Juggling Act: Writer, Lawyer, Authorpreneur

Lawyerpreneur Podcast InterviewAuthorpreneur is how some writers who independently publish their own work describe themselves.

It pulls in the combined creative and business efforts involved in writing and publishing.

While I don't think we said that specific word, this week I had the chance to be a guest on Jeremy Richter's Lawyerpreneur podcast to talk about exactly that mix of creative pursuits.

Like me, Jeremy is a lawyer, podcaster, and writer. He devotes his podcast to the many things attorneys do both inside and outside their law practices.

We talked about my gradual shift from law to writing, the idea for my podcast Buffy and the Art of Story, productivity, and creativity.

Whether or not you consider yourself an authorpreneur, some things you might find helpful in the interview:

  • prioritizing a personal life when work is all around you
  • balancing career responsibilities with fiction writing
  • how time management and productivity change when you look at projects rather than hours
  • the pros and cons of engaging in more than one profession

You can check it out here:

Slaying Briefs, Books, and Vampires with Lisa Lilly

P.S. For more on staying centered while juggling more than one career you may want to check out Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life.

Out Of One Novel – Many Products

For a lot of writers, it takes a year or more to finish one novel.

That’s especially true if you're working full time at another career or have other significant responsibilities.

That time frame can feel a bit discouraging even when you’re happy about finishing your book. Because you spent all that time, and now you have only one book to market.

But there is good news.

One novel — or one more novel if you’ve already published some — is really multiple products. Seeing it as if it were just one means leaving royalties on the table.

And failing to reach a lot of readers who might love your work.

The product list below assumes you're in control of and publishing your own work. If you’re looking for a traditional publishing contract instead, however, it's still key to understand what you or your publisher can do with your work. If nothing else, it might help you decide what rights you're willing to offer.

E-Book Editions (5+ Products)

Many readers these days read only e-books.

Some prefer e-books over paper to save shelf space. Others like the pricing, which is usually cheaper than trade paperback or hardback books. I personally like e-books because I can adjust the type size for my eyes (which like big print these days).

Because there are multiple platforms where you can publish an e-book, that means one e-book is really multiple products you can market to completely different sets of readers.

My fiction and nonfiction books are available in Kindle, Kobo, Nook, AppleBook, and GooglePlay editions. You can also make your e-books available to libraries through Kobo or through other distributors like Draft2Digital.

Print Books (4+ Products)

Despite what I said above, and many predictions over the years that e-books would make paper books disappear, it hasn’t happened.

For all the readers that love only e-books, others read in both formats, and some prefer print alone. For that reason, I always publish at least one paperback edition of each of my novels.

  • Trade Paperback For Online Sales

The easiest way I’ve found to publish a trade paperback is through Amazon’s KDP Dashboard. The books are then available on Amazon and appear on the same sales page as your Kindle editions.

But that’s not the only way to sell paper books.

  • Trade Paperback For Bookstore Sales

Pretty much all authors would like to see their books on bookstore shelves. And many readers, including me, like visiting bookstores and supporting them.

Every bookstore owner I've talked to, though, will not stock a book published through KDP. (Bookstores generally are not big fans of Amazon.) So if you want your book to be available through bookstores, you almost always need to publish another edition.

I use IngramSpark to publish trade paperbacks that bookstores can order or stock.

  • Large Print

Another product you can create from your one novel is a large print edition. I just published one for the third book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series.

My Kindle editions from that series tend to get lost because there are so many hugely popular mystery authors. Readers are far more apt to find my large print editions and give them a try because there simply aren’t as many large print mysteries available.

  • Hardback

Some authors also publish hardback editions of their novels. Right now, I don’t know of any way to do that through KDP, but it is possible through IngramSpark. I haven't done that yet, but I'm considering it, as I recently had a reader ask me through Twitter if I had hardbacks available.

  • Autographed Books

Finally, you can offer autographed copies of your paperback or hardback book. So far I've only sold autographed copies at book fairs.

But more than once in the last year readers have reached out to me asking if they could buy autographed copies from me by mail. So I’m thinking I am going to set up direct sales from my website and offer autographed copies for a premium price.

Audio (2+ Products)

Audio has been growing in popularity.

