Monday, August 31, 2015

Publish or Perish in the Romance-Writing World, too?

(Reposted from my Facebook Author Page)

I worked 20 years in academia as an admin assistant and editor and this had a whole different meaning then. But in the past few weeks, I've had a number of conversations with my author friends about stress, poor health, and other problems arising from the publish-or-perish mentality that's pervaded publishing for the past year when Amazon introduced KU and visibility for those of us refusing to be exclusive had our sales go down the tubes as far as finding new readers.

In writing circles, the pervading wisdom is that you have to put something out every 2-3 months or readers will dump you like a hot potato and move on. This is a phenomenon found mainly in the Romance genre. Other genres allow authors a year to publish a major-length book. Twice a year at the most. In today's world, if you can "only" put out three titles a year, you're a slacker. Seeing friends practically burning out from writing because of this constant "When's the next book?" pressure or from committing to more than a human being can do with all the marketing demands to try and stay visible in this new market really upsets me for them and for the readers. We can't churn out books like a machine. We need time between releases to refill the well of creativity.

Now, you all know I've tested the limits to the max on how long a writer can go between releases (with as much as 15 months between two of my 500-page releases in 2012-2013, but I can easily go 9-12 months between two, regardless of length). Those putting out rapid-fire releases tend to write a lot shorter or are really driven to produce (more so than I am!). And I don't think the fault lies with readers. It's something we authors have done to ourselves in that effort to return to the glory days of 2013. And changes at Amazon didn't help any, either.

But I'm going to be honest here:

1) I won't write every day. I just plod along (with my new book, I'm averaging 900 words a day--including all the days I didn't write a single word--and about 1500 a day on the days I actually worked on ROAR).

2) I don't feel a need to be in anthologies, box sets with multiple authors, Kindle Worlds, and other schemes to get my name out there on a more regular basis. (Of course, you all know I can't write short anyway!)

3) I'll publish when *I* decide my book is ready, even if it means pushing back release dates (which I did in March and landed in Amazon preorder jail for a year because I made you wait 3 more weeks to get a better book). I try very hard not to announce release dates, although I sometimes *think* I can't possibly miss and then let it slip. So far, only my team knows what I'm thinking and they also know I've already pushed it back a month.

4) I'm not going to try to chase after new readers. You all share your love of this series and those new readers find me on a slower scale than if I poured a ton of money into advertising cold to an unknown group of readers. Marketing is stressful and expensive. I don't think anything can beat word-of-mouth, though, so you all just keep talking!

I'll also admit that, since KU rolled out last summer, I bought into the notion that if I pushed myself harder, I'd get back to where I once was in rankings or sales. But I've come to realize the rankings don't matter and are so skewed now to titles in KU or Montlake or other exclusive Amazon titles that I'll never make it back into the rankings there. I'm going to try to build audiences who shop elsewhere (and just did an exclusive preorder with Apple with my box set to start).

Can I write shorter and faster? Well, while still recovering from my hysterectomy last fall, I wrote and published a 71k book in six weeks. (Possibly because I'd stopped marketing, which was a colossal waste of time and focused on writing.) And it was a book I could be proud of, too, because I'll never put out a book that isn't worth the hard-earned money you'll pay for it. Then I dove right back into finishing Nobody's Dream because you all had been waiting for Luke and Cassie's story since September 2012 and I'd put two other couples' stories ahead of them. Of course, in retrospect, those who read them can see why it had to be that way, but I took a lot of grief from upset readers during those 2.5 years demanding I drop Somebody's Angel and Nobody's Lost and get back to Dream. (I'll guess those are among the readers long gone from my reader base now. But you know what? That's fine. Hopefully they've found authors better able to give them what they want and to meet their expectations. Less stress for us all. And I'd much rather blow readers' expectations out of the water than to give them what they want or expect.

Yes, I have lost readers since 2013. Tens of thousands of them. Not even because I'm not in your face with a new release every few months, but probably more so because I chose to let my characters dictate when their story would be told and how. Different heat levels caused the erotic-only readers to drop. Even different subgenres from psychological drama/trauma to a downright Sweet Romance (well, until about page 500 when they finally exploded from all that sexual tension in DREAM). And all this in a series where the first three books are being marketed (and rightly so) as erotic romance in a box set right now. The next box set in the same series (whenever I choose to do another) will probably be eligible for steamy Contemporary Romance status.

I'd be as bored as my readers if my series had books that followed a formula and were jammed into a one-size-fits-all series box the way traditional publishers made authors write over the last 30 years. I don't plot, so if they're not talking to me, I just sit and wait. Patiently. Sometimes for days or weeks! I know the pervading wisdom for writers is to write even when you don't feel like it. Well, I may read a few chapters of a how-to-write book or do research or simply watch a movie for inspiration on those non "writing" days--but all of those activities are part of MY writing process. But to sit and force words onto the page because of an arbitrary deadline is counterproductive for me.

Despite my not dancing to the beat of the loudest drums in this business, you know what? I'm blessed with a core readership of 25k strong (based on the sales of my last two books, the least popular in a series that used to sell four times as many books).

Why the rant today? (Not ranting at you, but at this notion that we publish or perish that pervades our business right now.) I have heard from a handful of writer friends who are struggling against burning out. They're so stressed trying to keep up with writing and marketing and all the other demands that they're on the verge of making themselves sick. Seriously sick. And I know most would love to be blessed with a readership as strong as mine, even after that many readers moved on.
And you know what else? I did give it a try to push harder and I will be ahead of my past few years in the number of books I'll put out in a 12-month period starting last December and until ROAR is released with three new titles and a box set with bonus materials as well. (That set kept me from working on ROAR for two weeks, but I'm glad my readership is enjoying the bonus materials I included! So much so that I'm extending the sale until Sept. 7!)

But yesterday as I realized how much more work I have to do on ROAR to meet my self-imposed deadline, I was cranky and making myself sick. I know you're going to flood this thread with lots of support because if you're still reading my posts and books, you've definitely learned to be patient with me. <smile> Still, I put more pressure on myself than my readers ever will.

So, I'm very stressed right now because I'm further behind than I want to be on ROAR. But since I haven't given you any clue when I intended to release it, I'm just doing that to myself. I have 7 intense weeks of travel coming up and rarely do well writing/editing while on the road. But I'm hoping to change that. I have a lot of appearances planned, too, thinking I'd be done with the book by then. But meeting readers energizes me so I won't back down on any of those. But I will stick to my guns and carve out writing time and not be as accessible as I've been at previous cons. I'll say good-night promptly at the end of a planned dinner and go write or edit.

And over the next three weeks before I hit the road, I'm going to bust my ass to get this story whipped into shape so that my editorial and beta teams can be working on them when I can't!

Now I'm off to hit 100k today. (I'm 5,838 words short of this arbitrary deadline.) So if I don't make it, at least I hope the story will be that much closer to a cohesive one, since it's still got a lot of holes to fill and bridges to be built (written).

But I hope my rant will give other stressed-out authors a little solidarity in making healthier choices for both their careers and their lives. I have a lot of books I want to write, but if I have a stroke or heart attack making myself sick in the process, well, where would we all be then? Thanks for your continued support and patience over these past four years! I hope I have another 24 good years to bring you more stories! And I'll do my best to stay healthy and energized to give them to you!

1 comment:

  1. I'm just happy when your books do hit. I'm excited and can't wait to emerse myself in the story that will unfold. I understand that you are unique and your stories are so wonderful for that very reason. If you perish, then we all suffer. So I say, DO YOU!