The One Thing an Author Must Do to Expand their Platform

  

GREY MAGIC is out in audiobook! All three Bonds of Magic books are now live on Audible for your glomming pleasure!

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re offering tips for expanding your author platform.

“Platform” is one of those words I’m not terribly fond of, seeing as how it comes from the world of sales and legal wrangling. If you do a bit of digging (but please don’t go down that rabbit hole!) you’ll find that the term arose in the early 90s, along with the advent and burgeoning of the internet, and originally applied to nonfiction works and proposals. (Jane Friedman has a great write-up on it here.) Nowadays it seems like the term gets thrown about by all sorts of agent, editor, and marketing types in seeking the ideal author for them to make money off of.
(Note: there’s nothing wrong with trad-publishing folks making money off of authors. That’s the business model and it can work for everyone involved. I just feel that the ‘must have a great platform’ folks are more interested in the generating moolah side of things than, you know, books.)
Anyway, as Jane succinctly defines it, an author platform is an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.
So… not all of us, right? Most authors of fiction sell books because of our voice and the stories we write, not who we are. However! What we write is what reaches people, so who we can reach is within reasonable grasp for a writer of fiction.
Are you ready for this? The great secret??

Write more books!

Or short stories. Or create games or draw comics. Whatever medium is floating your creative boat at the moment, do more of that!
I know, I know – the answer is always the same. But that’s because this is the very best advice out there. The most effective marketing for any author is to create more. The more stuff you have out there, the more people you can reach.
Seriously, over the years I’ve seen SO MANY AUTHORS get sucked into focusing on flogging a single work or series to the exclusion of all other efforts. Sure, it can be easy to get focused on wanting a particular work to succeed, and yes, marketing can feel like a clearer path, with lots of vultures vendors out there waiting to take your money with glowing promises of high sales. Writing more stuff is hard.
But creating stuff is why you got into the gig in the first place, yes? So go do it, my friend.

Converting the Reluctant Reader

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our favorite reader interaction.

Once we get past the fact that ANY AND ALL positive reader interactions are a balm to every writer, then we come to the inevitable truth that the more recent ones spring to mind first. I am so blessed to have each and every one of you out there sending me happy messages about my books. I treasure each and every one, I really do.

But I’m going to pick a recent one that really thrilled me because of the unusual source. You’ll see what I mean when you read it, but I can preface by saying this was from a new friend, a guy my age(ish), who bought DARK WIZARD to be nice. He was in town visiting and bought a hard copy to support me and my local indie bookstore. I seriously never expected him to read it.

Then I got this email:

I, at last, had time to read “Dark Wizard” over the weekend and I was so impressed!

It’s totally not my sub-genre, and would never consider reading the book if someone gave me a plot summary, but it is so well executed and such a page-turner – I was really sucked in. And, despite myself, I want to read the rest of the trilogy. What really amazes me, is that you have such an extensive bibliography – you must be writing very fast – but the quality is so high – no idea how you do it.

Is there anything better than converting a reluctant reader? Not in my book! (lol)

Two Pieces of Advice on Crafting the Perfect Opening Line

Ah, the much-discussed, celebrated, and labored over first line… Is it that important?

(See what I did there?)

Many in the writing and publishing world will go on at length on the critical importance of the opening line of any work, long or short. There are long-standing contests for opening lines – brilliant or cringingly terrible. Writers are expected to trot our their favorite first lines (which I notice is also part of this week’s assignment at the SFF Seven). But do those opening lines deserve the significance they’re given?

Yes and no. The thing is, first lines are low-hanging fruit. They’re easy to pick on. They require very little reading and it’s easy to analyze a single line of text. For the teachers, coaches, and advice-givers of all stripes, an opening line is a simple aspect of a work to assess. In that way, they’re probably given far more emphasis than they deserve.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of the advice out there – not unlike a lot of writing advice – isn’t terribly helpful. Writers are told that their opening line must “hook” the reader, who is presumably like a fish in this analogy, and reel them in to keep reading more. And hopefully buy the work in question.

