Three Dominant Writing Challenges

Before I get into today’s post, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been on a sales promotion blitz for my Casey Holland mystery series. Until August 28th, all six books can be purchased for under $10 (US) The first one, The Opposite of Dark, is free and the next two are $.99 each. You can see all of the books and sale prices on one page at https://tinyurl.com/myhvfzjp These sale prices are also available on other platforms.

Now, all writers who hope to make a living from their work, or to at least supplement their income, face many challenges. For me, those challenges often boil down to three primary things: time, energy, and skill.

Those who need a day job to pay their bills, are raising kids, or caring for aging parents, are all-too familiar with the time challenge. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies, mainly by preparing for the project(s) I intend to work on that week, and minimizing internet and TV time. I’ve also carved out time by giving up exercise or housework. Not a huge sacrifice really, but there’s a price to be paid regarding exercise, which leads me to my second point. Energy.

Even those of you who’ve carved extra time for writing might discover a lack of energy for a variety of reasons. COVID hasn’t helped, especially with mental health issues, but there are other physical health challenges that I’m finding as I age. For instance, I need to nap more often because my brain becomes foggy after 2:30 p.m. Second, I’m dealing with neck and shoulder pain these days, which has flared up off and on for twenty years. Other writers are enduring health issues that drain them of creative energy or even the inclination to sit in front of the keyboard and start working. Grief, stress, loss of income and/or home, and other uncertainties all contribute, as I’m sure many of you know.

Last but not least, is skill. For newer writers, the question often is, can I do this? Will I ever be good enough to write one publishable story? Is there a better use of my time? For more experienced writers, it’s the inability to find an agent or publisher for their finished novel(s) that results in the same questions. For those who’ve been published, self doubt creeps in with lousy reviews, poor sales, or the sinking feeling that you’re not good enough to keep doing this.

I’ve dealt with all of these issues, and more, over the past four decades, and here are two things that have kept me going. First, I still love writing, editing, publishing, selling, and even some of the marketing stuff.

Second, I don’t constantly berate myself over mistakes and disappointments. At the end of every week, I conclude that I did the best I could with whatever time, energy, and skill I have. I’ve used this mantra for years and it’s helped me come to terms with things. If you think it’ll help you on your creative journey, feel free to use it. You deserve to acknowledge your challenges, and you deserve to give yourself a break. The mountain you’re climbing will always be there, you don’t need to break your back, or your spirit, over it.

The Blade Man Excerpt

This is one of those weird weeks that’s been inundated with appointments, the kind of situations where one appointment suddenly becomes three because more work or information is needed. Time constraints have kept me from coming up with a new topic this week, so I’m sharing a short excerpt of my latest Casey Holland mystery, The Blade Man, which was released in February 2020.

I was thinking about the book last week, because June 15th was the tenth anniversary of an infamous day in Vancouver history, the Stanley Cup riot. For those not of you not familiar with hockey, the Vancouver Canucks were hosting the Boston Bruins in game seven of the Stanley Cup final in 2011. There’d been an electrifying and intense winner-take-all buildup to the game, and, well, the Canucks lost.

Some of the fans didn’t take it well and begin throwing tantrums in the streets. Drunkenness, anger, and disappointment escalated into a violent mob who took to burning cars and looting buildings. People were hurt. It was not our city’s finest moment, but the following day all sorts of people arrived and began cleaning up the glass and debris. No one asked them to. They just did it.

That riot inspired the opening for The Blade Man, but my story takes place in Coquitlam, BC, a municipality east of Vancouver. Here’s an excerpt from the opening of the book:

“Wesley, look out!” Casey Holland ducked behind the bus driver’s seat and glanced over her shoulder. “Everyone down, now!

Casey didn’t know why Wesley bothered with the yelling or the horn. Minutes ago, a mob of teens and young adults had overtaken the road, ignoring his earlier blasts. Why would they listen now?

