2013 in Review – Lessons and Thoughts

Warning: Long Post

It seems as if everyone is doing a post where they review the year that ends today. I like that idea. It’s a bit of housecleaning and throwing down a welcome mat for 2014. So here’s my 2013, along with lessons learned, thoughts, and what to expect in 2014.

First, the good stuff for readers. In 2013, I had (counting fingers) 8 books out (including novellas and shorts). There were five stories from Harlequin (six if you count the 2-in-1 that came out this month) and three stories in my Hostile Operations Team series. There was also my freebie short story, Maddie’s Marine, which I didn’t count in the total because it’s been available on this site for free for a long time.

I had a lot of fun bringing those stories to you, and I’ve heard from so many of you who seem to love what I write and want more. Thank you so much for sticking with me. ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s coming in 2014? From Harlequin, you’ll get my sheikh duet about two brothers and the Crown of Kyr. In May, the first book, GAMBLING FOR THE CROWN, will be out. In July, the second book, CARRYING THE SHEIKH’S HEIR, will follow and finish the story arc. Two yummy sheikhs, y’all! I just love sheikhs.

In December (I think), you’ll get an as-yet-untitled story from me featuring a Greek tycoon (my first Greek!) and the hotel heiress who works for him.

That’s only three Harlequins, I know, but that’s because I’m also writing the HOT series and I want to get you more books sooner in that series. This spring will see the release of DANGEROUSLY HOT, the second full-length book in the series. HOT SHOT will follow in the summer. After that, I’m not sure which story I’ll write next. But I can say that Colonel Mendez may just get a story of his own!

I’m also working on a secret project that I hope to publish this summer too. I want to put up three books in that series at once, so we’ll see. It’s my first foray into first person storytelling and I’m loving it very much.

Now, thinking about the lessons of 2013, this is where a lot of the post centers on writing and writers.

Lesson One: Sometimes you have to explore new territory. And when you do, you discover amazing things.

I went into 2013 as a traditionally published author at a major romance publishing house. But I was self-pub curious and I was determined to explore those waters. RT 2013, in Kansas City, became a watershed moment for me in that journey. After meeting and hearing such authors speak as Liliana Hart, Jasinda Wilder, Abbi Glines, Shayla Black, Theresa Ragan (who I already knew), Jana DeLeon, and a host of others I can’t remember at the moment, I felt like I’d attended a revival.

I left KC determined to become a self-published author in addition to writing for Harlequin. And I did. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Lesson Two: Eject the people who don’t support your career choices.

I had to part ways with my agent, which was hard in some ways because the dream for so long had been a NY agent and a traditional publishing contract. I had what I’d always wanted — but now it didn’t fit anymore. I learned that sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone and do what was unthinkable to you only a year before. My agent and I split — and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. My former agent — who was and is a good, honest agent — didn’t want me to self-publish. I think she would have been happy selling the HOT series straight to digital with no guarantees of advertising or support from the publisher. Why should I do that when I had the tools to publish myself? Why would I give up that kind of control?

Lesson Three: Self Publishing is a BIG job.

Don’t half-ass it, because it *will* come back to bite you. So many people act like self-publishing is a gold rush and they have to get in NOW or they won’t get any gold. But I’m telling you, if you get in now with a shoddy product just because you’re worried about getting a piece of the pie, the readers will respond. And probably not in the way you hope. Don’t rush the work to market, y’all. It won’t do you any favors.

By the same token, don’t take two years to polish one story. You have to keep producing product if you want to succeed in self-publishing. It works a lot like traditional publishing, except the timelines are much faster. Write, revise, send to editor, begin new story while waiting for more revisions. The difference is that at the end of the cycle, you can publish right away instead of a year from now.

I repeat, self-publishing is a big job. But it’s not impossible and you CAN do it. Just remember that whatever you put out there is your first impression and now that the field is getting crowded with self-published books, readers have more choices than ever. If your book is poorly written and edited, they aren’t going to buy you.

Writing is like any other skill. It takes practice. You wouldn’t begin piano lessons today and book Carnegie Hall for six months from now, would you? So why do you think you can set fingers to keyboard and have something publishable, something people will pay money for, as soon as you’re done writing it? It doesn’t work that way. Pretty much every overnight success story you’ve heard comes from someone who was writing for a very long time before success came — even if they weren’t trying to get published, they were writing.

Lesson Four: There will always be people who annoy you. Stop paying attention to them.

It’s not worth your energy. If they drag you down, ignore them. Stop reading their posts. Don’t engage. There will always be those who seek attention. They may brag about their success, or they may say things that require a “But you’re smart and everyone likes you!” response so they won’t sink into a wallow of self-pity. You are not required to respond either way. Eject negative people or people who damage your emotional well-being. You can’t stop them, so eject them.

Lesson Five: The truly successful don’t have to brag because they don’t have time for it. They’re too busy working.

I’ve met some really awesome people this year, and so many of them were willing to hold out a hand and give me advice and information when I needed it. They are the ones I admire, and one thing I’ve discovered about most of them is that they are often very successful — but they don’t brag about it. They just keep working.

Lesson Six: There will always be someone who judges you.

This is a crazy business in some ways, and one thing there will never be less of are the judgmental attitudes. If you self-publish, someone thinks you’re insane and that you’re selling out. If you traditionally publish, someone thinks you’re insane and too lazy to publish yourself. If you do both? Someone thinks you can’t do both and you’re going to have to choose one or the other pretty soon. And yes, someone said that to me. Maybe they’re right, but I make my decisions as they make sense for me at the time. Which leads me to the next lesson…

Lesson Seven: Everything changes. And probably faster than you can keep up.

Self-publishing today is not the self-publishing of last year or even the year before. Things are constantly in flux and it’s up to you to keep abreast of the changes. Some things that worked last year still work phenomenally well. Others don’t. The only way to know is to keep your ear to the ground and your head out of the sand. Self-publishing isn’t going away. I don’t think traditional is either based on the sheer number of writers I know who are still writing and submitting the old-fashioned way. Writing is a business, now more than ever since so much of it is in a writer’s control, and you MUST act like a business person, not just an “arteest” who types all day while little birds sing and festoon you with garland. Head in the sand is NOT a viable option for growing a career. I am constantly reading books on business, on publishing, and I follow several blogs where conversations are taking place every day about what the future of publishing holds.

Lesson Eight: Be kind to everyone.

This isn’t really a lesson from 2013. It’s a lesson from life. My personal code of conduct demands that I be nice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from writers who say that someone was nasty to them and therefore they won’t ever, *ever* buy that person’s books — or recommend their friends buy that person’s books. Writers are readers too. Why would you look down your nose at someone who is a potential customer just because they also write? I get that we all have personality differences and that when we get together in our local chapters, for instance, some annoy us more than others. But be nice and approachable and you may be surprised. You could gain a new fan, a champion for your work to others, and a friend all at the same time. By the same token, give someone a break if they are less than gracious to you — you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. If they are always snotty, well, that’s different.

Lesson Nine: There are no excuses

Do you know how you get ahead in this business, especially today? You write A LOT. You don’t have to be fast, but you have to be consistent. If you don’t want to write a lot, and you don’t want to put out more than two books a year, that’s perfectly fine. But you probably won’t get the success you want as fast as you want it. Again, it’s all relative. But writing is my full-time job, so if I write two books a year and complain I can’t get ahead, I’m stupid. I’ve done a lot this year to look at my productivity and see how to increase it. I wrote eight books this year of varying lengths, and I’m planning to write that many or more in 2014. There are no excuses not to work hard if this is what you want. (Okay, there are some excuses: illness, death in the family, relationship issues, etc. Not writing because you had to clean the house first is not an excuse.)

Thoughts

And now I come to thoughts. The above lessons are my opinion and not gospel. The only writing police in existence are readers and they vote with their wallets. If you can be nasty to other writers, throw up first drafts, half-ass your way through self-publishing and readers STILL buy your books in droves and demand more, then you are a frigging rock star. So don’t listen to a word I say.

Final thoughts for 2013 are that writing is a tough, rewarding business and I love it even when I hate it. Also, life will throw you curve balls and some of them will devastate you. Not writing-related, but if you’ve been following me for a while you know I lost my most beloved cat back in February and it devastated me. She was only 5 years old and no way did I think I could lose her to heart disease at that young age. I still cry over her sometimes.

But I look forward to 2014 with hope and excitement. It could rock or it could bring devastation. We just never know, do we? I hope and pray that your 2014 is awesome.

For my readers, y’all are amazing and I will continue to write as many books as I can and I hope you will continue to read them.

For the writers who are visiting, I hope you get something out of this post. To some of you, I am wildly successful. To others, I’m doing okay — or maybe not all that good at all, LOL! It’s all relative, y’all, which is the point of this post. I want more success, which is why I’m all about working harder, but I’m grateful for what I have, too.

Here are a few posts I’ve read lately that got me to thinking. Your mileage may vary.

Joe Konrath’s Publishing Predictions
Ten Things I Learned About Independent Publishing in 2013
Three Things I realized in 2013
Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors

Have a safe and happy New Year’s!!

The Indie Journey

This post is for the writers among you. Publishing is changing and there are more opportunities for authors than ever before. We finally have the ability to take charge of our careers in ways we couldn’t before Amazon brought out the Kindle. Seriously, the Kindle was a game changer. Add in all the other e-readers, and the invention of the iPad, and we’re rolling along into a revolution that finally gives authors the means to reach readers directly in far greater numbers than they ever could before (printing books and selling them out of your trunk will only get you so much exposure).

Many of the Indie authors who’ve paved the way have been so generous with sharing their numbers, so I decided I’m going to do the same. I am what is properly termed a “hybrid” author. I’m self-publishing and writing for a traditional publisher. I believe there is sense and value to both things, so I’m straddling that line and having some fun. I’m learning a lot too.

Today is officially one month since HOT PURSUIT has been for sale on Kindle. It went live on Kobo and Apple on July 17th, though it was in pre-order at this stage. And it was live on Smashwords and B&N around the same time as Amazon. HOT PURSUIT is a departure for me in terms of the kind of books I am known for with Harlequin. I write for Presents, the line that’s all about angst, passion, glamor, billionaires, etc. I love those kinds of stories! I also love romantic suspense, and I love anything to do with a military special operations team. Which is where my HOT series goes.

I am a known author and I have hit the USA Today list back when they only counted print sales. So how would that translate to my self-published books? Pretty well, it turns out, though not well enough to propel me onto any lists. Everyone says you need more than one book in a series to really see an effect, and I only have one book out there (plus a free short story that’s military but not in the same series) but I cannot complain about the numbers thus far. In one month, I’ve sold 1800 books and made nearly $4k. No, that’s nothing like my Harlequin numbers (which are still primarily in print), but self-publishing is long tail and this is only one month worth of numbers. In the same amount of time with a Harlequin, I can expect to sell far more books. And, in some respects, the Harlequin sales are long tail too because of the foreign translations. And now, with ebooks, if someone discovers you, they can go back and read all your books. That’s a nice departure from the days where you could only get the books for a month and then never again.

HOT PURSUIT was a Golden Heart finalist in 2008. I had hoped my agent could sell it for me, but she didn’t think it was ready. And it wasn’t. I had some hard work to do first, and once I did that work, I decided I’d rather put it out there myself and see how it went than sell it to a publisher and take my chances. At least this way, if the book (and series) failed, it was all on me. But I don’t think it’s failing. Your emails, blog posts, and reviews tell me it’s not. You seem to like this story and you seem to want more. And that makes me *very* happy!

So, one month, 1800 books sold of a book I was told that New York wouldn’t want, and sales show no sign of slowing down. This is only the beginning. HOT MESS (Book 1.5) will be out sometime in September, and I’ve been asked to contribute to an anthology of holiday novellas by some of your favorite Indie authors. That story will be a HOT story, and then I’ll follow it with DANGEROUSLY HOT, which is officially Book 2 in the series (though maybe I need a new numbering system since there will be another novella before that, LOL!).

If you are a writer who is looking at self-publishing, there are a couple of things you need to do. First, you have to spend money to get a good cover and good editing. You’re going to need developmental edits, not just copy edits. I’ve written nearly 20 books with Harlequin and I still paid a developmental editor for my HOT books. I need editing and so do you. Readers will notice if you give them crap and they won’t buy you anymore. There is a difference between not liking a story because it’s not your thing and the story being poorly written and edited. If you don’t have a lot of money to invest, save money until you can afford the editing at least. Trade services with other writers who are good at things you aren’t (like cover design, maybe). Do everything you can to put out the best product you can. Self-publishing is NOT a get rich quick scheme. It takes money, time, and a commitment to the process to do it right.

Here are the things I did for HP: hired a developmental editor, hired a copy editor & proofreader, hired a cover designer, hired a formatter. I’ve not really advertised HP, other than on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I decided not to advertise yet because I only have one book in the series. I might do something when the next story comes out next month. Or I might not. This is a marathon, y’all, not a sprint. If HP continues to sell at the level it’s selling for an entire year, well, that’s a living. I can’t predict that, of course, because things happen and books fall off the radar. But I hope readers are excited enough about this series to try the next one and to recommend the books to their friends.

So there it is. My Indie Journey, one month in. Any questions?

Do the Work

Y’all, I don’t usually talk the writing stuff much anymore, but I can’t help myself this time. I had company in town this past week, and while I took some time off to do things with her — some shopping, some lunching — I also sat myself down at my desk and did the work. I may be my own boss, but I still have a job to do and jobs don’t get done when you lollygag.

So what do you think happens when writers tell me they just can’t get the work done? That they have to watch their favorite shows, and do all their Facebooking and Twittering, and yes they have a deadline screaming toward them at light speed, but they’re probably going to miss it because, well, it’s football season! Or Downton Abbey is on. Or it’s spring and they have to plant the bulbs.

If you guessed that I probably turn apoplectic, you’d be right. It’s infuriating when someone asks me how I manage to write so much while wringing their hands and hoping I’ll give them the secret formula that will suddenly make words pour onto the page.

And I do give them the secret, but they don’t listen. The secret is this: DO THE WORK! If you want to make a career of this, if you want to be a published author and have people read your stories, then you have to turn off the television — or whatever distracts you — and do the work FIRST. Do it! Stop talking about it, stop wringing your hands, and stop making excuses.

Your shows can be DVRed. You can watch them once you meet that deadline. I don’t know what to tell you about sports, since that’s not my hang up, but I’m pretty sure you can’t watch every darn game Thursday through Monday. You can’t do everything. Make a choice. And if you choose the football, don’t whine about the writing. You chose it!

Seriously, the only way you get ahead in this job is to make it a priority. Writing does not come last. Writing does not come after you finish everything else. Writing must be a priority. Yes, your family is the most important thing. I don’t disagree with that at all. There’s a saying you might have seen before: “Happy wife, happy life.” It’s cute, right? But I think it should also be expanded a bit. “Happy family, happy marriage, happy life.” It doesn’t rhyme, but it’s closer to the truth, I think.

So this is my rant for the day. If you’re a writer, if you want to make this a career, you need to make sure you’re willing to do what it takes. You can’t write when you feel like it. You can’t build a career or gain readers if you take such an approach. If you want this — really want this — you have to work for it. It’s still a job, and it still requires you to put in the time.

So put down the remote, stash the coupons for the mall, and get your work done first. Your work ethic is vital in this business. If you don’t have one, if you’re easily distracted, then you aren’t going to succeed.

But if you get that work done, you’ll be surprised at how everything begins to flow. Make writing a priority, and you might just be amazed at how much you get done. Good luck and get to work! That’s what I’ll be doing… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thank you, dear readers!

Just a note on this New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2012, to say thanks for everything you’ve done for me. You buy my books and you make it possible for me to have this awesome job where I get to write about sexy alpha males and the women who are tough enough and strong enough to be their equals. I love what I do, and I love that you enjoy reading my stories!

Since I got that magical call in 2008, I’ve written a lot of books and learned a lot of things. I’ve sold nearly 2 million books worldwide, which is incredible to me, and I get mail from so many wonderful people who’ve enjoyed something I’ve written. Truthfully, writing is such an odd word for what happens when an author sits down to tell a story. Yes, we write the words onto the page — but it’s so much more than that. We live that story in our heads. I see it play like a movie reel, and I have no idea why.