And people rhapsodize over favorite opening lines, analyzing brilliance, but – again – this rarely yields useful advice on how to write them.

I spent a lot of years not sure what made an opening line a good one or not. Only recently, with a bunch of published works behind me, have I come across actually useful advice on how to craft an opening line: It needs to establish the sort of story it is, and pose some sort of question. It doesn’t have to be a literal question, but it should invite the reader to wonder about something of interest to them.

A famous example of this is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem How Do I Love Thee. (Those who listen to my podcast, First Cup of Coffee, know I’ve been going down an Elizabeth Barrett Browning/Robert Browning rabbit hole lately. I blame Connie Willis.) Almost anyone can quote the opening line, even if they don’t know the rest of the poem:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

What does this line do? It establishes that the work is a love poem, and invites the reader to wonder about what those ways are.

Thus, my opening line above: I established what sort of writing this is – an informational article on first lines – and I posed a literal question that I’d be addressing.

Once I figured out this was all I needed to do, it made crafting that opening line much easier! Here’s one of the first ones that I used this technique to write, from DARK WIZARD.

Gabriel Phel crested the last ridge of the notorious Knifeblade Mountains that guarded Elal lands on nearly three sides, and faced the final barrier.

This first line isn’t brilliant by any stretch. What it does, however, is inform the reader that this is an alternate fantasy world, and it invites them to wonder about who Gabriel Phel is, why he’s in this inhospitable land, and what this final barrier is. That’s it. And you know what? It works. That book has done a better job of hooking new readers than anything else of mine. I think there are other reasons for that book’s success, but I think that opening helps.

What’s most important to remember is: just because the first line comes first, that doesn’t mean it has to be written first. Certainly not perfected first. A lot of writers spend forever crafting that opening, trying to get it perfect – possibly because of this emphasis on first lines – and can circle that effort endlessly. That’s my second piece of advice. Craft the opening once the work is finished, or at least drafted. It will wait. And that gives that low-hanging fruit time to ripen.

 

Jeffe’s Five Effective Work Habits for Writing Productivity

My series rebrand of the six-book epic romantic fantasy saga, Sorcerous Moons, is complete! Book One, LONEN’S WAR, releases Friday, with each subsequent book releasing one/day for the following week.

This is my first (and possibly last!) real test of whether my books can be successful in KU. I’ve run A/B tests before and I’ve always made 2-3x as much money in sales on Amazon alone than via page reads in KU. But we shall see! Tell your KU-loving friends. 😀

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is The Write Stuff: What five effective work habits make a professional writer the most successful? I can only tell you mine and that’s defining “success” as being productive. The other kind of success – fame, money, adulation, awards – depends hugely on timing and serendipity. But we’re focusing on work habits, so here are mine:

1. Consistency

You don’t have to write every day, at the same time every day – though I do extoll that as THE single most effective method for building a consistent writing habit – but consistency is key. I build my schedule around protecting my writing time and that habit carries me through all sorts of difficulties.

2. Persistence

The other piece of building a writing habit is keeping it going. So many writers give up without finishing a book – or finishing multiple books! – or they give up after a few books. Or, when attempting to write consistently, they take time off, change their minds, prioritize something else. Persistence is what gets words on the page.

3. Focus

Shut out the world, ignore the new shinies and frolicking plot bunnies. Close the office door, put in the noise-cancelling ear buds, disconnect the internet and silence the phone. Focus on the writing and only on the writing for the time that you’re doing it. Think about the story and only that. All other considerations come later.

4. Integrity

Write what you believe in and write it your way. Don’t chase trends or try to make your stories a clone of someone else’s. This may not seem like an effective work habit, but it is! Keeping to the integrity of the story YOU are telling allows you to focus on that and not the market, or whatever the loud voices are currently shouting about.

