Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Mastering Your Author Persona


You're all in for it now!
Travis is reading it now, and given that he knocked out half the book in a single evening, I'm feeling pretty stoked about the finished product. I got to pack so many secrets into this book I've been waiting to reveal since the series started. The whole thing was author catnip, and I really really hope you enjoy it when it comes out in August! (And for those of you who are audio fans, I'm getting Audible the manuscript early this time, so the audio version should be out close to the ebook/print release date this time! Yay!)

Happy I was writing this book, though, I am very glad to finally be done with this project so I can move on to all the other stuff I have to do, such as writing blog posts! So, without further ado, let's talk about crafting an author persona.

Writing Wednesday: Mastering Your Author Persona

In the spirit of Travis's amazing posts on building your author brand and reaching your audience I wanted to talk about the part of all this book selling/marketing mojo that I actually think about as a writer.

To be perfectly honest, I don't even worry about sales/marketing/whatever until whatever book I'm going to be selling is almost done. Before that stage, my focus is entirely on telling the best story I can, because that's what really matters here. All the marketing in the world only makes a bad book fail faster, so clearly the Good Book is always our number one priority.

Even when the book is nearly done and it actually is time to market, I only really think about marketing in short bursts as necessary. This is partially because, important as marketing and promoting yourself is, nothing sells books like another book. Writing more is almost always the best thing you can do for your career.

That's great news for me, because by the time I'm done with one book, my brain is already miles ahead thinking about the next one. For me right now, that's Heartstrikers 4, which will probably be the final book in the series (I was planning on 5, but I covered a lot more of the meta plot than I was expecting in book 4, and I firmly feel that a series should end where it needs to, not where I want it to). When I do start a new series, though, I keep my brand in mind when sorting through all the new shiny ideas to find the new story I feel my audience will enjoy the most. I'm still writing what I want, just with an eye towards pleasing my fans and keeping my established brand strong.

So that's marketing, too. Really, though, there's only author promotion I think about at all stages of book creation and even in between novels, and that is my author persona.

Monday, May 2, 2016

How To Reach Niche Audiences

Hi Everyone,

Travis here again! Last week I talked about how to design your author brand. There was a fair amount of interest in niche appeal books, so that's what this week's topic is going to be about.

Whether your book is niche or if you are trying to reach a niche audience, hopefully you'll find this post to contain useful strategies.

Let's get into it shall we?

How To Reach Niche Audiences

Today I'd like to talk about reaching niche audiences. Originally, this post was for people who worried that their book(s) were niche. Twitter and blog comments have shown me though that folks are also interested in reaching said niche audiences, not just being relegated to them. So...

Should you worry about the niche?

Right now, Rachel and I are watching an anime called Silver Spoon on CrunchyRoll. 

Its a farming anime!
On paper, this is 100% not our fare. We're hardcore genre fans. This is a contemporary drama about farming. No magic, no mystery, no action, no sci-fi, no futurism, it's not even historical. My shame is that I'd never even think about picking up a show/book like this on my own.

What drew us in was that we wanted another cooking anime (Shokugeki!!) to watch and this was vaguely sort of relevant since it dealt with food. Also very well rated, which helped.

So that's what we were expecting, but what we got was a well balanced show that is both serious and funny. It's very human and it wrestles with some amazingly deep and profound issues, tackling them with aplomb. It's my favorite thing to watch right now despite all the mecha and magical shows on my to-watch list.

What's the point here?

Anime has proven to me that you can make anything interesting and be successful at it. I hate sports, they all bore me to tears. Sports anime though? Sign me up! I never cared anything about soccer until I watched Giant Killing. Boxing? Meh.. Hajime No Ippo though? Glued to the screen! There are many, hugely popular basketball, swimming, and baseball anime shows now. Sports Tournament is now a full fledged genre and an intensely addictive one at that.

I've also watched baking animes, the Go anime, cooking animes, slow moving overly complicated math mysteries, magical realism nature shows, and more. All stuff that I don't normally like, but which the right anime can have the power to enthrall me with.

This extends to the ridiculous as well. I mean, look at One Piece! It's not just ridiculous, it's ludicrous! Yet it's the most successful anime/manga of all time (I'm pretty sure) and is still one of greatest stories I've ever seen.

This is all a long way of me saying that pretty much any idea can have wide spread commercial success when executed appropriately. What counts as appropriate execution however depends on the topic involved. Some things require more delicate and deliberate handling than others.

I'm sure ya'll want me to get to the meat here. There's more I want to say on widespread appeal, but that can come later. Lets talk about...

The Strengths of the Niche

Fear the Bug!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

No Post Today, But Here's a Treat!

There's no Writing Wednesday today because I'm on a roll to finish my edits for HEARTSTRIKERS THREEEEEE!

Yes, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished is very nearly done! I'm hoping to wrap it up early next week for a publication date sometime in August. Until then, Casa de Aaron/Bach is dragons all day, every day. Until then (if you haven't already), please enjoy my very clever husband's amazing and epic post on How to Craft Your Author Brand he put up on Monday.

Again, I apologize for the slacker non-post, but I promise you it'll be worth it! To make it up to you, though, here's a bit of art I just got from my amazing cover artist Anna Steinbauer of a certain growly dragon...