As I’m writing this, many parts of the United States are still under lockdown due to Covid-19. That means that not as many people are listening to audiobooks or podcasts as they commute. But many listeners, including me, listen while doing household tasks like cleaning or laundry or while exercising. Others sit down and simply listen.

Some of those listeners never otherwise have time to read. So if your book is not available in audio they may never find it.

  • Audiobooks

The main audio product obviously is the audiobook. I’ve created and sold them so far through Amazon’s ACX platform and through Findaway Voices. I also licensed audiobook rights to my first Q.C. Davis Mystery to BlunderWoman Productions, an audiobook publisher.

A caveat for audiobooks: The production costs can be high, so unless you want to seek out a production company deal, you may want to wait until the book earns royalties in other formats before you invest in an audiobook.

  • Podcasts

Another potential product is a podcast. While most podcasts are informational and so fall in the nonfiction category, some authors do podcast their own fiction.

While for the most part you won’t make money directly from podcasting, you might make money through Patreon, podcast sponsorship, or advertising. I personally think it’s a little bit harder to do this for fiction if you are an unknown author. But it is still a fairly new field, so it’s worth thinking about it.

Publishing each of the above types of products takes some time, effort, and expense. But each one can reach a different type of reader and expand your chances of earning income from your books.

A mini-course I took online from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn on developing multiple streams of income is what prompted me to start looking more closely at what else I could be doing with each of my books. You may find the courses helpful as well.

That’s all for today. Until next time —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. I am an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take a course through my link, but that doesn't change the price to you. Or change how inspiring, informative, and immediately helpful I've found each of Joanna's courses that I've taken.

The Big Picture And What You’re Not Doing

Time Management and the Big PictureRecently, I started feeling more and more stressed about time management. As if I were constantly failing to do something important, but I didn’t know what it was.

This feeling persisted despite that the last month has been one of my most productive.

If you’ve ever felt like the proverbial hamster on the hamster wheel, moving your legs faster and faster but not getting anywhere, you understand.

So what to do?

The Big Picture And The Long List

Most of us have a long To Do list. If you work for yourself — or you're pursuing writing alongside another full-time endeavor — your list, like mine, probably includes a lot of projects and tasks.

Every month I choose two or three goals to focus on. Then each week I put the tasks that will help me achieve those goals at the top of my list. The remaining tasks I feel okay about carrying over another week if I need to.

Buffy and the Art of Story Season OneThat’s how I achieved my goals for April and May. I reached the halfway point in the first draft of my latest mystery novel. On the nonfiction side, I published Buffy And The Art Of Story Season One: Writing Better Fiction By Watching Buffy. And I improved the return on investment for my Amazon and BookBub Dashboard advertising.

Yet I felt pressured. And stressed.

Checking The Boxes

Feeling that type of pressure isn’t new to me. When I ran my own law practice I often felt that way. I was fortunate enough to have so much work that I was always busy. Too busy. Looking back, I can think of a lot of things I might have done to better manage that workload and lower my stress.

But after thinking it through, I couldn't see that any of those solutions made sense for my author business. So at first I thought my law practice experience had nothing to teach me now.

Until I listened to Joanna Penn’s recent podcast episode The 7-Figure One Person Creative Business With Elaine Pofeldt. In talking about one-person businesses (and what else is an author?), Pfeldt said that a lot of people scramble “from one project to the next.”

She went on to point out: “If you're always in that mindset, your business will not grow and you'll never have a very peaceful business.”

During that same interview, Joanna Penn noted that she is someone who likes lists and crossing things off of them (as do I), and sometimes that gets in the way of the big picture.

That’s when it hit me. Yes, I feel more peaceful these days because I love writing so much and find it less stressful than a full-time law practice. But my author business still can’t grow if all I ever focus on is getting the next project done.

Because feeling happy about writing and using time well requires more than simply hitting a word count goal or publishing the next book.

What You’re Not Doing

I went back to my “I don’t know” feeling. And realized that was the big picture issue I needed to tackle. To be more specific, I needed to set aside some time to learn more so I could figure out which projects on my list made sense and what I might want to add or change.

If I didn't do that, I'd just keep on with one project after another. Yes, after another year or two I'd have more books on my shelf to sell, and that's good. But what did that add up to? More to the point, what did I want it to add up to?

I've got resources to help me figure that out. An email folder labeled “Industry Items To Read” full of messages and articles about writing and publishing. Three video courses I paid for and only partially completed.

