Stress, Authorial Version

I’ve been giving some thought to stress lately*, and that has led me to think about the differing sorts of stress that I’ve dealt with in my different careers.  I’ve worked in grocery, in department stores, as a student, and as a teacher/GT specialist. It’s a moderately varied sample of jobs.

As a grocery worker/buyer:

In both of these positions, I was working mostly with things. The required competencies were all about choosing things, handling things, accounting for things. I was a buyer for a couple of department store chains, and that job was mostly about logistics and money concerning the things I purchased.  In grocery, I was a jack of all trades–backup scan-coordinator, assistant bookkeeper, assistant receiving clerk, manager of specialty foods (bulk, oriental, health, dietetic, gourmet).  In each I was dealing with either things or money.

There was a lot of stress in these jobs, a lot of pressure to do well and get everything done, but they were always things.

As a teacher/GT Specialist:

I stepped up to a different level of stress, stress that was all about the future of my students.  My principals put a lot of guilt into that equation, pulling the, “If you don’t do this (in your own time and without pay) then our students will be bereft.”  This is one of the things rampant in teaching, the dreaded Extra Duties as Assigned. 

This became a really stressful situation as they loaded more and more on the teachers. We became the guidance counselors and personal advisors to students. Parents would often hold us responsible for their kids.  I had one grandmother who took me to task when she discovered that her grandson might not graduate, even though she’d never once attended a meeting I’d requested in four years regarding her grandson’s schedule. When I asked her if she hadn’t noticed how many classes he’d failed, she told me that he didn’t show her his report cards. That if it was important, he would have shown her. Yet somehow it was MY fault that he might not graduate.  (FWIW, I later set up two interviews for him to get him into programs that would allow him to graduate. He didn’t bother to show up for either.)

There’s a lot of this in teaching, being given responsibility for others is a very different sort of stress than being given responsibility for things.

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As a writer:

One would think that being a writer is a no stress job. But it’s not.

Because we’re it.

Yes, we have help in the form of editors and publicists and bloggers who kindly pimp our work, but in the end the creation of our art is all on us. We create and then have no idea whether people will like it…let alone buy it.  I produced my novella Iron Shoes, all the time thinking “No one will buy this. It’s too long, and weirdly interstitial.”

We make so many decisions, yet the right decision–like where to publish, promote, or appear, what to spend our precious time on–seems to be elusive, and ine the end, much is out of our control.

[I read a blog post yesterday by a far-more published writer than myself–C. S. Harris–a writer I admire greatly (I’m waiting for her next St. Cyr novel with ‘bated breath!) and was surprised to find her pondering, much as I have been lately, the secret of what publicity actually works. I just wish I had the answer!]

So a lot of the stress of the author job is not that we’re under pressure that deals with things or people, but that like a farmer or small business owner, the next decision can be the one that makes us successful…or causes us to go bust.

This is the stress of uncertainty.

My publisher holds me up and acts as a safety net (yay!), but nothing will mitigate my writing good words or bad ones, making the best of opportunity X or not, or being in the right place at the right time. We can control our actions, but we can’t control the outside world. And because we live on the desire of readers, all we can do is keep working on our end and hope all the pieces fall into place.

It’s the best job in the world, but not without its own version of stress ;o)

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*especially in terms of my situation with hormonal changes I’m having that are acting as stressors. I’ll see my doctor on Monday, and this will be one of the topics of discussion. (TMI, I know….)

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Why ebooks?

On returning from RT, I’ve been posting about costs to authors and which ones they should pursue.  And I’ve been facing a conundrum.

Way back in the dark ages of ebooks (2011), I uploaded all of my available backlist (stories that had already been published somewhere) in the form of ebooks to Smashwords and Amazon.

My intention was to make my backlist available to people who prefer ereaders to hard copy or reading on computer.  They’re actually different readers than the above, so they would often be people who’d never had access to my stories before.

Most of my earlier work is available free somewhere on the internet.  On this webpage I have a navigation bar that includes the link for either SHORT FICTION (which has links to online venues or dead tree venues). And some of the stories that are no longer free in their original venues (like JBU, which requires a subscription), I’ve put them up free via the website itself, listed under FREE FICTION.

The idea has been to make things available.  Accessible.

Yesterday I posted about the covers to three of my ebooks, the Tales from Hawk’s Folly Farm ebooks.  Two are still available in dead tree version (links on SHORT FICTION page.) The third was not previously published.  An author at RT mentioned to me that the covers do not convey the genre, so I’ve been toying with the idea of new covers.