Click to see in full, glorious resolution!

We all know who this is, right? ^__^ Oh yeah, no one's getting out of this unscarred. I hope you're all ready to comfort poor Julius. Kid has it rough this book! (Evil author cackling)

I'll do the full cover reveal when I have an actual release date for the book other than "sometime in August." But it shouldn't be long!

If you want to be the very first to see it, though, sign up for my New Release mailing list. They get alllllll the good stuff first (and no spam ever).

That's it for now 'cause I've got a book to finish! Again, if you're at all interested in book publishing/selling, check out Trav's marketing post. It is the jam. Seriously, he's been throwing himself hardcore into the business side of publishing so I can focus on writing for a year now. Dude knows his shit. He put stuff in here that I hadn't even thought about. Can't recommend enough!

See you all next week. Until then, keep writing and reading and generally being awesome!

❤ R

Monday, April 25, 2016

Designing Your Author Brand

Hi Everyone, Travis here. I'm going to be helping out on the blog more since we've so much to talk about. Today's topic is going to be a guide on designing your own author brand.

As you all know, Rachel and I just got back from RT 2016 not too long ago and we're bursting with things to share. While we were at RT, I went to probably 15 business, marketing, or industry panels in total. It was a lot!

One of the most common topics discussed was branding. Now I didn't hit every business panel, but there were easily 3 on branding alone. We hear about author branding a lot outside of the convention as well. I'm sure many of you have heard that you need to have a brand and that you need to manage it.

But what is you brand? How do you determine it?  What do you do with it? Well, that's what we're going to talk about today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Writing Wednesday: GMC - A Stupidly Simple System for Great Character Creation

As I promised yesterday, I am back with the first of the many many new writing tricks I picked up at RT 2016!

One of the things I love most about writing is that no matter how much you know or how experienced you are, there is always something new and awesome to learn. This year, the piece of writing advice that I put to immediate use was Linnea Sinclair's GMC character creation method. Now I'm not sure if Linnea actually invented this, but she's the first person I'd heard it from, so I'm going to give her credit because she's awesome and a super smart writer. Totally go check out her stuff if you like action packed romantic SF (like my Devi books!)

So what is GMC? Let's find out!

Writing Wednesday: GMC - A Stupidly Simple System for Great Character Creation

Historically, my character creation process has happened in one of two ways: either a character came into my head fully formed and I just jotted down details (this is often how my main characters begin), or I created a character specifically to fill a need in the story (everyone else). For example, when I wrote my Paradox series, Devi was a character I'd had fully formed in my head for a long time. She just walked into my brain one day and was like "Get in, loser. We're writing a book." Eli was exactly the same, though far nicer about it.

Point is, I've never had to think very much about my characters because, for me, they just happen. I always make sure to get down the basics like what they want out of life, their histories, what they look like, etc. When it comes to their personalities, though, I usually just know.

Serendipitous as that might sound, this has actually been a huge weakness for me as an author. Because my characters come to me from the void of creation largely intact, I've never needed to make any kind of system to keep them in line, which means when things do go wrong with my characters, they go catastrophically wrong, and I have no idea how to fix them.

This is a problem I've been pecking at for a long time as a writer, but while I love granular systems in all other aspects of my writing (see how I plot or how I edit for examples of the too organized author in action), I've shied away from doing the same for characters because I didn't have a system of my own, and none of the ones I found ever felt right.

And then I discovered GMC, or Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

RT 2016: Winning an RT Award and What We Learned from the Inside of Publishing!

On the extremely off chance you missed the twitter spam/squeeing that could be heard from space, I spent the last week in Las Vegas for the 2016 Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention! I went last year, too, and had an absolute ball, but this year was a bit more special...

Yes, that is my name on a major industry award. For a self-published book!

It's hard for me to articulate how much this means to me. When I first decided to self-publish, a chance at an industry award was one of the things I thought I was giving up. In my experience, self-published authors just didn't win major awards, and I didn't see that changing any time soon.

But change is the only constant in publishing, and the Romance community (which is what the RT awards honors) has always been ahead of the curve. I was one of many self-published authors receiving an award that night on the same stage as huge best-sellers like Eloisa James and Julia Quinn as well as big Fantasy names like Kate Elliot. It was a celebration of good fiction, regardless of source, and I was absolutely over the moon to be a part of it!

But amazing as getting my award was (preciousssssss), RT was so so SO much more than just the awards. I blogged about this before after last year's con, but I'll say it again: no matter what genre you write, Romantic Times is one of the best writing industry cons around. The entire week was jam packed with panels of the best authors, editors, and book industry people in the world from both trad and self publishing talking about writing, publishing, distribution, marketing, and what's coming next for our industry. It was utterly amazing!! 

There was so much good stuff, I took Travis with me this year just so we could split up and hit more panels. Good thing, too. Even with two of us, there was almost more to see than we could handle! And that's not even counting all the meeting up, drinking, and general hanging out with amazingly awesome authors and book industry people we squeezed in around the edges. 