But I hadn't set aside time to read or watch or learn.

And every time I saw those folders with those materials, I felt that sense of pressure. That feeling that despite all the projects completed, I was missing something. So I blocked Saturday afternoons in my calendar solely for education. And on the very first Saturday, as soon as I started my three hours on course materials, the feeling of pressure eased.

If you’re feeling stressed about time, ask yourself if there’s something significant you’re not doing that might help you chart a new course, change direction, or improve your writing or business on a big picture level. If there is, carving out time for it might just help you manage the rest of your workload.

That’s all for now –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. So much of my creativity and productivity has been inspired by online courses I took from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. You can check them out here. While I'm an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take one, that doesn’t change the price to you.

Should You Enter A Book Award Contest?

Is it worth it to enter a book award contest? That's a question many authors ask themselves. Like so many aspects of publishing, there's no yes or no answer.

But here are some additional questions, the answers to which may help you decide:

  • Why do you want to win this award?
  • Do the benefits (including advertising and marketing) match your goals?
  • Will the entry fee strain your budget?
  • How much time will it take to prepare and enter the book award contest?

Why Enter A Book Award Contest?

If you want to win a book award contest, ask yourself why.

  • Prestige

Some writers long for prestige and validation. Winning a respected award can help you feel prouder of your writing career or your book.

  • Increased Sales

It also might increase sales. It puts a seal of approval (sometimes literally) on your book. This approval can help reassure a reader who doesn't know you already that it's worth investing money and time into reading your book.

  • Marketing

Winning or placing in a book award contest also may provide advertising and marketing opportunities. If you have an email list, you can tell them you're entering the award, email again if you are a finalist, and share your excitement when you win or even disappointment if you don't.

Why is that a plus? It's a reason to email that reminds them your book is out there but that doesn't just say, “Hey, buy my book.” It also helps people empathize with you and care about your career. People will be excited for you!

For the same reasons, you can share the stages of the contest on social media and with friends, family, and colleagues.

  • Prizes

Some awards come with prize money, others with certificates or seals, others with award ceremonies.

Wishing Shelf Finalist Book Award Medal Red
The Wishing Shelf provides 3 different medals for finalists – this is red with red background. The silver is on my website.
  • Advertising

As the president of Readers' Favorite said in this article on book awards, “Entering a book contest is like paying to run an ad about your book.”

Your book might be listed on an award website if you are a finalist or a winner. Also, you can add a book award win to your book descriptions. Recently, I added my finalist designation in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards to my descriptions of the second book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series.

  • Critiques or Advice

Some book award contests offer advice, reviews, or critiques to all entrants, or to entrants who reach a certain level.

Do The Benefits Match Your Goals?

Whether a particular book award contest is worth entering depends on what you hope to achieve.

If you're looking for prestige, research the award's history. Ask people who love to read if they've heard of the award and what it means to them. Check reputable authors' associations to see what they think of the award. If it's well-respected and sought after and readers feel winning means a book is a great book, you may want to enter.

On the other hand, if no one's heard of the award or it's brand new, winning it may not give you the prestige you're hoping for.

Advertising, Marketing, and Sales

On the other hand, if advertising, marketing, or sales are your goal, a lesser-known award may provide that.

Research what happens to books that win or place.

If that research shows the award organization displays the books in an attractive way on an award website, publicizes them on social media, hosts award ceremonies with photo ops, or provides seals or medals that can benefit your marketing strategy, you may want to enter.

Also, any award helps signal people that your work has merit or that you've achieved success.

It's part of social proof. Strangers feel better checking out your work now that you've won an award. Friends are more apt to recommend your book now that you're an award-winning author, not “just” someone they know who also happens to write.

If you're looking for prize money, how does it compare to the entry fee (if there is one)? And how does it compare to other ways you could earn the same amount of money?

Finally, you may hope to learn or gain something even if you don't win or earn finalist or runner-up status.

Part of the draw when I entered The Wishing Shelf Book Awards was that I entered a recently-published book that hadn't yet gotten many editorial or other reviews. The contest promised each entrant feedback on the book, an honest Amazon or Goodreads review based on readers' comments, and a “catchy quote” for the book description (or back cover blurb on reprint).

If I didn't win or place, I figured I'd at least benefit from reader feedback and additional marketing copy.

