A Hard Reset

My last post talked about my decision to un-publish all of the self-published work I had up that had no redeeming qualities. It’s no secret that I got my start writing horror…and some of that horror was straight up grim and gory. I’ve never been a fan of gore for the sake of gore, but looking back on it I feel that some of my material flirted with that rule.

So, after taking a few titles down, I was left with two other horror books that were under contract with a publisher. I figured there was no sense in really pursuing this because of contractual obligations. I felt I had done what God was leading me to do and had to be content with that. If I’ve learned anything in my Christian life, it’s that when we show obedience, He will respond in some form or another.

This was no exception.

Two weeks resetafter making that decision, I got an e-mail from Severed Press, the press that my titles Serpentine and Nests were published by. While neither of these books are really evil per se, they were also not in line with my current writing goals. (Although, fun note: there was originally going to be a subplot in Nests that would have made it a weird sort of Christian fiction that I decided not to add because it changed the scope of the story).

The e-mail I received informed me that they would be effectively killing those titles because sales were not going so well.

Honestly, it hurt for about two minutes. But then I realized the freedom in this. While I am incredibly proud of both of those books (Nests, in particular, holds a forever spot in my heart), having Severed remove them was sort of the answer to a prayer I had been too scared to voice.

I now have the freedom to work with a Hard Reset. Bound is maybe the best example of the writing I’d like to pursue in the foreseeable future. I am working on two projects that are both Christian fiction in scope, but dark and a little dreary. In the past, I’d be concerned about brand confusion and all of that nonsense. But because of this Hard Reset, that worry is gone.

This is also a good place to also state that brand confusion should not be a thing. A writer should be able to write what they want to write—which is why at one time I had titles concerning both the gospel presented through the prevention of sex trafficking and inter-dimensional monsters at the same time.

Is it sad to see fewer titles on my Amazon page? Absolutely.

But the cool thing about this series of events is that it’s a tangible and very clear indication that the decision I made to take my earlier work down was the right one…a God-led one, in fact. And the fall of Serpentine and Nests is, as far as I’m concerned, God coming along behind me and cleaning the rest up.

Nests may see life again one day, with the complete Christian arc in place. In the meantime, I’m very excited about my current projects and where this incredibly crazy writing career is taking me.

The plans are many but the time is few. And that’s apparently one thing about my writing that will never change.

 

The Myth of the Stay at Home Writer with Kids and Successful Time Management

Working from home as a freelancer and story peddler can be rewarding on an innumerable number of levels. We’ve all seen the thousands of articles on the benefits of freelancing from home, so I won’t repeat them here. What I will do is try to explain the formula I have come up with to better handle the mythic creature known as Time Management while working  from home…with children.

I have three kids, ages 6, 4, and 9 months. The decision to freelance full-time came from the fact that I could stay at home with the baby and save nearly $7,500 a year on daycare expenses. It also came from the fact that I had recently been laid off, so the timing seemed sort of perfect (in that scary reckless sort of way) to make a go at ghostwriting full time while also trying to get my own writing off the ground.

Often, people ask how I manage to get any writing done with three kids in the house, especially during the summer when school is out. (Notice I said “people” and not “friends”; freelancing from home with three kids doesn’t really allow time for “friends”).

It’s a good question and one that is surprisingly easy to answer, given that the person that has asked has nothing to do for the next few hours.

Here’s the breakdown. Hopefully it will help some of you freelancers and/or writers with kids at home see that you are not alone in what feels like a slow but certain downward spiral into madness. I am aware that schedules fluctuate in terms of married life and how much evil energy your kids have in them so adjust accordingly.

  • I get two solid hours of work in while the baby is down for her morning nap. This includes answering e-mails and responding to any comments on social media.
  • I get another hour and a half or so in during the afternoon. This is after I have left the house with the 9 month old in tow to pick up the 4 year old from pre-school.
  • I can usually sneak in another half an hour after the 6 year old gets off of the bus. This is snack time for them and what I like to refer to as “free roam time” for the baby. Once she learns that dust bunnies are not to be eaten, we’ll have this down.
  • My wife gets home soon after that and while she spends time with the kids, I take another 20 minutes or so to catch up on e-mails.

Count that up. We’re up to a whopping 4 – 4.5 hours of work in the course of a workday. Not nearly enough to handle up to 4 ghostwriting projects and a new contracted series of my own writing, now is it?

Ah, but the workday of a freelancer that works from home is not over when everyone else’s ends. Follow along closely, as this is where I think the real secret to a freelancer’s time management success is buried.

I’m not a totally negligent husband, and I do try to spend some time with my wife. Often, this means watching DVR’ed shows after the kids have gone to sleep or simply sitting on the couch and staring off into the distance, wondering where the day went.

After this, usually after my wife has called it a day and gone to bed, I often get back behind the keyboard. Sometimes this starts as early as 8:00, and sometimes as late as 10:00. This is where most of my serious work is done.

Headphones in, music up (I suggest electronic/ambient sort of stuff for maximum results and yes, I can make recommendations) and zone out.