So what's our take away from all of this? Well, here is a very brief taste of our take aways from RT 2016:

(Note: Any of these could be a blog post in itself. I'm not kidding when I said we learned a lot! Travis and I have pages of notes from every panel we went to, so if you see anything in the list below that you want more on, just let us know in the comments and we'll write an expanded post on the topic with more details.)

1) Publishing is changing again, and it's getting more awesome

The wave of indie publishing change continues to sweep through publishing. In Romance at least, indie authors are no longer the outliers, but a large, healthy, and respected force of the publishing landscape. 

That respect was really evident this year not just in the number of extremely successful indie authors who were heading panels, but in the massive amount of refined services that have sprung up to help indies get the word out about their books. We got to talk to the folks from Book Bub, KDP, Inscribe Digital, and Smashwords just to name the big ones, but the real stand out was Kobo. 

When I used Kobo before, it was just a scrappy little Amazon competitor. Now, though, it's grown enormously, especially in the international market. Also, publishing through Kobo gets your books into Overdrive, which makes them available to libraries. 

This is a huge deal! The library customer is one that indie authors have never been able to reach. Now, Kobo, Ingram, and other distributors are all rolling out programs to let self-published authors reach not only libraries, but bookstores and other historically closed off markets as well. We actually have a ton of information on this both from the companies themselves and from the amazing Librarians and Booksellers panel where we got specific details on how to get indie books into bookstores and libraries, so look for more on this in the future.

But it wasn't just all indie books! Publishing is also changing for the traditional author in a very good way. There were several editors from major houses at the convention, and all of them were actively looking to acquire books. One even mentioned that the quality of author pitches overall has gone way up since so many authors now self-publish first, meaning the books they receive are often second or third books, and therefore more polished. Which brings us to our next point:

2) The line between Trad and Indie is blurring

What interested me most about this is that there seems to be an ecosystem emerging where authors move freely back and forth between trad and self publishing depending on their individual goals. The usual stigma of self publishing was almost completely non-existent at this convention. Many big name, trad published authors were there to promo their new indie titles, and NYT best sellers Nalini Singh and Cherry Adair both won RT awards for their self-published work. 

At the same time, editors and publishers seemed to be actively looking to acquire indies. The days of the "don't self publish your first novel! You'll use up your first publication rights and no one will want you!" advice that used to be on every agent website are long gone. These days, at least in Romance, self pub first seems to be, if not the norm, definitely not a mark against you. 

I'm not sure if other genres are quite this welcoming yet, but change is definitely coming. With its high volume and loyal readers, Romance has always been at the cutting edge of publishing. What we see here is what will be everywhere in 5 years, and that gives me a lot of hope. 

Also on this topic, the quality of indie offerings has gone up enormously. Readers have caught up even faster than publishing, and, as one panel said, they are the new gate keepers. Gone are the days when indies could put out crap and still sell on price alone. These days, indie books have to both look professional and be legitimately good to win audience. Fortunately, as I mentioned above, the tools and knowledge available to self published authors for covers, branding, and editing are better and cheaper than ever. I actually have a huge post on this planned, so stay tuned for more!

3) Craft is still king

Branching off what I mentioned above, novel quality is more important than ever. There are more books for sale than ever, which means our books have to be really solid contenders to stand out in the crowded marketplace. But this is good!! We should be focusing on writing better books. A crowded market place means everyone's bringing their A game, resulting in better books and a healthier publishing industry for everyone.

But this also means no author is safe to rest on their laurels. One of my big goals for RT was to hit as many craft panels as possible and learn everything I could about how to write better heroes and love stories, and I was not disappointed! I've got so much awesome from some of the best writers in Romance I can't even begin to share it all here, but rest assured that there will be LOTs of craft posts full of awesome coming up, starting with an amazing character creation trick I picked up from Linnea Sinclair for tomorrow's Writing Wednesday!

4) Upcoming trends in publishing

Finally, it would be impossible to talk about what we learned from RT without touching on trends. Seriously, there were more panels on trends and what was coming next than any other single subject. It was all anyone wanted to talk about! 

Personal disclaimer here: I don't believe in chasing trends. Trying to catch a trend is like trying to catch a falling knife, there's just no way to it safely. Either you end up with a rushed book you don't actually care about, or you're too late and the trend is already gone, leaving your previously on-trend novel struggling for air in a now overcrowded market. 

I actually just wrote an entire post about this exact topic, but my TL;DR opinion is that you should write the books you love and trust them to find a market. The best place to be in a trend is the book that starts it, and you only get there if you're writing original, creative stories YOU love, not ones you picked because that was what was hot. 

That said, just because I don't chase trends doesn't mean I want to be ignorant of them. It's always useful to know what's selling if only so you know how to position your not-trendy book in the market For example, when Grim Dark fantasy was in, I marketed my Eli books as a cheerful alternative. Tired of everything being depressing? Come read a charming thief by an author who won't kill every character you love!