The Costs of Entering A Contest

Some book award contests are free to enter. Those awards usually are funded by some type of grant or organization. Others charge a fee to cover the costs of running the contest. Still others seek to earn a profit from running the award.

Whether a fee is worth it depends both on the benefits above and your budget.

I'll consider a contest if the fee is below $100. But before entering, I look not only at whether the fee fits in my budget but what else I could buy with that money. As a result, I've only entered one contest in the last 3-4 years.

If, for example, I can buy advertising for the same price that I think will be more effective, I'll do that rather than enter a contest. Ditto for critiques and marketing copy.

And cost is about more than money. Your time is valuable.

So be sure to consider how involved the entry process is and how much time it will take you to complete it. Are there long forms to fill out? Do you need to put your book into a particular format you don't already have? Must you submit a hard copy and mail it?

As with money, consider whether there is a better use of your time.

If you decide to enter an award, good luck!

Until next time–

L.M. Lilly

Your Author Photos

When marketing a book, most authors include an author photo. If you have a website, you've probably got an author photo there, and one on the back of your book.

But other less formal photos of you also should be part of your marketing.

The Back Of The Book Photo

If you're like me, your official author photo is a head shot. Below is the one I use on my author website. (I use a different one on the About page of this site, but it's also from a professional studio.)

Lisa M. Lilly Author

Your photo might be retouched a bit if you went to a professional studio or, these days, if you've figured out how to do that on your phone.

Odds are, it's also one of your favorite photos of yourself.

All of that is great.

In fact, I feel like it's key to use an author photo that conveys that you're someone with a writing career, who takes care with your appearance.

That suggests you also take care with your writing and makes strangers feel more comfortable buying your work.

What's Stopping You?

Many writers, though, hesitate to post other photos of themselves with their books on social media or on their sites.

It can feel a lot like bragging. And, if you were raised like I was, that's something you might feel strange about.

Or you might be self-conscious about not looking your best in a candid shot or one that you take yourself. It's not as easy to get the best angle.

Getting an ideal background can also be tricky.

Other Author Photos

But your photos don't need to be perfect. The photo below is not.

The background strikes me as kind of blah. You can't see my whole book cover. The light catches flyaway hair near my part.

Lisa Holding The Fractured Man

And yet when I posted this photo with a note about “Look what came in the mail!” I sold a dozen paperback copies of The Fractured Man that same afternoon.

That may not seem like a lot, but most of my sales are ebook or audiobook editions. Typically I release the paperback for price comparison purposes and so I have something to sell at live events.

Otherwise, I sell one or two every month or so. I've never had a dozen ordered at once.

In fact, when I specifically created a post with the professional 3-D book cover for the second book in the same series and a note about the paperback being available, I sold just one paperback that day compared to dozens of ebook editions.

The Charmng Man 3D cover

What this shows is (1) people respond not just to your book but to you and (2) a more candid shot is a lot more fun and engaging.

It shows who you are.

So use your professional author photo and professional book covers on your sales pages.

But on social media, let go of your concerns about the perfect shot and post as you would about anything else in your life that excites you.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

 

 

Saying No So You Can Write More

If you're writing novels and doing other work as well, paid or unpaid, Saying No to other things is key to carving out time to write and to feeling happy.

For most of us, though, it's hard to do.

So instead, if you're like me, you become more stressed and overwhelmed. You might feel angry — at yourself for saying yes, at the people who keep asking you to do things, at your entire life or schedule.

So how do you say No?

Understand Your No

There are different reasons for wanting or needing to say No to another task or project. Here are several:

  1. It's something we really want to do for ourselves but we feel overloaded already
  2. Someone we care about asked us to do it and we want to help that person but we feel we have no time
  3. It's something we don't want to do but we feel we should
  4. It's something we don't want to do for any reason

It matters which of the above is true because there's no rule requiring us to say Yes or No without any conditions.

For some tasks that fall into 1-3 we might want or be able to say Yes if the circumstances were right.

So how do we do that?

Saying Yes If…

If you're already stretched to your limit (or beyond) but want to take on something new, ask yourself these questions:

  • Could you fit in the task without too much stress a week or month from now?
  • Is there a way to narrow or limit the task so that it fits your schedule?
  • Can you think of an alternate way to achieve the same goal that will take less time or effort?