5. Flexibility

The previous four have all been about ritual and drawing firm lines, but with those come a need for flexibility. Be ready to change up what you’re doing if you have to. Reinvent yourself regularly. Try rebranding series and putting it in Kindle Unlimited. (See what I did there?) The world changes, sometimes rapidly, and we have to be ready to change with it.

On My Mind: eBook Retailers

 Barnes & Noble is running a pre-order sale for the next couple of days – apparently on any book up for pre-order – though the only book I have up for pre-order right now is THE STORM PRINCESS AND THE RAVEN KING (out May 31!). So, if you’re a Nook reader, you can pre-order THE STORM PRINCESS AND THE RAVEN KING for 25% off from April 20-22 with the code PREORDER25. Order other books, too! Have a Nook party that goes on forever, because the presents will keep arriving for a long time! 

A bunch of us who self-publish – this could be true of trad-pub sales, too, but we can’t see which retailer sales come from on those numbers – have noticed that our sales on B&N have gone way down. I don’t have any exact metrics, but even with new releases, I can see that my payments from B&N are much lower. Several other authors have mentioned it, too, along with a few readers who use Nook saying that it’s super hard to find books on their device. It’s really too bad. Everyone bitches about Amazon’s dominance over the book-buying marketplace, but then the sites that could be providing competition – like B&N, Apple Books, Google Books – seem to be phoning in the effort. The only retailer that seems to be really working at competing with Amazon, and doing a creditable job of it, is Kobo. With the recent merger/acquisition (I’m not sure which it is) of Smashwords and D2D, maybe they’ll up their efforts. We can hope!
And, apparently, that’s what’s on MY mind this week 🙂

 

 

Three Things I Did to Sustain a Full-time Writing Career

The audiobook of BRIGHT FAMILIAR is now available! And GREY MAGIC in audio will be out very soon!!

This week at the SFF Seven our topic is: Being a full-time writer – is it your dream? How do you pay for life and write, too?

In this instance we’re defining “full-time writer” as someone who doesn’t have a day job or other paying occupation that competes with writing. Most of us – unless we marry money or inherit a trust fund – continue to work jobs even after our first books are published. Sometimes for a LONG time after that. For myself, I continued to have essentially two careers for just over twenty years after my first publication.

I worked in environmental consulting while all the while carving out time and energy to write. I kept waiting for my writing income to match my day-job salary – even not figuring in benefits! – and it never got there. Eventually life made the decision for me: my primary project got axed, our team dissolved, and I was laid off with decent severance.

And I made the decision to try to have only one career at that point.

It hasn’t been easy! KAK’s post from yesterday about being exacting with a budget is super important.

This is especially true if, like her, you have only yourself to count on for income. Or if, like me, you are the primary breadwinner for your family. When authors give advice on managing finances as a full-time writer, it behooves you to pay attention to what other financial help they have. It might not be a trust fund, but having a spouse with a steady salary (and benefits!) goes a long way. Other authors live on retirement income or other, similar sources.

So, how have I done it?

1) Meticulous budgeting.

As much as I can, I budget a quarter at a time. Writing income is volatile and, unless you’re making buckets of it, you can’t count on being able to pay the bills with income from a single month as you can with a regular paycheck. As KAK mentions, you can’t figure your disposable income by simply subtracting your expenses from that month’s income. You may need that “leftover” money for next month, or the month after. The financial gymnastics require creativity and flexibility.

2) Tracking sales

Data is everything! You can’t afford to be only a dreamy creative. You have to wear your business hat and crunch the data from your royalty reports. You have to be ready to be stern with yourself and pay attention to which efforts generate income and which don’t. You may find you can’t afford those passion projects if your writing is what puts food on the table. OR, that you can afford them only if other projects are paying the bills.

3) Self-Publishing

If writing income is volatile, then income from traditional publishing has the lowest evaporation temperature. It comes, it goes – often on an annual or semi-annual basis. Quarterly is likely the most frequently you’ll get paid, and every royalty check is a surprise! Again, unless they’re cutting you BIG checks, it likely won’t be enough to live on. This is why so many trad-pubbed authors also teach or have other side gigs. Self-publishing provides monthly income. Yes, it fluctuates, but you can also track sales and predict how much money will arrive in two months. Taking the surprise out of the equation helps immensely! You’re also not subject to the whims of traditional publishing on a number of levels.