So as you see, knowing what's popular is useful for a lot more than just trying to write on trend. And on that note, here's a list of what editors and marketers said was in and out at RT 2016.
  • We've hit peak dark and broody. Dark, sexy contemporary has been hot for a long time, but it's finally slacking off. Not to say it won't sell, just that the market has hit saturation and readers are looking for somewhere new to get their dark, aggressive, suffering alpha fix.
  • Paranormal/Urban Fantasy is falling off in publishing, but readers still want it. The number of Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy titles is falling both from trad and indie publishers, but going by the data from readers searches on RT magazine's website, readers are just as hungry for it as ever. This has led to a gap in book supply and reader demand that a savvy author with a brilliant and creative new take on the UF/Paranormal tropes could swing into and hit big. (Rachel rubs her hands together)
  • Dragons are about to be big! But we knew that, didn't we? Also, (speaking from strictly Romance) vampires still sell, but you have to be really creative. Shifters are still huge, but ghosts and physics don't sell, at least according to Harlequin, Carina Press, and Avon. Wizards and other magical peeps seem to be on the rise in the next year as well, so if you're writing about modern wizards, you should be in luck!
  • New Adult is having growing pains. Though it took off hot, book stores don't seem to know what to do with New Adult (books for readers between 19 and 25, too old for YA but not quite ready to hit adult fiction). This is especially true since most NA titles tend to be very sexy, but still feature main characters that are too young (read, 19-20) for many adult readers. Since the genre is so new, though, most bookstores don't have a place to shelve it, and even Amazon is having trouble categorizing it correctly. This means if you're an author with a New Adult book and you want to market it as such, you're going to have to straddle other genres to help readers find it. That said, NA is still very popular with readers (especially with YA readers who've grown up and want the same stories, but sexier), and is totally a market worth hitting.
  • Print books are still big. There is still a huge market for print books and no one should ignore it. More on this when we do our post about distribution and getting indie books into bookstores.
  • Finally, audio books are where it's at! This is less of a trend and more of a fact, but audio books have been growing explosively over the last few years. Audible has been doubling its readership pretty much every year, and audio books represent an enormous untapped market. I know that just for myself, audio has been an amazing market, but I didn't realize just how big it was. If you've got books out, and they're not in audio, you need to get them there pronto either through your publisher, an audio book production company, or on your own through ACX. This was such a big deal that we're going to do a whole post on it, but for now, if you're not already thinking audio, you definitely need to take a look. Also, if you're signing a trad contract, make sure you're getting a good rate on audio. It's not a niche market anymore!
Again, this con wrap up is just the barest ripple of the top of the iceberg of everything we learned!! We got so much good stuff, you're going to be hearing about it for months. I really can't stress how amazing it was to get to talk shop with so many people from so many areas of the writing world--writers, publishers, readers, bloggers, reviewers, editors, they were all here!!

Again, if you saw anything above you specifically want to know more about, let us know in the comments below! For now, I think Chelsie is standing behind me, which means I have to get back to writing. o_o 

Thank you all for reading, and I really hope you'll enjoy all the great stuff we've got coming your way! And as always, don't forget to follow me on Social Media to never miss a post! (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+)

More to come starting tomorrow. For now, though, happy writing!!

Yours as always, 
Rachel Aaron

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Are Conventions Worth It?

Hello everyone! So just in case my gratuitous selfie posting on Twitter hasn't tipped you off, I'm going to the Romantic Times Book Lover's Convention in Las Vegas next week!!! That's right, we're going to party with a bunch of Romance Authors in Vegas.

If it happens in Vegas, it has to stay in Vegas, right? I mean, that's a Nevada state law now, right?!?
Take it from me, no one parties like Romance Authors. Those ladies be crazy!

(Also, if you're going to #RT2016 and want to hang out, I TOTALLY WANT TO! DM me on Twitter or send me an email and we will make plans to be nerds together! It will be awesome!!!)

So why am I going to a Romance Convention when I don't actually write Romance? Well, as you might remember from last year's con report, I went to the con knowing nothing about it purely because it sounded like fun and Ilona Andrews invited me to be on a panel...and I LOVED it!! I met a ton of amazing people, had a marvelous time, and learned more about both the craft and business sides of writing than I'd known was left to be learned. It was hands down one of the best writing education and networking experiences of my life...and did I mention fun? SO MUCH FUN! More fun than should be legal to write off on your taxes.

I also won an award this year, but I was already planning on going to the con, so that was the delicious, delicious icing on top of an already perfect cake!

With all that, it's no wonder that I'm back again in 2016 and bringing my husband along for the ride because A) I need someone to help me divide and conquer because RT has more good panels than any one person can physically attend, and B) because I want to make him take pictures with the cover models have him with me while we learn more about what is now our family business! Yeah, that's what I meant!

Thankfully for me, he's pretty excited about it, too! Everyone's excited!! And that actually brings me to the actual, non-Rachel-squeeing-about-her-fun-trip part of this post. Because fun as they are, conventions are stupid expensive. This goes double for a major industry con like RT where all guests have to pay ~$400 to attend in addition to travel and hotel. Add in the time a convention takes out of your schedule, and you're looking at a serious investment. We already know it's going to be fun because conventions are always fun. (Seriously, even bad conventions are usually still pretty awesome). But all fun aside, is a convention worth it from a business case perspective?

