The author dream

Those of us who dream about writing books, have written a book, or have published a book, share a common dream. Whether we shout if from the rooftops or fear even writing it in a personal journal, the dream is still there. And as makers of books, we don't really talk about it much.

The dream looks different for everyone. For some it's lavish. For others it's more of a feeling than something tangible. it can be private or involve a dozen other people. It's still the same dream.

You might think the dream is different once you've got your first book out, but it doesn't. The dream might alter course a bit. Sharpen it's focus. But it never really changes. The same dream keeps on pushing us all.

So what is the dream?

It's what our lives will look like as authors.

If you've never published, your dream probably looks a bit more scattered. Everything from walking into a bookstore and seeing your baby on the shelf to chatting with Oprah about how the world has been changed by your words. I used to daydream about walking the red carpet at the movie premier of my book adaptation. Used to. Ha. Still do.

If you've got a book or two out there in the world, you might have narrowed in a bit. Maybe you've got a dream to hit a particular list or get a deal from a particular publishing house. Perhaps you're eyeballing translation rights or a feature table at BEA. Your dream might have a different filter, but it's the same dream.

What about the big names, you ask. Those who already have their movie deals and keynote speaker spots? You think they don't have dreams. They still dream about what their life will look like after the next book. They still have goals. Otherwise, they wouldn't put out more books. Oh, they would probably still write. It's hard to quit once you've started. But if they didn't have dreams they would type the end and then file their novel away to never see the light of day.

Maybe when you get to a certain point, your dreams get even tighter. Maybe James Patterson dreams about being about to write a book all by himself, back when he wasn't the poster child for mega authors. Perhaps John Grisham wants to write a picture book. I bet George RR Martin wants to go to ComicCon without a million people asking him when the next book is going to come out.

We all have dreams of what our lives will be like as authors. As we stumble around down the publishing path, the details of our dreams change a bit. But we never stop dreaming about what being an author will be like tomorrow.

Everybody slumps

Here's the honest truth: I'm in a marketing slump.

That's right. The lady who lives for marketing ideas and practically salivates at a good review spreadsheet has hit a bit of a wall.

It was bound to happen. I marketed my little heart out in the months leading up to and immediately following the release of Rite of Rejection. I imagine everyone hits this point. When you look at the list of marketing tasks and throw your hands up in surrender. No one can marketing all the time. Not only would you burn out, you'd burn out your readers as well. I still love marketing, I always will, but I know myself and know when I need to take a little break.

Because I've hit a slump.

And that's okay. For me, I'm in between the weird my book is still newish and I could be promoting it stage and the need to focus on getting this next book edited and ready for publication stage. And that leaves me with more to-dos than I have time. And not just time ticks on a clock. There's also a max out point on how many creative hours I can put into a day.

So for now, I'm choosing to focus my creative author time on the next book.

The good news is that I laid the groundwork so that I can take that time and still see decent sales. Without that, I wouldn't be as comfortable giving myself this time off. This is a good thing, and trust me, once I get in a better position with book two I'll be back off to the races. Because marketing a second book is going to be a whole new ball game.

The bad news is that while my brain is taking a brief marketing vacation, yours might not be. You might be tuning in here for marketing advice while I'm over chopping apart the world worst first draft. And that's not cool. You guys are awesome.

So I'm turning it over to you. I will happily research, give opinions and provide general marketing madness. But I need to know what you want to know, because my brain is so switched out of this mode I can't even think of what else to share with you.

Does that make sense? God, I hope so.

The long and short of it is this. What do you want to know? What marketing questions have you wanted to ask, but didn't know who to ask? What question have you been afraid to ask? Is there something new you've heard about, but want to know more? Got questions about the marketing behind the scenes of traditional publishing? Want to know more about marketing options as an indie? Ask away!

You can leave your questions in the comments below or email me. If you prefer an anonymous route, you can post a question to my Tumblr, just be sure to let me know it's for the blog.

Cover Reveal: Decree of Hope

I don't do cover reveals and the like very often here, but this one is a bit special. See, I happen to believe that I work with the best cover designers around, Deranged Doctor. My cover for Rite of Rejection is my favorite book cover ever (I may be biased).

So when my good friend Beth Fred told me she was looking for a new cover, I was more than happy to send her over to these super talented folks.

And they've delivered once again.