Those are three practices that have helped me manage a career as a full-time writing with essentially no other income. The other, quite obvious step, would be to make buckets of money and never have to think about budgeting again.

Maybe someday!

Hulk Smash! (the patriarchy)

This week at the SFF Seven we’re discussing what we do in our stories to smash the patriarchy.

My favorite way to crack up patriarchal thinking? Model other kinds of worlds and societies!
See, the insidious thing about living in a patriarchal society is that we absorb that kind of thinking as part of “normal.” We are programmed from the time we are small children to assume that given rules imposed by our society are fundamental truths. Stuff like that females aren’t as physically strong as males and therefore cannot be fighters. Or that females are in sexual peril from males and that this is part of the natural course of life, that females must be protected and observe safety rules to avoid that sexual peril. Or that females are responsible for pregnancy and its consequences.
One of the great aspects of writing alternate world fantasy is that the worldbuilding is an excellent tool for changing up these programmed “truths.” We can create worlds and societies that DON’T believe these things, which then changes all kinds of layers of the lives of females. Personally, I love to write a world where gender doesn’t dictate ability to be a warrior, or a wizard. Or where rape isn’t a given. Or where birth control is magically handled and available to everyone.
Of course, it’s also useful to impose power imbalances, too – and then use those to highlight how injustice works. By seeing familiar power imbalances in new light, we may notice more about our own world. Instead of simply accepting that programming, we can work to change it.

Jeffe’s Writing Space

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re sharing our writing workspaces and current TBR list.

Why both of these somewhat disparate things? I have no idea. My TBR isn’t physical (mostly). I keep my inventory of unread books on a – you guessed it! – spreadsheet. There are currently 323 books on it.

I know.

I’ve been working my way through it, really I am, but even my determined efforts end up being like fighting the hydra. For example, I’ve had Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest on my To-Be-Read “pile” since April 19, 2017. (Thank you, Amazon for that purchase date.) I finally started reading it on February 12, 2022. LOVED IT. So, what did I do? Yes, bought the entire six-book Sevenwaters series. I’m now 60% through book six, Flame of Sevenwaters. By removing one book from my TBR list, I ended up buying five more and spending more than a month bingeing Juliet Marilllier and not addressing any of the books I already have. And I might not stop here. There’s a couple other books of hers that I’m eyeing. We’ll see how I feel when I finish this one.

As for my writing space, I have a dedicated office that is ALL MINE. You can see it above. We got an unexpectedly heavy snow last night, so it’s a darkish morning and you can see the snow out the window. I love my big window as I can watch the birds and other visiting wildlife (and they are merry), and I can see all the way down the Galisteo Basin to the Ortiz Mountains and Sandia Peak. My desk is hydraulic, so I can adjust it for sitting, standing, or walking, with my treadmill below.

I used to have my framed book covers on the walls, but I realized I didn’t like looking at stuff that represented past efforts. So, I took them all down and hung art that’s inspiring to me. The poster over the window is one I made that says, “What would you write if you weren’t afraid?”

And there you have it!

When It’s Time to Put New Covers on a Series

This week at the SFF Seven we’re discussing Cover Trends. We’re asking “What was, is, and will be “hot” in cover art/style for your sub-genre? If you have a say in your covers, will you chase the trend or will you stick with the image in your mind?”