Trio of covers

[I based this design on that of several Regency Romances available at that time. They are now dated, and fail to convey the content of the books.]

When I mentioned this online, trying to get some people’s ideas about how the covers could convey the genre of FANTASY PERIOD HORSE ROMANCE, I had some people tell me rather forcefully that I needed to pay to have covers made. After all, when one self-publishes an ebook, one becomes the publisher as well as the author, and don’t you want your publisher to provide the best cover possible?

It’s an interesting conundrum.

The presupposition here is that my goal is to make money off these.  If it is, then yes, I really need to republish them with new professional covers.

But that’s not really my goal.  I just want them to be available.

I’ve considered putting them all up on Wattpad, but I’m a little concerned by the copyright concerns I’ve heard about over there. And the novellas are seriously too long to put on my webpage. A  few of them are close to 40K, which is far better suited to an ereader.

So I’m contemplating whether it would be better to pay for new covers. Considering the interstitial nature of the genre above, it’s very hard for a cover to convey all four of those things.  I can get premade covers for HORSE ROMANCE. I can get FANTASY ROMANCE w/HORSES, and I can find PERIOD ROMANCE.  Finding all four together in a premade cover has truly proven elusive (particularly when we’re talking about Edwardian period and a heroine with near-white hair.)

To get truly fitting covers, I would have to pay someone to design covers, and that reasonably runs about 200$ each.

Do I want to put that kind of money into ebooks that I never really intended to be an income stream?

(They’re all priced at .99 or FREE, so believe me, they don’t bring in big bucks.)

Anyhow, this is my current conundrum.  I will probably be puttering around with these this time next year.

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(I am, however, reformatting the content, trying to chase away that weird block text issue that I’ve had with Amazon from the very beginning. My most recent upload of Iron Shoes seems to have conquered that.  It’s also FREE on Amazon, so if you open it up and find typos and weird formatting issues, I’d love to hear about them!)

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Dreaming Death Release Date: February 2016

I now have a release date for my fourth book, Dreaming Death.  It is currently scheduled to hit bookshelves (physical and virtual) on February 2, 2016.

Release dates are somewhat fluid, so this might change, but I do hope we’re on schedule for that release.  I can’t show you the cover yet, either, but I’ll tell you that it’s quite different from the Golden City novels, as Dreaming Death is the first book in a new series.

(Psst…I’ll show you a tiny tiny bit….I don’t think that will be too premature…It’s BLUE!)

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Here’s my description from Amazon:

In the Novels of the Golden City, J. Kathleen Cheney created a “mesmerizing” (Publishers Weekly) realm where magic, history, and intrigue combine. Now, she presents a new world ruled by psychic talents and fatal magic…
 
Shironne Anjir’s status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse. Her augmented senses allow her to discover and feel things others can’t, but her talents come with a price: a constant assault of emotions and sensations has left her blind. Determined to use her abilities as best she can, Shironne works tirelessly as an investigator for the Larossan army.
 
A member of the royal family’s guard, Mikael Lee also possesses an overwhelming power—he dreams of the deaths of others, sometimes in vivid, shocking detail, and sometimes in cryptic fragments and half-remembered images.
 
But then a killer brings a reign of terror to the city, snuffing out his victims with an arcane and deadly blood magic. Only Shironne can sense and interpret Mikael’s dim, dark dreams of the murders. And what they find together will lead them into a nightmare…

The book will be coming out in Trade Paperback and Ebook versions at the same time, with a mass market to follow later (I assume.)

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Also, I have to say here that this is my mom’s favorite of my novels.  So that means it’s good. ;o)

There’s a pre-order link on the upper right sidebar, so if you’d like to help out and keep a writer in paper, you can order the book now!  Thanks a million if you do!

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The Social Stigma of Writing Romance Literature

I’ve followed the blog Teach Me Tonight for years now, ever since I accidentally found out they’d cited one of my stories on an academic blog. (Still surprised at that.) It’s a blog primarily dedicated to academic studies of Romance fiction, although there have been some spirited discussions there in the past.

Earlier this week, a summation was published of a study done about the social stigma of writing Romance literature.  This kind of study has been done about Romance Readers before, but this concerns the writer, and that inevitable moment of “Oh, you write…Ro-mance….”

Book with pages forming heart shape

Source: Getty Images

I have been dinged on the romantic elements in my work.  I’m up front about them. Most, although not all, of my published fiction involves a romance of some sort. I like that stuff, and I refuse to cut it out just because some people look down on it.