I used to think it was weird to do that, before I started writing the stories down. I used to think there was a part of me that had never grown up and never would. When I was a kid, I told myself stories in my head to go to sleep — and I kept doing it as an adult. I didn’t know I was supposed to write down what I saw. That took a few years to figure out.

But once I did — wow, everything made sense! And now you make it possible for me to keep doing this dreaming I do. ๐Ÿ™‚

2012 was an awesome year, but here’s hoping 2013 is even more so. I wish you all peace and happiness and prosperity!

As the new year begins, I’ll be doing some new things. First, I’m planning to bring you a military romance series! The first book should be available quite soon, and if you want to be kept up to date on that, you can sign up for my newsletter here. (To read the prologue and first chapter of HOT PURSUIT, the first book in the series, go here.)

Secondly, I’m starting a Street Team. If you want to be a part of the LRH League, send me an email at Lynn AT LynnRayeHarris DOT com to be added to the list! I’ll be sharing exclusive news and goodies with my team as we go forward. This is meant to be a fun way to connect and to share news about my books with other readers, so I’d love to have you join in!

Once more, thank you for everything you do and I wish you a happy, pleasant, awesome New Year!

If you’re looking for instant gratification….

This probably isn’t the business for you. Or, it’s not for you if you want to get paid for your work. I am constantly amazed by the number of people these days who will pay someone to publish their stories. And I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been tempted to do the same back when I was new and green and didn’t know better. Fortunately, I stumbled onto RWA pretty quickly in my green days — and learned that money flows to the writer.

Any company that claims they will get your book in front of Oprah, if only you purchase X package from them to publish your work, is lying. Sure, they might send the book to Oprah — but you could do the same thing. Look up the address for the Oprah show and mail your package. You aren’t any more likely to get read whether they send it or you send it. Oprah doesn’t work that way. Have you EVER seen the woman talk about a self-published book on her show?

Save your money, peeps. Work hard at your craft, know where you fit in as a writer, and target that publisher (or publishers). You will get told no. You will get told no multiple times. Don’t let this negativity send you running into the arms of a company that wants to take your money to publish your book. They have no intention of selling it for you. They want you to buy your own copies and sell them to your friends. There’s no incentive to get you into bookstores.

I have been a part of a self-published anthology, btw. It was done professionally and with a goal in mind. It met the goal and made money for the group. But the organizers knew what they were doing, and they produced a professional book for a purpose. It wasn’t designed to break any of us into publishing — and a good thing too, because that’s not what usually happens with self-published books.

You aren’t breaking in this way. I can count on one hand the number of people who self-published and then went on to sell to NY in a big way. Self-publishing is not a bad thing. But you have to know the reasons for doing it before you simply throw in the towel after the 10th or 100th rejection and decide to do things your own way. If you are writing romance novels, self-publishing is not for you. It’s expensive and it won’t get you noticed by the publishers you really want to write for.

So work hard, swallow the lumps, and keep writing and submitting. It’s the only way I know that works for sure. Instant gratification happens when eating a chocolate bar, not when trying to sell your work. ๐Ÿ™‚

Four things

I’m still feeling at loose ends, and in spite of the good advice to relax and fill the well, I find it difficult to do so. So is it any wonder I’m working on Chapter 4 even before I hear from my editor? *g*

In honor of the number four, I’m sharing four things with you. ๐Ÿ™‚

1) A FABULOUS post from Presents author Penny Jordan on an article she read that validated many of her feelings about the stories she writes. And all I can say, having read the article and her post, is YES. This is exactly what I feel about my heroes and the stories I create (and it’s as true for the romantic suspense I was writing as it is for my Presents stories).

2) Agent Nathan Bransford had a wonderful post on Thursday about the Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer. I really loved this and wanted to share!

3) The Guess the Bookshelf contest is still going on! My shelves are there, so come on over and see if you can figure it out. There are prizes!

4) Presents author Trish Morey has a free read on eHarlequin! Come read The Italian Billionaire’s Bride.