This is an equation I've wrestled with personally for many years now, and the answer I've found is that, like everything in writing, whether attending a particular convention is "worth it" or not depends on you, your situation, and what you want from the experience. If you've yet to finish a book, then you don't have to worry about this stuff. Just treat a convention like a vacation that might also be good for your writing and have fun! But if you do have a book out or if you're looking to publish one soon, conventions are something you're probably already thinking about.

So let's break it down!

Writing Wednesday: Are Conventions Worth It?

Giant book signing from RT 2015. Believe it or not, I'm in this picture somewhere!
First up, a universal truth: conventions are absolutely not necessary for a successful writing career. As stated above, they're a ton of fun and a huge perk of the author gig (especially if you get invited as a guest!), but you do not have to attend a single one to have a long and successful writing career. But the fact that they are not necessary is what makes the financial decision of whether or not X convention will be worth your time/money that much more important.

Every convention you attend is an investment of your time and money. If you're a writer on a budget, rushing into any random convention just because that's what you think writers should do is a bad business decision. Like all investments, you need to do your research first, so let's take a look at the types of conventions out there for writers and what you can expect from them.

There are three major types of conventions writers attend/get invited to: craft conventions, reader conventions, and industry conventions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy Customer - How to Write What You Love and Still Sell

Hello all! After an EPIC CONCLUSION, I am finally done with Heartstrikers book 3!!

Of course I still have to edit and polish and actually write that one chapter that's nothing but a line saying [INSERT AWESOME HERE], but still,

I know it's been a long, long road on this series, but I promise you guys the wait will be worth it. This book is going to be crazy town!! If you liked the first two (or just need more Bob in your life), you're going to love this one!! I hope anyway o.o

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go check out the first two books in my (award winning!) Heartstrikers Urbans Fantasy series here. It's dragons in future magical Detroit! You won't be sorry.)

Right then. Now that all the horn tooting and blatant self promotion is out of my system, let's talk writing!

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy Customer - How to Write What You Love and Still Sell

That moment when you love your book to pieces...and you suddenly
fear no one else ever will.

One of the most important parts of being a self-published author (or any kind of professional, really) is keeping up with what's currently going on in your sphere. For me, this means reading new books that come out in my genres (oh, the hardship! I have to read this awesome book for work!), keeping an eye on what's topping the Amazon lists so I know what the market is into right now, and occasionally (but not obsessively) reading forums and business blogs by/for authors so that I don't miss any big changes to the things that impact my sales (ie, Amazon changing their algos/ranking system again). I also keep a constant ear out for clever new promo stuff because you never know when you're going to find that brilliant idea you totally want to do! 

Anyway, all this is a vastly over complicated way of saying I try my best to stay up to date with current events in the writing/publishing world as pertains to me and my books. Part of this is just good business. If a shit storm is coming, I want to know well in advance. When it comes to what books are selling/getting attention, though, staying up to date is more than just business. I like to know what's new and cool not only because it's my job, but because I am legitimately interested in genre fiction. There's a reason I write the books I do. I've been a fan of all things SFF since basically forever, and that intersection of fandom and business is what I want to talk about today.

The Old Writing to the Market vs. Writing for Yourself Conundrum, Now With a Surprise Ending!

If you're an author today, or even if you just want to be an author, chances are you've heard the phrase "write to market," which basically means "look at what's selling, and then write your book to match."

I can't tell you how many writers cringe at that statement. To be honest, I cringe, too. I am by no means an Artist Capital A, but I have a lot of pride in my work, and the idea of writing something I don't care about because that's what's selling is unpalatable in the extreme. One of my biggest cornerstones as an author is "if you don't love it, you're doing it wrong." Passion for my own stories and characters is a huge part of who I am both as a writer and a person (seriously, if you meet me IRL, and you ask me about my books, be warned that I will NEVER SHUT UP.) 

At the same time, though, I do this professionally. Writing isn't just something I do for fun and dreams anymore. It's how I eat and pay my mortgage and send my kid to summer camp, and that means I can't just write in the vacuum of "things Rachel thinks are cool." I have to also think of my reader/customer, what they want, and how I can give it to them in a way that will make them desperate for more.

This intersection of art and commercialism, doing what you love vs. doing what sells, is a struggle every professional artist faces. Now, obviously, if you don't plan on making writing your career, then none of this applies to you. Write what you love and be happy! But if you're like me and you dream of making storytelling your profession, then "Write to Market" is one of the most important pieces of advice you'll ever receive, but not in the way you think.

When we hear "Write to Market," most of us jump immediately to the worst extreme of hack writers callously churning out derivative schlock iterations of whatever's on the best seller's list that month. I admit there is a lot of that that goes on, and not just in self publishing. How many "kid finds out he's special, goes to special magical school, makes unlikely friends, saves world" books did we see from major publishers after Harry Potter hit big? Hint: A LOT. 

As much as we try to dress it up, the truth is that all of commercial publishing is guilty of the sin of copy-cating to some extent, because copying what's popular works. Readers are like any other consumers in that they move in trends. When they find something they like, they want more, and if you can give them that, you will sell. If you can give it to them in a quality package that is legitimately good in addition to being the thing they want, you will sell a lot. Give them a shitty version, and you will probably still sell, but not nearly as well. Readers, even ones in a froth for the hot new thing, are not stupid. They know shit when they get it.

But all of the above is just one extreme of the Writing to Market strategy. Obviously, if you write good, well packaged books in a popular genre with an eye toward hitting the hot trends, you're going to sell a lot of books. But what do you if the books you want to write aren't part of that equation? It's one thing to know "Contemporary Romance is hugely popular!" but if you don't read Contemporary Romance and you don't have any ideas for Contemporary Romance plots or characters, then any Contemporary Romance book you try to write is mostly like 1) going to feel like pulling teeth, and 2) suck. With circumstances like that, it doesn't matter how hot a particular market is. If your book is bad because you don't care and you were only writing it because "that's what sells," then you're going to tank. 

Now, the obvious solution here is to just find a popular genre you do love and have exciting ideas for and just write those. This happy alignment is "Write to Market" at its very best, and if you can pull it off, you will have a great time.

But even when we stop assuming the worst, when the idea you're most in love with doesn't fit into any of the popular slots, "Write to Market" can still feel more like a death sentence than good business advice. I can't tell you how many emails I get from authors--established and new--who are absolutely in love with ideas they are convinced won't sell because they're "too weird" or "not mainstream enough." 

This is where the internet and indie publishing revolution comes in to save our bacon. Big publishers need big volume to make back their costs. That means they have to publish what's popular, but the game for small presses and indie authors is entirely different. With lower costs and a higher profit per book, the bar for success, even wild success, is much more forgiving in the indie world. You don't need to write in a giant popular market to sell well. Big or small, though, you still have to write a book that is going to sell to someone, and figuring out who that someone is is the secret to everything.

Writing To Your Market - Know Thy Customer

If you want to sell anything, you have to know who you're selling to. Who is the customer for this product? For us writers, that question becomes "who is my reader? What do they want?" 

I think about this question a lot, because writing is a constant decision making. Every time I'm trying to decide how I should turn the plot or if I should let this character run off on his really bad idea, the one question I always ask in addition to all the vital artist ones like "Will this be good for the story?" or "Would this characters actually do this?" is "How will my reader like it?" 

Obviously, reader approval is not my only consideration. Stuff still has to make sense and play out logically and dramatically within the rules of my world. But since I'm not writing this story just for myself, potential reader reaction is a huge part of my decision making process. If I do this thing, if I let this character run off on his tangent, how will my audience react? Will they enjoy it? Will they get bored? Will they put the book down? 

These are things I need to know, and the only way to get answers is to know what kind of person I'm writing this for. But honestly, that can be pretty tough. It's not like Amazon tells me who buys my books, and while I do interact with my fans all the time and get to know them that way, that's useless for a new writer who doesn't have a fan base yet. Even for established authors, though, our fans are wildly different. So what do we do? How do you write to an audience when you can't know who that audience is?

My solution to this problem is that I just pick a reader. One person that I want to please and entertain. And for my books, that person is me. 

Not writer me. Writer me wants to do all kinds of crazy shit like write a book with zero major male characters just to see if anyone notices, or write a novel in second person just to prove it can be done. This is because writer me is a writer and thus cares about writer things like clever construction and interesting conceits like resetting Titus Andronicus in space. But while all that stuff sounds cool in theory, Reader Rachel doesn't give a shit. Reader Rachel just wants a good story, something that will keep me up way past my bedtime for the sheer joy of reading, and this is why Reader Rachel, not Writer Rachel, is my audience.

This isn't to say all the crazy shit I listed above can't be a good book. I'm a firm believer that any story well told will find its audience. But all of those ideas came about because I found them interesting as a writer, not because they were actually stories I wanted to read. This is why reader me, not writer me, is my audience, because the actual audience for my books are probably not writers. They're just people who want fun stories, People like me, so that's who I write for.

Despite everything I write in this blog about character motivation and proper plot structure, when I'm struggling with a decision in my book, the final vote always comes down to "would I want to read this?" If this was a novel I was reading in bed on my Kindle, would I like this twist/scene/critical character moment, or would I just go "meh."

This is a good time to mention that pleasing your imaginary reader is NOT THE SAME as listening to your Inner Editor. If you're at all like me, your inner editor is a bitch who only says negative things and should never be given the time of day (for tips on how to shut her up, click here). You inner reader, on the other hand, is the voice of your experience. 

If you've read enough books to want to be a writer, you probably have definite opinions on what you like. Therefore, if you focus on writing something you like, something that makes the reader you happy and excited and ready for the next book, not only will you have a grand time writing the thing, you'll end up with a book that is, in fact, written to market. The market of you. Maybe that market is big, maybe it's not, but unless you are an extreme outlier, there is certain to be someone, probably a whole lot of someones, who will share your opinion that this book is awesome, and those people are your audience. That's your market, and if you do your darnedest to write books they're going to love, you will by definition be writing a book you love, exposing the trumped up battle of Writing to Market vs. Writing for Yourself as the false dichotomy it's always been.