Check out this gorgeous cover for Decree of Hope

Find it on Amazon

When insecure eighteen-year-old Kailee Hill gets caught tagging Iraq war refugee, Abrahem Yohanna's garage, she's not expecting him to act as her designated driver, hold her hair back when she pukes, or offer to be a shoulder to cry on. But she's failing chemistry and her life is falling apart, so she uses the number Abe leaves her and finds herself with a new tutor. 

The two quickly find themselves falling hard for each other. Kailee attacks a local grunt when he calls Abe a "sand nigger" and fights with her veteran brother to be with him. When she learns Abe hasn't told his family about her, she's heartbroken and the couple risks losing everything they've worked to build. To make matters worse, Kailee's previous acts make her the prime suspect in a serious crime. With Kailee behind bars and doubting his feelings for her, Abe must find a way to rescue the girl he loves and win back her affection . And to do that, he’ll have to catch a crook…

If the amazing cover didn't pull you in, that blurb should have done it. And the good's available now. Be sure to check it out. 

How to be the perfect author

As an author, regardless of how you are published, there is a driving fear of failure that pushes us to be the absolute best we can be. But what does that look like? What do we need to do to be the best? To be perfect? I've given this a lot of thought, and decided to make a list (in no particular order) of the 25 ways to be a perfect author.
25 Steps to Being the Perfect Author

1. Spend time on social media making connections and promoting your books
2. Get off of social media and spend your time reading widely in your genre of focus
3. Stop reading and wishing it was you and start writing
4. Tell everyone you know about your book and ask them to help you spread the word
5. Don't badger friends and family about your book. They'll buy it if they want it
6. Send press releases to any publication who might be interested in your work
7. Don't waste your time trying to get major press coverage
8. Watch what other authors do and try to emulate their success
9. Forget about trying to duplicate someone else's path, you have to do your own thing
10. Blog tours are the best way to reach new readers and create excitement for your book
11. Blog tours are dead
12. Experiment with new marketing opportunities like book trailers
13. Focus on what works on ignore unproven efforts like book trailers
14. Give plenty of free content away to keep readers coming to you
15. Your work has value and you need to price it for what it's worth
16. Get out there by attending conferences and going to workshops
17. The more time you spend out, the less time your writing. Skip the conferences
18. SWAG, SWAG and more SWAG
19. Don't waste your money on another glossy bookmark that will end up in the trash
20. Keep an active blog to give readers a place to find you
21. No one reads blogs anymore so don't waste your time
22. Write what you want to read
23. Write what readers are asking for
24. Listen to the experts
25. Chart your own path

Okay, so maybe this list is the opposite of helpful. Maybe that's the point. Because everyone is looking for this magic button. Authors constantly ask, what do I need to do in order to be successful. I've even had people ask me for my secret as if I'm some sort of phenom.

I solemnly swear that if I had the secret sauce to being a bestseller, I would tell you. I would write the most epic of blog posts and send it to my newsletter folks and shout it from the rooftops. I don't have it. No one does. Anyone telling you they have the formula for success is trying to sell you something.

Sure, I can give tips and hints. I can tell you what I do and tip my hat to the success of other authors. But those are just ideas. Some of them will work for you. Some of them won't. Something may work today and fail tomorrow. There are just too many variables.

So don't worry about being the perfect author and making all the right decisions. Don't spend your time comparing your success to others. Instead, focus on how you can be the best author that you can be. Figure out how to be the perfect you and I promise that will be good enough.

Everybody starts at the beginning

I don't post about my personal life on here very often, but today I'm making an exception.

This is my daughter. She is finishing up Kindergarten and, for those who don't know, we home school. Yesterday was a big day at our house because she finished her reading book and has pronounced herself a reader. That smile on her face...that's pure pride. 

We struggled this year. Figuring out the whole home school routine, learning how to be the teacher and the mom and staying motivated. But my little trooper had a goal. She wanted to be able to read books all on her own and she knew that finishing her reading lesson book was the way to do it. When we flipped to that last page she was literally shaking with excitement. She had to calm herself down before we could finish it because she was absolutely bursting with joy. 

That, folks, is the joy of knowing that you started at ground zero and persevered until you met success.

And that's where all of us started. No one picks up a pen and inks out the next great American novel on day one. We all had to learn and practice and keep going in the face of failure in order to get where we are.

