A Whirlwind of December Activities

Autumn 2020 was a fairly mundane, stay-at-home affair, as public health orders in our province forced everyone to avoid social gatherings by early November. The creative workshops I and colleagues had been facilitating were shut down, along with Christmas craft fairs and other public festivities. So were in-person gatherings on Christmas Day.

This fall is more normal, which means the past two weeks have been busy! I participated in two Christmas craft fairs (one 2-1/2 days long), facilitated 9 out of 11 creative writing workshops, babysat my granddaughter three days a week, and prepared for Christmas. The craft fairs were conducted with face masks, lots of hand sanitizing, and social distancing, when possible.

It’s a bit of relief to be slowing down this week. The creative writing sessions ended on Saturday, I’m not participating in anymore craft fairs, and I’ve finished my Christmas shopping, none of it online. Whew! It feels like I’ve gone from 0 to 60 since last year, but it’s been worth the effort. I can’t wait to celebrate Christmas with little Ellie and read her the new books I bought. I still have wrapping to do and shortbread to make, but I’ve slotted time for that.

Not my shortbread, just a baking reminder from Pixabay

Needless to say, I’ve haven’t written or edited much lately, and two out of three projects have been completely shelved this past month. I’ll make more time for writing after Christmas. The last week of the year is always a creative time for me, and a time for reflection.

How about you? Are you operating at a faster pace than last year? Was it easy to get back into it?

Making the Most of Writing Time

Before, I get to today’s post, October’s mystery sales promotion is half over. If you haven’t had a chance, please take a moment to browse through a diverse roster of mysteries and thrillers. The $.99 sale for my books, Knock Knock and The Blade Man ends on the 31st. You can find the link HERE.

I have the entire week off from babysitting fourteen-month-old Ellie. At our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, she discovered a love of pie, especially with a tiny bit of whipped cream on the side. She literally vibrated with excitement after her mom placed the spoon in her mouth. As you’ll see from the photo, meals are generally happy occasions.

Loves her scrambled eggs and veggies

I find myself with plenty of extra writing time this week. One of my ongoing challenges is to write and edit more efficiently, so I’ve implemented a strategy that’s worked before. First, I gave some thought to the projects I want to work on.

These days, it’s three novels. The urban fantasy is currently under weekly critiquing and my Casey Holland novella is nearly ready for beta readers. After working on notes, character profiles, and an outline, I’ve also started writing the first draft of a paranormal mystery.

Each project is given one hour during the day, give or take. After the first hour of work on a book, I stop for exercise. After the second hour on a different project, I stop for lunch. After lunch, I work on the third, and so far. If I want to work longer I can, or I can switch to marketing tasks.

This strategy works well if I don’t have appointments or other commitments, but because I find it tiring, I use this approach in spurts rather than month after month. I’ve always found that working on the same project all day, even with breaks, doesn’t always bring clarity, focus, or new ideas to the page.

On Monday, I’ll be back with Ellie for the next three days and feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. 🙂

Down the Rabbit Hole of Discoverability

Pexels photo by Darlene Alderson

Discoverability is one of the indie author’s biggest challenges and it’s often an uphill climb. Big bookstore chains and stores like Costco don’t often feature indies. The good news is that there are always other opportunities to sell your books. The other day, for example, I found a list of recommended free promotion sites, and thought why not list at least one of my books? And that’s where the trip down the rabbit hole began.

One of the first sites I clicked onto, invited me to list my Amazon Author Central page, which I bookmarked quite some time ago. That’s when I discovered that all of my books except The Opposite of Dark had disappeared from that page. Also listed, was an old blog site I hadn’t used in years. My Author Central page wanted an up-to-date RSS feed to link my blog, which I didn’t have, so I went to WordPress and figured out how to do that. Next, I discovered that I actually had two Author Central pages, so I contacted Amazon to figure out how to fix this. The solution was simple, as Amazon merged the two pages for me.

It was a lot of clicking and searching to prepare for just one listing. On the upside, though, my Author Central pages is up to date. Note to self: check in on these sites more often. How many of you list your books on sites then eventually forget about them? I’ve now started a list of all the sites where I’m listed, which I probably should have done ages ago.

I also listed my Casey Holland series on Google play this week, which took a bit of time, although once I got into the rhythm after a couple of books, entering the metadata, blurb, bio, etc. went much quicker. I have no idea if Google Play will result in any sales, but every time I sign up with a book promotion site the option to add Google Play’s link is available. Apparently, they apparently have over a million subscribers, so who knows?

Needless to say, this week I spent more time on marketing than writing, which is not the balance I want. In June, the emphasis needs to be on writing and editing or I’ll never get anything finished.

So, How’s Retirement Going?