The Molotov cocktail exploded on the road, rocking the bus slightly. Somewhere outside, a woman screamed. Casey peeked out the window to see a woman running from the flames flaring up just a few feet from the bus. If they had to evacuate, she’d make damn sure that the half dozen passengers who’d decided to stay on board got out of here safely. A decade of security work had taught her to stay calm in tense situations. She’d be deceiving herself if she wasn’t worried, though. A drunken mob was a new experience she’d rather live without.

“That was too damn close!” A middle-aged passenger glared at Casey. “I thought you called the cops.”

“I did.”

“Then where the hell are they? The RCMP detachment’s just two blocks from here.”

“Manpower shortage, most likely. From what I hear there’s trouble at the rally in the park.”

“Then they should have called for reinforcements by now,” the woman grumbled as she opened a window. “It’s too hot in here. Don’t you have air conditioning on this bus?”

Casey admitted it was unusually warm for mid-May. “Sorry, no. This is an older model.”

“Stupid company,” the woman muttered. “This is the last time I’ll ride an MPT bus.”

Casey hoped so. She stood and used her phone to record the broken glass and burning rag on the road. She zeroed in on the five culprits in ball caps, hoodies, and bandana-covered faces who were laughing and high-fiving one another. The stench of gasoline and smoke made her cough. She’d closed all the windows when the trouble started, but she wasn’t going to make anyone close them again in this heat, at least not right away.

. . .

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the book at these sites:

Amazon universal link: mybook.to/TheBladeMan

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-blade-man

Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401

Barnes & Noble : https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-blade-man-debra-purdy-kong/1136038076;jsessionid=586EF327BB32223BF6FBE875896E9649.prodny_store01-atgap14?ean=2940163854387

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=CpMvEAAAQBAJ

Pondering the Trade Paperback Question

Back in 2015, I parted company with my publisher and got the rights back to my four Casey Holland mysteries and cover art. It was an amicable arrangement and I purchased unsold stock at a really reasonable price. Until COVID, I was selling copies of those four books at various craft fairs, festivals, and other events until COVID.

I ran out of stock on the first book, The Opposite of Dark, so I reformatted the book to match the formatting I did for books five and six. What I didn’t do was create a paperback version on Amazon. Given that my publisher sold few print books through that venue, I never seriously considered this option. In fact, the vast majority of indie authors I know sell few print books on Amazon.

As I suspected, the book cover art that my publisher gave me no longer fits. With my formatting, the font is slightly larger to make the text more readable, but it also adds 40 pages to the book. After discussion with a colleague and some fiddling with my daughter’s help, the cover still won’t fit. It looks like I’ll need to have all four covers reformatted by a professional, which I’m hoping my jacket designer can do.

I haven’t reformatted the other three books yet. I’m down to between 50 and 100 copies of each book, which will last a couple of years or more, depending on how soon craft fairs reopen. Honestly, though, reformatting is a finicky, time-consuming process, especially when I’m busy editing new work and marketing my ebooks. So, now I’m wondering if it’s worth the time and effort to redo the print books now, when I won’t need them for some time and they’re not likely to sell on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t plan to sell at craft fairs indefinitely. I’ve done it for seven or eight years now and, on some levels, I’m ready to wind down that part of my writing life.

I’m curious to know if those of you who are authors consider it essential to have a paperback version of your books available on Amazon and other platforms?

Series Promo Event is Up and Running!

Marketing guru David Gaughran has long advised authors to offer their first book for free when promoting a series. Given the tough financial circumstances many readers face these days, it sounds like a good idea to me, so I signed up to be featured on a book promo site called FreeBooksy on Saturday, March 27th.

Because things can always go wrong with changing prices, especially since I need to rely on Amazon’s cooperation to make the book free, the changes have already been made and are now in effect until April 5th. I contacted Amazon on Monday and requested a price match. This is the only option that authors with wide distribution have to make their books free for a short time period. The tricky part is that Amazon can always say no. I had to provide links to their competitors’ sites, showing that the book is indeed free elsewhere. Luckily, I corresponded with a really helpful person, who made the book free the same day.

