and letting the public vote. After whittling down the list to a few favorites, I asked, and a number of you answered. I am now extremely pleased to present the winner and new cover of An Uncertain Faith!

Cover by Danny Design Studio, Photography by Dave and Les Jacobs.

An Uncertain Faith

A brand new cover for a brand new release!

Every journey begins with a little risk

Witch head nebula

Even the universe has its Halloween decorations up. [The witch head nebula]

Residents on the East Coast of the United States were informed that a privately owned supply rocket would be launching off the coast of Virginia just after sunset on Monday and it might be visible several states over as it ascended.

Although I have gone down a completely different career path, at one point I had dreamed of being an astronaut. The vastness of space continues to fascinate me. Therefore I was more than a little excited when I read about this event.

I set a reminder, and at launch time herded the family outside so that we could all stare towards the horizon. The hubby and I thought we saw something pass across the sky. Our eldest tried to follow where we pointed but saw nothing. The rocket was only expected to be visible for three minutes. Our son’s lip began to quiver as we told him that he’d probably missed it.

Eager to avert kiddo’s breakdown we ran inside and turned on the streaming footage, only to be confused to see a very large rocket still on the launch pad. The news broke that the launch was scrubbed. A civilian in a boat had gotten too close to the rocket. Like the Minnow in Gilligan’s Island, had the rocket launched as planned, the tiny ship would have been lost. What we had seen was only a high flying plane.

Terrible news for NASA, but awesome news for us. I told my son there would be a do over!

It was announced that the launch would take place the following day. Unfortunately Tuesday evening had significantly more cloud cover. It was highly unlikely we would see anything, but we tried anyway. Several minutes passed once again with my family out on the lawn looking at the sky.

Nothing.

Orbital Sciences Antares Launch

Not my favorite kind of firework

Back inside, I cued up NASA footage only to see the remnants of a large fire-ball. The voice over the footage announced that there had been a catastrophic accident. My son, who had already ‘missed’ one launch looked to me and asked, “what happened mom?”

I hate to age myself, but I remember being in school when the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up. I was almost exactly the same age as my son is now. We had been watching it live in class. All the teachers were excited because one of their own was a crewman. I remember not quite understanding that the footage I was watching was abnormal or tragic. My teacher hurried to turn off the television as they were forced to explain concepts we weren’t quite ready for.

Thankfully in this instance, the mission was unmanned, saving me from a more complicated conversation with my son. The only damage then when the rocket exploded was material, and he is well aware of the concept of stuff breaking. But the entire event serves as a reminder that there is always a risk of failure whenever you attempt to venture into the unknown, no matter how well you have planned and prepared. And yet, without those willing to take those risks, we would not be able to communicate with those on the other side of the world at the speed of light nor would we have infrared ear thermometers (which both my youngest and I are grateful for) or be able to sleep easy with memory foam.

“The thing that’s important is that we don’t overreact,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator of human explorations and operations. “I don’t see this as a problem or a concern for us in the future. It’s just more awareness of what we’re trying to go do and it’s not easy.”

There is always the risk of failure in anything worth doing, but there is always an opportunity to learn, and that’s still a gain even if it isn’t necessarily the one you were aiming for.

15455863230_2a4fa47955_zToday marks my blog’s first anniversary. I began it as a way to help promote my first book, An Uncertain Faith. When I hit that publish button for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but to date it has been worth the risk. I’ve been able to connect with an extremely supportive community who have been willing to share their own pains and triumphs. I’ve also learned a lot about myself in the process.

Now I am taking another risk. I will be relaunching An Uncertain Faith in November under a different publishing label. As a result, my novel’s first edition will be unavailable for sale for a time. This was not an easy decision, I hate to risk the momentum I’ve been able to gain to date, but I found it to be a necessary one. But I have high hopes that this decision will prove to be  less catastrophic, and a more rewarding launch than the events of this week.

Once stung, twice equipped with repellent

Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!)

Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!) (Photo credit: rimblas)

When I was a teenager, I was attacked by a swarm of ground hornets while hiking with a group of friends. I never even saw their nest. Someone ahead of me must have inadvertently stepped where he or she shouldn’t have and by the time they had flown to the surface in a rage I was the closest target.

A very short time later, areas of my body had swollen up like baseballs. I found my way on an express route to the emergency room.

I have a healthy respect for stinging insects of all kinds. I don’t squish them just for the crime of being bugs. I understand that the outdoors is their world. I try to remain calm and motionless when they are near, or avoid them altogether if I see them in the distance. I don’t bother them if they don’t bother me.

But when they try to build a nest in my porch, or more recently, move in underneath my children’s sandbox, I have to do something about it. I am no longer passive or kind. I don’t want to find out the hard way that my allergy has been passed on to my children. Or worse, that their reaction might be more than moderate.

At that point I have to make it clear to those insects that their continued presence will not be tolerated. Those that survive the lesson should move on to more welcoming ground.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.” – Al Capone.

I self published my first novel, and have been debating whether or not this was a path I would like to take again for my second. I’ve been reading about how little new authors can expect from large publishers and how aspiring authors are now asked to provide some potential publishers with a business plan and marketing plan in addition to the manuscript. I recently read an article entitled Publishing 3.0 detailing the rise of the authorpreneur. While the term authorpreneur may sound like one of those celebrity mash-up names, I find that it is completely appropriate in this instance. To be a successful self published or indie author, you do have to have an understanding as to what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Like writing professionally, entrepreneurship is hard work. It too requires sacrifice and long hours, but with different results. Purchase orders are rarely aesthetically pleasing. But for an entrepreneur that first order is a work of art, one as beautiful to behold as a published novel with its glossy cover. It gets framed and permanently mounted on the wall for all the world to see.

Entrepreneurship can be at times a wonderful thing. There is something deeply satisfying about watching the business that you helped start grow and thrive. Whether you are your only employee or have a larger staff, it is both rewarding and terrifying to know that their ability to care for their families is because of what you’ve put in place.

But unfortunately, an entrepreneur is still not entirely in control of his/her own destiny. There are always going to be people out there who look upon your success with envy. They either want what you have, or are afraid that you have the ability to take something away from them. They will attack in ways you never saw coming, especially if they believe you aren’t paying attention.

During this time you have to keep in mind that these attacks are actually compliments. They are a testament to your ability and your achievements. They are recognition that what you have done has been noticed. You have to be the bigger person. Stay true to your values and out of their domain. Walk away if you can. Ignore them if you can’t.

That is until you have been stung one too many times and they mistake your kindness as weakness, your willingness to turn the other cheek as acceptance, and they threaten your baby’s life.

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Wise Man’s Fear

At that point, let them keep their compliments. It is time to hire the exterminator and bring out the bug spray.