There are authors who are ahead of us in the game. And that's okay. We can look to them and allow their success to help us set new goals and stay motivated. There are authors who aren't as far along in the journey as we are. We can reach down a hand to offer advice and listening ear.

Sometimes, I forget that everyone isn't on the same path as me. I get caught up in what I'm learning and how I'm growing, and in doing so, I worry that I leave behind the newest writers just getting started.

So today's post is a reminder. To me and maybe to you. That we need to keep an eye out for the next guy. The one fresh with that first plot bunny and wide-eyed at just how vast the publishing world can be. 

And if that's you? If you're the one standing there with the first 20 pages of a truly awesome idea and feeling a little shuffled about, don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask for help. Because we all started there, with nothing more than a big idea and a desire to prove ourselves.

Everybody starts at the beginning.

Agency Lessons: the unforgivable curse

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made. 

Warning: Today's agency lessons post is Harry Potter themed for no particular reason whatsoever. You're welcome.

Agents, in general, are a pretty understanding bunch. We get that writing a novel is a massive undertaking and querying is equivalent to a first date with Lord Voldemort. We get it. Which is why, for the most part, we obliviate charm the flub ups and re-dos and 'my bad' situations that tend to pop up.

However, in my book, there is one offense that is a deal breaker. Once you commit it, no matter how great your manuscript is, I cannot work with you. It is the unforgivable curse of writers.

What is it?

Refusing to be a professional.

That's it so please put the red pen down and stop tearing up your query. It has nothing to do with dangling modifiers or calling me sir, or misspelling my ridiculously difficult last name. Those will cost you house cup points, but won't kill you. You just need to be professional.

What does that mean?

It means treating publishing like any other business. It means taking the time to learn about the industry you want to be a part of. It means digging in like Rita Skeeter investigating a new rumor.

It means not sending this this Facebook message to our agency:
"I have a book I would like published. Who I talk to about that?"

Grammar issues aside, are you kidding me? This would be the equivalent of me walking into the Ministry of Magic and telling the receptionist. "Yeah, I'm lookin' to be an Auror. You got a form or something?"

Now, you may be thinking, geez, Sarah, harsh. The guy was just asking a question.

But it's not just a question. This was not, should I list my book info in the query first or just launch into the pitch. This was essentially a question letting me know the author has zero willingness to put in effort to find an answer. I ran a google search to find the answer to this person's query. This is what I found:

Millions of posts that are exact answers to this question. These are just the first ones that popped up on the first page. I can't imagine it gets easier than that. Arthur Weasley could figure that one out.

Which is why the question we received makes my furious. I have to assume since they know how to use Facebook, they are a fellow muggle  and are also familiar with Google. So the only conclusion I can draw is that they are too lazy to do their own research.

Look, publishing a book is a long hard road. And I get that it is also very confusing. If you ask my clients, hopefully they will tell you that I am more than willing to answer the questions that will inevitably pop up during the journey. But I can't, and won't, help someone who refuses to help themselve.

There is nothing wrong with having questions and you should definitely go out and find your answers, like Harry finding a horcrux. Just understand that publishing is a business and you need to treat it professionally if you want to avoid getting hit with an Avada Kedavra before you even get started.

What to leave out of your author bio

Change of plans. Sickness abounds in west central Texas so my headshots are rescheduled for next week. So, I thought this would be a good time to talk about another aspect of your author platform. The author bio. You know, that paragraph all about you that makes you break out in a cold sweat and sends you into a tailspin.

It's not that writing a bio is hard. It's writing one that captures who you are when most of the time you feel like your most interesting feature is your batman sweatpants...that you've worn for the past three days.
If you're batman, you should put that in your bio!

I read a lot of author bios and the result is that I tend to see the same bits of info pumped out over and over again. The problem with most of these bios is that they sound just like everyone else's. The end result is that I don't really know anything about the author and can't distinguish them from others.

So here are a few topics I see over and over again that you should consider leaving out of your bio.

1. Early reader/writer
I wish a had a dollar for every bio I've read that starts off with the author writing or reading at a young age. I'd have a large stack of dollar bills. Here's the deal, most of us in this business were early readers/writers. It's been a lifelong passion for most of us. So this tidbit doesn't make you stand out. Instead, it sounds like a not so humble brag and throws you in a bag with everyone else. A more interesting bio line would be that you struggled and didn't start reading until you were ten. Why? Because it's different and speaks to the author's perserverance.

