When Working Hard Might Not Be The Answer (Part 2)

As I wrote about last Sunday in Part 1 of this post, the best laid plans for the launch of the fourth and final book in my supernatural thriller series were thrown off a bit (okay a lot) when other responsibilities arose and threatened to take over my To Do list. To finish every item on the list, I could have done what I used to do when I was full-time lawyer, which was cancel anything non-work related, cut back on sleep, and work every waking moment.

This time, I did things differently, and it’s because I asked myself why. Why had my goal for so long been to become a full-time writer?

The obvious part of the answer is that I’m happier when I spend most of my time writing. But that’s not all of it, and that’s not what helped me decide how to handle my lengthy To Do list.

It’s that I’m happier when I work hard and also have time to relax, to see my friends and family, read, play games, or visit the park on a sunny day. Will there always be weeks when there's less time for all of that than others?

Yes, of course.

But if I automatically chuck everything but work out the window when confronted with a long To Do list, my happiness at writing full time will dim. In fact, my guess is I’ll become as burnt out writing as I eventually did practicing law.

So as my May 15 release date approached, I did something I was never very good at in the past. For each task on the list, I asked myself (1) whether I truly needed to do it at all; (2) if so, by when it absolutely needed to be done; (3) when the best time to do it might be; and (4) how to do it most efficiently.

I'm sharing the results and hoping it will help you when you're faced with more tasks than time.

What I Did
  • Changing the May 15 release date for The Illumination would both disappoint readers waiting for the book and cause me problems with the e-book platforms where people had pre-ordered. So this one was a no-brainer. I took the time I needed to double check that all the ebook files were in shape and uploaded properly. That checked off one task on the list.

 

  • My answer brief to the Illinois Supreme Court was one I knew I’d enjoy writing, and it had a set due date. I could have asked the Court for more time, but that would require writing an extra motion, which would be more work in the long run. Also, the points I wanted to argue were fresh in my mind. Putting off writing the brief would likely make it take longer to write. I decided it was worth spending much of the week leading up to the book launch getting the brief done so that, overall, I'd spend less time on it.

 

  • My assignments for my U of C class had set due dates as well. I checked, however, and learned that because I had attended the first month of class, I could withdraw without losing my health insurance coverage. Or I could attend class but delay or skip turning in the assignments, accepting an incomplete grade.

I decided, though, that since I’d spent a significant amount for tuition and like the class, I wanted the full experience. That meant I worked all day on a beautiful Saturday when it was finally nearly 80° out and sunnyBecause I'd thought it through and made a conscious choice, I felt OK about that. A little tired, but OK.

  • I sent a new release email to my email list on May 15. The list is made up of readers interested enough to join in the first place, and some had written me to ask when The Illumination would be out. So those are the people I felt it was most important to share with.
Book 1 in The Awakening Series
  • I scheduled ads for The Awakening, the first book in my series, to run the week of the book launch. That could have waited, but I felt it was worth it to bring more readers into the series now. Also, some of the enewsletters where I advertise will rerun a book after 60 days, so advertising now means I can advertise again there in 60 days.

 

  • For similar reasons, I scheduled the free days for the Kindle editions of two of my other books for the release week. I also got my files uploaded for the paperback editions of both books (When Darkness Falls and Super Simple Story Structure). Unfortunately, I didn’t get them uploaded in time for the paperback editions to appear on the same Amazon page as the Kindle editions during the free days. It’s one of the things that fell through the cracks. But at least now it's done.

 

  • I purchased a slot at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest for Saturday, June 10, so I ordered the books I’d need for that. That too was a no-brainer. I love the fest, and it’s always fun to meet the other authors and readers, and it only comes around once a year. (I’ll be there 10-12:30 under the Chicago Writer’s Association tent if you’d like to say hello.)
What I Didn’t Do

 

  • Now we’re getting into what I didn’t do. While I’d wanted to post about The Illumination on my author blog, that post could be equally helpful later down the road. In the past, when only print books were released, if a book didn’t sell enough in the first few weeks, it disappeared from the shelves. Now, an ebook can live forever, and my aim is a steady stream of sales. Because there’s no time limit, a blog post can be just as helpful later down the road.

 

Also, people unfamiliar with a book, even if its cover or summary appeal to them, generally need to see or hear of it 3-7 times before buying. A later blog post could be one of the ways new readers see the book a second or fourth or sixth time. So I put off writing that post, and it remains on my To Do list. I will likely get to it next week, after my U of C class is over.

  • The same thing applied to posting on Facebook and Twitter, scheduling a Goodreads giveaway of the paperback, and updating covers on the slides on my author website. I did get a little social media exposure, though, because MailChimp automatically posted my New Release email to Facebook and Twitter.