Seriously, this is when I feel that I am most productive. This is especially true on weekends when, on a Friday night, I can work as late as 2:00 in the morning because there is nothing to do the following day. Note: See above when I mentioned having no time for friends.

Now, here’s the amazing thing. This hectic and all over the place schedule has been much healthier for my family than when I was working a 9-5 that I often had to bring home with me. It was a job that made me absolutely miserable and it was reflected in the way I responded to my family after coming home from the office.

While I am currently far from the perfect picture of fatherhood, I can comfortably say that the time I spend with my children is much more relaxed and fun that when I was doing the 9-5 gig. It’s also a small blessing, as most freelancers will tell you, to be able to leave the “office” whenever you want—when a kid gets sick, to play with your kids on the trampoline or in the snow, to head to the fridge for the occasional beer when pulling those late nights and not having to worry about office policies.

Time management is really just one of those spooky things that seminar pushers and HR heads drill into their employees to scare them. It becomes something totally different when you’re a freelancer that works with a variety of clients on a variety of projects.

But as a stay at home freelancer with kids, I know that the schedule always manages to sort itself out. It sometimes requires late nights and rushed afternoons where it feels like you’re having your brain turned into strips of beef jerky, but it always works out.

And as for me, it’s always worth it when my son asks: “Can you stop working and come play on the trampoline?”

Because my answer is always going to be yes.

And later, near midnight when I am trying to make loose plot ends tie together in my dark little corner of an office, the ache in my shins from all the bouncing reminds me that I wouldn’t trade this schedule for anything.

From the Bottom Looking Up (or “Lessons from The Haven’t Made It Yets”)

I’ve spent the last two years or so closely studying the maneuvers and strategies of various other self published writers, hoping to find some sort of formula that will work for me. I have been blessed to have made internet friendships with a few writers that have “made it” in terms of self publishing and while I have learned a lot from them, I still remain on the lower end of the self publishing ladder.

While I’m not quite so transparent as to provide numbers, I will preface this post by saying this: I have not made it in terms of self-publishing.  Sure, I make enough to knock out a utility bill here or there, but the freelancing puts the food on the table and keeps the lights on (in addition to my wife’s income).

I thought I’d finally share some of what I have learned (or, perhaps more accurately, what I have not learned) in the event that there are any writers out there on the cusp of giving up. Because here’s the thing…reading all of those posts from the successful writers can be inspirational but they can also be depressing. While it’s unhealthy to compare your own success to another writer, it’s an impossibility not to do so. So when I read that J.A. Konrath made $100,000 in 4 months, I automatically ask myself why I had trouble pushing 100 copies in that same amount of time.

So, here’s how I see it all. Here’s the writing world from an author that had his absolute worst month to date in July but has also managed to get more involved in all levels of The Business since February.

If You’re About to Throw in the Towel, Get More Towels

There have been two instances in the last three years where I almost stopped writing. One was when I lost my job last August. That month, I sold a whopping 22 books on Amazon. You do the math…for someone that just lost their job, that’s not a great motivational statistic to hunker down and make a go of this writing thing. We had two kids and one on the way at that time. To say “hey, I think I’ll keep plugging along at writing until it finally sticks” would have been irresponsible and borderline naive.

The other time was when I first started. When I released The Masks of Our Fathers, I was still dumb enough to think I’d sell at least 1,000 in the first two months. That didn’t happen…not even close.

A certain thing happened in both of those cases to convince me to stick with it. In the case of just having lost my job, I used the fact that I had won Amazon’s Write a Dead Man contest and that I had coaches and other writers like Lee Goldberg (whom I don’t mind name dropping from time to time now that he’s a NY Times best-selling author) at my side. In the case of The Masks of Our Fathers, it was seeing the success of writers I had never heard of…normal people kind of like me that were making enough to write full time.

Granted, things have still not panned out the way I wanted them to. But I made another decision recently that has me hoping things will swerve upwards sooner rather than later.

Going the Small Press Route is Not Blasphemous

The self-publishing successes are cringing at that headline, I bet. But what works for one is likely going to cause another to fail. Again, not giving numbers, but I will tell you this much. In the last nine months, I have received two advances from small-to-medium sized publishers. Those advances were indeed smallish as the self-publishing purists will be more than happy to tell you. But in terms of my own writing, those advances offered more money than all of my self published earnings in the last two and a half years.

And if you total up all of the advances I have received from small presses and money from short stories since I started writing with intent 7 years ago, this figure FAR exceeds what I have made with self publishing.

More than that, these small presses took/are taking care of something I hate: self-promotion.

So for the self-publishing starter that is having trouble with getting sales going, maybe think about small presses. The royalties aren’t as good as Amazon, but some are pretty competitive.

Speaking of Hating Self Promotion, Let’s Face Some Realities Here

At the risk of pissing off some of the writers at the top of the pack, here’s some more honesty. Whenever I see a writer that is bringing in four figures a month on their writing that lists a “professional cover” as a ticket to sure success, I get a little angry. Have you priced a “professional cover” lately? It’s not something that a struggling writer that just lost his job can afford.