So, I’m giving away Book #1, The Opposite of Dark. Book. #2, Deadly Accusations is now at $.99.. #3 Beneath the Bleak New Moon is $1.99, #4, The Deep End, is $2.99 as is #5, Knock Knock. My latest, The Blade Man is $3.99.

One of the cooler things Amazon does is to provide a link to the entire series so readers can purchase all six books with just one click. Right now, the entire set can be purchased on amazon.com for $10.35 US! You can find the link HERE.

The books are also available at:

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-opposite-of-dark-2

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1151714413

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/opposite-of-dark-debra-purdy-kong/1101958680?ean=2940153393650

The cost of this Freebooksy campaign is $170.00 US, however, with the Canadian exchange I have to pay over $200, so we’ll see what happens. As Gaughran says, a large part of marketing is all about experimenting, trying new things to see what works and what doesn’t. I still need to put more focus on ads, but I’m not quite ready until I have a clearer understanding of how they work. Wish me luck!

Finally, a Newsletter

Those who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I was resistant to starting a newsletter. After all, I keep a blog, shouldn’t that be enough? Well, based on what I’ve now learned, the answer is no, for a couple of reasons.

First, any mail list I create is mine. As was pointed out to me by others, Facebook, Twitter, BookBub, WordPress, and LinkedIn etc. could disappear overnight for various reasons and I’d lose all of my contacts and followers. I’ve seen authors be banned on FB and Twitter, lose their ads, or have other things diminish their presence. Whatever happens to social platforms over time, I’ll still have my email list of subscribers.

Secondly, I’ve learned that I am not my readers. The newsletter will therefore be written for people who are interested in my mysteries or who are curious about me as an author. I’ll be focusing on insights about other authors’ mysteries, the writing process, and also sharing excerpts, and book cover reveals.

To that end, if you wish to join my mail list, I’m giving away a free ebook of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, for the next couple of months in order to help build my list. You can click on the link HERE, which should take you to my original landing page inviting you to subscribe.

I’ve chosen SendFox as my provider because it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and the current price is just a one-time offer of $49.00. In other words, no monthly fee!. SendFox is fairly new and there might be glitches to sort out, so hopefully it’ll work for you.

What you should see is my original landing page. Once you subscribe, you should receive a welcome page with the link to the free ebook. This will take you to BookFunnel, which is a great service for readers and authors to giveaway their stories, send Advance Review Copies, and do joint promotions with other authors. If you want to learn more, you can find the link HERE.

BookFunnel will then ask you which email address you’d like your book sent to and voila it should work. A couple days after that you’ll receive a follow-up email from me asking if you received your book. If you do sign up, let me know how it goes, so I can work out any glitches.

I plan to send a newsletter at the beginning of each month, so my first one will be in March. If you’re thinking about starting your own newsletter, but aren’t sure where to start, I recommend reading Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque, which I’ve recommended before. It really helped change my thinking. Now I just have to change my mindset about ads.

The Gritty Part of Editing

I’ve reached the halfway point of editing draft #6 of my urban fantasy. My critique group’s been immensely helpful, as of others. Fellow blogger, Jacqui Murray for instance, recently wrote about getting rid of lazy words like ‘there’ and ‘was’ in her manuscript, which reminded me to tackle this as well.

Using the ‘Find’ icon in Word, I was stunned to discover that was appeared 383 times in 165 pages. From page one, I looked for ways to replace the word or rejig a passive sentence into something stronger. In doing so, I inadvertently cut more words from the manuscript. A huge bonus!

Ridding your manuscript of lazy words is a tedious and time-consuming exercise. It’s the gritty part of editing, but it’s also necessary and in many ways quite satisfying. Draft #6 has been about continuity, cutting, and fleshing out characters’ motives. So far, the process has made the manuscript twenty pages shorter, and I’m hoping to cut much more by the time it’s ready for beta readers and my editor.