Before I start this week’s topic, I want to add extra information I received regarding Access Copyright, which I mentioned in last week’s blog. An author kindly provided a link which indicates that if you are self-published you can apply to Access Copyright as a Creator Affiliate. I’ve provided the link with more information HERE. As my colleague pointed out, it’s not that easy to find the info on their website. But if you’re interested in registering with the program, you can fill out their form HERE.

So, I’ve been retired from my day job a little over nine months now and if you were to ask me how I find it, my answer is that it’s great, except I’m still working full time. It’s just that those hours are spent on editing and the many tasks that go with being a published author.

I’ve been keeping track of I’ve the hours spent on writing, editing, and promotional stuff each week, and was a little surprised to see that I’ve been averaging a 37 hour week from the get-go. Hmm. Am I okay with this? Yeah. It still gives me more downtime than I had this time last year. Did I set out to create a 35-40 hour week? No, not really. It happened because I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’ve spent a fair bit of time implementing some of the new things I’ve learned in workshops over the past six months.

I start each day, thinking about what I need to get done, what I would like to get done, then head downstairs to my office, and work on what I can get done. I often ask myself how much can I accomplish each day without pushing too hard?

Another reason for the all the computer time is that winter’s kept me from gardening and going for long walks. No matter how bundled up I am, I wind up with runny noses and a cough in damp, rainy weather. Secondly, I’m focused on completing the next round of edits to send my current WIPs to beta readers. Third, I’ll be babysitting Ellie starting in August, which will definitely cut down writing time. We’re also planning to downsize our house (a chore in itself since we’ve lived here over 30 years) and move in 2023, which will likely throw productivity way off course.

I still keep a routine because it helps with productivity and creating more downtime, but I also need some flexibility. Life still involves appointments and unexpected situations. I have no idea what my writing life will be like a year from now. All I know is that I’m enjoying the moment while looking forward to the future. And maybe that’s enough.

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!

Creating Fictional Monsters

I’ve just finished the fifth draft of my 125,000+ word urban fantasy. I began right after retirement on June 1st and many things needed to be changed along the way. I don’t edit eight hours, or even four hours a day, but prefer to work in the mornings, leaving the rest of the day for exercise, gardening, promo stuff, other writing-related tasks and online workshops. There’s also those much beloved visits with my granddaughter Ellie.

This is the quickest draft I’ve worked through with this book, but once the weather turns cold and rainy, I hope to spend more hours on actual writing. Also, there are many more things I want to learn.

To that end, I recently bought a couple of books, which I’ll soon I dig into. One is The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester and the other is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans. This second book really intrigues me as supernatural monsters aren’t something I’m used to creating.

I’ve been reading a lot of authors’ fantasies and although there’s quite a variey, most of them are a little too familiar. Trolls, werewolves, vampires, goblins, golems, etc. just aren’t scary anymore, so I wanted to come up with something different than this:

So, what makes a really chilling monster in fiction? There are probably a range of answers depending on perspective and experience. After all, some people are more frightened by certain creatures than others. For me, one of the most horrifying creatures are Orcs. The first time I saw them in the Lord of the Rings movies, I could feel my heart speed up a little. I don’t think I ever got used to watching them, especially on the big screen.

So, kind of monster would scare you the most? What would make your heart race just a little, and keep you up late at night, praying nothing like that could exist in real life? I’m curious. 😊

Meeting Up In A COVID World

Here in Vancouver and the suburbs, community and recreation centers have been opening in stages since early September. This is a good thing for many but as our COVID case numbers steadily rise, I’m not sure how long it will last.

As part of the re-opening process, my local community center decided to resume in-person creative writing workshops. Our community is one of the few that offered weekly classes, and they’ve been so popular over the last 30+ years that participants could sign up for either Thursday morning, Monday evening, or Saturday sessions. And then COVID came.

Currently, our community center’s offering only one five-week session on Thursday mornings, which I’m facilitating. It’s therefore my obligation to ask my six participants if they’ve travelled, feel unwell, or if they’ve knowingly been exposed to anyone with COVID. Before entering the meeting room, we are all required to wash our hands in the washroom just inside the building’s entrance.

We have four long tables. I sit at one while participants sit at either end of the other tables. As customary in these sessions, participants voluntarily read a few pages of their work aloud while we read along from a printed version. Participants hand out and collect their own copies.

So far, we’ve met just once but the system worked well. The question is will we be able to keep it up for the remaining four sessions? If the number of COVID cases rise exponentially, the community centers will be shut down.

The thing is that those who attend these workshops (over half are seniors) do so as much for the social interaction as they do for the critique. Not everyone likes screens. Not everyone works productively when they feel isolated. Introverted as many of us are, we still need to feel part of a community and nothing demonstrates this better than in-person meetups.