But here’s the thing: they’re absolutely right. Which is why it pisses me off. Oh, and even if you’re the best editor on the face of the planet, they are also right in saying that you need the services of a professional editor. And formatting. And this, and that.

Self-publishing costs money up front. That’s why it took me so long to come around to it. At first, the fact that you had to pay for these things made me put self-publishing in the same sloppy bucket with vanity presses.

Another reality…that self promotion crap is a necessity. I’d like to think it’s one of the reasons my writing hasn’t done better. I don’t post here enough and when I do, it’s nothing that anyone in The Business doesn’t already know. I also hate Facebook and while I do enjoy Twitter, I’m probably not doing it right.

So given all of this, I do take a long hard look at my goals every now and then and ask myself why things aren’t quite working out as I’d like them to. The answer to this has evolved over time but the list looks something like this for most writers that are still struggling.

The Real World: I have to provide for my family. I have to spend time with my kids and be a husband. Sometimes that means making up stories has to take a back seat. (A big thanks to someone as successful as Brian Keene for pointing this out to a wider audience).

Covers: I’ve been fortunate in this area. I work with an exceptional artist that I have known for quite some time. He doesn’t charge $400-600 like those “pros” which is weird because the dude is a pro in every sense of the word. So check out Keith Draws. You can tell him I sent you, although I don’t think it will do much good.

And if you’re not as lucky as I am in this regard, this is an answer I just don’t have for you. Scrounge, dig in the couch cushions, maybe even hit up Craigslist for a college art student that will do your cover for peanuts. But yeah…this is one of those areas the “made it” writers are 100% correct on. Bastards!

Pricing: From what I can tell, the $0.99 price point is dead. I have a few titles at that price, but they are short stories that are under 10,000 words. Everything I have read claims that the sweet spot is $2.99 – $3.99 but I think this varies. The few minor successful months I’ve had have come from the $1.99 price point. This, I think, is just something that fluctuates more than anyone realizes.

About the “Going Free” Thing: I saw a post on Facebook a while back from an author that I greatly respect and admire that was bemoaning the fact that indie authors are getting successful by giving their books away for free. This stung because at that time, I had The Hollows set up on a free promotion that did okay.

The thing here is that I find it hard to listen to an author that has made it when they start bitching about any strategies that up and comers have to endure to get to their level. Some may feel differently, but again, this post is all about transparency.

On the occasions where I have set titles to free for 3-5 days, I have seen a slight surge in sales for about a week afterwards. For someone that is a few levels above me in terms of sales, I’d imagine this could be pretty significant. So as far as I can see,free does work but it also needs to be based on a platform that is already slightly established.

 

I understand that there is a question standing at the end of this post like a dead elephant in a clown car. Why bother listening to the “lessons” learned from a writer that can barely make enough sales to cover all the coffee you drink?

I don’t know. Maybe because every now and then you need to see the industry from the bottom looking up rather than the top looking down.

I’m going to keep writing with the hope that one day, the cards are going to fall in my favor. The ideas keep coming, and I am just the conduit. Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to write a similar post, only from a bit higher up the ladder and with answers that make more sense.

So for writers big and small, what can you add to these ramblings?

back home and still processing

Many of you know why I was out of the country for the past week.  If not, you can read a rundown of it here.

I’ve been back since Friday and am still in the process of…well, processing.

Sure, there was culture shock. But beyond that there was just shock. Every kind of shock imaginable. At one point Wednesday afternoon, there was a span of about three hours where I was both physically and emotionally drained for the first time in my life.  I literally felt empty.

There were times when I felt like, while my intentions were good for being there, it was pointless in that it was for such a short time. Just another group of white people that visit for a while, show some love and then leave.  Now, back home, I’m struggling to find the reason and significance in things.  What’s the point in stocking the refrigerator after a $150 grocery trip? What’s the point in returning to a job that is creatively stifling and emotionally unrewarding?

At the risk of sounding cliched, the four days I spent in Nicaragua effectively changed my life.  As I continue to process things, I am finding that much of it was for the good.  I am also discovering that there are things I want to change about myself.

This might mean my writing will change. Maybe this blog will be shut down and be reborn under another style and title. Maybe the posts I’ve recently written on the monotony of much modern horror will be involved in it all. Maybe this sense of unbalance I’ve felt about the direction my writing and overall career path will finally shift one way or another.

I don’t know yet.

For now, as I said, I am still processing.  Some of it is being sorted out through writing, which is a good thing.  This makes me happy because as I was there in the moment and tried to write about my experiences on paper, the words would not come.  They did not come because there were no proper words at first. My mind and heart drew a blank.  There were simply no words.

But the words are slowly taking shape and sorting themselves out like kids rummaging through the box of a jigsaw puzzle.  And soon, maybe I’ll share a few.  I have several stories and pictures to share with whoever wants to listen but for now, it’s too close to me.

Until then…still processing.