27 June 2012

The Difficult Decision NOT To Publish

I've been talking about, and working toward, self-publishing my first novel, Sorry's Not Enough, this fall. I've done a lot of research, learned a whole lot of things, tried my hand at creating an ebook cover, put my novel through several beta readers, and agonized over every word. My plan was to put together a few short stories as a collection to release for free a few weeks before publishing the novel, as a sort of teaser for people new to my writing. While doing all this, I was going to continue working on my WIP, Confessions of a Non-Believer, a commercial women's fiction story with a bit of religious debate. And THEN, when that was done, I would start writing my erotica series during the time it took to seek representation for Confessions, while hopefully making decent self-pub sales with Sorry's Not Enough. That was the plan, and I've put in a lot of work, so this post may come as a surprise.

I will not be self-publishing Sorry's Not Enough.

And no, it's not because I got an agent or anything like that. I will also not continue working on Confessions right now. I may tinker with it here and there, but it won't be my priority. This is a hard thing to say, because on some level I feel like I'm abandoning the love of my life. I love both of these stories, and it does hurt a little bit to say "Sorry, but I have to set you aside."

Anatomy of a decision

I'm not dropping out of the writing game. What I am doing is carefully selecting my career path. It has been in the back of my mind for a while that I have two separate audiences for my work. The dream would be that my fans would be my fans no matter my genre, but realistically I know that the audience for my women's fiction and the audience for my erotica are two separate market segments. There will be some overlap in the customer base, but sustaining a career in one or both genres means different marketing plans and, most importantly, a steady supply of new material for fans of EACH genre. My FTWA colleague Sophie Perinot wrote about author branding and genre in a post last August that really spoke to me. I think I've been mulling this over on a subconscious level ever since.

The bottom line in Sophie's post, and the reality of publishing, is that you will most likely mold your writing career around the genre you debut in. At least for a while. I'm sure you've all heard the saying by now that the best marketing for one book is to write (and publish) your next book. A solid career track depends on a writer being able to deliver a steady supply of writing that the readers are eager to gobble up. So it doesn't make sense to debut in one genre, then switch to another. Like I said, you might get some readers who follow you from one genre to another, but you'll essentially have to re-market and re-brand yourself to a new readership in the new genre. Career-wise, it just isn't a smart move. At least not for me.

Which is why my commercial women's fiction projects have to take a back seat while I focus on erotica.

I've had this idea for my erotica series for a couple years now, but I've always been waiting to finish (and hopefully land an agent/publishing deal) with the women's fiction first. Probably because that was the order in which the ideas came to me. If I am truly honest with myself, though, trying to break into the publishing world with my women's fiction is a BAD idea. Why? Because SNE and Confessions are the only two women's fiction manuscripts I have, and I don't currently have any ideas for more. Nor has any viable idea come to me in the past two years. All of the other awesome ideas I have are for erotic stories, starting with this series. The series idea was just a nebulous collection of scenarios in my head at first, nothing too concrete, so I kept working on Confessions. But now the idea is more fully formed and screaming to be written.

There's also another reason I'm shifting my focus to erotica: timing. I have a sense that right now - like, YESTERDAY! - is a prime time to launch my career as an erotic novelist. No matter how much I, or anyone, may dislike Fifty Shades of Grey for whatever reason, it has thrust erotica into the mainstream limelight. Do I think there's better erotica out there? Of course. I hope that mine can be counted in the better quality category. We'll have to wait and see on that. But there's a buzz around the genre right now, and it seems like there's no better time to step onto the stage and try to make a name for myself. The fact that this is happening now, and that my series concept has finally gelled into something I'm finally prepared to write, now, is immense stroke of luck. I mean honestly... the timing! I feel if I put it off any longer, I'll miss out on a great opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not hopping on a bandwagon. I've been interested in erotica for a long time now, and I've written short stories, and the idea for the novel came to me a couple years ago. Erotica has also been a very healthy genre, sales-wise, way before the 50 Shades explosion, especially in the indie and self-publishing realm. But now is just the right time for me. How can I say no?

But can't you just use a pen name for one genre and do both at the same time? Or even if you don't use a pen name, can't you STILL self-publish like you were planning to and also write erotica?

As I already mentioned, it just doesn't make career sense for me. Even if I use a pen name to keep the marketing/genre stuff separate, I'll still only have two viable women's fiction manuscripts. Why self-publish one, seek representation for another (or self-pub both), and then have nothing else in the pipeline? I feel I'd be doing a disservice not only to my readers, but to myself and those two stories. If I (fingers crossed!) build a readership and fan base with my erotica and it doesn't look like I'll have any more women's fiction stuff to offer down the line, maybe then I'd consider self-publishing SNE and Confessions as a little something extra to offer my readers. I think I'd have better luck getting fans of my erotica to read my non-erotic titles than vice versa. Not sure why. Just a hunch I have.

