Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: May 2017

I can’t believe I survived May.

As you cleverly inferred from the radio silence on this site and social media, May swallowed up all of my work time, then lapped up my free time for good measure. But you know what? It was a blast, and I’m so excited to share my many updates with you and get back to our regular programming.

So … what happened in May?

On the writing front, I finished the first draft of Desertera #3 and sent it off to the editor. She’s already returned round one of edits, and I’m floored and humbled by her feedback. This week, I’ll dive into the manuscript to make her changes and keep moving forward. Depending on how the next few rounds go (and when I finally select a title … I know, it’s my creative Achilles Heel), the novel should be on track for a late July or early August release date! More soon.

Rainy graduation day in a flattering blue poncho!

The second half of May revolved around my personal life. As you know, I’ve been living in Connecticut while my husband worked toward his Master’s at Yale. Well, Daniel graduated (so proud of you, honey!). My mother-in-law and her friend flew over from Australia to celebrate, then the four of us took an epic road trip around New England. (I’ll share more later, or you can check out some pics on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)

And it doesn’t end there. Daniel begins his PhD at Stanford this summer, so we packed up our apartment and started our cross-country move. While I’m sad to leave our New Haven friends and the best ice cream on the planet, I’m thrilled for our next adventure together. Again, I plan to talk more about this transition later, once I’ve had time to process and establish a new routine. (Sensing a pattern yet?)

What will I do while Daniel studies? Well, obviously, I’ll still be writing, blogging, and building my author business. I’m also elated to report that I have been able to take my day job with me, so I’m still a copywriter for a fantastic wine marketing company. I love my job (and wine, duh) and getting to do it without three hours of commuting every day is awesome. While I’ll miss writing on the train, I won’t miss the train itself, the bus, other commuters, or braving the elements to get to the office!

Looking forward to June, my top priority is editing, titling, and starting the cover design process for Desertera #3. Second on the list? Establishing a new routine that balances my author work, my copywriting job, and my personal life. I’d also like to catch up on my favorite podcasts and my ever-growing to-read list (a big shout-out to all my fellow authors waiting on reviews … I haven’t forgotten you!).

Have a great Monday (or whatever day you’re reading this), and best of luck with your own goals! As always, I’d love to read what you’re working on in the comments section.


What did you accomplish in May? What are your goals for June? Share in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: April 2017

Well, I’m back from Camp NaNoWriMo, covered in bug bites and stuffed to the brim with smores. While I didn’t win (darn it!), I did add nearly 40,000 words to my draft of Desertera #3. This puts me well on the way to done, and I should have the manuscript wrapped up over the next week or two.

To be honest, most of April is a blur. Specifically, a blur of Scrivener documents, penciled outlines, and story discussions with my alpha reader. Still, I managed to sneak in a little bit of fun. In preparation of my husband’s graduation from Yale, we’ve started a taste tour of local restaurants and have had many fun double dates and friends’ nights.

It’s definitely been a challenge to balance writing, business, my day job, and my social life, but I’m doing my best. That’s all any of us can do, right? As for May, the first half (and a bit) will be focused on getting Desertera #3 to the editor. Over the second half, I’ll be celebrating my husband’s graduation and spending time all around New England with him and our parents. It should be a lovely (and well deserved) break!

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – back on track!
Write Desertera #3 – almost done!

Thanks to the pressure of Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve made fantastic progress on my manuscript of Desertera #3. My main goal this month will be finishing it up and completing the necessary content edits before it goes to the professional editor in the middle of the month. Because I’ve been editing as I write, this process should be pretty easy!

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Blog twice per week – slightly behind
Maintain social media schedule – slightly behind
Read 52 books this year – slightly behind

As tends to be my pattern, I struggled with balancing my writing and other business activities. However, I did blog at least once a week, and I did participate in two separate marketing events. Given my editing deadline and upcoming personal commitments, I anticipate more unevenness this month. Luckily, I should have plenty of time to get caught up in this area over the summer.

Books Read:
None

Book in Progress: Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – great!
Exercise 3x per week – better than zero
Break a bad habit – on track
Make post-Yale plan – pretty much done

Even with all the craziness and uncertainty coming up, I’ve stayed in positive spirits and haven’t fallen back into bad habits. Most excitingly, my husband and I have made our plan for after his graduation from Yale, and while we still have a few minor details to iron out, we’re in good shape for our short- and mid-term future. We’ve also planned two fun mini-vacations for the end of the month, so watch my Instagram for photos!

