Diagnosing What Ails Your Career
As a writer, working from home during the Coronavirus outbreak is nothing new. What is unusual is that I have not been successful in starting a new novel. Not wanting to waste time stewing about my lack of inspiration, I decided clean house. At stake is my 35 year, 39 book , traditional and indie published career. This includes:
Having retained my rights over the course of my career, I republished all my books when Kindle hit the market. I did not reread those books, I have not re-formatted them since the original uploads, and I have not sold more than a handful. The category romances are so far removed from my thrillers that they don’t seem to be written by the same person. That led me to ask myself this: Is my early work hurting my brand? The answer was yes. Readers made that clear with every review. Now the question became, what should I do about it? The answer to that was a bitter pill.
I have an attachment to these category romances. They are proof that I paid my professional dues, that I worked hard, and that I grew into the author I am now. I thought readers would embrace this journey, but I was wrong. I also thought I loved these books, but I do not. That was hard to admit because these early books represent years of my life, the agony and triumph of traditional publishing, and my point of view not only as an author but as a woman moving through the decades. Admitting these books are amateurish was difficult. Once I did though, it was time for professional triage. This is what I have done.
1. Immediately removed all category romances from every platform.
2. All stand-alone thrillers and series work remain viable and were not touched.
3. Analyzed all 100,000 word Women’s Fiction novels, and determined these books informed by current brand as a thriller writer. They share the elements of intricate the plots, rich characterization, and suspense.
4. I am rebranding the Women’s Fiction into The 90s Collection complete with new covers and a collection banner. I am also editing to create smoother dialogue and expository while removing politically incorrect elements. I have left the flare, fun, and romantic inclinations that were hallmarks of that decade.
I will release these novels as second editions with letters to the reader regarding what they represent in my career arc. I will include my thrillers in the ‘also by’ section of these books, and publish them in Kindle Unlimited since I do not plan to put a lot of advertising money behind them.
It was difficult to admit that I was not ready for primetime all those years ago. A sharp professional scalpel will not leave a lasting creative scar; a prescription for moving forward will make my brand healthier. Bottom line? I know that this triage has been good for my soul, and I have faith that it will be good for my career.
LOOK FOR THE 90S COLLECTION COMING SOON!
OMG! I almost forgot I needed to post. I was watching the Hallmark Channel and recouping from Fourth of July eating.
Before I start with this month’s topic, I want to share something with you that will be revealed in the next few days. If you’re in my facebook group, Tracy’s Reeders, then you’ve seen the revised cover for A Southern Gentleman Vol One. I love it and the test results were very favorable. I’m excited to see how it performs.
The new cover is bold, sexy and tells a different story. I was about to upload the cover and decided to change the blurb. The original blurb just didn’t work. This entire rebranding process is sort of like that stray thread you try to pull, but it unravels and causes more anxiety. I’m patient because I know this is all going to work out.
I pushed the release date back a month because I want to hire a publicist to help with the launch. She needs three weeks of prep and I just finished cleaning up the final draft.
So here’s the cover:
Earlier this year, Skye Warren posted the Romance Author Roadmap on RWA earlier this year. When I finished reading it, I had a plan for the year. In creating the plan, I discovered, I had left a lot of money on the table in the form of boxsets.
I have one boxset, which is compilation of novellas centering around romance at different stages. It never occurred to me to create boxsets within my series. I started doing a little research and found quite a few authors had created boxsets out of some of their series. By that I mean, combining the first two or three books in a series.
When I finished, going through my books, I came up with four boxsets.
Falling For Her Boss: The Good Girl Part One and Part Two
Loving Her: What MY Friends Need To Know and Love Notes
Real Love : Generational Curse and Intentional Curse
Secret Love: Girlfriends & Secrets and What My Friends Don’t Know
I think this new packaging will appeal to readers not connecting with the original titles. I’m very curious and excited to see how this works. I’m still working on the pricing. I have to be careful not to overcharge and work within the pricing allowed by Amazon.
I’m also not sure if I should release the boxsets all at once or one at a time. I do know initially they will only be in ebook format with print only available on my site, eventually.
Time will tell how these are received.
See you next month.
I hope you are enjoying the last days of spring and are excited about summer. I love both. I’m a little reticent in my excitement, because I am so behind. As I have mentioned in previous posts. I had no idea this rebrand would take so long.
I am finally about to release a new book, the first since first quarter of 2018. The book I’m about to release, A SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN Vol Two [ASGV2], I finished in summer of 2018. I received it from my editor late September or early October. I don’t remember exactly when. I elected not to release it until after I returned from the RAM conference. I knew I’d learn some things I could use, but still release the book at my projected time of December 2018. This would have been the anniversary of volume one in the series. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, because underestimate of the rebrand.