Meanwhile, many larger writing events are still being conducted online in our area. I’m not sure how well attended they are and I don’t know if authors are selling any books. I hope they are but something tells me we’re in for a few more rough months. I also know that things will get better and that the best I can do is to keep writing and reading and leaning and improving. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a new Casey Holland mystery ready for release and can actually hold an in-person launch. Won’t we all be ready for a party by then?

Transformations and New Roles

People are works in progress. We learn, experience new things, change jobs, homes, or relationships. Sometimes, as with COVID-19, change is dumped on us.

Retirement has given me a wonderful lifestyle change. But even before it began on June 1st, I felt a transformation coming that went beyond not driving up to the university five days a week. I knew I would become a grandparent, and that I would probably volunteer, and yes, both those things have now happened.

Ellie, shortly after her birth

I’m thrilled to announce that my granddaughter, Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Debra MacNeil was born this past weekend, and that I’m now officially part of the exceedingly special grandparent club. After my daughter’s maternity leave ends next July, I’ll be doing a lot of babysitting so she can resume her career. As a writer, all I need is a laptop, and I can work anywhere, so it’s all good.

Which brings me to my second transformation. As some of you know, I’ve been working on a lengthy urban fantasy novel for some time. Retirement has allowed me to work on it for longer periods each day which has helped me figure out continuity glitches and so forth.

But a new idea for a mystery series has also sprung up and won’t let go, at least yet. I’m making notes and thinking about it, often while doing household chores and yard work. I’m also wondering if it’s time to say goodbye to the Casey Holland series, or perhaps put it on hiatus.

I do have a Casey novella planned for release next year, but after that it might be time to move on. This new series idea, plus the fantasy novel will keep me busy enough, and I do love the idea of exploring something new, so we’ll see. Like most transformations, it will require much more thought and reflection.

Meanwhile, after many years of coloring my hair, I’ve decided to let that go too. I like the silver that started coming in during the first few weeks of  COVID. When I finally got to the hairdresser in June, I decided I want to keep it, so I’m in another transition there :).

Other transformations are coming down the road, but they are too far away to dwell on right now. Personally, I’m not afraid of change, as I believe it’s a crucial part of learning and growing. This grandma’s a lifelong learner, and in some ways I’m just getting started.

Snapshot of Publishing in North America

Author CaptionI’ve been curious to learn how the publishing world has been coping since the pandemic began. It doesn’t seem sufficient to say, “probably not well”, but a recent survey by the Authors Guild answered some of my questions.

Only 940 authors responded to the survey and, as you can imagine, many have seen their incomes drop, mainly by the loss of speaking/performance engagements. The drop wasn’t as high a percentage as I’d assumed it would be. In fact, about 45% of respondents said their income hadn’t changed very much.

Not surprising, although disheartening, is that 52 respondents had their book contracts and/or royalty payments delayed. Most authors with books about to be released are understandably worried about lower sales, yet just over half of them are not doing more marketing than usual. Unfortunately, the survey didn’t indicate why this is so and I’m not sure the question was even asked. You can read the full version HERE.

For my American friends, the survey also includes a link to details about economic relief for authors. It’s important to note that a number of surveyed authors couldn’t work right now because of their own health issues or the health of a family member. You can learn more about the economic relief HERE.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he’s earmarked $500 million to assist the arts, sports, and culture sectors. To date, I’ve heard no further details on who will quality for aid or how the money will be dispersed, but you can read what little information there is HERE.

Obviously, this is by no means a complete look at the writing and publishing world, but just a quick snapshot. I wonder how many small and medium Canadian publishing houses will survive after all this is over. You see, almost all of Canadian publishers are government subsidized in some way and have been for decades. It’s the only way small and mid-sized publishers (and possibly some larger ones) in a large country with a relatively small population have survived. Even with grant money, many established publishers still operate on shoestring budgets. But the government is spending an awful lot of money these days to help out many sectors. While the grants and aid money will be there during the pandemic, what happens down the road after the federal government has depleted its rainy day fund? Will grants eventually be cut so the government can begin to replenish again? Time will tell.

On a personal note, the cancellation of four writing events I was to take part in this spring, plus a large craft fair in June that usually results in $600-$700 in print sales will definitely hurt income. Do I expect to be compensated for that? No, and I learned a long time ago not to depend on writing and marketing events as my only income stream. Still, it’s a downer not to get together with colleagues and readers and discuss books and the biz. But opportunities to get together on Zoom etc. are out there, and book marketing means finding new ways to reach readers.

Meanwhile, I figure it’s best to keep working and looking forward to a less restrictive future. I’m doing whatever writing, editing, and promo work I can from home. When the gates open and we all run out of our houses to gather together again, I plan to be ready!

Art on the Vine-5