Not every writer loves editing but I enjoy it, even though it seems to take forever. I often compare it to a block of marble, slowly chipping away the unnecessary bits to create something meaningful, where everything is exactly where it should be and the work is always worth the effort.

While editing, I usually have either a coffee, glass of water, or tea by my side. In talking with other authors over the years, having a beverage close at hand is practically a must. For me, stopping to sip something not only lets me think about those words on the page, but gives my eyes a quick break from the computer screen.

My family knows I’m a tea lover, so I received the perfect Christmas gift this year. Packets of tea in the shape of books. How cool is that? Part of me doesn’t want to open it and spoil the look, but hey, I still have a lot of editing ahead.

January Exuberance, Who Knew?

Not quite that exuberant, but close…

A funny thing happened on Sunday night. I felt wildly happy, exuberant, in fact. The reason was simple. For the first time in years, I was ending the Christmas season without worrying about heading back to a day job. Fretting about the return to work, or in earlier days, getting the kids ready for school, or even my own return to school, always meant that the first weekend of a new year was a downer. Not this time, my friends. I tried real hard not to smirk over the fact that my hubby and son were returning to work on Monday. Of course, I failed miserably, but they understood.

I have no intention of shuffling my way into laziness this month, despite the dark rainy days. I’ve a fairly long to-do list in my planner this week, but it’s my choice as to how much time I’ll spend on each of these tasks. This year, I’m going to give myself more free time on the weekends to try new recipes, read more books, or go for longer walks.

I have two major writing projects underway, and a third, which I’ve put on the backburner but really need to finish. It’s a Casey Holland novella, which was written quite some time ago and has been edited at least ten times. I put it away last spring, but 2021 might be the time to get it publication ready. The first six books in the series had a serious tone, but the novella is a tongue-and-cheek look at the lighter side of Casey’s work as a transit security officer. Once I pull it out of its folder, I’ll tell you more.

It will be a work-filled year. My choice. Productive. Creative. Fun. Stepping outside into the real world might be a little more challenging until most of the population is vaccinated, but I’ll do my best to stay safe. But once they are, that’ll be a happy day!

Those Devilish Details

As an indie author with wide distribution, meaning that I sell my books on other platforms besides Amazon, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to keep the information at the back of my ebooks separate between Amazon and other booksellers.

Amazon doesn’t like it if, for example, I provide universal links to other platforms at the back of an ebook that I published directly through Amazon. As Draft2Digital is my distributor for Kobo, Apple books, and Nook, among others, I therefore had to create two separate ebook files to keep things straight. Apple also will refuse to list my books if I include any Amazon links at the back of my books, by the way. While I understand that the conglomerates aren’t interested in supporting one another, it also means we have to pay extra attention to production details.

This week, I’ve been updating the backend information in each of my Casey Holland mysteries, and reducing prices in preparation for a couple of upcoming promotion events. One of the things I’ve done is add a short paragraph, inviting readers to post a review on Amazon or wherever they’d like.

On sale for $.99, starting Oct. 28th!

After submitting the fourth book revision, I received a message indicating that Apple won’t accept the updates until I remove the word Amazon from my review request. Oddly, this apparently wasn’t an issue for them with the first three books. To prevent further disruption, I created a more generic review request for the first three anyway and resubmitted them.

Both self-publishing and traditional publishing are filled with restrictions and rules, which aren’t always clear. It’s why I keep detailed notes, as there’s no way I’ll remember the details when I release another book a year or two from now. If I decide to publish directly with Apple and Kobo down the road, I’ll probably need separate versions for their books as well, and I’ve no doubt that the formatting will be different for them than it is for D2D.

If you’re fairly new to publishing, I suggest that you make notes of every step in your book’s production process, especially if you’re planning to offer your book for wide distribution. If you wish to provide links to other books in the future, remember Amazon only promotes Amazon, so you’ll need different versions. It’s extra work, but providing live links for readers is worth the effort.