I thought the rebrand would be simple. I’d change a few things on the website, hold the new covers until 2019 and update the cover on volume one. All of which I thought wouldn’t still allow me to stick to my scheduled release date. That didn’t happen.
I could have released the book without the rebranding being complete, but I decided not to. Looking back, I think I made the right choice. I went through several covers for ASGV1. I knew changing that cover was going to set the tone for volume two. What I didn’t count on was a change in the story.
I like writing cliff hangers. However, some of my readers don’t. ASGV2, had a cliffhanger. I liked it. In fact, I thought it was a good way to sell books, but not in all cases. FOR ME, I think it works when the next book is ready. In my case, I knew the next book, was going to be at least eight to ten months out. I was in a Facebook seminar and had the chance to ask a bestselling author her thoughts on cliffhangers. She was not a fan and said most readers aren’t either. She said readers want a HEA. I was a little dejected.
What convinced me was my manicurist. She asked how the book was coming and we got into a discussion about cliffhangers. She told me she didn’t like them and most readers don’t unless the next book is available. I was deflated. Not satisfied with those answers, I did more research and was surprised how many agreed with them.
I went back to my book, deleted the cliffhanger and all the things associated with it. When I finished, I was left with a few wholes that needed to be filled. I really thought it would have been a piece of cake. Instead, it was almost a rewrite. When I finished, I had deleted A LOT, added two characters, revealed more of my protagonist personality and added approximately 5000 words. There is a cliffhanger, sort of with another character. She has a secret, but if I choose to give her a story, I have something to work with.
Now that I’ve finished, I’m having second thoughts about the proposed cover. It doesn’t feel right. It’s missing something. So it’s back to looking at hundreds of shirtless men. I guess I have to take one for the team. [Smile]
So what did I learn from this step in my rebranding process? Don’t get attached to your story or cover. I liked the ending and the cover I selected for ASGV2. However, after making a few changes to the story, I like it better. I haven’t selected a new cover yet, but I’m sure it will be more reflective of the story.
Target release day for A SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN Vol Two, July 30th. I’ll keep you posted.
This is where the rubber meets the road. The Production Schedule can be a scary thing. It’s where you set your money plan for the up coming year. It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something insane like write a title a month. It’s another thing to actually do it. Oh man, I just had a flash back to 2016.
There’s a scripture that says to write the vision and make it plain, for in due time it will come to pass. It might feel like it’s slow, but it will happen. I did a little paraphrasing [Habbkkuk 2:2-3], but it’s true.
When we write things down, we give them life. When you put those words on an 11” x 17” piece of paper and post it on your office wall where you see it every day, it becomes your silent assistant, constantly reminding you of the tasks at hand.
I have been using a production schedule for a few years. The last two years, I sort of ignored it, which meant, I had subconsciously decided not to make that much money. Insert gasp and call me a bad writer. I know why I ignored the schedule on 2017, I was exhausted from 2016. But last year, I haven’t got a clue what happened nor a justifiable reason. I started the year with these grand plans of writing four books, possibly doing a couple of short stories and creating another boxset.
Last year saw me publish one fiction book and one non-fiction book. I did however, write another book which I held until after I attended RAM. I figured I’d use what I learned to release it. That was before I realized I needed to clean up a few things before I could release anything.
So here I am sixty-four days into a new year and I’ve yet to release a book. According to my production schedule, I should have released all of my new covers. There’s been a little hitch in my plan. This rebrand has taken a little longer than I thought. Rebranding is sort of like redecorating. You start out thinking a fresh coat of paint is all you need and then you realize the sofa looks horrible, even though you matched the paint against before you attacked the walls. So now it needs to be recovered. Now the carpet and drapes don’t work. Before you know it, you’re knocking down walls, ditching the carpet for hardwood floors, changing the light fixtures and buying a new sofa.
So when I changed the covers, I had to update the blurbs. When I started loading the covers to the website, they didn’t fit. The wall had to come down . . . a new website . . . a new logo . . . new color scheme. This December I will celebrate five years as a published author and so far, instead of doing special celebrations, I’m in the middle of a major remodel. Oh yeah, and I have a few books I need to write so I can make some money.
In January, Skye Warren published an explosive mini course on RWA which was a game changer for me. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It was scary, but it was also very enlightening. It forced me to look at my writing career differently as if RAM hadn’t already got my juices flowing. I did the assignments and started a new production schedule. I saw things a little differently. I didn’t realize, I had as many titles sitting around waiting to be shared.