It’s what I love to write.

But it was interesting to me to see how universal the tendency to either leer or sneer at Romance Writers is.

It’s not going to change any time soon.

E-readers have really freed up the reader from being seen with the lurid covers that people have wanted to hide in the past, but for the writers, it’s still there. When I tells someone I write ‘Romantic Fantasy’, I often follow that up with an explanation that it’s not X.  Or Y.  Because, you know, X and Y are….oh, I guess I do it too.

I’ll have to work on that…

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RT Convention: For the SFF people, let’s talk Money

This will probably be my last post on the RT convention, and I will leave my gentle reader to draw their own conclusions.

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(This photo came off Twitter, and I was unclear on the credits for it.)

I’m going to talk money.

Recall the fortune cookie from the previous entry with its obscure message about spending money to make money? (I think that’s what it meant, at least…) The whole RT convention is an exercise in this.

I’ll put up a rough list here. Because I drove, I have parking expenses instead of paying for airline flights. I also split the hotel room, but had dog boarding* to pay as well (which is not, I understand, tax deductible.)

These numbers are rounded a bit for simplicity, and I’ll assume arriving Tuesday, leaving Sunday

Admission to RT:                                                         489

Payment to do the Book Signing :                               10

Hotel Expense:                                                             480

Parking: 27 per day                                                      135

Food: Let’s call it 50 per day                                        300

Tips: Big hotel, lots of tips                                              50

Total:                               1474

That’s pretty pricey for a con. More than SFF people are accustomed to paying.  In addition to that, I paid 162 to be one of the hostesses of a party (Other members of FF&P-RWA were kind enough to invite me to join.)  My publisher supplied 25 books to give away at that party. That would have cost me a lot if I was providing them myself.

Was it worth it financially?

This is the question we ask after every con, with no way to know the answer.

I frankly don’t know if it will pay off as opposed to, say, World Fantasy Con. I did get to meet some great Urban Fantasy authors that I haven’t before. I got to meet Mary Balogh, of whom I’m a fan.  But did I meet enough readers to make a positive impression? That I can’t say.

I will say that I think I would have done better if I’d gotten on some panels. I was too late to do that, honestly.  In addition, there were some meet and greet venues that I also found out about too late, although several authors told me that they didn’t do those.

As I noted back on Tuesday, WOM is the best promotion of all, so I hope that a few read my books and like them.  That would be the best result.

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The most interesting thing about this is that there are readers–hundreds of them–who do this year after year. That’s a fascinating phenomenon to me.  They go wherever the convention goes.  It’s their Superbowl.

That was an eyeopener to me.  And it’s kinda cool ;o)

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ETA: *Dog Boarding was 440, which pretty much thrust this con over 2,000 for me. :(

RT15 Swag Summary + Apt Fortune Cookies

I’ve returned from the Romantic Times Convention in DFW, and after a week of considering promotions, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First of all, I can offer my own evidence:
100_2204I went to the con with about 250 pens, came back with 63. In fact, I’ve actually told a bookseller and a couple of librarians that I would send them some, so I’ve already ordered MORE PENS.

I probably gave away about 150 bookmarks, 100 of which went into the bags at the Mad Hatter party (in other words, I forced them onto people rather than people taking them.) I will need more, as I’ve offered to mail some to, once again, a bookseller and some librarians.

The business cards didn’t do as well. Other authors suggested that a) they needed to have a ‘fantasy’ element on the cover. They also needed to say FREE EBOOK somewhere, which I’d left off because I can’t guarantee that Amazon will continue the price match.

So over all, I think that my pens were most successful, and since they’re pens, people are likely to hang onto them.

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I have a degree in marketing, and I know that there are two important aspects to any form of promotion: 1) people have to look at it and remember it, and 2) people have to recall who or what it was intended to advertise. There are plenty of commercials on TV that people adore, but the viewers can’t recall what they were advertizing.

I’m trying to apply those principles to my promotional choices, and invest my promo dollars wisely.

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So what do I think works?

Pens will be kept, and people cannot escape what they advertise.  Another item that I adored was these: lens wipes.

100_2192I have these courtesy of Jenna Black (whose book I bought), Julie Kenner (I’ve already read those), and INscribe Digital. The lens wipes run about 50% higher than pens, but they are things that people will keep and use. They start around 60-65 cents each, making them pricey, but perhaps they’re worth it if they’ll keep a name in front of potential customers.  (FWIW, you can chose not to put them on swag tables, but if you put them on the table during a panel, people will come up and take one, thereby giving you a chance to make a connection.)