Following Up On Book Promotion Sites

Last week’s blog about promotion sites generated few responses and those who did respond weren’t familiar with the sites I listed. However, I did come across something helpful while catching up on the many blogs I subscribe to.

Author and marketing guru David Gaughran posts a lot of helpful and interesting information about marketing that includes ads, Amazon algorithms, and many other things. The day after I posted my blog I came across his piece on the Best Book Promotion Sites, which you can find HERE.

Those who’ve been following my blog for a while know that I’ve already taken part in a BookBub promo back on Dec. 31. In June, I also promoted my books on Bargain Booksy and Book Adrenaline, offering the first book in my series, The Opposite of Dark, at the discounted price of $.99. Results showed a small profit, but nothing significant. Next month, I’m trying the same discount with The Fussy Librarian.

1st in Casey Holland transit mysteries

I’ve chosen not to do three or four promos at a time because I want to track the amount of sales for each event to figure out which are the most financially viable investments. With six books in my Casey Holland series, sales can trickle in for two or three months (longer for BookBub) after an event, which I also want to track.

Meanwhile, a colleague also planned a promotion event in June, offering the first book in her series for free. As with my books, hers are available at sites other than Amazon, however when she asked Amazon to price match the book for free, Amazon declined. That didn’t happen to me back in January, so I’m wondering if this has happened to any of you, or if you’ve heard of this happening to other authors? So far, I’ve had no difficulty asking Amazon to price match books I’ve discounted for $.99 this summer, but who knows what will happen in future?

Planning the Rest of the Year

My biggest 2020 events have now passed…The publication of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, retirement from the day job, and the birth of my first grandchild. As far as I know, nothing major’s coming along over the next four and a half months, which means this is a good time to start making plans for the rest of the year and into 2021.

The problem with this idea is that our COVID world is only a few months old and not likely to disappear soon. Uncertainties are everywhere and planning is trickier than usual. Under normal circumstances, my fall craft fairs would be booked and paid for by now. These days, such events are up in the air. One of the fairs is planning to host their event online and it will be interesting to see how that goes. One was cancelled and I’m still waiting to hear on another.

As far as my casual job goes, which is to facilitate Port Moody Recreation’s creative writing workshops, the rec center is still trying to figure out how to make it work. Registration normally starts in July, so I and my three co-facilitators usually know what our schedules will be by now but we don’t.

So, I’m going to focus on what I can arrange, which mainly involves more writing and promotion work. As mentioned in last week’s blog, I have idea for a new series that requires a great deal of thought and note making before I write the first word. And there are always household projects waiting for attention.

At some point, the cold rainy weather will set in and the yardwork will stop and I’ll switch to indoor sorting. I have bins filled with the kids’ old schoolwork that needs to be sorted and some of it recycled. I’ve also started collecting new recipes which will be fun to try.

On some levels, I’m also preparing for a COVID relapse in case things go south in our area. In late May, we bought a freezer for the first time in my life. It’s not huge but should I or the people I live with get sick, we want to be able to feed ourselves or provide food and meals for family members, should they became ill. I’ve also stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, which are plentiful in the stores these days.

I’m thinking about starting Christmas shopping early. My mother used to have her shopping done by the end of August and wrapped by the end of September, but that was before the dementia took hold. I used to think she was nuts to do everything so early, but retirement and COVID is changing my perspective.

I’d prefer not to shop online, so maybe I’ll start while the weather’s good and everyone else is outside. Needless to say, there’s lots to plan for. Who knows what the next four and half months will bring, but I’m going to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

What are you all doing to plan for the fall, personally or professionally? Do you find it difficult to make plans right now, or are you looking ahead as well? Meanwhile, here’s the latest baby Ellie photo. I’m blown away by the changes in just a few days.

Baby Ellie, 8 days old.