Self-Publishing and Burnout

Once upon a time, I had an idea. It wasn’t like my other ideas. It was bigger and brighter and shinier. A whole imaginary universe went into motion when I sat with my notebook and pen and turned the key. I’d written stories before. Short ones, just a couple of characters, a quick resolution. None of those ideas were like this one. None of them had kept me awake at night; none of them had me leaping out of bed, eager to get the dialogue I’d dreamed down on paper. None of them had me in such thrall that I almost burned my house down, not once, but twice.

As I finished this first novel and wrote a few others, I cherished that joy. It sustained me through some of my darkest times. Nothing hurt when I was writing. My worries melted away for a while, and novel after novel piled up in photocopy paper boxes in my closet. Once in a while I’d dust one off and send it to an agent, and occasionally someone would get excited about it, but nothing ever came of that. So I kept writing.

Then, when self-publishing became an affordable possibility, I began to release them. Online friends helped me learn how to hit all the bases: get the website going, get an Amazon presence, and market, market, market and sell, sell, sell.

I marketed and marketed. I sold…sold…and then, not so much.

Approaching the five-year anniversary of “living the dream,” as we call it in Indie Land, I had a meltdown. I was sick. I lost weight. I was exhausted. I wrote, but I didn’t have the same verve. I keep a folder on my computer named “When I Feel Like Quitting.” Believe me, I dipped into that a few times.

I almost quit.

Then, at the end of 2016, I sat down with a big sketchpad I’d swiped from Art Husband and started sketching out my plans for the upcoming year. I’d been doing this for a while, inspired by Jim Devitt’s blog on Indies Unlimited.

That’s when I had my epiphany. I was in danger of letting everything needed to be a successful self-published author kill what I’d originally loved about the process: the writing.

And I knew that if I let it kill the writing, I’d be sunk. Writing keeps me sane; writing is my release valve; writing saves me from turning into a raging bitch.

So I made lists. A lot of lists. Things I needed. Things I needed to stop. I pulled back on a lot of my commitments, nearly everything that wasn’t related to paying the bills and regaining my health.

I’m ready to dip a toe back in again. I’ve already done a couple of small promotions, and I’m using that same sketchpad to make notes for my next book release, which will happen later this year. But maybe a little less frenetically and more mindfully than in previous years.

And yes. Writing is a joy again. You’re welcome.

Have any of you come out the other side of burnout? What did you do to get over it?

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Cover Makeover

Catering-Girl-Revised_final
New cover!

Sometimes, the hardest part of change is admitting that you need some.

Okay, here I go (deep breath): some things about the way I’ve been marketing my books are not working. So I’m taking it one step at a time, looking at my book descriptions, keywords, categories, all those bits and bobs self-publishing authors have to learn about to help us become more visible to readers.

The first step in my evil plan to achieve world domination (or just, you know, sell a book or two) is to re-evaluate some of my covers. A lot of publishers refresh their books’ covers over time, as styles change, and I plan to do some of that. But this one cried out to me right away.

CateringGirlMaybeFinal
This girl needs a makeover.

I liked the idea for the original cover for Catering Girl at first. But I think it might have been too high-concept for the story. The intention was for it to be a representation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, except with the substitution of the coffee cup for the little movie camera: the award goes to…the catering girl.

Crickets. Major crickets. Crickets with jazz hands.

In retrospect, I think the intention might have been good, but the overall execution was confusing. The granite texture says serious and even funereal. The frothy, piped-icing look of the title font says “cute bake-shop cozy mystery.” The story is neither of those things. I think I was trying to lighten the tone of a graphic I had fallen much too far in love with, and send a message that “although this story has some substance, it’s also fun!”

Together, it said, “Uh, no.”

I’ve been meaning to revise the cover for a while, hunting for images in my spare time. Everything looked too light and fluffy—poolside girlfriends, umbrella drinks on pristine glass tables. Then I found this lovely number. Something about it said “Frankie” to me right away. It said “snarky and just a little dark, and how does she do that without spilling her drink?” So, I think it’s a better fit and will hopefully select the right readers.

Onward and upward, as they say.

What’s Smashwords Good For?

SW_Vertical_ColorI know. I’ve been hearing the questions: Laurie, what is this Smashwords thing you keep rattling on about? Your books are on sale there [for the rest of July, ahem], but…what the heck IS it?

I have a post up on Indies Unlimited today that explains what Smashwords is, some of the advantages, and why I chose them over their competitors.

If you’re new to self-publishing, or considering other avenues besides Amazon, you may want to read more here.