There’s a lot to be said on this topic, too much for even a week of blog posts. When I’m asked for advice on covers, which is a frequent request, I tell authors to keep in mind that a cover has two jobs: to attract positive attention and convey genre. This has to be emphasized because authors – both in trad and in self-publishing – tend to get caught up in wanting the cover to adhere to the story. One first-time author who was very upset with the cover her publisher gave her and came to me for advice said “but the cover doesn’t illuminate the story.” I had to tell her that the story’s job is to illuminate the story. The cover does different work: attract the eye and convey genre.
It’s that second that’s most relevant for this week’s discussion. Because trends change and a cover that accurately conveyed genre six years ago may find itself conveying something else entirely to a current audience.
Case in point: I love the covers for my six-book Sorcerous Moons series.

These were among the first book covers I ever commissioned and I particularly adore the cover for book one, LONEN’S WAR. It does come straight from a scene in the book – a pivotal scene that was, in part, the genesis image for the story – and the artist (Louisa Gallie) exactly nailed what I had in mind.

I will always be grateful for Louisa’s gorgeous art and I will always love this cover.

But, recently, people have been pointing out that these covers no longer convey what kind of story these books tell. The fantasy romance genre has moved on. If I want to tell readers that this IS the kind of thing they’re looking for, then I should consider updating to match current trends.

So I did!

Behold: The new cover for LONEN’S WAR!

I contracted with BZN Studio Designs to design new covers for all six books. Right now the series isn’t available, but once I have all six covers, I’ll re-launch the series with some fanfare. I’m super excited to see how they do with the new covers. I’ve heard some people (including my own assistant!) say scathingly that these look like all the other covers out there in this subgenre, and there’s truth to that.

AND THAT’S THE POINT.

The content is what makes the stories unique. The covers are doing the job they’re supposed to do. Caught your eye, did it? I hope so! And I’m hoping you also know exactly what kind of story you’ll get.

Grey Magic, Dark Wizard, and Storm Princesses – Oh My!

This week at the SFF Seven we’re sharing newsletter info and promoting work. For those feeling hesitant to promote their books during this terrible time, I’ll remind you – as I’ve been reminded – that art brings us joy and books open minds. When we’re dealing with close-minded bigots, hatred, and war, we need stories more than ever. We provide the counterbalance. Please share about your books, because the world needs them.

So: Promo from me! Book Three in my Bonds of Magic seriesGREY MAGIC, released on Monday!!

      

This series is The Witcher meets The Selection.

His Darkness, Her Brightness… Together They Defy the World

Lord Gabriel Phel at last holds his dream in his grasp—and faces losing everything. He’s finally won the love of his wife, familiar, and mother of his child, and she offers him a heartfelt commitment he can truly believe in. Together they’re building a true house, one with a growing family of friends and allies that can help them stand against their enemies. And he’s learning to master his magic, to use it as the powerful tool and weapon it should be. But old and new enemies array themselves to take it all away.

Lady Veronica, now fully of House Phel, is doing her best to embrace happiness. After all, she has her hands full managing her mercurial and powerful wizard as he navigates taking his place as the head of their house, and with learning her own extraordinary ability. But she fears whatever peace they win won’t last long. When their enemies inevitably strike—including, perhaps, her own father—they must be ready to defend all they hold precious. It doesn’t help that her idealistic husband insists on making foolishly noble decisions that put them at even greater risk, nor that she loves him all the more for it.

As Nic and Gabriel struggle to put their household in order, giving ill-advised safe harbor to Nic’s runaway sister and risking their lives to save Gabriel’s sister’s sanity, their enemies draw the noose tighter on their well laid plans. When the unthinkable occurs, it’s up to both of them to trust in the nascent, unknown magic they’ve woven together.

      

If you’re into audiobooks, you can listen to the first in this series, DARK WIZARD. Books 2 & 3 will be out on audio soon! Comment on this post and I’ll pick one person to receive a promo code (US only, not my fault) for a free copy of the DARK WIZARD audiobook!

Finally, if you follow me, you’ll know that I canceled the preorder for THE STORM PRINCESS AND THE RAVEN KING, Book Four in the Heirs of Magic series. Several things came together to force me to cancel, alas. BUT, this neatly segues into our main topic, the newsletter! Subscribe to my newsletter for news on when this book will release. There are also regular yummy giveaways.