No writer is an island. If you write the book you love the book where you re-read bits just because they're amazing, and you do it well, you will sell. Maybe not as much as you hoped, because doing it well is really hard. But if you keep practicing, don't settle for mediocrity, and keep your reader's enjoyment as your first priority, you will build an audience of amazing people who love the same things you do, and together, you and your audience of awesome will create a fantastic career full of books you all love. 

It's win/win all around, and we should settle for nothing less.

Thank you all for reading! I hope you enjoyed my weirdly impassioned post about writing for yourself. If you enjoy my stuff, please follow me on Social Media (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+ ) to never miss an update, Thank you again, and until next time, keep writing!

Yours always,

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Postponed. Also Taxes

Hi Folks,

Travis here. There's no writing wednesday today as Rachel is writing the last inches of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. As such, she's sealed herself into the writing chamber. Woe be to me or any other mere mortal who seeks to breach that line.

Normally, I'd try to have a fun business or numbers post too keep things rolling but, well, its tax season. Which means that I'm spending all my time getting our taxes ready for the accountant. That's right, I'm not even actually doing taxes, just doing the questionnaire for someone else to do our taxes.

So, in the spirit of the season, here's a little window into what tax time looks like for us and, probably, other authors. USA based ones at least. I know nothing about other country's taxes.

Now, I can't give tax advice, so I'm just going to talk about Rachel and I. Hopefully you will benefit from our experiences.

The Dragon of Taxes

This tax thing is no joke. I spend a lot of time and effort to manage it. Why? Well, historically 90% of our income has no withholding on it. That means we have to pay all our owed taxes at tax time. I.e. April the following year of earning it.

Until last June, Rachel operated as an implicit sole proprietorship. That's what most authors are as its the default status if you do business, aren't an employee, and haven't formally created a business entity for your author stuff.

Sole Prop sucks a lot tax wise. Basically, all our income is personal income but we also have to pay self employment taxes too (15.5% roughly at time of writing). If someone is earning a middle-class living in America off book money, not impossible at all with self pub, then they are probably paying about 35% or more of their earnings in taxes when we add up every tax. (I'm aggregating a LOT for that number btw. Ad velorum, property, state, etc..)

I've seen studies that add up all the taxes paid by someone of our income bracket and it can be north of 40%. Now, before anyone thinks I'm anti-taxes, I'm not. I love police, fire departments, roads, the FDA, and so on. Big fan of civilization here. However, I think that 40% is an unfairly high level, hence my complaining. I mean, look at the social services they get in those 50% Scandinavian countries! We're kinda wasteful with our money in America.. but I digress..

What's important for authors here is the size of the tax bill that comes due in April. We'll have to shell out a single check that covers something like 25% of our income from the last year for this. If you make any real money selling books, this'll be you too most likely. 

Lemme put a number on that to drill this point home. Say you're books do great and you make $60,000 in a year. Depending on your tax situation, that might result in a $10,000 to $15,000 tax bill

I'm sure those of you starting out are like, "I'm not going to have to worry about this for years!". Just keep in mind that any tax bill can be a real shocker if you are used to a normal job with normal withholding and you usually get a refund from the govt at tax time. Earning even a couple thousand from an ebook will likely reverse this situation.

Given that most Americans (forgive me everyone else) have less that $1,000 in savings, this can be a big gotcha I feel and worth warning people about.

Prepare for Taxes or Death by Taxes

A LOT of what I do for Rachel and I is financial. A lot of the financial work is making sure that we pass through the tax time window like an arrow instead of hitting it like a bird.

How I do this is both simple and complicated. 
  1. I track our earnings on a monthly basis
  2. I estimate our tax burden as we go using a worst-case-scenario method
  3. I make sure we save up enough money to meet our tax burden
Ideally I do this as the money is earned. We have a special savings account that I move income into to cover for taxes. This way the money doesn't show up in checking. Money in checking is always at danger of either (A) getting eaten on accident or (B) providing a false sense of security and wealth.

A real example that happened - one time I had to tell Rachel that we couldn't afford something we wanted. I forget what it was, a modest vacation probably. At the time though, we had $25,000 in the bank. Why was I putting on the brakes? Well, because I knew how much we'd earn and spend and owe over the next 6 months and, basically, that $25,000 was already spent as most of it was to go to taxes in April the next year. In the end, I was right and we did need it.

Typically in December, I'll get together with my accountant over email and get a quick estimate on our likely taxes, just to make sure I haven't totally messed up. If I have, well, its December and there's 4 months to try and fix it.

How is this complicated? Well, item #1 is complicated once you start getting into deductions, business expenses, non-writing income, and so on. Again, this isn't me giving tax advice, so if you want to do this, you'll have to go educate yourself, talk to professionals, and get the tools to do this tracking yourself.

My weapons of choice are a yearly tax guide on deductions,, and MS Excel. Mint is invaluable as I'm able to review transactions monthly and tag things as taxes, taxable, business expenses, deductions and so on. This is a huge time saver when March arrives and I have to start answering questions like, "how much did I spend on non-federal taxes in 2015?"

How the Business Changes Things

Everything I've been talking about up till now is how Rachel as a Sole Proprietorship (that I file jointly with) have handled things. This year though, things are changed both for the more complicated and the better.

In 2015 we became Aaron/Bach, LLC. (with the S-Corp tax status)

Sadly it was mid-2015, so I have half a year of Sole Prop taxes combined with the new overhead of half a year of business taxes. This is the pain year, but next year's taxes should be a LOT easier for me to handle because of this division.

What are the benefits of being an LLC like this? There's a LOT, too many to go over here really. If you are interested, go read up, there's endless resources on the web.

As relates to this post, taxes, there's three big advantages to forming a company like this,
  1. We have company accounts and a ledger. This nicely puts all our business transactions in one place and divides business from personal most excellently. Its SO much easier to hit up QuickBooks for our financial reports than it is to build them by hand in excel using data.
  2. 100% of our revenue is no longer subject to self-employment tax. This is the TL;DR version but businesses only pay employment taxes on payroll. LLCs and S-Corps can distribute money to employees and members in more ways that just payroll. *
  3. We can do withholding on our payroll, which off loads a lot of tracking and money management chores from me.

*clarification - I'm just talking about self employment taxes here. This setup helps with limiting self employment taxes but not income taxes. 

By setting reasonable salaries for Rachel and I, we only have to pay those extra taxes on our salaried income. This is a very big savings and it'll get bigger as we get bigger.

That said, there's a ton of benefits that I'm not talking about here. One of them that does need to be talked about is my own salary.

Protecting Your Partner

I spent all of 2014 working for Rachel and not anyone else. I work easily 80 hours a week being her marketing guy, financial guy, story helper, alpha reader, sounding board, secretary, IT guy, researcher, house husband, and general leg work person. If its not writing-related or Rachel-only, I try to take it on so she doesn't have to.

According to the IRS I made basically $0 in 2014. This was a HUGE problem for us as banks and certain desirable tax deductions thought that I was basically unemployed for that year. The problem goes well beyond that legally and socially but its too much for today.

Now though, as part owner of Aaron/Bach, LLC, I have a real job again and real salary again. This protects me and our family in many ways. As Rachel's partner, it protects my economic value both for myself and for her.

Lastly, its more fair to me. I work hard for Rachel's and my dream. I may not write the actual books, but I have put a lot of time and effort into them here in the background.


If this stuff interests you, and I hope it does, you need to look before you leap. Go read up in detail on how LLCs and S-Corps work. At least talk to an accountant before you do anything. Preferably also a banker and a lawyer. LLCs are not simple and there's a lot you can mess up through ignorance.

I read through LLCs for Dummies after starting ours and I wish I'd done so beforehand. Fortunately, we have a wonderful accountant who's helped keep us from making any regrettable mistakes so far.

A short post today, yeah right

If you read this far.... thanks! I know this isn't the most exciting Writing Wednesday material. Its important stuff to know though and I hope that you can benefit from hearing about our experiences.

In the end, surviving taxes as an author comes down to being prepared. That's the whole point of this post really. Know what's coming and prepare yourself for it. The methods I use work for me, but they aren't the best or only methods out there. Find something that'll work for you.

We have more posts on managing author money and taxes on the blog, so please check them out if you want to read more on the different topics that I touched on today. 

Lastly, would anyone be interested in an in-depth post about LLCs and such? I brushed by a lot of material today and am curious if you all want to hear more on this from Rachel and I.

As usual, if you like the post, please share it around. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Planning Your Edit Like a Pro

Good news, everyone! In a complete surprise to me, Romantic Times Magazine has picked my second Heartstriker's book, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, as their Editor's Choice Award Winner in Indie Urban Fantasy!! In case you missed my freakout on Twitter yesterday, I am very excited about this!! Not only does it feel great to win my first industry award for a book I produced all by my lonesome, but since I was already going to the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas, this means I now get to attend an honest-to-God awards ceremony!!

Naturally, I'm pretty happy about all of this!! Thank you to the editors at RT Magazine for taking a chance on a self published book about dragons, and thank YOU ALL for reading it and spreading the word!! You have made me the happiest author ever ^__^!!

Whew, okay, gushing completed. Let's talk some writing!

In the spirit of mining my email box for blog content (what? Y'all ask the best questions!), I found this gem of a conundrum that really got my brain going.
Hi Rachel -- I apologize if you have already answered this question-- I have just started following your blog and books. In your book on increasing writing speed, you discuss tracking words/day or words/hour when writing a first draft, but what about the tracking the editing phase? Do you have any good metrics on that? 
This is a very good question that, to my amazement, I've somehow never touched on here at the blog. I've gone over how I edit my books and how to shut up your inner editor when you're trying to write, but I've never actually touched on how I figure out just how much work an edit's going to be. Given that editing is easily half of any writing process, being able to estimate how long it's going to take is vital to any author's publishing schedule, trad or indie. That said, it should come as a surprise to no one who reads this blog that I do, indeed, have a metric for estimating how much time my edit will take!

So, without further ado, here's my solution to the age old question of "just how long is this edit going to take?"

Writing Wednesday: Planning Your Edit Like a Pro

One of the biggest variables in being a pro-writer that you can actually control is how long your novels take to write and edit. But while I talked about how I estimate my own writing times (and how you can learn to estimate yours) in the original 2k to 10k post, editing is a very different animal.