Goals for May
Send Desertera #3 to my editor
Enjoy our post-graduation mini-vacations
Keep refining my balance between writing and other responsibilities


How did my fellow NaNoWriMo campers fare? Any exciting plans for May? Share in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: March 2017

March has put me in a difficult position for my monthly update. I have two steadfast rules for my website: I try to be completely honest and transparent, and I try to be positive and encouraging. Balancing the two will be tough for this post, so please forgive me if it’s a bit of a downer.

This month, my grandpa passed away after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. This came only two and a half months after another family death, a horrible, unexpected tragedy that occurred two days after Christmas. While my grandpa’s death wasn’t unexpected (his health had been declining rapidly over the past year), it was still difficult to watch my family go through it from 2,000 miles away (I was home at Christmas). I already feel a great deal of guilt about living so far away from home (even temporarily) and this experience brought all that negativity to the forefront. Fortunately, I was able to say goodbye over the phone and travel home to attend the celebration of life.

Why am I telling you this? Because I learned a few valuable lessons this month that might help you, too.

First, there’s a difference between procrastination and needing time off writing. Even with all this heartache, I still felt guilty about abandoning my writing while grieving. It took a very loving, and appropriately stern, talk from my husband to help me realize that sometimes it’s important to give yourself a break. If you need that permission, here it is: sometimes other aspects of life trump writing; get through them so you can get back to your craft.

Second, I realized how thankful I am to be alive and in my life. My grandpa went into hospice care on my 25th birthday, and the collision of these events forced me to take a hard look at my situation. All I could come up with was gratitude — for my health, for the end of his suffering, and for the fact that, out of all the grandpas in the world, he was mine. The lesson? When tragedy comes to you, focus on the good.

Last, story is powerful. At my grandpa’s celebration of life, several friends and family members shared stories about him and what he had meant to them. Not only did this pay tribute to him, but it proved just how significant storytelling is. As writers, even of fiction, we bring real-life experiences and pieces of real people into our work. We give escape. We offer connection. We grant immortality. I have never been so proud to be a storyteller as I was that night.

All that being said, it won’t be a surprise that March was an unproductive month. Therefore, I’ll keep the rest of the update short and sweet. As always, I would love your comments, but please don’t feel obligated to mention my loss. I didn’t share for pity or compassion, only to share those writing lessons.

And for April? I’ll be diving headfirst into Camp NaNoWriMo to get my draft of Desertera #3 back on track. With a few other promotions lined up, it’s going to be a very busy month, but I’m looking forward to it. At least in Desertera, the only problems belong to my characters!

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – behind
Write Desertera #3 – behind

Time to get caught up!

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Blog twice per week – on track
Maintain social media schedule – slightly behind
Read 52 books this year – catching up

In positive news, my husband went home to visit friends and family in Australia, and delivered several signed paperbacks. To my surprise, they bought up all the copies of The Courtesan’s Avenger I had left–so I actually had a decent month from a financial perspective. The blog stayed on track, thanks to my scheduling ahead and a few announcements and guest posts. I let social media fall to the wayside, but I did do a little extra reading to distract myself from everything, so that was good!

Books Read:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10, Volume 1 by Christos Gage — 5 stars (maybe my favorite Buffy comic yet!)
Angel & Faith: Season 10, Volume 1 by Victor Gischler — 4 stars
Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England by Elizabeth Reis — 5 stars
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — 5 stars (totally lives up to the hype!)
Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft by Paul S. Boyer — 4 stars

Book in Progress: None right now!

Next Up: Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – surprisingly, still good!
Exercise 3x per week – um…
Break a bad habit – on track
Make post-Yale plan – coming along well

As I shared in my lessons above, I’ve made an effort to stay positive, and it’s really paying off. My husband and I are also making great progress with our plans for after he graduates from Yale … though at the expense of the gym!

Goals for April
Continue drafting Desertera #3
Participate in the Brains to Books Cyber Convention this weekend (April 7, 8, 9) — (Sci-Fi fans – join the Facebook group here!)
Keep refining my balance between writing and other responsibilities


How did March treat you? Will you be heading off to Camp NaNoWriMo this April? Share in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: February 2017

monthly-updateAnd so ends the too-short month of February. Fun fact (courtesy of my new Amazon Echo): apparently, February used to have more days, but the emperor Augustus stole a few for August so his namesake month wouldn’t be the shortest. Talk about ego!

Anyway, I hope your February was productive and cheerful. As you’ll read below, I spent the month catching up on some of my smaller goals. While I still have some work to do on the writing front and I haven’t stepped foot in the gym, I’m in a really positive place right now. March should be an even better month, as I have a few exciting personal events planned (including my 25th birthday!) and I’ll have a two-week time span that I can devote almost entirely to drafting Desertera #3.

Check out my more detailed recap below, then share your own successes and goals in the comments!

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – on track
Write Desertera #3 – on track

While I made overall progress in February and stuck to my larger creation goal, I’m not where I would like to be word-count-wise with Desertera #3. Part of this is that I finally figured out the aspects of the plot that were bugging me, which meant I spent some of my drafting time revising chapters I’d already written. I also went down the research rabbit hole of a future idea, which was a fun, but irresponsible, choice.

Perhaps the most exciting writing update is that I have booked my editing date for Desertera #3 (mid-May)! Given that I do my best work with a deadline, I’m confident I’ll pick up the pace over March and April and get this manuscript knocked out on schedule.

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – slightly behind
Blog twice per week – on track
Maintain social media schedule – on track
Read 52 books this year – slightly behind

As I said last month, I’ve adjusted my marketing and production goals already, so I’m fine with my financial progress thus far. It should be relatively easy to get back on track when Desertera #3 launches (hopefully in late July!). On the blogging front, I am really enjoying the subtle changes I’ve made to the website and have happily hosted a few guest posts. (If you’d like to submit an article, just contact me!)

My social media schedule is back on track. At its core, my aim is to put out consistent, high-quality, and REAL content for my readers and fellow authors. No ridiculously staged photos or click-baity stuff here. Likewise, I’m catching up on my reading goal and have had a lot of fun diving into witchcraft research for a future series.

Books Read:
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – 4 stars
#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso – 4 stars
The Devil’s Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England by Richard Godbeer – 4 stars

Book in Progress: Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England
by Elizabeth Reis

Next UpBuffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10, Volume 1 by Joss Whedon

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – better!
Exercise 3x per week – um…
Break a bad habit – on track
Make post-Yale plan – started!

After a difficult end to 2016 and rough January, I’m thrilled to report that my personal goals are moving along. My husband has received an offer to a PhD program, so we’re starting to formulate a new five-year plan. Even in the wake of all this change, I’ve kept a positive attitude and feel at peace with where my life is now. While March looks busy (sorry, gym!), I think it will be a great month for planning and introspection (by which I mean my quarter-life “crisis” – happy early birthday to me!).

Goals for March
Continue drafting Desertera #3
Have my quarter-life crisis (Seriously, I’m so excited for an excuse to be selfishly introspective!)
Keep refining my balance between writing and other responsibilities


How did February treat you? What are your goals for March? Share in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Getting in the Money Mindset: A Basic Financial Plan for New Authors

Getting in the Money Mindset

Back when I first discussed my goal of full-time authorship (and again when I reflected on my first full year as a published author), a few readers expressed interest in learning more about my plan to become a full-time author. In short, I’ve had to realize that, if I want writing to be my job, I have to think of it like a business. This mindset shift marked a huge evolution in my writing life, and I’ve done my best to outline my thinking process in the article that follows.

First, I want to make a few disclaimers:

1. I am not an accountant or financial adviser. All advice given should be taken (preferably to a professional) with a grain of salt.

2. This post is meant for authors who want to make a full-time career in independent publishing.

3. This post is written in first-person, because it is based on my own experiences and rough financial plan at this early stage in my career.

4. My situation will not be the same as yours. Therefore, my plan will not work perfectly for you, and I cannot create a custom plan for you. However, the over-arching principles should be applicable to all. To that end …

5. This post is meant to be an outline of a basic financial plan. It will not cover taxes, financial tools/software, budgeting, or how to sell books.

6. Again, I’m not an expert. Advice, resources, and other tips are welcome and appreciated!

All good? Good.


A Simple, Small, Shoulda-Had-It-Months-Ago Epiphany

If you listen to any of the major independent publishing podcasts, the authors and creative entrepreneurs featured will give you the same basic advice: know your goal. Mine is to make a full-time living from my writing.

While I’ve had this goal for years now, I’m embarrassed to say it took me a long time to realize exactly what this meant for me and Boxthorn Press (my business). I’d always looked at the big picture – one day, my book royalties will be enough to live on. That’s great, but it’s not a magical switch that will flip.

What I finally realized was that my ultimate goal of full-time authorship depended on one thing: making money. (Duh, right?) Now, I want to clarify that I’m not a greedy cash-grabber. I love writing, and I have told stories since childhood, regardless of financial gain. That being said, I want to continue to write for the rest of my life – and I’d have a heck of a lot more time to write if it were my only job. So, that’s what I’m going to make happen!

Breaking Down the Steps to Profitability

The Ultimate Goal: Book royalties must cover operating expenses (what it costs to publish, business activities, and requisite state/federal taxes), plus produce a profit (excess money to create my salary and pay personal expenses).

