Friday, April 4, 2014

Anatomy of a Writing Career - Quarter 2











As some of you may recall we are tracking the first year in the professional life of a brand new M/M author, in this case the funny and talented S.C. Wynne. We’re a little late with our second quarter segment of   "Anatomy of a Writing Career," but that’s because we were holding off in an attempt to get some real numbers. We don’t have a lot to go on yet, but we do have enough to give you a glimpse of what the starting line looks like.

This is how S.C. summarizes her work: “Most of my books feature flawed characters. I have plenty of heroes with commitment issues. And horrible childhoods. But my books also have lots of humor. I suppose most writers pull from life the things that have wounded them -- or helped to save them. I take what I’ve experienced or watched others close to me go through, and then I tweak it, and push and pull till I get to the real emotions of it, until I’ve made a sort of literary, angst- flavored taffy.”

So here, without further adieu is S.C.s account of her latest adventures in authoring.

 
*****

I submitted my first M/M book to Loose Id in May of 2013. They had a special call-out for boss-themed stories, and I actually happened to already be writing that exact type of story. Josh spotted the call and suggested I submit to Loose Id. Being so new, I was getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of publishers out there. Josh thought Loose Id might be a good fit for me.

I only turned in the partial for Hard-Ass on May 25th because it was the deadline for the call. I received an email May 26th saying it had been passed on to an editor for further consideration and that it would be 6-8 weeks for a decision. On May 27th I got an email from the editor saying she liked the story and wanted to see the whole manuscript. I had expected to have more time, so I went into hysterical panic mode and Josh came to my rescue. He let our critique group know what was happening and they all jumped in like troopers and gave me the swiftest critiques in history. I managed to get the full manuscript to my editor by June 3rd and on June 10th Loose Id accepted my book.
 
The pure joy of that first-ever letter of acceptance was so over-the-top-exciting nothing will ever meet it. (I mean in my writing life. Yes, dear husband, our marriage license is still my greatest letter of acceptance.) Don’t get me wrong I’m over-the-moon-excited anytime a publisher accepts my stories -- sending books off and stalking my inbox makes me feel a little bit like a heroin addict waiting for my fix -- but there is just something about that initial acquisition of a book that makes you giddy. I started edits in July for the first book with Loose Id and it was released in October 2013. Oh what a naive little dove I was!

I wouldn’t have suspected it, but the next two weeks after my first book’s release were the most difficult of the entire experience. I was so easily wounded by unkind words, really any hint of criticism was painful. I spent the majority of the first week with a perpetual stomachache, wishing I’d never written anything. I grew afraid to even peek at Goodreads or Amazon to see how the book was being received. Goodreads is loads of fun as a reader, but most writer friends of mine steer clear, and with good reason. But when it’s your first book, you foolishly can’t help looking. Imagine my surprise when every single person in the world didn’t enjoy my book!

Well, to be honest, I knew everyone wouldn’t love it, but it never occurred to me anyone could actually hate it. Out of self-preservation I went to look at the reviews of several of the writers I love and respect.  I was able to see that all of them had received mean and sometimes hateful reviews. I am talking about authors that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt are good.  That helped me to realize that you will never, ever be able to please everyone, and frankly you just have to learn to not give a crap.

I’ve since learned to just write my best, do what I do, and ignore the hostile reviews. And honestly there are always many more positive -- or at least constructive reviews -- so those are the ones I pay attention to.
 
As I said, the first two weeks were rough, but once I gained my confidence back I wrote a Christmas sequel to Hard-Ass is Here called Hard-AssChristmas. It’s a continuation of Taylor and Phillip’s story, more deeply exploring their budding relationship. I was thrilled that Loose Id wanted it because I adore those characters.
 
From there I sold a short story to Dreamspinners Press for a minimal flat fee. I looked at it as a promotion opportunity; I was being paid to advertise myself. “Doctor in the Desert” is in the Doctor Feelgood anthology. Everyone says anthologies are a great way to expose your writing to new readers, so I gave them the story and took a chance it would pay off eventually. It’s hard to give away your hard work for so little, but I’ve had really great feedback on the story, so it was well worth it.

Josh is always stressing the importance of backlist, so I kept my eye out for other publishing calls, and right away managed to place two short stories with Evernight Publishing. “Christmas Crush” is about a nerdy bookworm who catches the cool kid’s eye on Christmas Eve, and “The New Boss” is a story about a guy who has commitment problems and the man who loves him. Both were for Evernight’s Romance on the Go line.
 
Next I submitted a story to Ellora’s Cave in September 2013 for their Va Va Boomers call. There was a nerve-wracking wait of three months before they let me know they wanted the story -- and then they signed me for two more books! My editor at Ellora’s Cave is Elizabeth London and she’s wonderful.



