Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This is sort of silly, but somehow, the borrowed numbers on Amazon are thrilling. Currently, 31 people have borrowed Ghosts. I want to rush up to all of them (except me) and shake them and say, do you realize you can only borrow ONE book a month? ONE! One book!! The people who buy it, eh, let's be real: it's priced at $3.50 and for most people that's a coffee, it's no big deal. But the borrowers have selected this book--my book!--to be their only book for the month. Okay, so yeah, it's free, that means they've actually literally invested less than the people who have purchased it. But at the same time, it feels as if their investment--the ONE book! for the WHOLE month!--is actually really exciting.

But I bet there's some macroeconomics rule that make my enthusiasm pointless.

Macroeconomics takes all the fun out of life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Anatomy of a year (2011)

January: A scene that doesn't fit any fanfiction story grabs me and doesn't let go. I write down a line of dialog: “Chemists think it’s all about chemistry. Hormones and pheromones. Some peptides, a little oxytocin, and that’s the whole story. But what do they know? Really, it’s all about physics.”

Dad is diagnosed with cancer.

February: Dad has a massive heart attack, followed by quintuple bypass. Unfortunately, that means delaying the cancer treatment until he recovers. Everyone is anxious.

I write two chapters of Ghosts. I realize that books with ghosts in them are books about death. I think maybe this is not a good idea.

March: I decide to quit my job and return to school full-time.

I'm stuck on Ghosts at Chapter 4, because I realize that ghostly fifteen-year olds are really dead teenagers.

April: My birthday, and the one year anniversary of my mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis. And quite a year it's been, I think. I thank God that year is over, the next one has to be better. (Jinx!)

I'm not writing anything.

May: I officially quit my job and make plans for August through fall, including finally doing the house repairs that have been waiting forever.

I'm writing a little, maybe finally breaking through the writer's block, but I decide to toss two of the five chapters that are done. I'm back at Chapter 3. I post chapters to fictionpress and bookcountry.

June: Dad's having cancer treatments in Jacksonville and Mom gets sick. He brings her home and takes her to urgent care, then heads back to Jacksonville. Tests ensue.

July: A diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver. 4-6 months.

I meant to start really writing as soon as my job ended in early July, and I try, but I spend a lot of time staring into space. I read the first chapter of Ghosts aloud to Mom while sitting by her bed, and decide that it's not bad.

August: Yeah, that should have been 4-6 weeks. Mom dies August 6th.

I try to write every day. I succeed some of the time.

September: My (ex) father-in-law dies September 6th. Needless to say I'm not really working on my house repairs. Mostly I'm sleeping a lot, crying a lot, and trying to stay on top of schoolwork.

But I'm writing almost every day.

October: I'm in Seattle for Malcolm's memorial service when I get the call I've dreaded for years. A beloved college friend's cancer is back, and this time it's terminal. They're moving to palliative care.

I'm back to writing when I can. I write Zane's goodbye with tears running down my face.

November: Thanksgiving would have been my mother's 68th birthday. My sister's best friend dies unexpectedly, massive heart attack, the day before. She was 53.

I'm trying to let the book sit before starting revisions, but the self-imposed pressure of NaNoWriMo is making me insane and tweaking Ghosts makes me feel better. I tweak. I tweak some more.

December: Revisions! I add a few scenes, make some big changes to the ending, let a few more people critique it, then self-publish.

There are many ghosts in my book. Reviews describe it as wry, fun, breezy and charming, proving...something. That escapist writing isn't just for readers, maybe?

I said at the end of 2010 that 2011 had to be a better year. I'm scared to say that again. So my resolution for 2012 is simple: I want to be kind as often as possible. That's it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Raising the Bar

So I set realistic goals for A Gift of Ghosts. What did I say, something like 50 sales in 6 months and 20 reviews? It was a nice realistic goal, based on realistic information, and having it made me feel very safe. This is where I am, this is where I'm going, this is where I hope to be in six months. Structure is comforting for anxious perfectionist types and goals create structure. Okay, artificial structure, but that's not the point. If you know what you're aiming for, you can relax while you're getting there.