2. Where you were born/raised
This isn't a deal breaker, but is often irrelevant. Author X grew up in random city, random state. And I've already forgotten this and moved on. Where you grew up should only be included if you a) grew up somewhere exotic that makes you stand out or b) gives you insider info relevant to your books. So for example, if you grew up on a tiny island off the coast of Bali, that's interesting and will likely stick in a reader's head. Or, if you grew up in a hotel and your books show the behind the scenes of the hospitality industry. Remember that the info in your bio should be relevant to you and your books.

3. Where you went to school/Your major
This is similar to the early reader issue. You'll find that most authors majored in English. Wow, a shocker, I know. So adding that into your bio is like saying "I have a name and breathe oxygen." This is a space filler. Now, let's say you majored in meteorology. You traded studying clouds for, keeping your head in them. A detail like this would instantly set your bio apart.

4. Listing your kids/pets
I'm as proud of my kids as the next gal, but does anyone really care that I have two of the world's most adorable little girls? Probably not. Again, this is an issue of the information not setting you apart. Lots of people have kids. Lots of people have pets. Now, do you have 8 kids? Bless you, that's a lot. And it's interesting. Is your pet a potbellied pig named Lucy? Tell me all about it.

5. Old accomplishments
Oh, you won an essay contest in 7th grade? Your mom must be so proud. Or she was, back when you were in 7th grade. She probably expects that you've moved on from that momentous accomplishment back when you were 13. The exception here is major awards. If you won a biggie, there is no expiration date. Feel free to include your status as a Newberry medal winner until the end of time.

If there was a central theme to what to leave out of your bio, it would be leave out the boring parts. Your bio should be a reflection of your personality and give readers a bit more insight into who you are as a person. To be effective a good bio should be interesting and memorable.

Nailing the author photo

I almost forgot to write a post for today. I managed to catch a cold that hit me a bit harder than usual. I'm trucking through, but my brain is honestly only working at half capacity.

Which make the fact that I'm getting new headshots tomorrow a bit more interesting.

My first headshot (seen below) was done via the "get it done cheap" method. We have a fairly nice camera and moderate weather so I made my husband stand in our backyard and take my picture while I tried not to make awkward faces.

The result wasn't the best, but it was good enough. So if that's you in that picture. Just starting out and without the funds to invest in a pro. Or maybe not really sure what you want your headshot to look like. You don't have to go out and spend a ton of money. This is one of those aspects of your platform where it's okay to not go all in.

I'm getting new pictures for two reasons. First, since that picture I have cut all my hair off. I waited to get new pictures until I was sure about keeping it. Now that I can't imagine growing it out again, it's time to update the picture with one that looks more like me. Second, as good as our camera may be, it's not quite the same as a high quality pro photo. I ran into some issues trying to get my picture into the back of my books, so this will give me a higher quality photo to use next time.

There are all kinds of tips on the internet about how to take good pictures. Like, wear long sleeves so your arms don't pull attention away from your face, and avoid strong patterns in your clothing. Don't use makeup with a glitter to it as that can reflect the light oddly. These are all great tips that I plan to take into consideration.

But the biggest tip I can give, and that I'm going to try to remember tomorrow, is to be yourself. I'm smiling in my original headshot, but not really. And that's not really me. If you've ever met me in person, you'll know that I smile all the time. I'm one of those high energy people and in large crowds it only get's amped up.

So a demure smile might look nice, but that's not me. Even my mom thought I needed to swap it out for one with a bigger smile.

Your author photo should say something about who you are, both as an author and as a person. Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through and give your readers a better look at the real you.

Stay tuned. If anything crazy happens tomorrow, I'll post a follow-up to this on Friday. Maybe a lessons learned from a pro photo shoot. :)

Agency Lessons: How much is too much to post online

If you follow me on FB, you'll know that I posted a sneak peek of a new story I'm working on while I let my draft for Rite of Revelation sit. It's one that I've wanted to write for a while, but couldn't squeeze it in so I'm pretty pumped.
Pumped, get it, pumped. I'm a dork.

It was a bit different for me because usually no one, NO ONE, reads the first draft. They are all kinds of craptastic. But I'm just so pumped for this story, I figured it wouldn't kill me to post a little bit. And it was little, around 300 words.