Not one to rest on my laurels (not that I know where to find my laurels, if I even have any) I got busy writing something new for Loose Id.  In just a few days, April 8th in fact, Guarding My Heart will be released. It’s about a spoiled rich kid and his new bodyguard. It’s my longest work yet, and I’m excited about it. I also submitted a story for LI’s Homecoming call and am planning to submit something for their Resolution call as well. I do a lot of submission calls because I know these are stories publishers are actively acquiring, so the odds of acceptance are higher (but there’s more competition too).  I love working with Loose Id, especially my editor Kathleen Fawn Calhoun. She puts me through my paces, but I trust her implicitly.

I’m always either writing or editing. Often I’m doing both at the same time because edits have a way of popping in when I least expect them. I have at least seven projects contracted this year and, who knows? I might try to throw in a few more if I get bored. (Hardy har har!)

It’s been really enlightening to see how each different publishing house handles everything. There are similarities but also big differences. Some are better at editing. Some offer more author support. Some move very slowly. Some are impersonal in their dealings with you, while others make you feel like you are part of a big happy family. Each contract and each editor is unique, and it’s important to not assume every publishing company has your best interests at heart. You have to be your own best advocate.

It’s been a very interesting, and sometimes frustrating nine months. I’ve made a lot of progress in the short time I’ve been writing professionally, and I’ve learned a lot about this industry as well as myself. Even though it’s made me question my choice to become a professional writer sometimes, ultimately I always come back to my love of writing M/M.
 
It’s too soon to know if this will be a lucrative endeavor, but it is certainly a fulfilling one emotionally and creatively. It just happens that because of the timing, I don’t have any numbers on most of my books just yet. The numbers I can offer are for the two Loose Id releases in October and December 2013. (I can’t believe I allowed Josh to talk me into this. It just shows how much I adore him. Okay, rip off the Band-Aid and I will try and keep the screaming to a minimum).

Josh: I talk to a lot of writers, and as I look at S.C.’s numbers -- not just her sales numbers but the number of contracts she has lined up with reputable publishing houses -- she’s off to a great start. That said, it takes a while to build your sales and really start earning. This is why getting to the point of being able to quit your day job is a big deal.

So the first thing to note is that S.C.’s first month royalties only reflected what she sold on the publisher’s site. (And these days we don’t sell a lot on our publishers’ sites.) So she sold 42 units at LI in October. And she was paid for those sales in November. Meanwhile, she sold 317 units on Amazon US and 82 units in Amazon combined foreign sales -- but she was not paid for those sales until January.
 
In November she sold an additional 27 units on LI’s site. Her Amazon Sales were 70 and 15.

In December, her second story, a holiday sequel to Hard-Ass came out. Holiday stories have a brief shelf life, so we wouldn’t expect to see much action beyond December and January. Competition is always fierce in December because of the slew of holidays stories released, and this year was especially notable for the glut of dirt cheap or free stories starting in November. You can see the effect of those aggressive marketing efforts in S.C.’s sales numbers. She sold 58 units of the new Christmas story on LI’s site as well as 18 units of the first Hard-Ass story. So she’s holding steady, even growing her new release sales. But her new book Amazon sales were 138 and 34, respectively.  She just couldn’t compete as a new, mostly unknown author with a regularly priced book against that landslide of holiday releases and cheap/free stuff. Her Amazon sales for Hard-Ass were 50 and 8, slowly dropping as is natural. 
 
Could there be other factors to consider in S.C.’s second release numbers? Of course. You always want to examine your numbers and, if they’re not rising, try and figure out why. Here we have the sequel to an earlier story, so one possibility is that readers just didn’t connect enough with the characters to want to spend this holiday with them. Looking at S.C.’s reviews, there are comments about the original story being too short and a little heavy on erotic content. That means as S.C. looks to writing her next stories she might want to focus on writing longer and more complex books, and questioning politely when her publishers request more sex. There are many possibilities for low release numbers, and you always want to consider them all objectively.  But my own experience, and the experience of other authors I talked to, was that sales for non-holiday or non-incentive-priced books were low this year.

On a positive note, even though S.C.’s holiday release sold less than she’d like, because it was regularly priced, she’ll earn as much or more as many of those authors who technically outsold her with rock bottom pricing. That’s the big picture.

Speaking of big picture, Hard-Ass was also listed on various other bookseller sites, and has cumulatively sold a total of 139 copies. In fact, at last accounting, Hard-Ass has sold 752 copies.  Hard-Ass Christmas has sold 310. These are respectable numbers for someone who only began publishing six months ago and who does minimal promotion and marketing.

Can S.C. quit her day job? Her highest monthly earnings so far were $460. That was in January. But that was also without receiving any particular holiday bump. And these numbers do not include her Evernight numbers (Evernight pays quarterly). By the time we get to our third quarter check-in with S.C., she’ll have another title out with Loose Id as well as her Evernight earnings. She -- and we -- will have a better sense of whether her numbers are climbing or whether she needs to rethink some of her strategies. In particular promotion and marketing.

Again, a big, big thank you to S.C. Wynne, AKA The Little Author Who Could. It takes real guts to put your numbers -- especially your numbers as a newbie -- out there for all the world to see and marvel at.

If you have questions or comments for S.C. or me, just post them in the comment section below.

 

Friday, March 21, 2014

And the winners are....

So first up, if there are any authors scouting around looking for cover art, don't be shy about leaving an inquiry or contact info for any particular cover because there is a wealth of fabulous art here -- and I know a lot of our artists are hoping for that very thing.

Choosing between so many wonderful covers and talented artists was difficult. No, let's be honest, it was insane. There were just too many great choices. As warned, I did overrule the popular vote in two cases because, well, it turns out I'm not as easy-going as I think. 

Anyway, the to-be-commissioned art and the runners up are listed in the posts below.  I truly appreciate everyone who took part in this contest, whether contributing art or taking the time to vote (seriously, your votes were very helpful) you made this a creative and entertaining endeavor.

Thank you, all!  

And the winner is...EVERYTHING I KNOW

Um...so pretty much every single cover in this category was a winner. I mean, just one perfect cover after another popped into my mailbox. From bunnies to black boards, these were all I-want-that-one! However, we can only have one cover --  and the girl with the votes is Catherine Dair (again!) for #7.




This category in particular was flooded with great submissions. It's amazing to me that there were so many inventive spins on such a simple description.

I especially liked #2 by Stuu. It's a bit too dark in tone for the story, but it's really wonderful -- as so many of you noted.







And the winner is...WHAT'S LEFT OF KISSES?

This had to be the toughest of all the projects in that the cover had to somehow convey something of each story (one of which doesn't even exist yet!). It had to be romantic AND somehow advertise "historical."

In other words, good luck with that!

But again, so many inventive and even gorgeous covers. So many covers that could work for a number of projects. But in the end I went with my favorite concept -- after speaking to the artist about the possibility of potentially tweaking it to make it more vintage/retro/aged.

Therefore the commission goes to KB Smith for #5. I love the idea of the snapshot fading out into nothing. 





But two of the overwhelming reader favorites really have to be pulled up and shared because they're so good, and I keep trying to think of other projects I might have coming up that I could use them on!

Those covers were both by Johanna: #7 & #11




 
 
 
 
 
 




And in fact, I believe that the typewriter cover could work very well for an audio book cover, though I haven't quite figured out which one. So I started out commissioning four covers and I think I'm already up to seven. :-)

And the winner is...A SHOT IN THE DARK

Again, so many wonderful submissions. If you're not all getting commissions for covers now, I don't know why not. These were terrific.

The vote was very close, and I liked both leading contenders very much. I decided that we would go with #4, KB Smith's cover for the A Shot in the Dark collection.




Congratulations, KB!



And with a title change and some tweaking of dimensions, #7 by Minu will work perfectly for the audio book cover for The Dark Farewell.


 
 
 
 
Congratulations yet again!
 
 


And the winner is....SLAY RIDE

Well, we had some interesting voting! In some cases my favorites turned out to be really, really different from the popular choices. So it's a good thing I put in that little caveat about overruling the vote when necessary because... 

SLAY RIDE

There were just so many great ideas for this cover -- which is astonishing, given that nobody had almost anything to work with in the way of direction or story hints! I honestly could have gone with any number of the submissions, but I knew the perfect cover the second I saw it. It captures the noir vibe and has an uncanny number of story details.

So the cover commission goes to Catherine Dair for #11








The popular vote, however, went to  two efforts by Minu --  #17 & 19 -- so congratulations on your talented work and thank you for those lovely covers! This is all the more impressive as Minu wrote that these are her first ever covers.




























In addition, I fell in love with Johanna's adorable cover with the guy bundled up in a sweater, and I decided to commandeer it for an as yet unnamed and unknown Christmas story. Now all I have to do is write the story!

 
 
 
 
 

Monday, March 17, 2014

EVERYTHING I KNOW PART 2 (IF YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO VOTE)

If you already voted on the earlier large post, don't vote again -- I am collecting those votes. But if you weren't able to "see" that post, I've split it up into two smaller posts, so you may vote once each on those.

#11




















#12





















#13





















#14