Step One: Invest Personal Funds
Currently, I’m covering all publishing expenses with personal funds from my day job. By keeping track of these expenses, I know how deep Boxthorn Press is in the negative. (Fun fact: on average, a small business owner in any industry can expect to spend about five years in this phase.)

Step Two: Royalties Cover Operating Expenses and Taxes
Eventually, royalties from my published books will begin to cover the cost of producing and marketing new books. At this point, all funds are re-invested in the business (in place of my personal funds). This means that the business has NOT broken even (because the excess funds have not recouped my initial investment) and it is NOT profitable (because there are no excess funds beyond expenses and debt).

Step Three: Break Even
In this stage, my total book royalties (for the length of my career) will equal my total personal investment. From this point on, the business will be profitable.

Step Four: Profitability
The royalties from book sales will exceed the operating expenses and requisite state/federal taxes, and create a true profit. Once this profit can cover my personal expenses (rent, groceries, insurance, etc.), I can make writing my sole source of income.

Defining and Calculating Profitability

How long am I willing to wait to go full-time?
Because my husband will be in graduate school for the next several years, I’m taking a VERY long-term approach to full-time authorship. As the main breadwinner, I must have a steady income to support us. Therefore, my goal is to go full-time after he finishes school. Estimation: 2025 (8 years)

What is a full-time income?
To determine this number, I must take into account living expenses (which will depend on where and how we live), my husband’s potential income, and our savings (and desired future savings). Since we plan to settle in the Midwest, my husband will be a university professor, and we should have a healthy nest egg saved, my starting salary could be low. Estimation: $20,000 (after taxes)

What are my annual operating expenses and taxes?
Expenses will vary based on regular business activities and how many books I publish. Likewise, the amount of taxes I owe will vary based on how much actual profit my business makes. Estimation: $4,000 per year

How will my profits grow each year?
A tough number to estimate. The more products I have to sell, the more potential sales I can make. As my number of books and investment in marketing increase, so will my profits. Estimation: see chart below

How do I determine when I can go full time?
At the simplest level, here’s the equation: Royalties – Expenses = Desired Salary

That’s easy to calculate for one year. However, it gets a bit messier when I take into account the years of personal investment and negative profits. Note: this chart does not include taxes, for purposes of simplicity.

boxthorn-press-expenses
Annual Expenses: the real or estimated cost of publishing and marketing books
Annual Royalties: the real or estimated royalties received from my published books
Annual Profit: excess funds (royalties minus expenses) per year
Running Gross Profit Margin (GPM): total profits for the lifetime of the business

KEY DATES
2018: Annual profit hits zero (step two above)
2020: Gross profit margin turns positive (step three above)
2025: Annual profit exceeds $20,000 (salary goal met!)

How to Meet My Financial Goals

Short-term: Hit monthly royalty goals
Because I’m a visual person, I like to break down my larger royalty goals by both time and assets (e.g. books). For example, this year I want to make $2,000 in royalties. By time, that’s $167 per month. By assets, that’s 80 ebooks (priced at $2.99, sold at Amazon’s 70% royalty rate). I do this for all products, price points, and royalty rates.

Long-term: Follow the chart
This was the biggest “Eureka!” moment for me. If I keep my expenses at/under $4,000 a year and meet/exceed my annual profit goals (and no personal tragedies strike), I WILL make enough money to be a full-time author by 2025.

Forever: Save for the unexpected
In any aspect of life, there will be things outside of my control. Maybe Amazon will change its royalty rates. Maybe a marketing promotion will lose tons of money. Maybe I’ll get hit with crippling medical bills. That’s why I’ve allowed myself a long timeline, over-estimated expenses, and plan to build up a healthy nest egg before making the leap. I suggest you do the same.

How to Speed Up the Process

Mathematically speaking, the only ways to reach my goal faster are to A) spend less than my estimated annual expenses or B) make more than my estimated annual profit.

There are about a million tactics that could help. For example, I could higher a cheaper cover designer, play with book pricing, invest in proven marketing services, or create an additional source of income (e.g. courses or editing services). As stated in the disclaimer, this subject is outside the scope of this post.

Conclusion

The road to full-time authorship is long and difficult and different for every writer. However, the basic, over-arching plan applies to all of us.

Figure out the salary you need to live comfortably – this is your goal. Then, weigh your annual expenses vs. your annual profit until you’ve recouped any personal investment. Continue until the annual profit (after taxes) meets your desired salary. Do everything in your power to meet these numbers. Repeat every year, for as long as it takes.

Then once you’ve become a full-time author? Well, I’ll let you know when I get there …


For more information on the business and financial aspects of authorship, I recommend Business for Authors by Joanna Penn. To learn more about taxes and other legal concerns, check out The Self Publisher’s Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick.