Cleaning and Reorganizing My Writing Space

Hiedi_Cartoon_Housekeeper.jpeg_full[1]I rarely do a thorough cleaning of my home in springtime. The weather’s often too cold and rainy, plus there are simply too many other writing events and responsibilities to tend to. I prefer to clean in the summer, when I can leave doors and windows open. The carpets dry faster and I’m usually energized enough to take things to recycling and donation centers.

Unlike the upstairs, which gets regular vacuuming and dusting, I haven’t given my basement office a thorough cleaning for two years. I’ve managed to run a vacuum over the carpet and dust my workstation occasionally, but I’m talking about removing binders and knick-knacks from the shelves, wiping down every surface and tackling a couple of cobwebs high in the corners.

I’m inspired to do this right now, not only because the weather’s warming up, but because I’m currently reading a book about holistic wellness. The author says that a good cleansing of one’s home can improve emotional well-being and I agree.

Office cleaning is unique. No one else can do it for me because I also need to take a long look at the things in my office…the books, unfinished writing projects, the unframed pictures still perched behind my printer, and the numerous papers pinned to the bulletin board in front of my desk. Some of them have been there so long that they’re no longer relevant.

I need to rethink what needs to be filed away or removed altogether. Which pictures should go where? Which writing projects should I return now that weeks, if not months, have passed? I still need to sort through file folders and purge information I no longer want or need, but hey, like writing itself, organizing one’s writing life is an ongoing process.

Whatever happens, there should be improvements by the end of summer, I hope.

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Staying on Top of the Writing Biz

Author CaptionWriters who are as serious about selling their books as they are about writing them know all too well that one’s writing life quickly becomes a business. Aside from arranging events, blog tours, social media shout-outs, and so on, there’s the actually selling of books and record keeping that accompanies it, or at least it should.

If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will track your sales, but if you’re self-published, well, that’s on you. Keeping track of income and expenses is an important part of the writing biz. Here in Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to know about every dollar you earn from writing and every dollar you declare as an expense.

Since I’m not an accountant and therefore unqualified to give technical advice, I’m offering only two general tips that come from twenty-five years of selling my books through gift shops, bookstores, craft fairs, and writers’ events.

The first is stay on top of your bookkeeping. If you’re self-publishing multiple titles and selling at numerous events, then it’s important to know which title sold where and for how much. Bookkeeping tasks can mount up fast, especially during the Christmas season, so I find it best to record my sales on a spreadsheet right after every event.

It’s also important to note any expenses you wish to declare for each event. There are a number of online accounting packages like QuickBooks to help you out, but if you only have a couple of titles and know how to use Excel then that will at least keep you from frantically rummaging through shoeboxes of mangled receipts every April.

Here’s where my second piece of advice comes in, and this is probably stating the obvious, but if you’re selling books through your own website and accepting different forms of payment from different countries with different taxation requirements, then consider hiring an accountant. The same advice applies even if you’re not, but are having trouble figuring out what is a legitimate expense and what isn’t.

I’m lucky to have three accountants in my family, but if I didn’t I’d definitely hire one. It might seem pricey, but a professional can help you set up an efficient recordkeeping system and possibly save you thousands of dollars over the long haul.

Even if you have only one book out, it’s still a good idea to keep track of how many copies you sold, when, where, and for how much. These stats alone will help you figure out which events are viable, and if your books are appealing to the right demographic. Trust me, demographics vary from community to community.

When it comes to the business of selling books, there’s a lot to think. Do you need a GST number? Should you form an incorporated business? If those questions make your head spin, I totally get it. If you’re procrastinating with overflowing shoeboxes on a shelf somewhere, you know who to call.

Acquiring Mental Strength

o-MENTAL-STRENGTH-facebook[1]A few weeks ago, I came across and interesting article about things mentally strong people do that no one else does. It intrigued me because I’m immersed in a year that’s requiring a lot of mental and emotional strength. But as I was reading the article I was struck by how many of the 12 points listed also applied to my writing life, not just my family life.

For example, among the twelve points listed, the first one is practicing gratitude. I’ve been doing this as a writer from the day I sold my first piece back in 1983. I’ve enjoyed many moments of gratitude since then and have managed to acquire some of the other points on the Entrepreneur article list.

For example, mentally strong people create their own definition of success, delay gratification, don’t blame others, adopt practical optimism, acknowledge their limitations, and don’t compare themselves to others.

I can’t claim to have conquered all points listed. I still have trouble saying no, I still let my inner critic vocalize too much, and I still let fear get in the way of going all out in certain aspects of my career. But I’m working on it.

One of the things I’ve learned after nearly forty years of writing is that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I have something to share with newer writers just starting out. And that means a lot.

If you’re interested in reading all twelve points listed in the Entrepreneur article, you can find it HERE.

The Powerful Connection Between Nature and Writing

Front Yard Flowers-3, 2019.jpgWriting and gardening seem to go hand in hand. I’ve read wonderful blogs from authors whose photos and enthusiasm for their gardens is amazing. I’ve read biographies about deceased authors who were also passionate gardeners.

Although I haven’t done much gardening as an adult, I loved growing flowers as a kid. My favorite were gladioli. I still like big flowers, dahlias and sunflowers in particular. But after my husband started a vegetable garden in earnest last year (we enjoyed oodles of zucchini and kale) and we had some trees topped or removed (we still have plenty of trees, trust me), the sunlight has poured in, revitalizing flowering plants (which will hopefully attract bees) that have been there for years, but never really blossomed, until now, as you’ll see in the photos.

Front Yard Flowers-1, 2019.jpgMany authors know that one of the best ways to sort through novel plotting problems is to take a walk, whether in the woods, by water, or in a park. There’s something about the tranquility, the sounds and smells of nature that ease our conscious minds while allowing our subconscious our brains to quietly knit ideas together. It’s no wonder that some writers prefer to write outside. Beaches, outdoor cafés, benches, campgrounds, can be inspirational.

At the other end of the spectrum, those of us who’ve been working hard to finish and/or edit a manuscript find the outdoors a way to re-energize and just breathe. There are certain outdoor places where I don’t think about writing at all. While in Mexico back in January, I spent a great deal of time outside walking and seeing the sights, with little thought to writing at all.

As most authors already know, writing about nature is an integral part of storytelling. Without a setting, we don’t have a fully developed novel, and while some stories might be set totally indoors, many are not. Writing about what we see, hear, smell, and touch adds depth to a story that relies too heavily on visual senses.

By the way, last week I wrote about weird and wacky days of the week. Tomorrow, May 23rd, is world turtle day, according to my WWF-Canada calendar. Not wacky or weird. Just poignant. Because I fear that we’re losing too much nature at a horrific rate and that one day we’ll be forced to step inside some sort of dome if we want to see it and inhale the many fragrances. It makes me want to do more to keep what we have before it’s all gone, and to enjoy the outdoors more often.

The Tough Financial Road For Writers

Types_of_Freelance_Writing_Services[1].jpgI learned a long time ago that when it came to writing and income, I’d be taking more risk than I wanted in trying to earn a living from writing and publishing fiction. When I started getting paid for my published short fiction, the average paycheck was about $100, which meant I’d have to write and publish far more stories than I could possible manage.

After sharing my paltry income experience with a writers’ group back in the early 90’s, one of them loudly announced that she didn’t want to hear it. I learned then that not all writers want the truth about writing income. Since that time, I’ve read of, or even met, writers who wrote fiction as a means of earning needed retirement income. I worried for them. In fact, I worry for anyone who is depending on writing income, especially given the latest stats to come from the Authors Guild 2018 Author Income Survey. In a nutshell, the survey shows that writers’ incomes are dropping significantly. Keep in mind that this is one survey, but I’ve read of similar results from UK, Australian, and the occasional Canadian survey as well.