I've been asked before about writers posting snippets of their unpublished works online and if that's okay or not. So this seems like a good time to broach the subject.

What is considered published?
If you put your book up on Amazon, even if it was just to share with a few friends, you are published. Is that going to mean the death of your book? Not necessarily, but it's also not great. It just depends on a lot of different factors. If you are planning to seek traditional publication for a project, I would advise to not put it up for sale anywhere.

What about social publishing?
Now we have test sites like Wattpad, where writers can post anything from fan fiction to whole novels. So can you post your work there? Again, if it's a novel you plan to seek publication for, I would say no. Now, there are stories out there of someone posting their novel and getting so many reads that a publisher swooped in to hand them a big fat deal. First off, there are only a handful of those so they are hardly the norm, and I expect we will see fewer and fewer of these. Why? Because getting people to read your book for free does not always equal sales. We all know there are books we get on Kindle because they are free that we wouldn't be willing to shell out money on.

But going even further than that, do you really want the world reading something that hasn't been through a really thorough and professional edit? I know that sounds horrifying to me. I would hate for readers to judge my ability as a writer based on something that only went through spell check.

Can I post on my blog?
Yes, I think you can. But, you know, in moderation. I would say no to posting a whole novel. I would even say no to posting the whole first chapter. To be clear. That is not considered published. But, you are creating potential issues that don't need to be created. For example, sometimes for a big release, publishers can sell first rights that give a publication, such as a magazine for your target readers, the right to publish your first chapter before anyone else. And even if they can't, those parts can be used in marketing the lead up to your release.

However, I don't see any issue with posting a short (less than 500 word) snippet of your book on your website or social media page. I can see where this could be especially useful for an author working on a series. Posting little snippets can keep your readers engaged during the wait between books. So long as you don't post any spoilers.

The main thing to keep in mind when posting your unpublished material online is, what are you trying to accomplish. Are you looking for a new reader base? Trying to energize an existing base? Gauging interest in a potential project? Know why you are posting it, and that should help you determine if you should, and how much.

Those questions are much more important than, will posting this hurt my chances of getting an agent. You should be asking, will posting this help me get closer to my goals.

Being an author is more than just writing

Yesterday was a good day for me. I finished the first draft of Rite of Revelation. This one was a doozy to get out and much harder to write than the first book. But I know I've only just started. There is still editing, getting peer feedback and even more editing from the pros. And that's just the work that goes into the writing of the book.

This is me today
For many, that's the easy part. There are still marketing plans to nail down, reviews to solicit and press releases to write. And that goes for every author, not just the self publisher. While I can say from experience that most decent publishers do provide their authors with marketing support, the majority of the work is going to fall to the author.

Being an author is a career choice. It's not just sitting in a coffee shop or cabin in the woods pumping out words and sending them off to future fame and fortune. And that how every career works. NFL players love to play football. But they don't just show up every Monday, play a game, and go home. They put in countless hours on the practice field and in the gym. Many of them turn to other activities outside of football, such as dance and yoga, to help improve their performance. And they practice giving interviews and answer questions at press conferences. And they go out to team events and sign footballs, and talk to kids about sports and staying healthy. Lot of players take advantage of other opportunities such as making commercials or being part of a video game, because they know they can't play the game forever. They are football players, but the game only takes up a few hours of their time that is otherwise filled with activities off the field.

There are always going to be parts of a career that are less than fun. I did not enjoy filing my taxes this year. But we do things we don't want to do so we can keep doing the parts we love.

I hear from authors all the time. "I just want to write." And that's lovely. You should write. Write as much as you want for as long as you want. But to make this a career, like any other career, you have to do more than just write.

If the idea of doing anything but writing makes you want to weep, then (hard truth coming at you here) being an author may not be the right career path for you. That doesn't mean you have to stop writing, or even stop publishing. But it does mean you need to recognize that writing is going to be more of hobby than a career. Hobbies are done for fun and pure enjoyment. You can write and publish as a hobby, but understand the limitations of writing as a hobby versus a career.

Neither one of those are bad choices. I know people who just like to pick up a pen as a way to vent out creative energy. They have no desire to see their book published. It's just something they do for fun. And that is A-Okay.

But if you are serious about making writing your career, about hitting best-sellers lists, winning awards and living off your royalties, you have to do more than write.