Ironically, I am better at getting lost than anyone I know. Possibly because I get lost all the time -- I have no sense of direction -- but also because I don't get anxious about lost when it's physically lost. Once, when I had my son and my nephew in the car, I was returning to my sister's house from the grocery store and I wound up in the wrong state. It was mildly shocking to me, no big deal to my son, and extremely distressing to my nephew. I think R. said something blase, like, "She always gets lost but she always gets found again." That's the thing about physically lost -- you always find your way home again eventually. You might wind up in Kansas along the way (road trips from Illinois to Nebraska include Kansas when I'm driving), but so what? I guess maybe when I'm physically lost I still know what the goal is: I just don't know how to achieve it.

So back to book goals. My realistic goal has been, um, shattered, and that's a good thing. I'm happy about it. Except when I feel really stressed out and anxious which is actually all the time for the past 48 hours. I've lost my structure. I don't know what the goal is anymore. What am I hoping for? What do I want? Should I want a bestseller? I definitely never expected a bestseller -- it's a quirky little fun book, pure entertainment, and doesn't really fit into any genre. If I'd tried to go with a mainstream publisher (I didn't), I'm reasonably sure I would have been asked for changes and I didn't want that. I like Ghosts just the way it is. But what should I want? Should I want 100 sales? 1000? 10,000? Should I want to break into the Kindle Top 100? What's the bar?

No surprise, the anxiety's killing my writing. My editing is going great -- I've revised every chapter of A Gift of Thought (four of them) and they're all much improved. But if I don't write any more of it that really does no one any good.

So I'm looking at the bar and I'm thinking about why my anxiety level has skyrocketed and what it means to me, and I realize I need to lower that bar. I'm not insane -- I'd love to make lots of money from my writing and be really successful, but that's not why I started writing and that's not why I want to continue writing. A Gift of Ghosts is out in the universe now and I need to let it go and let it find its own way and let the process work. Because I didn't publish it to reach it a goal. I published it because I thought it was fun, and I wanted other people to have fun with me.

And that's why I'm writing: for fun, and so that other people will have fun with me. 

And that's the bar. Now I just need to live it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


So I'm staring at the Kindle Direct Publishing Report page. It's 5:08. Ghosts has been free for 14 hours and 8 minutes, and I have been so much more obsessive than I wanted to be. I think I managed to turn the computer off for an hour and a half. But I'm trying to refrain from pushing the Month-to-Date Unit Sales link again, because I just pushed it two minutes ago and really, how neurotic can I be?

I think, though, that there will be a moment sometime in the next two hours that I'd like to catch, so that I can write it down and post it to my OhLife and on some future day, I'll get reminded of the exact, precise, specific time when 1000 copies of Ghost had been downloaded. And then I notice that there's a little down arrow, indicating a menu, next to the View Report For field. And I look, and oh, you can also view the report for and and and a few other Amazons, and that's kind of cool.

Even cooler? At 5:08, 946 copies of Ghosts had been downloaded in the US. But 113 had been downloaded in the UK and 3 in Germany. Which means, basic math skills don't fail me, 1062 copies total downloaded. And wow, wow, wow. Okay, lots of those people probably won't read it and some of them won't like it. But still, it is a thrilling feeling.

OhLife, incidentally, is a wonderful online journal: it sends a daily email that asks the question, How did your day go? and includes one of your past entries. Way too many of mine have been sad, and it's made me less inclined to respond to the email. (Yesterday's said, "Trying to write a girl from the 1950s. Six months ago, I could have called Mom for help with the voice. Sometimes the sad is just overwhelming." Unsurprisingly, I didn't feel inspired to answer it.) Today, though, today, I will definitely write back.

It's 5:23. 961 copies downloaded in the US, 119 in the UK. Thank you all!

Amazon's Instant Gratification

Today is my free day on Amazon. If you're reading this blog and you haven't already downloaded A Gift of Ghosts from Amazon could you please go do that? Pretty please? I'll wait right here, I promise.

Okay, so yes, it's not quite 7 AM east coast time. And I'm not sure what time Amazon's promotion starts, although I could probably find that out pretty quickly, but I'm going to guess that it starts at midnight Pacific time, since that's where Amazon is located. (I'll go check after I finish writing this just to make sure.)

I'm super anxious about today's free day. I wish I could say that anxious wasn't the right word; I mean I really long for the day when I am so healthy that anxiety isn't my default switch. I believe in the possibility of that day, I really do, and it's why I spend so much time working on mindfulness and relaxation exercises and trying to learn to live in the moment. But anxious is still the right word for today.

I love my book, I love Akira and Zane, and I want some geeky teenage girl who likes science to find Akira and decide to be a physicist. The only way that geeky girl finds it is if it sells enough that it's visible, and so today's free day matters. Not a lot. Not as much as a free day when there are more reviews posted. Not nearly as much as a free day next year when I have three books written and a fourth on the way (although if I don't get back to writing every day, that goal starts to look a little ambitious).

So, I tell myself, I need to set a goal. I know that if you're reading this and you're not an anxious person, you think I'm crazy. I actually could tell a funny story about that, but it would be a serious digression and take a while, so I'll save it. Suffice to say that goals and anxiety work together like bagels and cream cheese, red wine and marinara sauce, ice cream and hot fudge, and yes, I am hungry, why do you ask? Anyway, I decide to set a goal. That way, when I know that my goal has been achieved, I can relax and let go of my anxiety.

But what's a good goal? Dean Wesley Smith said first book, first-time author, 30 sales in six months. Realistically, I always expected to do better than that. Not because I know more about the market than he does (I don't, nowhere close) but because I was pretty sure my first 10 sales would be friends and family. I thought probably 10 sales in the first week and five reviews. I hoped for 20 sales and 10 reviews in the first month. Then they'd slow down, of course, and maybe then I should expect 5 sales a month and 2 reviews? At the end of six months, I would have sold 45 copies, and had 20 reviews. And yeah, that sounds pretty reasonable to me for six months, first book, first author. Then the second book would come out, and I'd be on my way to my long-term goal. I think I want to write more about that long-term goal, but I'll save that for later, too.

But that goal -- 45 copies in six months -- doesn't include free days. So the question is then, what to expect on a free day when no one really knows the book? I decide that 20 downloads is the reasonable goal, and 50 is the happy goal. More than 20 is the number that will make me say, okay, that was good, right choice to make a free day this early, and 50 is the goal that will make me say, yay, yay, yay, let's dance with the dog around the living room and eat another Christmas cookie to celebrate. It's never been about the sales, not for this book, just the readers.

Of course, I need to know how many copies I've already sold in order to know whether I've reached my goal at the end of the day. If I've already sold 14 (which I had), I'd need to reach 34 for the good goal, 64 for the happy goal. So I decide to look at the Report page of Kindle Direct Publishing and find out how many copies are already sold so that at the end of the day, I'll know whether I've succeeded.

Yeah, can you believe it took me this many words to get to the point? Amazon has these reports. You can look at the report and find out exactly how many copies of the book have sold. There's another report that tells you royalties, but it goes week by week and I'm not at the end of my first week until the end of today, so it's currently useless to me. And yes, I am starting to drag this out. But I'm scared to write it.


86 units sold.

It's now 7:35 AM on my free day, and I am 22 units ahead of my goal. Should I change the goal (I will, I have to, I can't help myself) or should I go dance around the living room and eat a Christmas cookie? (And yes, that's going to come first!)

If you downloaded my book, thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me this happy morning! If I could email you a Christmas cookie, I would. :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free day on Saturday

I decided to use my first free day on Amazon on Saturday, one week to the day after I published. I had intended to not use any of them until after Christmas, but I'd also thought that once I had ten reviews, I would use one. And as of yesterday, I have twelve reviews. Yay! Twelve! It makes me so happy.

I sort of feel as if I shouldn't write that, as if being happy because people say they like my work is juvenile and I should grow up. But I also hope, of course, that someday I'll have hundreds of reviews. And when that day comes, I'd like to be able to come back to this post and remember this joy. I want to be able to stay as excited when other people like Akira and Zane as I am right now. That's probably unrealistic (apart from anything, I love Sylvie and Lucas, too, now and I hope more and other characters will be stealing my attention in the months and years to come), but still this is a memory I want to keep. And that's what this blog originally meant to be: saved memories. may be silly of me, but today I am happy.

And on Saturday, Ghosts will be free. I can tell already that I'm not going to be able to settle into writing at all, except probably emailing people to say hey, please download my book, so Caroline is coming over and we're going to bake Christmas cookies. And I'm going to spend two hours in the morning nudging people to make the download and spread the word, and then I'm going to shut the computer down and make cupcake cookies and sugar cookies and maybe even some snicker doodles, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Remembering the plan

A Gift of Ghosts is on Addicted to EBooks today. (Scroll down. No, more. No, way down. Wow, there are a lot of books in the world, aren't there?)

I'm trying to remind myself that I'm not supposed to worry about marketing this book. It's available for sale, and that's all that needs to happen right now for it to feel like a success to me. Right now I need to be writing Thoughts. If I want to get distracted by another book, I should let it be the one that comes after Thoughts. Sales success isn't the point, not yet.

And yet, it's easy to think that. At the moment, it's impossible to feel it. I have six reviews on Amazon, two from fictionpress readers, two from Critique Circle readers and two from friends & family. I love all of them. Each one makes me happy, each one gives me little bubbles of joy when I look at it. I have no idea why it's such a big deal. Ghosts had 140 reviews on fictionpress, at least of dozen of which were from the final chapter, so about the whole book. But there's something really different -- oh. Ha. I just realized. It's the stars. Oh, I'm amused at myself. Five stars feels like an A, and of course, that external locus of validation training springs to the surface. Getting As just feels good.

Ironically, I picked up my final paper for one of my classes yesterday and the person who graded it gave me a 3/5 for writing quality because I used first person and she felt that was inappropriate.I was annoyed until I realized that if someone had said to me, "You can use passive voice and get an A or you can refuse to use passive voice and get a B," I would have taken the B. And since this wasn't a difference between an A or a B (I still got an A on the paper), I should probably not complain too much. I wouldn't write badly for a better grade.

But back to my point, it's much harder than I expected it to be to let go of Ghosts.  I'm trying to tell myself to just let it be, but I found myself browsing indie reviewer book websites this morning.

Updated: Dean Wesley Smith  tells me to get back to work. Just what I needed to hear today!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Razor Productions

When I filled out the form to submit my book to Amazon, there was a space for publisher. Duh. Obvious question. Why hadn't I thought about it? I had a choice, of course: I could leave it blank or I could name a publisher.

I went with Razor Productions. Back when I was a single mom with a ten-month-old baby and I quit my job -- an act that seemed highly irresponsible and yet entirely irresistible -- my plan was that I'd take the year I had enough money for and figure out the rest later. When I was down to $10,000 in savings, I'd start looking for another job. But meanwhile, I'd enjoy the time I had to spend with the fattest, smiliest, happiest Gerber baby that ever there was.

I lasted over three years freelancing before I had to take a real job. Three years that I mostly got to spend with a baby, toddler, preschooler, watching him grow and learn and become. And wow, the talking? It was just the coolest thing ever. I tried to count his words as he learned them, but between 18 months and 21 months, they multiplied at such a phenomenal rate. He was learning new words faster than I could write them down.

My freelance name was RaZoR Productions: it stood for Rory Zane Rafferty, and although I fully supported us with writing and editing, my big production was definitely the happy kid.

So I made it my publisher name. And I decided that if this writing business actually makes sense, maybe I'll make it official and set up a business and all that. But meanwhile, if you followed the author link to find out whether this is a legit publisher, your suspicions are exactly right. It's not. It's just a name.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I think I just published my book.
What a weird feeling.

Part of me is sure that something's wrong with it: it's going to turn out to be the wrong file, or there will be mistakes that I didn't catch, or making the company name "General Directions" will get the owners of "Global Dynamics" mad at me . . . and that's just the typical stuff of being a high anxiety person. If any of those things happen, I'll deal with them, and it won't be the end of the world.

Another part of me sort of desperately wants to cry. This year has been the worst year ever. Cancer, heart attacks, death on all sides -- we've barely recovered from one blow when the next one hits. And through it all, I kept writing. I don't know what the crying is from: I guess I am both proud of myself and really sad that my mom isn't here to be proud of me, too. She would have been, though.

It is strange that I outlined Ghosts eleven months ago, and thought I was writing a light, fluffy romance. I don't think it turned out that way. Still, it's amazing to me that right now, having read the whole thing at least a dozen times in the past week, I still love it. I love my quirky physicist heroine who is mostly a coward and doesn’t believe in happy-ever-after. I love my easygoing, videogame-playing flirt of a hero who grows up despite himself. I love my plot which has nothing to do with people being stupid and everything to do with people making discoveries. I love the secrets I’ve hidden, the details that readers find out 80% of the way in, that make them say, “Wait, what?”

I should probably write a longer blurb for it, and maybe I will. But maybe I'll give it a month.

And meanwhile, Dillon is waiting for me. But first, laundry (I think it's been a month!), dishes, planning for Christmas cookies, and finishing putting up the Christmas tree. Eh, and maybe checking on my Bitizens. My tiny tower won't run itself

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Minor tweaks

Tweaks. A few font changes, including playing with the shadow effect on the title to make it pop. I'm hoping to get it readable in a thumbnail, but since that's hard to judge in Powerpoint, I have to look at it online to be sure. Is this boring anyone else yet?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Getting close

I have the one big revision to do and I'm going to tackle that tomorrow. Then I'll start the read aloud, which ought to be fun. Then a copyright page, then deciding whether to learn how to create a real TOC for the Kindle. It seems as if it might be a good idea but I don't know whether anyone cares. Still, learning is useful.

Today was playing with cover files, though. I believe my preference is number 3. Maybe, anyway. I wish I didn't start to get so insane about the fonts. Powerpoint just doesn't have the right tools for them.

Credit where due

I just spent a frustrating hour searching for the image that I used on the Ghosts cover. I think I've basically decided that it is the real and final cover (maybe some tweaking), and so even though the image was public domain, I wanted to credit the photographer and the website on the copyright page. Argh. Of course, I bookmarked the site, but then I lost all my bookmarks.

For future and current reference: Lightning Strike by Adam Weeden is the original image.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Following the rules

Agents don't like . . . 

If you want to sell, you should  . . . 

I've heard that it's bad to use . . .

Using (word) slows down your writing, you should always . . . , Never put . . . , You should . . . , You must . . . You have to . . .

I've so appreciated the feedback I've gotten from other writers over the last few weeks.  Really, I have. But I need to vent anyway.

When did writers become so rule-bound? How has publishing managed to inflict such an endless list of shoulds and have-tos and musts on people who want to be creative? I'm not talking about knowing the fundamentals. (Although, frankly, I'm perfectly happy to break those rules, too. Most of the time, yes, your sentences should include both a subject and a verb. But not always.) No, I'm talking about writers following rules they don't even understand. Someone's told them a "rule," and suddenly every sentence with "was" should be re-worded, even if doing so changes the meaning of the sentence. How can meaning be less important than following a nonsensical rule?

I admit, when I was an editor, I was guilty of inflicting some arbitrary rules on authors myself. I remember telling one author never to use a pronoun. But his sentences were getting tangled. Forcing him to think about the real noun behind every "it" helped him clarify his meaning, and in some cases, probably his thinking, too. And I would not have told him to write pronoun-free fiction, nor would I have tried to make it a universal rule.

I do have some of my own rules that I try to follow. Most of the time, one exclamation point per paragraph or page, because I tend to get excited. Try to change "thing" to a real noun, because using it is easy but often unclear. Use vague language, including "just," "sort of," "kind of," "pretty much," inside quotation marks, but not outside, because it makes dialog feel real but writing feel sloppy. But I know the reasons for all those rules, and I know that I can break them whenever I want to.

I think the saddest aspect of seeing all these people following all these rules is the belief behind their actions: if I follow the rules, I will sell books. If I do everything "right," I will succeed. But book publishing doesn't work that way, never has. If it did, Harry Potter would not have sold. Twilight would not have sold. Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts . . . best-selling authors break the rules. And it's not because they became best-sellers by following the rules and then started breaking them. Harry Potter breaks the rules on page one. And yes, that's why it was rejected by multiple publishers before finally getting picked up. But last year over a quarter of a million books were published in the US. Most of them made it to print, but didn't make it to success. That's because publishers don't know what sells. Not really. Neither do agents. Neither do writing teachers. Neither do I, for that matter.

I do know, though, that writing for money is a waste of time. Most people would do better by getting a minimum wage job and spending their entire paycheck on lottery tickets. (Favorite writer joke: Know the difference between writing a bestseller and winning the lottery? You can improve your chances of winning the lottery.)

Writing for fun, on the other hand, is a wonderful way to spend your time. Writing for fun and then trying to sell what you've written so that other people can enjoy the world you've created? Also makes total sense to me.

 The dog is looking imploring and she's a half hour late for her walk, so off I go. And when I come back, I'm working on Thoughts. But tomorrow, I want to write more about self-publishing.