Month: November 2011

A sweet celebration (in honor of Veterans Day)

Despite fireworks and festivities, the start of 2011 was bittersweet. Shortly after we rang in the New Year, Andy’s younger brother was deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines. Their family has a history of military service, but mine does not. This was my first experience worrying about a soldier overseas, and I quickly learned that when someone you care about is at risk, politics and philosophies go out the window. All you want is for them to come home safe.

For months we prepared care packages like it was our job, like our soldier’s life depended on it. Every other week we filled a Support Our Troops box with flavored sunflower seeds, white tube socks, lighthearted DVDs, and lots of deodorant. We wrote letters filled with the most inane details — about dogs and gardens and sports and celebrities — because we wanted to help him stay connected with “normal” life.

After half a year, we got the good news that our Marine was coming home. (“So please stop sending boxes, because by the time they get there, he’ll be gone!”) His first tour was over, and he arrived safely back in the States at the peak of an August heat. After spending months in the Afghani desert, marching for miles under the scorching sun, our soldier didn’t mind the “hot spell.” He barely even noticed it.

To celebrate his return, Andy took his brother, parents, and me to Chicago for Labor Day weekend. We visited Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. We shopped the Magnificent Mile. We laughed until we cried at the Second City comedy show.

But the highlight of our trip was a quiet dinner at Joe’s, the renowned seafood and steak house. After making reservations (several weeks in advance) Andy emailed to ask if they could do anything for his brother. He specified that we weren’t looking for freebies; we just wanted a special night. The manager replied that they could only give us their best server, an offer we happily accepted.

And our server was indeed fantastic. Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, accommodating, and funny. We had a lovely evening, thanks to his witty banter and many excellent recommendations.

At the end of the meal, we decided to order a couple desserts to share. Our server got a twinkle in his eye and said he knew just the thing. A few minutes later, he wheeled out a tray of nearly a dozen desserts, which we figured were for the tables nearby. As it turns out, every single dish on that cart was for us. Andy’s brother was fairly embarrassed, but his mother and I both got tears in our eyes as our server and the manager came over to thank him for his service.

Although we were already full, the five of us ate as much of those cakes and pies as we could. Not because they were free, or too delicious to waste, but because they were all our fears put to rest, all our hopes confirmed, all our pride, gratitude, and good fortune baked into chocolate and iced with sugar. Those desserts were what our trip was all about. Celebration.

We savored every bite.

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Writerly Wednesday

Great advice for NaNo-ers from Tahereh Mafi, author of one of the most anticipated YA debuts of the year (and former commenter on this very blog!): “Don’t be afraid to write a bad book.”

take a risk. be open to writing a book that will undoubtedly embarrass you in a few years. go nuts with the adverbs and scatter plot holes everywhere and make your characters say things like i know we just met, but do you believe in destiny? and then he kissed my mouth and i breathed on his face and hugged him goodnight romantically. really. go ahead and fall in love with your hero for no reason except that he is the hero and, well, you made him, so there’s obviously no need to flesh out his character. dispense with the motivations and the proper pacing and give your protag a crazy name and a plethora of ridiculous backstories. have every near-catastrophic event solved by coincidence and magical powers that show up only when it’s most convenient, and then kill everyone off at the end because it’s the only way you know how to finish the book. write the story that’s really nothing more than a thinly-veiled effort at fictionalizing what otherwise would’ve been your autobiography.

really.

but whatever you do, don’t be afraid.

Newly agented (but always fabulous) S.E. Sinkhorn gives writers permission to be proud of themselves:

There’s this weird pressure on writers (and other artists) where we’re not supposed to appreciate or take pride in our own work. Doing so makes us, like, JERKS or something. I feel like I’m constantly wavering between not quite believing that people think I’m actually publishable and reading my stuff from months past and going, “Woah, wait, *I* wrote that? But it’s good!”

And rounding out this list of fantastic advice and insight, the ever-amazing Natalie Whipple talks very honestly about how money can mess with art:

When I was a noob, I used to say all the time that I wouldn’t care about the money. That I’d be happy with anything as long as I got to share my work. It was…humbling to find myself a liar when things came down to it. I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching to understand my reactions and to discover how to change them.

The more I search, the more I learn that getting back to the basics always helps me. Writing what I love, regardless of market or money or genre. Improving what I write the best I can. Loving what I write and where I’m at. Treating it all like a journey with friends instead of a competition. Writing for the sake of writing. Sharing with joy instead of dread. All that good, pure stuff.

The money doesn’t have to mess with you. It might be hard to get past at first, but it’s possible and so much better when you do. Your work is valuable and worthwhile, no matter what the price tag ends up being.

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The Great Pricing Adventure

A few people have asked me for updates on the “Great Pricing Adventure” that began when Amazon priced my ebook Twenty-Somewhere at the whopping sum of $0. (For the background story, see: “On ‘selling’ like hotcakes.”)

During the 4 days my book was free, about 16,400 copies were downloaded. The title peaked at #9 on the Kindle Free list, and #178 on the Kindle Paid list. For a few hours, it was also featured on the Kindle eBooks homepage next to the Steve Jobs biography, The Paris Wife, and The Hunger Games. That was a trip.

(Yes, it was mistakenly categorized as Nonfiction. I have tried to correct the listings within the author dashboard, but so far I’m not seeing any changes.)

During the 10 days that followed, another 1,000 or so copies were downloaded. Some of those sales were at the regular price of $2.99, while some were at a new price-match of 99 cents. In both cases, I received 70% royalties.

Edited to add: There was also a much higher number of returns during this period. Why anyone would return a free book, I’m not really sure… But some returns were due to people learning about my book from lists of freebies, buying without looking, and then later realizing they were charged either 99 cents or $2.99 for it.

I would say that after that two-week frenzy, sales have dropped off significantly. But they are still higher (by about 10 times) than what they were prior to all this. From what I’ve heard, I would expect sales to continue dropping until they are back to their previous level.

(But I plan to keep my ebook at the sale price of 99 cents through the holiday season, so that may help me ride the wave until next year. Or not. We’ll see.)

Though my earnings will help cover my latest car repairs and upcoming gift shopping, the money is not nearly as important to me as the reader responses that I’ve gotten. There are a few new reviews at both Amazon and GoodReads, and I received several emails that still bring a smile to my face.

It was also interesting to work on my current manuscript while receiving feedback on past writing. I think I have pretty thick skin, but getting several bad ratings/reviews in a row is bound to give anyone pause, and there was one day in particular where it sort of got me down. But I bounced back, and overall I found that responses of any kind motivated me to work harder.

Assuming there are any noteworthy developments, I will continue to post about my experiences with this epublishing experiment. In the meantime, I’m eager to finish and query my next project, something for which I actually have intentions and expectations. (Perhaps too many, haha.)

On a related note, Meghan pointed me to an article about another instance where Amazon price-matched a book to $0. But in this case, the author wasn’t happy. Mainly because the offering that Amazon matched was actually only a 3-chapter preview at Barnes & Noble, not the entire book. Oops.

While I completely sympathize with how frustrating that experience must have been for the author, I have to say that most people I’ve encountered have had more trouble in the other direction: trying to get Amazon to make their book free. For all the things iTunes does poorly with the iBookstore, their price controls are robust and immediate, and I think Amazon could learn a lot from that.

(In all other ways, I think Amazon does it better. But to their credit, the iBookstore does appear to be learning and adapting.)

The unhappy author in that article is supposedly arguing with Amazon, trying to get royalties from all the free downloads. The problem is that many of those downloads would never have been sales. That’s why I certainly don’t feel like I “lost” thousands of dollars from this — in fact, I know that I have gained a number of readers and sales that I never would have had otherwise. Going free is a well-known (though not always well-liked) marketing technique in the world of ebooks.

And related to that, I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about ebook piracy. However, my thoughts never really came together in a way that I felt was blog-able. Thankfully, The Intern posted her thoughts on it, and I felt like she had read my mind. Check out her honest and not too judgmental post, “The Kindle swindlers.”

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NaNo? Nah, no(t for me)

Ah, November. A great month, for many reasons. The 21st day in particular is a favorite of mine. ;)

For many writers, November is synonymous with HOLY CRAP I HAVE TO WRITE A TON — aka National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, or NaNo. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days, never mind that major holiday where all your family comes and stays with you and you have to cook a big meal for them and socialize and stuff.

(Unless you’re not in America, in which case, never mind that holiday for real.)

Me, I don’t do NaNoWriMo. Not because I’m “better” than it — quite the opposite, in fact. I suck at it. Every time I sit down to NaNo, all I can think about is those 1,667 words I’m supposed to write each day. Then when I don’t write that many, all I can think about is how much I suck and how hard it’s going to be to catch up. Then when I don’t catch up, all I can think about is how I’m the worst writer ever and I’ll never finish a book or get an agent or do anything worthwhile with my life and hey where is that bag of dark chocolate?!

Yeah, not a good place to be.

So I prefer to sit NaNo out. Instead I watch from the sidelines and cheer for my friends who are participating. It’s still a blast.

Not NaNo-ing doesn’t make me — or anyone — less of a writer. For the record, not “winning” NaNo also does NOT make me — or anyone — less of a writer. (I kind of wish they wouldn’t use that term.) I just find that I’m happier and more productive when I’m not focused on word counts.

If that’s the case for you too, rock on! If you’re a NaNo diehard and do it every year, rock on! If you’re just trying it out for the first time, rock on! (And good luck!)

The most important thing is: Are you pursuing your passion to the best of your ability? Because that’s what NaNo is really about.

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