If you don’t want to know what the Guild report says, then stop reading here. I don’t mind. If you want to read the entire report (it’s interesting), you can find it HERE.

I want to focus on three highlights: 1) the median income for American writers in 2017, was $6,080, down 42% from 2009. 2) book earning incomes fell by 21% to $3,100. 3) on average, self-published authors earned 58% less money than traditionally published authors. A number of reasons are cited for these circumstances. Like many of us, the authors who took part in this survey supplemented their income through teaching, speaking engagements, and writing reviews.

I can certainly attest to the significant decline in ebooks sales for indie authors. In 2008 when I published Fatal Encryption, readers were trying their new e-readers and Kindles, and authors were buying one another’s books and reviewing them regularly, which Amazon eventually frowned upon. I used to sell paper copies on Amazon too until they decided to allow secondhand booksellers to sell my books at a cheaper price. It was either learn from this and adapt, or quit. I’ve chosen to adapt.

After reading the Authors Guild Report, I want to mention two things. One is that most authors (of course there are obvious exceptions) haven’t made a decent living from their work for well over a century. You can find references to what your predecessors have endured going back to Charles Dickens’ time and earlier.

My second point is that the desire—if not urge— to create won’t stop writers from expressing themselves in whatever form they choose, despite low income potential, nor should it. Dream big. A decent income does happen for some authors. It might not be easy and could take years of work, but nothing worthwhile comes easily, but then you already knew that, right?

A Night of Mystery: Authors’ Secrets Uncovered!

The title above  headlines a poster from Port Moody Library to announce an evening of discussion I’ll be taking part in, along with terrific writing colleagues and fellow Port Moody residents, A.J. Devlin and W.L. Hawkin.

We’re very excited to share our thoughts, tips, and yes, a few secrets about ourselves and mystery writing.

The event will be held on Tuesday, May 14, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. in the Fireside Reading Room at the Port Moody Library, 100 Newport Drive, Port Moody. Registration is required, which you can do at 604-469-4577. Hope to see you there!

Cobra ClutchTo Charm a Killer

Catching Up On Tasks During Easter Break

easter-monday[1]There’s nothing like a four-day break from the day job to catch up on home and creative projects. My husband spent two dry-weather days (the other two were rainy) doing home repairs on our house and planting our garden.

I visited my mother, who wasn’t well enough to spend Easter with us and afterward prepared a ham dinner for the rest of the family. I also took time to make a dent in endless writing projects. They weren’t all about editing, but updating records, organizing papers, and adding live links to my books.

One of the best things about now being self-published is that I can make changes to my books and reissue them when I want to, not when my publisher decides to, if they do at all. After I parted company with the publisher of my Casey Holland mysteries and obtained all rights to my books, I spent a fair bit of time going over all four manuscripts and reissuing them with new ISBNs on Amazon and through D2D (which handles Kobo, Nook, Apple books and other platforms). I was eager just to get the books posted again, but neglected to add live links so that readers could easily access all books from any book they purchased.

Two weeks ago, I finally created live links for all five books in the series, and this weekend I reissued the first four, with the exception of Knock Knock, which I’m going through again. There were a couple of errors that needed correcting.

I also caught up on the dementia journal I’ve been writing since my mother was first diagnosed over four years ago. It is now 25 single-spaced pages, and one day might be helpful in creating characters afflicted with this disease. If you have a friend or family member suffering from dementia, recording everything really helps. It might also be useful for the doctors as well.

I have to say that I’m happy with the Easter break productivity and for all of the family time I enjoyed. Heck, I even dusted parts of my office. Oddly, I didn’t eat any chocolate, but I sure did enjoy my share of wine. We have a membership at a local winery and a case of reds and whites were ready for pickup, and of course, I couldn’t just zip in and out without stopping for a little wine tasting. Yeah, it was a fun, productive weekend. I could use another four-day break like that soon.