For example, I adjunct teach legal writing. My students sometimes ask me if I can help with advice on preparing for interviews or go over an article they've written. The demands of reviewing class work alone often make it hard to get my own writing and publishing done. But I really want to help.

So often I answer with a condition: Yes, I'd love to review your article if getting comments back to you in 3 weeks is soon enough.

Or: Yes, I'm happy to give you advice if you can stay after class one evening (rather than needing me to meet at a separate time).

If I truly can't make time to review an entire article, I might offer to do a narrower task such as meeting to discuss proposed topics or reviewing and marking a limited number of pages with suggested edits.

At times I've also offered instead to connect a student with another lawyer who is more familiar with a particular area of law. (After I've checked to be sure that lawyer is willing to help.)

Saying No Clearly

Sometimes you just need or want to say No. But it can be tricky, even if it's something you absolutely don't want to do. That's especially so if the person asking is someone you care about.

The key is to be clear so you don't get talked out of your No.

Being clear means saying the word No without conditions. Or explanations.

Why no conditions or explanations? As soon as you add either, you're inviting the person to come back with proposed ways you could instead say Yes. Or with arguments about why your explanation isn't valid.

Here's how that usually goes:

You: Sorry, I can't come to dinner Sunday afternoon. That's my only time to write.

Family Member: That's okay – it'll only take a couple hours. You can write after. Or in the morning.

You: No, I can't. I've got budgets to prepare for work in the morning and plans in the evening.

Family Member: Can't you change your plans? And why are you working on the weekend anyway? You work too much.

You get the idea.

Instead, try saying: No, it's not possible for me to be there Sunday. I hope to make it next time.

When your family member (or friend or whoever it is) pushes back and asks why or what you're doing, rather than get drawn in, simply rephrase your answer but say the same thing.

It's just not possible this weekend. I'm sorry to miss it and look forward to another time.

If the person keeps pressing, it's time to say that you need to go (hang up/leave/stop texting) but would love to talk again another time.

The Order Of No

The order in which you give your answer can help protect your relationship.

Notice above I suggested saying No (or it's not possible) first and then ending with a statement that lets the person know you care. That's because the word “but,” even when it's implied as it is in the above examples, is very powerful.

In fact, most of us only hear what comes after the “but.”

Think about the classic “You're a great person, but…” No one thinks there's anything good coming after that. So, likewise, if you start with “I'd love to be there, but…” the listener will walk away thinking about the No.

If you flip the order, you're reassuring the person. Your words make it clearer that saying No is about your schedule, and you value and care about helping that person or being there. (For tips on fitting writing into your schedule check out Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.)

That's all for now. Until next time —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. The above is based on one of the chapters in Write On: How To Overcome Writer's Block So You Can Write Your Novel. If you're struggling to get started or you keep rewriting early chapters without moving on, you might find it helpful.

 

Check Your Book Marketing Assumptions (And Figures)

Understanding your long-term sales figures can significantly improve your book marketing. I say this from experience.

I spent a lot of time yesterday and today running figures. It undermined a lot of assumptions I hadn't even realized I'd made.

What might you discover by checking your sales data?

  • Sales venues that didn't work for one genre might for another
  • A book's launch doesn't dictate whether it will succeed long-term
  • Your audience is growing in unexpected places
  • You may have a surprise bestseller

Where Are You Selling?

You may think you know where your books are selling.

And you might–in a big picture sense.

I figured my sales (excluding audiobooks) for this year to date would break down around  70% Amazon/30% all other sales venues combined (Kobo, Nook, GooglePlay, Apple, Ingram). And when I checked the numbers, that's about right.

But when I looked by genre, I discovered a more nuanced picture.

My non-fiction books are 95% Amazon/5% Other, mainly because I only recently made them available on other platforms. Without a past sales history, I figured Amazon would dominate, and it does.

My 4-book supernatural thriller series, which I began in 2011 and completed in 2017, is a 60/40 split Amazon/Other.

My new mystery series is a 57/43 split Amazon/Other.

While a 3% difference for the fiction series doesn't seem like much, I find it striking because I've been running Amazon ads regularly to the mystery series and only now and again advertising by targeting other platforms.

That suggests to me that at least for now, I ought to spend more on the other platforms where the books seem to be gaining traction.

At the same time, I'll probably hold off on more Amazon ads until I figure out what targets work best. Or perhaps until I have more books out in the series.

Launch Marketing Isn't All There Is

I've been feeling a little discouraged about my new Q.C. Davis mystery series. It's had a slow start. In fact, until I looked at numbers, I thought it started much slower start than my previous series, which falls within the supernatural thriller genre.

Here's what I learned for Amazon and Kobo for the first series (Kobo is my second-best sales platform for it):

Awakening Book 1 (released in 2011, but oldest data is from 2013):

  • Best early month (November 2013): 130 sales
  • Best month (November 2014): 1176 sales

Book 2

  • Release month (October 2014): 84 sales
  • Best month (October 2015): 530 sales

Book 3

  • Release month (May 2016): 50 sales
  • Best month (May 2017): 451 sales

Book 4

  • Release month (May 2017):  506 sales
  • Best month: same

Box Set (all 4 books in one)

  • Release month (Sept. 2017): 5 sales
  • Best month (June 2019): 1916 sales

As you can see, the only book that did its best during the release month was the fourth and final book in the series.

And the Box Set was dismal on release.

This year, though, despite putting it an 99 cents for a special in June, it earned me over $1800 this year to date. This data tells me it's well worth marketing the box set on an on-going basis. And perhaps the individual books in the series, too.

Stealthy Sales

Because Amazon sales overall are generally higher and spike more with promotions, it's easy to overlook the total sales on lower volume platforms. I look at the sales dashboard on Apple and see many days with zero sales. A good day is 5. Also, I assumed Kobo would be my second-best sales platform for my mystery series because it is for my supernatural thriller series.

That's why it's important to look at actual figures and total sales over time.

For example, before I added the total sales for the 2 books in my new Q.C. Davis mystery series, I thought I was selling almost zero on Apple. I figured it broke out like this:

  1. Amazon: $300
  2. Kobo: $100
  3. Nook: $15
  4. Apple: $10
  5. GooglePlay: $5

When I added the figures, here's what I learned:

  1. Amazon: $589
  2. Apple: $169
  3. Kobo: $86
  4. Nook: $86
  5. GooglePlay: $26

As you can see, Apple was strikingly different than I expected. And Nook sales equal Kobo sales. I'd felt frustrated at getting “nowhere” on Apple because it seemed I'd only see 1 sales here and there. But those 1s were adding up.

Because of this, I will now look more closely at marketing to Apple readers.

You May Have A Surprise Bestseller

Sometimes a particular book's marketing is paying off better than you thought. Or the book simply speaks to people more than you expect.

For me, that book is The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year. I felt sure this book was only doing so-so.

Why?

Because there's so much emphasis in the indie author community on rapid release. That is, writing and releasing a book every month or at least every 3 months.

I've never done that.

When I first started publishing I was working 55 or more hours a week running my own law firm. I released books when I could, which wasn't very often.

Now I still do things other than writing, including teaching and handling law projects. I discovered I'm happier that way. So while I release a couple books a year, usually only one is a novel.

In short, I wrote the How-To book I would have liked to have when I was writing my first few novels. I wasn't sure how many other people it would speak to.

It turns out that of the revenue from my 4 non-fiction books on writing, 57% comes from The One=Year Novelist (ebook and workbook editions) and 43% from the other 3 books combined.

Sometimes it really is good to write the book you want to read.

That's all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

 

Save Time And Let Your Novel Ideas Simmer

We've all stared at a blank screen or page unsure what to write next. For me, it's hardest if I'm starting a new novel and I'm out of ideas. Or I'm having trouble choosing which of my novel ideas to write about.

The concept of setting your ideas on the back burner to let them simmer can help.

Doing so does 3 things:

  1. Frees your creative mind by lowering stress
  2. Keeps you from getting stuck
  3. Uses your time well (especially if you're also working at another job or career)

Less Stressed And More Creative

The concept of putting ideas on the metaphorical back burner isn't original to me.

I got it from Don't Sweat The Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff: Simple Ways To Keep The Little Things From Taking Over Your Life. In that book, the author suggests that rather than racking your brain about a problem that makes you feel anxious, you should imagine setting it on the back burner of your mind to simmer.

That's because often the more you struggle for a solution, the more you reinforce anxiety rather than shifting your mindset to making things better.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer.

If you relax and let go of the problem, though, your unconscious mind is free to come up with creative answers.

In the same way, allowing ourselves to set aside concerns about finding the right idea frees our unconscious minds to sort through possibilities, make connections, and come up with entirely new thoughts.

Ones we never would have imagined if we sat staring at the blank screen.

On Time, On Schedule, And Unstuck

I'm a great believer in sticking to a writing schedule. That means if I carved out time to write, I do it whether I feel inspired or not.

If I'm not sure where to go next with my novel, though, or how to get it started, wracking my brain at the scheduled time doesn't usually help. So instead I imagine putting whatever part of my novel I'm struggling with on the back burner and turn to something else.

The something else could be a different writing project.

Maybe a short story a poem, or a chapter in nonfiction book. Ideally it's something I can easily pick up and put down.

If I really need to make progress on the novel to meet a deadline, though, I focus on a different part of it.

For example, let's say I'm stuck on the big picture idea for the next novel in my Q.C. Davis series. (The first one involved whether Quille's boyfriend committed suicide or was murdered. The second featured neighbors stuck in an apartment complex during a blizzard with a killer. The third relates to a self-help organization that has cult-like aspects.)

Right now I'm uncertain of the basic premise of the fourth book, but I can still make progress.

I might write about a new character I want to bring into the series. Or think about aspects of Chicago to highlight that haven't been in previous books. (One that will likely appear in Book 4 is the number of buildings that have multiple entrances and exits, allowing someone who knows them well to evade a pursuer.)

Writing about any of those points keeps me moving forward while leaving my unconscious mind to figure out who will be murdered and what the backdrop for story will be.

In this way, I'm more apt to stick to my writing schedule, reinforce my writing habit, and avoid getting stuck.

Using Your “Other” Work Time

The back burner concept also ensures that when you are working at another job or profession (or handling some other responsibility) you're still writing.

That's because even if your mind is completely absorbed in a non-writing task, your unconscious mind can imagine scenes, sort through plots, or generate completely new novel ideas.

You can help this process along by taking as little as five minutes before you start your day to choose a part of your novel to let simmer. Within a few days or a week new ideas or decisions will almost certainly pop into your mind.

When that happens it not only helps you make progress, it gets you more excited about your novel.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. For more on lowering stress and improving creativity, you may want to check out my book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. Available in workbook and ebook editions.

Using Your Phone To Focus On Writing

Your phone can help you focus on writing or it can distract you.

The best way I've found to use it to focus is to consciously choose these 3 things:

  1. Where the phone will live while I write
  2. Who can reach me while I write
  3. How long I will write in one stretch

Where To Put Your Phone When You Write

Because you'll be using the phone's timer (more on that below), you'll need it to be somewhere close enough to hear. But don't keep the phone in the same room.

That's for two reasons.

First, studies show that having a phone within reach, even if it's turned off, lowers our mental capacity for other things. Some part of our brain is always listening for the phone.

This article about the McCombs School of Business study at the University of Texas at Austin puts it well:

The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

My own experience bears this out.

When I leave the phone on the bookcase in the hallway outside my home office I feel much more focused and often forget about time passing. If the phone is within arm's length, though, my mind wanders often.

Second (you forgot there was a second didn't you?), putting the phone far enough away that I must get out of my chair to reach it ensures that I will move and stretch enough during my day.

Write Undisturbed

Most phones have a setting called Do Not Disturb (or sometimes No Interruptions).

This setting suppresses all alerts, including social media, and any notifications of texts, emails, and phone calls. When this setting is activated your phone will not ring, make any other noise, or vibrate.

You can customize the setting to allow calls from certain numbers or repeat calls from the same number to come through.

That way if, for instance, you're the person your aging grandmother depends on for a ride to the doctor, you won't miss her call.

Time To Focus On Writing

Now that you found a home for your phone and put it on Do Not Disturb, set its timer.

Choose a length of time to write that's short enough that you won't worry you're missing out or falling behind by not checking messages or social media or doing other tasks. But the block of time should be long enough that you can get something significant done on your current writing project.

For me, 30 minutes is ideal.

After 30 minutes, I walk over to the phone to shut it off. I then reset the timer for 3 to 5 minutes and stretch during that time. Doing so helps me alleviate aches and pains from sitting too long in one position. I also look at messages to be sure none require an immediate response.

If I still have time in my day to write, I reset the timer for 30 minutes.

You can repeat this process as many times as you want to. But even if you only write for one 15-30 minute block you will make progress.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Not sure what to write during that 30 minutes? If you're having trouble getting your novel started or you're stuck in the middle, Super Simple Story Structure: a Quick Guide to Plotting and Writing Your Novel might be able to help. It's available for multiple e-book platforms, as an audiobook, and in a workbook edition.

Create A Fiction Mission Statement

Lately I've been thinking about creating a fiction mission statement for my most recent series.

A mission statement can help you figure out how to brand and market your writing. It can also motivate you to start or finish a novel. And help you generate or refine ideas.

But first, what is a mission statement?

And why should you create one for your fiction?

Fiction Mission Statement Defined

A mission statement is a summary, or sometimes a tag line, about the purpose and values of an organization or person. Corporations and non-profits often use mission statements to guide their growth or focus the people who work for them.

The idea of creating one for fiction isn't original to me.

I began thinking about it while reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog posts and her book Creating Your Author Brand. Rusch talks about her overall author mission statement: All genres all the time. It makes clear that she likes to write in multiple genres.

But she also has one for each of her pen names.

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For Kristine Grayson, the statement is It’s Not Easy To Have A Fairy Tale Ending. In Rusch's words, that tells readers that “Grayson will always be goofy paranormal with a touch of romance, usually focusing on myths or fairy tales or both.”

Marketing And Mission

As the above examples show, once you know your mission statement, it's a lot easier to describe your work to potential readers.

That's something many novelists, including me, struggle with.

I like to write long. My emails are long. My first drafts of blog posts are long. Most of my short story attempts turn into novels.

So whether I'm at a party or creating an ad, telling someone in a few seconds what my books are about poses a real challenge.

Once I create a fiction mission statement, though, I know how to convey both what I'm writing and why.

Motivation, Ideas, And Mission

The why helps me sit down to write (or stand and dictate) whether I feel like it or not at any particular moment. Because now writing is about more than simply my personal love of writing and desire to publish books.

It's about making a difference to readers.

For example, I'm writing a suspense/mystery series now because that's what I've most enjoyed reading over the last 5-10 years.

But I chose the specific main character, setting, and types of crimes for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to write about amazing and wonderful places in Chicago.

So many people hear only about the bad aspects of Chicago, and some of those appear in my books. But readers also get to visit great restaurants, outdoor paintings and sculptures, the expanding river walk, Lake Michigan, and all sorts of other beautiful places.

  • I'm tired of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels that show women being tortured or victimized. 

In real life, the biggest dangers to women are the people (usually the men) they know. Fiction is not real life, and I haven't stopped reading books where women are victims. Also, there are sometimes women victims in my books.

But I write about crimes that are committed by someone who knows the victim, and victim more often is male.

Also, the Q.C. Davis books are first person, and the protagonist is a smart, creative female lawyer.

The reader sees the story through her eyes as she tries to unravel the mystery. Not through the eyes of a victim or a perpetrator. So the emphasis is on solving the crime and seeking justice, not on committing crime.

  • Showing many sides to issues and people matters to me.

While in a murder mystery the villain generally is, well, a villain, I mostly try to avoid black-and-white answers and characters who are all good or all bad.

The same goes for the issues that form the backdrop for the crimes.

Book 2 in the Q.C. Davis series touches on immigration because a missing college girl may have let her student visa lapse, which makes her sister afraid to contact the police. That sets up a reason to come to my protagonist for help.

The few characters who talk about immigration (where the plot requires it) hold different views from one another.

My main goal is to entertain.

But after that I hope that readers on any side of the issue will gain a little better understanding of a perspective unlike their own.

Writing out the above aims gave me a way to sort through potential plots for Book 4 (Book 3 comes out November 4). It's also giving me ideas for publicity and marketing, which I'm focusing on more now that the series is well underway.

For instance, I'm kicking around a theme about how the protagonist is a sort of ambassador for Chicago. And thinking about putting together “Quille C. Davis' Guide to Chicago” as a giveaway for mailing list sign ups.

An event or book bundle with other mystery authors who address social issues in their books also might work.

What's Your Mission?

What matters most to you when you write a novel? Do you see themes that appear again and again in your fiction?

If so, try using them to formulate your mission statement.

Good luck! Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly