Addressing Beta Reader Comments On Characters

When your beta reader says, "No one would ever do that."Writers’ group members and beta readers (readers who give feedback on early drafts) can offer valuable help. But they don’t always phrase their comments in a way that’s easy to listen to.

Or to apply to your manuscript.

Over the next few months I’ll talk about types of comments you’re likely to get and some tips on how to make the best use of them.

Today’s Beta Reader Comment:

“No one would ever do that (or say that or feel that)” – referring to something your character says or does.

Two different things could be happening here.

First, maybe your beta reader finds it especially hard to step outside their own experience. For instance, if as soon as they became a parent, they never rode their motorcycle again because of the risk, they’ll never believe a character who is a parent would ride a motorcycle. Full stop.

Second, however clear it is in your mind, you may have failed to show why your character does or says the particular thing they did or said (or felt).

Also, both of the above could be happening.

What To Do About It

In either case, check the feedback from your other readers and see if anyone else was confused. That will help decide if this reader can be helpful or might be too stuck in their own life experience.

Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside OUtBut — and this is an important but — even if everyone else got it, ask yourself why your character made that choice or said what they said.

Is it something in the character’s background? Does it relate to a fight they had earlier in the week? Do they have a particular goal that leads them to behave as they do?

Then look again at whether that’s on the page. If not it’s not there, weave it in.

Going Forward

On a related note, should you keep the beta reader who can’t step outside their own experience (if you truly believe that’s what’s happening)?

I have one reader like that, but I keep asking her to read because her life experience is fairly broad and many of her comments are spot on. And even where I suspect the issue is unique to her, it helps me to check and be sure I’ve fully developed my characters.

And, finally, odds are that some other reader out there will react the same way.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to alter key plot turns or add pages of explanation. If, however, I can fix the problem with a few lines, why not do it? It makes the reader experience better for everyone.

I hope that’s helpful!

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on developing characters, you may want to check out Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out.


Writing With the Winter Blues

If you tend to get the winter blues, writing can become more challenging. Since we can’t skip past the season (and who wants to wish away months of life anyway), asking yourself these 3 questions might help:

  1. What about winter specifically triggers feeling down or anxious?
  2. What excites you and makes you happy about writing?
  3. What small things can you do ease (1) and increase (2)?

Triggers For The Winter Blues

Your first thought might be that everything about winter affects your mood — and not in a good way. But usually there are particular parts of winter weather that impact you. And they might not be the ones you think.

For example, I always figured cold weather triggered my blue or anxious winter feelings. (Not so good given that I live in Chicago where winter sometimes lasts 5 months whatever the calendar says.)

Mind Map for Mystery Novel
Diagram created this January for the latest Q.C. Davis Mystery

But then I made a point to notice when I felt the best in winter.

It turned out that I felt pretty good when it was sunny and cold. I didn’t like feeling chilled, but it didn’t make me sad. In contrast, overcast gray days did. To my surprise, zero degrees and sunny was far better than thirty degrees and gloomy.

I also noticed that as my skin got drier (due to forced air heat) I felt more on edge. And because I have close vision problems it was much harder for me to read in the evening in low light, which also made it harder for me to wind down and relax.

While none of the things I just mentioned are fun, they’re all a lot easier to deal with than the entire season of winter.

Consider what’s happening in your environment in the winter months and how it makes you feel. You might want to jot a few notes or write a journal entry about it.

And speaking of writing…

When Writing Was Exciting

If you’re already struggling a bit with the winter blues you may feel like nothing about writing makes you happy, feels fun, or fills you with excitement.

Yet I’m certain you felt that way once or you wouldn’t be reading this. And you wouldn’t still be trying to write unless someone’s paying you a million dollars. In which case maybe focus on the million dollars.

So think back to a time when you did feel excited and happy to write.

Did you love interviewing your characters? Writing brand new scenes? Building entire imaginary worlds? Rewriting each paragraph until it sparkled?

Small Steps Address Winter Blues

Now think about some small, easy ways to address what you learned from Questions 1 and 2. Below are some examples from my efforts.

Letting In Some Light

I moved my writing desk in front of my home office window despite that it’s colder there. Seeing more sun as I write on sunny days and getting even a little more outdoor light on gray days lifts my mood.

I also check the weather for the week and look for the sunniest days and hours. That’s when I take a walk outdoors.

If I have to wear multiple layers and a hat over earmuffs so be it. I put those out the night before to make it more likely I’ll head out the door.

For my hands, I bought moisturizing soap and shea butter hand lotion. And I got brighter bulbs that cast whiter light that makes reading easier in the evening.

Happy Writing

As to writing, my favorite parts are putting together the plots for my mystery novels. Also rewriting once I’ve got my first draft done. The first draft itself often feels like more of a slog to me and I prefer to write it as fast as I can.

Yet for my last novel, I rushed through the plotting stage, telling myself it was “not writing” and I “should” be writing. That led me to spend more time first drafting because I stalled out more often, uncertain which way to go.

I finished Book 5 in my mystery series on time but I enjoyed writing it a lot less. (And when was I first drafting? You guessed it. In the depths of winter.)

This time around I’m extending the plot phase. And I tried a new method – creating a diagram with magic marker on a giant piece of butcher paper. (Photo above.)

It makes me feel like a kid again to sit on my office floor and sort out my plot. And that’s fun.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn. What are a couple small things you might do to address the aspects of winter that affect your mood in a negative way?

And what can you do to enhance the fun parts of your writing?

That’s all for this time. Best wishes for a happy new year of writing.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If you’d like a little more help with anxious feelings, you might find my book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life useful.

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



Dealing With Tech Glitches That Steal Your Time

As a writer, even if you’re not yet publishing, you’re certain to run into tech glitches. A task that you thought would be quick and easy (or at least one or the other) turns out to be complex and time-consuming.

If you’re like me, when that happens you probably:

  1. feel frustrated and overwhelmed
  2. find yourself running late for your next appointment or task
  3. swear at your laptop
  4. do all of the above

But none of those things makes you feel better. Or helps you get anything done faster.

I know. I’ve run into this problem often the last few months while planning the launch of my first podcast.

So how do you keep tech glitches from hijacking your time and your mental well-being?

Predicting Tech Glitches

Tech problems are most likely to happen when:

  1. you’re dealing with new (to you at least) technology
  2. you’re starting a new project
  3. a program or app needs to be updated

Anytime you try something using technology you haven’t used before, odds are you’ll run into trouble.

That’s because until we use a new app or program, we don’t know its ins and outs. A feature that looks easy to use at first glance might require a few preliminary set up steps. Or you’ll need to update other software to make it compatible with a new program. Maybe you’ll have to hunt for data to input that you didn’t expect.

Likewise, a new project often includes steps you didn’t know enough to plan for. Or requires using technology you’ve never used before (see above).

And then there’s updates.

A lot of programs update automatically or prompt you to update. Others don’t.

If a program or app needs an update, it may not work properly or do what you need it to do. If you don’t realize an update is needed until that last minute, that can add a lot of time and frustration to your task.

When It All Happens At Once

My most recent tech glitch incorporated all of the above.

I finally got my first ever podcast episode (for Buffy and the Art of Story) edited. But I exported it as a WAV file, and it took up too much space. I felt so pleased when I realized this morning the reason my file was too large. I thought it would take me about 3 minutes to reexport it as an MP3.

Buffy and the Art of Story podcast coverExcept the software I’m using, Audacity, wouldn’t let me.

After Googling and reading help screens and threads I discovered there had been several new versions of Audacity in the last couple months. I needed to update first (not easy in itself), then I could export.

What I thought would take 3 minutes took slightly over an hour.

Planning For Tech Glitches

Happily, there are a few things that can help you deal with tech glitches.

  1. Build them into your project timeline
  2. Carefully choose when you’ll undertake any task that involves new technology or that you haven’t done before
  3. Make a plan for dealing with unexpected glitches

Your Timeline

A project manager and author I heard speak said the general rule for IT is that everything will take 2.7 times longer than you expect.

He wasn’t talking about technology specifically. Just the human tendency to plan our time as if everything will go right when that just never happens.

I find the 2.7 times is a good rule for project I’ve done before, like writing another novel in the same series.

If I’m doing something brand-new, though (like creating a podcast for the first time) instead I multiply my timeline by 10.

I hope it will take me less time.

But I know there are lots of aspects of the project that I’m completely unaware of. All that extra time gives me time the room to figure all those new things out.

Choosing Your Time

The worst time to embark on a new project is when you’re facing a hard deadline on existing work or you’re otherwise in a hurry. That’s so because while you’re dealing with tech glitches , you’ll also be panicking about not getting your other work done.

For that reason, it’s key to schedule brand-new projects for times when your other responsibilities are lighter.

The alternative — and we need one because most of us have ongoing work with deadlines — is to set a very soft deadline on your new project.

As an example, I had hoped to launch my new Buffy and the Art of Story podcast by the end of September. But I was also working on the launch of my latest novel, which has a hard deadline of November 4, 2019. And I was teaching a new class starting in late August that I suspected might be very time-consuming. (Spoiler, I was right.)

So I didn’t announce the new podcast to anyone outside my mailing list subscribers. And with them, I let them know the release date was uncertain.

Even now, I put the first episode up on my website, but still need to upload it to iTunes, Stitcher, and other podcast services. I hope to do that by Halloween.

But I’m not promising anyone that I will.

In a perfect world for the last month I would have been sharing a specific launch date and publicizing for months beforehand. But knowing about all my other work, it was better for me to leave the release open ended.

When A Glitch Happens

When technology problems do happen, here are some steps to take:

Step One:

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you expected glitches. It’s normal. You can handle this.

Step Two:

If you’re worried about other work, take a moment to figure out if you are better off (a) setting aside your current project and working on something else for the day; (b) setting aside your other work for a few hours and dealing only with the glitch; or (c) alternating between trying different things to address the glitch and doing other work.

Step Three:

When you do deal with the glitch, there’s bound to be down time when the software updates, your laptop reboots, or you’re waiting for an answer from someone you contacted for help.

Use the time well.

Rather than drumming your fingers on your desktop as you stare at the screen (and maybe curse), turn to some task you’ve been putting off.

Clean out that file drawer you haven’t looked at in a decade. Proofread 10 pages of your latest novel. Fill out those reports you’ve been dragging your feet on for your other job.

When you’re done, you’ll feel you’ve accomplished something. And odds are your computer will be ready for you to take another step.

Technology can be wonderful and it can also be frustrating. I hope the above helps it feel wonderful more often, and saves you some time.

That’s all for now. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly


P.S. Struggling with stress or anxiety as you juggle writing and the rest of life? Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life might be able to help.

3 Readers You Need Before You Publish Your Novel

Three types of readers are key to preparing your novel for publication. These readers become part of the process after you have made all your revisions.

Their purpose is to be sure your final product doesn’t contain errors that will distract from the story.

Who are they?

  • Continuity readers
  • Subject matter experts
  • Proofreaders

Consistency Is Key

A continuity reader makes sure that your writing is consistent. You ask this person, ideally someone who has not read any previous drafts of your book, to read it solely for this reason.

Some examples of consistency errors:

  • a character walking into a hospital and out of a train station
  • the same house having a ground level front door in one scene and a steep flight of steps to the front door in another
  • the same character being called by completely different names (this error happens to me because I sometimes use placeholder names during early drafts, change them later, and slip back into using an original name now and again during a rewrite)
  • changes in weather or time of day without explanation

You don’t need someone with specialized expertise or editing experience to be a continuity reader. Just someone who will keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t make sense.

Subject Matter Expert

As you planned and drafted your novel you should have been researching any areas that required understanding certain subjects.

For instance, the second book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series included a missing college student who may have let her student visa lapse.

I checked various online sources to make sure I understood enough about immigration requirements to be accurate.

Before you hit publish, though, you should have someone who knows key areas check to be sure that while rewriting you didn’t make changes that mistakenly introduced errors.

Not all subject matter experts need to be professionals in the field. One of my friends is a golfer who tracks sunrises, sunsets, and weather to ensure that he can golf as often as possible around his work schedule.

He checked the dates and times I listed above each scene in my latest mystery novel to be sure that I didn’t refer to twilight an hour later or earlier than it should be or set a scene after dark at a time when the sun would barely have begun setting.

Final Proofreads

Novels are long. It’s hard to catch every error in 60,000-100,000 words.

So whether or not you’ve had your novel copy edited or proofread by a professional, it’s worth asking a friend or fan with a good eye for detail to proofread once more.

I find the best people for this task are people who simply enjoy reading novels and catching mistakes rather than English majors or people who do nonfiction writing or editing.

That’s because novels generally are written in a more conversational fashion. (That’s particularly so for my current series because it’s in first person.)

Someone who wants every sentence to be complete or grammatically correct will likely give you back a lot of changes you’ll need to spend time reviewing but that you won’t ultimately use.

It may seem like it would be difficult to find people to do this. But if you ask around among friends and fans you will likely find readers who love getting an advance look at new work and who really enjoy proofreading.

You should also ask the other two types of readers above to let you know if they happen to spot a typo, though you’re not asking them to read for that purpose.

That’s all for this Friday. Until next week —

L.M. Lilly



Marketing Your Books – Figures Matter

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.


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, audio, 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

P.S. Check out The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year for a clear, simple guide to finishing a novel in the midst of a too-busy life.