Oddly, I received this fortune cookie last night, which seemed apt to this situation.

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(OK, it’s a bit cryptic. Or perhaps it’s simply an example of poor grammar.)

Other ‘keepers’ that have been suggested to me are notepads and notebooks. Again, these are more expensive. Also, some have said that buttons work, but they need to be distinctive. In other words, they should be traceable back to the author somehow. There was a really clever one floating around RT, but I have no idea what company or author gave it away, so it was a wasted effort.

Oddly, here’s an inexpensive one that I thought was great:

These are packs of beechies chewing gum (2 per box.) The author here, Samantha Chase, informed me that these were only a few cents each (from Oriental Trading) and she affixed the labels herself. (They are reproductions of her covers.)

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While this particular box will get thrown away (I threw mine away), it served as a fantastic conversation starter, and I saw her engage with readers and end up giving them other things.  So I think that little candies/gum can be a great starter as long as the writer is present.  (In other words, not the best for a swag table.)

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Some final notes here: someone noted that different venues do better with different swag.  For example, bookmarks are great for libraries and booksellers. Not as great as other things at cons, it seems.

A bookseller told me that Romance readers want a bookmark small enough to fit entirely inside the book. SFF readers will take a larger bookmark (like mine.) Having looked at a lot of bookmarks there, I think she’s correct about that. Therefore, I’m contemplating making mine smaller next time.

I am going to look into lens wipes, notepads, buttons, and a few other smaller things.  Just so you know I have been paying attention this week ;o)

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However, I will remind everyone that NOTHING works as well as old-fashioned Word of Mouth. I would give up all of the above if only Oprah, Ellen, or Brad Pitt would mention my books. Or NPR. Or nice readers on Facebook and Twitter….that’s what really works best in the long run.

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Mad Hatter Party at RT15 (Still about the promo)

Among other things, I’m a member of two RWA chapters and via one of those, I was invited to participate in one of the events at this con, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (for Fantasy Romance writers).

Now first of all, I need to specify that I did none of the back-breaking organization involved in this. That fell to the other hostesses who made arrangements with RT, arranged for decorations and cookies and all the goodies and handled all the monies. (All the authors contributed to help cover the cost.)

In addition, my publicist arranged for me to have 25 copies of The Golden City to give away there!

The other authors and I got together at 3:30 to start decorating for a 5:00 party. (BY THE WAY, by 3:30 there were already people waiting to be in the first 100 to get into the party and thus get a goody bag and a free book from one of the authors.) We ran around like chickens with our heads cut off setting up the tables:

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Each party goer was also given a trivia challenge.

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Here are the lovely Tameri Etherton and Debra Kristi, two of my co-hostesses (see table of freebie books in the back.) Notice their cool hats….I has a sad that I don’t have hats.  I must work on that.

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And here’s a full line-up of the hostesses -before- we get started:

From left to right: Debra Kristi, Tameri Etherton, Grace Draven, Elizabeth Hunter, Mina Khan, Rebekah Ganiere, L. H. Nicole, (ME..with NO HAT :(…) and the charming Jeffe Kennedy (who is the queen of hats!)
2015-05-13 14.57.39At the appointed hour, we started letting people in, where they each got a ‘goody bag’ full of swag and chose a free book from one of the authors.  Since I’m new to this type of con, I was gratified that anyone took my book.  I got this shot below on my phone, though, and only realized this morning that two of the ladies there are, indeed, looking at The Golden City!!!!!   (see the shameless arrowage)

Mad Hatter Party

The event was packed, we had fun with the trivia game, and all the books were snabbled up. I was actually asked to sign several and got to talk to a bunch of readers, plus I also signed my “Penguin Passport” for several of the guests as well.

So over all, I was extremely pleased, which makes the busty author do this: big cheesy grin.  
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So thanks to all the readers and guests that came, thanks to the other FF&P-RWA Fantasy Romance authors who let me participate, to my publicist and publisher who helped provide the swag, and to Diana Pharoah Francis (my con roomie and all-around amazing author) for helping out and taking all these pics!

It was a blast!

(And as a final note for the SFF con comparison and Romance con comparison aspect, this was held in a banquet room from 5-6PM, unlike genre con parties which are held in hotel rooms from 9PM-4AM. Also, the RT people told us we could go ahead and leave and THEY cleaned everything up afterward. That doesn’t happen at a genre con.)

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