I had decided I was going to put four titles out this year, but it was looking a little bleak while rebranding. But I when I looked at my catalog, I discovered four boxsets. I could easily call it a done deal, but I look at these titles as four unexpected new revenue streams. I attacked my Production Schedule and now it wasn’t as scary. Instead I saw the potential to make money. I haven’t released anything yet, because I’ve been busy redecorating, but the new titles are on my website as coming soon. If I stay focused, before the end of the month, I’ll start releasing titles and sharing the new covers to all the selling platforms. The new website and newsletter design will be live as well.
So here’s a peak at my production schedule.
Release New Covers
New Newsletter Design
I’m going on vacation . . . this isn’t a title.
I know it looks a little insane and almost as nutty as my book a month project. Keep in mind, most of these things are written or down. This is more less a proposed release schedule. Once I complete the website, all I have to do is load the files to Vellum for the box sets. I’m cleaning up A Southern Gentleman Vol 2. The other three books on my schedule are in my head and waiting to be written. There’s something I want to try with those . . . I’ll let you know if my plan works.
I almost forgot, here’s another set of covers. If you’re counting, you’re correct, I have only shared six. I’m holding the seventh, A Southern Gentleman because it’s part of the launch for A Southern Gentleman Vol 2.
Have a great month and write a lot.
Last month I shared about my plans to rebrand myself as an author. This month I started putting the plan into action. Excuse me while I pause for a little childish whining…this is hard.
Now I’m back to my adult self. No one who has gone through the rebranding process said it would be easy. It’s more like masochism. How is it possible to derive pleasure from such a challenging process? But it’s exciting seeing the changes come to life.
I have another business and had the opportunity to work with a consultant and was shocked at what I learned about my business. I’ve been an entrepreneur for quite a while. I thought I knew my business, but in the back of my mind I always felt I could be doing more…doing better. So when the opportunity arose to work with a consultant, I jumped at it.
I thought I had my stuff together, but after the first meeting, I realized I didn’t know crap about my business. When she asked me “Who my customer was?” I gave my answer. Only to discover, it was too broad. I thought my website was amazing, after all, the site host, family and friends, all said it was great. They were sincere in their compliment. However, the reality was, my social media was a mess [Thank God Elena Dillion helped me with my Pinterest page before my first meeting, giving me one brownie point with the consultant]. There was a mix of styles. The colors and graphics were all over the place. My business profile had no cohesion.
When I completed the process with the consultant, my business had a definite brand. So when I listened to the RAM speakers talk about rebranding, I understood because I’d just gone through it with my other business. However, this was a little more difficult because the product that needed a new look was something I created. Something I needed to take a hard look at.
As writers we are very creative, but sometimes we’re not as objective to the marketing process as we need to be. I’m not saying you have to design your own covers and graphics. You do however, need to know what the trends are in your category and most importantly, you need to know who your reader is. And make the necessary changes no matter how painful it is.
I write Contemporary Romance with African American Romance as my secondary category. The books in these categories are similar. I looked at the also boughts for the titles I wanted to change and came up with designs I liked. The commonality for both categories was shirtless men or couples. My two most downloaded books have shirtless men wherever possible or a hot couple. Of course there’s an exception to every rule. For me that rule is having a woman on the cover. My third most downloaded book, has a woman on the cover.
My cover design plan included shirtless men, couples, bold fonts and eye catching blurbs.
I’m using stock images right now. I would love to use exclusive images on some of the books, but I first want to see what the reaction is going to be. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with stock images. However, if you can afford to use an exclusive image, do it. Most exclusive images give you a little more latitude in use. If an exclusive image isn’t an option and you can’t find anything you like with one of the stock image sites, there are several free sites with nice images. Some of the free image sites allow for a little more flexibility in use. I’ve used www.unsplash.com and www.pexels.com .
I have been in the creative lab and wanted to share some of the new covers. [These are all stock images from Deposit photos.] I have a little tweaking to do before making these live.
THE FIX UP…
I like the original cover, unfortunately, after a couple of years, the bloom is off the rose. The new cover was originally A Southern Gentleman Vol 2. The new image felt more in tune with the character.
I like the image, but the font is horrible. I’m pretty sure the poor font choice is why this book isn’t moving as well as it should. I opted not to change the image because I might want a new look when I release book two and what a cohesive look.
FIRST ENCOUNTERS OF LOVE…
This was my first boxset. It does fair. However, the image is similar to another one which does well. You’d think this would benefit. However, I think the other image confuses people or makes them think they already bought the box set. I’m going to try something I’ve never done before, a couple. I know the shirtless man does well, I’m hoping the couple does just as well.
Before I finalize a cover, I ask my reader group for feedback and then run test ads on BookBub and Facebook. The one with the best results is the winner.
My plan is to start releasing the new covers this month.
Next month, I’ll share all of the updated covers and talk about my production schedule.
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