 

  • Much as I wanted to write a specific Mother’s Day post on Sunday May 14 on my author blog, it wasn’t the only way to honor my mom. In a previous post on one of her birthdays, I’d said much of what I wanted to write about her. I tweeted that post. I also posted a photo of her on this blog and talked about her creativity and her music. This website which reaches a different audience than my author blog, so I was able to share with more people though I spent less time. 

 

  • I’d promised that people on my email list would get bonus materials for The Illumination but hadn't promised to send them any particular day. From a marketing standpoint, I realized it would be better to send a few emails, spaced out. So several days after the release I sent a bonus—a PDF of handwritten notes on the plot when I was working on my last revisions. I plan to write a second bonus, an Author’s Note reflecting on the series as a whole. That will be a good way to remind readers about the series a couple weeks down the road, so it actually worked out better than if I'd sent both bonuses on release day.

 

  • I also put off setting up an in-person book release party. I would have liked to do that, but that requires finding a place, making sure I have the right number of books on hand, and letting people know well in advance, and that type of party doesn't usually increase ebooks sales, which is how most of my sales are made. How much fun it will be and how many people will come also will not likely be any different if I host it now or in two months. And I’ll have the advantage of getting ideas from two book release parties I’m going to in the next month hosted by other authors.

So that's how my task list broke out. I feel good about how much I got done and when. The tasks that were most important got finished before the book launch, a few I did soon after, and a few are left on the list, but they are ones that will be just as effective, if not more so, done later.

Equally important, I didn’t cancel any of my dinner plans with my friends, and we had a great time. I also binge-watched Agents of Shield the Sunday night before the launch to wind down rather than using those few hours to check off more things on the list.

I did miss getting outside on a lovely Spring day (one of the few in Chicago this season), but if I wanted a 9-5 job that was always predictable, I’d go look for one. I don’t.

This experience has made me more sure that I’ll be able to build my career in a happy, healthy way while enjoying my life as a whole. So now I’ll close and watch that next Agents of Shield episode.

Until Friday, wishing you a productive, not-too-stressful week—

Best,

L.M. Lilly

Earning A Living By Writing

If you're wondering about how authors earn a living through self-publishing, author/entrepreneur Joanna Penn's annual breakdown of her revenue will give you a place to start. Each year Joanna shares how her revenues break down by platform (such as Kobo v. Barnes & Noble v. Amazon), by type (fiction and non-fiction), by country, and by format (ebook, paperback, audiobook).

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/05/19/book-sales-breakdown-format-vendor-country-2017/

This year, she also talks about box sets and selling direct. She ends with what she plans to do to earn more in the coming year.

I hope you find the post as fascinating and inspiring as I always do.

One of my goals is to earn enough this year that this type of breakdown of my revenues will be helpful to readers next January. For now, I'll stick with recommending that you read Joanna's.

Until Sunday–

Best,

L.M. Lilly

When Working Harder Might Not Be The Answer (Part 1)

Setting specific goals makes it more likely they’ll be achieved, whether the goal is finishing a novel, improving relationship skills, or taking a trip around the world. That’s why I’m big on setting goals. To get to them, I use lists and schedules. (I like lists. I'm one of those people who adds a completed unscheduled task onto a list just so I can cross it off.)

What’s hard for me is how closely to stick to the lists and plans when the unexpected occurs, as it always does. 

In the past, my answer was to say “I will work harder,” much like one of the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm. (Was it the horse? Maybe the mule, not that I want to compare myself to a mule.) I’d put my head down, cancel every non-work activity, and stick with it until I crossed off every item on the list and met every deadline.

That approach worked well in a lot of ways for decades. It's why I was able to finish law school while working full time, write novels while billing the required hours at a large law firm, and later publish my first three novels while starting and running my own law practive.

The Illumination, Book 4 in The Awakening Series

It's also part of why I got burnt out and often felt stressed and frustrated despite that I was doing work, both at writing and law, that I really enjoyed. Even when I was the one setting the deadlines, I resented working late every night and every weekend.

I was my own boss, but I felt as if my life were not my own.

My fear about being more flexible, though, was that if I deviated too much (okay, at all) from the list or schedule I’d eventually become someone who never finished anything and instead made excuses.

Recently, with the launch of my latest book, I ran up against this same challenge, though I'd tried hard to avoid it. One of my major goals this year was to release The Illumination—the fourth and last book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series. When I set the release date of May 15, 2017, I tried to plan well. I built in time for other efforts, as I still wear a lot of hats. I teach a writing and research class at my law school, I am a graduate-student-at-large at University of Chicago—which means I can take classes that interest me for credit though I am not pursuing a degree—and I still have a limited law practice.

My U of C class ended in March. My teaching semester ended in April. My law practice is down to a small number of cases.

May 15 should have been perfect.

It wasn’t.

First, I discovered that, contrary to my understanding, I couldn’t extend the university health insurance I'd bought through summer without taking another class. Because the Winter Quarter end date didn't match the policy start date if I bought an individual policy, the only way to stay covered was to take a class in Spring Quarter. So I did.

The two major written assignments for the course were due within two days of my book release. The first assignment involved reading a book and writing an academic-type review of it. The second was writing a 20-30 page research paper.

Neither would have been too big a deal, even with the weekly required reading, if that had been the only thing. But of course it wasn’t.

I'd been waiting for nine months for a decision in an appeal I'm handling. Happily, when it issued, it was in favor of my client. Unhappily, my opponent decided to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to review the case. I had two weeks from when I received his petition to write my response.

When was it due? The same week as the book release.

My To Do list for the week before the book release now included:

  1. verify that all The Illumination files were uploaded properly to all five ebook platforms;
  2. schedule ads and promotions for the first book in the series, The Awakening, which is free in ebook format (it provides a good way to bring new readers into the series);
  3. prepare and send a New Release announcement to my email list;
  4. update my author website with Illumination links and the new covers I'd had designed for the previous books;
  5. post on Facebook and Twitter periodically to let people know The Illumination was coming;
  6. write a post on my author blog about the release (which also would appear on Goodreads);
  7. arrange an in-person book release party for the paperback edition;
  8. schedule a Goodreads giveaway of the paperback edition;
  9. release a paperback edition of my standalone supernatural suspense novel When Darkness Falls in time for a free day on the Kindle edition (I wanted to run WDF free the same week as The Illumination release on the theory that each drew a slightly different audience that might cross over, and I wanted the paperback available to show a comparison price);
  10. do the same for my non-fiction book Super Simple Story Structure;
  11. write my book review for class (happily, I’d finished reading the book the week before);
  12. finish my research paper (I was about half-way done);
  13. write my answer brief.

Also, Mother's Day happened to fall the day before the book release. For personal reasons, I wanted to write a post on my author blog about my mom, as it was the 10th Mother's Day without her.

And, expecting it to be a very quiet week, I’d planned three dinners out with friends, one of which was an already-belated birthday dinner (for him, not me).

Had I cancelled all my social plans and worked fifteen-hour days, including through the weekends, I might have gotten all of that done.

But this time, rather than saying “I will work harder,” I stopped and looked at the big picture. Yes, one goal was to release The Illumination. But what was my larger goal? That answer was pretty easy–making a decent living writing books that other people enjoy reading.

Then I asked myself why. Why was that my goal?

The answer caused me to change my approach.

How and why? Check out Part 2 next Sunday.

Until then, best wishes for a productive and not-too-stressful week.

Best,

L.M. Lilly

Why Business Matters For All Authors

Many writers choose to pursue the traditional route to publishing–getting an agent and/or publishing company–rather than publishing their own work because they want to focus on writing, not business. It's important for all writers, though, to understand the basics about who is doing what for them, what rights they're selling, and the parameters of deals being negotiated.

That's why this Friday's recommendation is an article by Kristine Catherine Rusch, an editor and writer who blogs about business issues for authors.

As Rusch's examples of seeking reprint rights for anthologies she edited show, even if you're not concerned about how much you earn, not knowing business can undermine how often your work is published and how many people read it.

Business Musings: Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

Until Sunday–

Best,

L.M. Lilly

Mother’s Day Thoughts

Happy Girls Tamburitza Orchestra 1947

Because it's Mother's Day, this Sunday I'm taking a moment to remember my mom.

I like to think my love of creative pursuits came from her. She told me she would have liked to go to college and to become an author, but women in her time rarely went to college or pursued careers. She did, though, play in an all-female Croatian Orchestra, The Happy Girls Tamburitza Orchestra, during the WWII years.

 

My Mom and Dad in 2006 on their 50th Wedding Anniversary

This is my tenth Mother's Day without my mom. There are so many things I wish I could talk with her about. Her life was ended in 2007, as was my dad's, by someone else's choice to drive while intoxicated.

 

As we move toward the coming Spring and Summer holidays, please celebrate safely.

Happy Mother's Day to all.

Until Friday–

Best,

L.M. Lilly

The Death Of eBooks Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

You may have heard recent news reports about ebook sales dropping and print sales increasing. As a reader, this likely makes little difference to how you prefer to read (or listen) to books. I read about half ebooks and half paper books depending on whether I'm traveling, how quickly I want to get a book I'm interested in, and whether one of my friends who buys favorite authors' book in hardback passes them on to me.

As authors, though, how much time and effort we put into marketing print books versus paper books might be affected by reports about ebook sales. For that reason, this Friday I recommend reading Nate Hoffelder's Digital Reader post. In it, Nate explains why these reports about ebook sales dropping keep appearing, and why the figures, though accurate, are misleading because they leave out a large number of ebook sales.

Those missing sales include, as just one example, any ebook sold by an independent author who publishes without an ISBN. Amazon, among other ebook publishing platforms, does not require an ISBN for ebooks. There are over 5 million ebooks on Amazon, so if even a fraction are published without ISBNs, that significantly skews the figures.

For other reasons results regarding ebook sales are skewed, read Nate's article here.

Until Sunday–

Best,

L.M. Lilly

The Sound (And Value) Of Silence When You’re Juggling Multiple Jobs

I love podcasts. There's a list of my favorite ones at the end of this article. If you read my Friday recommendations, you know I learn a lot from them. I also find them entertaining. The same is true for audiobooks.

Not only can podcasts and audiobooks be fun or entertaining or both, listening allows me to make good use of time spent doing mindless tasks like scanning records to store for my law practice, putting away clean dishes, or sorting through and disposing of emails in my spam inbox.

Being able to multitask that way is particularly helpful for anyone juggling writing and other types of work and obligations. Otherwise, many of us would never have time to hear or watch, for instance, a 30-minute explanation of how best to use Facebook ads to sell books.

Recently, though, when a couple of my favorite shows ended, I briefly found myself listening less. To my surprise, I discovered that sometimes silence is better. Better for my creativity, better for my health, and better for my peace of mind.

Here’s why and how:

Creativity

While doing mindless tasks like folding laundry in silence, I often come up with good ideas for plots, discover the backstory of my characters, or solve problems I’m facing in fiction or life. But I don't do those things by trying. Instead, as I smooth out the wrinkles in a T-shirt or fold sheets, my mind wanders. Soon, without any real effort on my part, ideas and solutions filter into my consciousness.

Sleeping

Because most of my work for writing, teaching, and law involves using my laptop, I get a lot of neck and upper back strain. I also tend to sit or stand in the same position for long periods. To ease that, I do a series of stretches at night before I go to sleep. I discovered that doing those in silence, while it can be a bit tedious, helps me sleep much better.

Instead of feeding new information into my brain right before trying to sleep, I let my brain slow down along with my body. That means I'm much less likely to wake during the night or to wake in the morning feeling stressed.

Time

Multitasking should make a person more efficient, particularly when it involves learning and listening while doing tasks that truly don't require a lot of attention. Paradoxically, though, when I was listening to audiobooks or podcasts all the time, I felt more stressed and busier. I think it's because that added to my feeling that I must be productive times two every minute of every day.

It was as if I was sending myself a message that I could not spare even five minutes to unload the dishwasher or make a cup of tea without also learning something new.

When I allowed myself instead to do some of these tasks in silence, I actually felt like I had more time. And when I did sit down to do tasks that required mental effort, I felt less stressed and so was able to focus more, think more clearly, and accomplish my goal more quickly.

Relaxation

This reason is really a combination of all of the above. When I let myself do just one thing, whether it's stretching before I go to sleep or unloading the dishwasher, I can actually feel my muscles loosening and tension draining from my body.

Given all of the above, will I stop listening to podcasts or audiobooks when I'm folding laundry? No, not entirely. I love learning and I love listening to stories. Sometimes the prospect of one or the other is the only thing that motivates me to do tasks I’d otherwise put off, like cleaning out the email inbox.

Also, I live alone and work mainly from home now that the bulk of my workday is writing. On a day when I haven't gone out, which occasionally happens, it's nice to add some other voices besides my own and that of my parakeet (who does talk) to my day.

I have, however, stuck with leaving the phone off for 30-45 minutes before I go to bed. I also do at least one task during the day, whether it's cooking or scanning documents, without any audio accompaniment.

Already because of this I’m making better progress on the first draft of The Worried Man, the first novel in my new mystery series. I’m feeling more relaxed while accomplishing as much or more than before.

What's your experience with multitasking? Please share in the comments.

Until Friday –

Best,

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Here's the list of my favorite podcasts:

The Journeyman Writer (no longer being produced, but many great episodes are available)

Self Publishing Formula

The Creative Penn

Sell More Books Show

Dusted (analyzing Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a story perspective episode by episode through the middle of Season 6)

Still Pretty (picking up where Dusted left off)

 

On Starting Your Own Small Press

Print-on-demand (or POD) publishing has made it far easier for authors to publish their own work. As I wrote about last Sunday in The Downsides Of Print On Demand Publishing, however, there are some drawbacks.

Also, some authors plan to publish not only multiple titles of their own, but to collaborate with others. That can make it more worthwhile to take a different approach to publishing.

For any of these reasons, or simply for the sake of comparison, you may want to learn more about adapting the methods of traditional print publishing for yourself. A great place to start is the following post from Joanna Penn:

From Indie Author To Small Press. Print Books, ISBNs, Branding And More

Have a great weekend.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on print-on-demand publishing, check out my post Using KDP To Self Publish A Paperback.