Even disregarding all of the above, I still couldn't do both. I. Just. Can't. Recently I did an interview for Matt Sinclair at The Elephant's Bookshelf (publisher of the Spring Fevers anthology) and he asked whether I tend to work on multiple projects, or one at a time. In hindsight I realized just how much my answer foreshadowed this very decision:
I attempt multiple projects, but usually I end up not making much progress on any. For several weeks now, I've been stuck in the "thinking and scheming" frame of mind for about three different projects. I have to buckle down soon and start focusing on one first, then another, so I can actually get something accomplished.
I simply don't have it in me to write this erotica novel in a timely manner while also trying to focus on self-publishing my first novel and all that comes with that - marketing, blog tours, monitoring sales, etc. And forget about trying to write the erotica, self-publish SNE, AND keep working on Confessions.  I get anxious just thinking about it.

I'm indecisive. It's one of my flaws. I'm paralyzed by choice. Having to consider and manage all aspects of writing two projects and publishing a third is just too much. In discussing this decision with a friend yesterday, I told him I have this thing where I have a hard time problem-solving by just taking things one step at a time. I see things in a very interconnected way, and when I consider even one option, I can't help but also see the myriad possibilities branching out from it, like a choose-your-own adventure on crack. While this ability is actually an immense bonus to me working in retail environments, it is crippling in my writing life. If I let it get the best of me, I'll end up doing what I've been doing for the past three months: wasting time on Facebook and Twitter or staring at mindless drivel on TV because the magnitude of so many choices, so many potential actions, results, and consequences is overwhelming.

This has been a gut-wrenchingly difficult decision. Partially because I've been saying I'm going to self-publish this book for a good while now, and seemingly at the last minute I'm pulling the plug. I don't like saying I'm going to do something and then not doing it, no matter the reason. Makes me feel like a flake. (Thank you to all my Twitter friends and the #goatposse for assuring me I am not a flake.) I'm not sure what else has made it so difficult for me... probably a little soul-searching and psychological analysis to be done there, but I won't bore you with that. :-)

I hope that by sharing my decision with you, maybe someone else who feels like they're floundering without direction or struggling with a decision that's been eating at them for a while will find the courage to really examine themselves and their goals. Writing is art, and I want to write the stories that I want to write. But I also want this to be a career, which means making tough calls about what I should be writing at any given moment. And sometimes it means going with your gut, even when you aren't sure, like me.

What's the hardest writing career decision you've had to make? How did you know you were making the right choice?

25 June 2012

Round Robin Blogvel: Bloom, Chapter 4

Do you remember The Skeleton Key from last year? It was a Round Robin Blogvel (traveling blog novel) co-written by various authors, engineered by the awesome Michelle over at Greenwoman. (Click the tab at the top of this page to revisit The Skeleton Key.) Well, she's done it again! This summer's Round Robin Blogvel is called Bloom, and you can get the full table of contents here and follow along from the beginning. Chapter 3 was at Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, and Chapter 5 will be up next week at Report From a Fugitive.

Chapter Four

I lift the wad of toilet paper and peek at the cut on my palm. The tissue is spotted with red and gold, like some sort of bizarre Mardi Gras favor.

“Has it stopped bleeding?” Gran asks.

“I think so.” Specks of dried blood cling to the torn edges of skin. They flake away like gold foil when I brush at them. A little too rough, though, and the cut opens up again on one end, deep red blood pushing to the surface in a tiny bead. 

Maybe we imagined the gold. Me and Gran both. Could we have imagined the metallic rivulet dripping from the cut? 

Doubtful. And anyway, I can't ignore the evidence on the tissue balled up in my fist.

Gran stands before me, her already-wrinkled brow creased even deeper in concentration. Her lips move slightly as though she's reciting a prayer, though she's never been particularly religious.


She doesn't blink, but her gaze shifts to the ceiling and the metallic roots and vines that continue to invade the house from my bedroom above. And she keeps silently whispering. I wish I could read lips.

“We can take some of the leaves and sell the gold for cash. It'll be more than enough to fix up the house.” The waver in my voice belies my confidence. How would we explain the mysterious plants to a contractor? This stupid metal flower is going to destroy the house my parents grew up in, and it's all my fault. Hot tears sting my eyes. Gran is still whispering. “We can rebuild it. Or just buy a new house if we have to. There's enough gold to—”

“What? No, child.” She snaps out of her trance and picks up her sweater from the armchair. She always has a sweater, even on the hottest summer days. “Show me where they came from. I need to see.”

We head for the back door.

“I found them the other day, just off the trail. Near where it splits before the stream. Have you seen this before?” I look to her for answers, but she's silent. “They grow so fast. The second time I went they—”

I stop. The second time I went, there was someone close behind. I can't take Gran into the woods. It's not safe. It could've been a dog I heard in the woods. Or the wind. Or even just my imagination. But something in the back of my mind is telling me it isn't safe to go back there. Not with Gran, who won't be able to run if we need to.

“Why don't you just look at the ones up in my room? It's all the same stuff.”

“I've seen those. Now let's go. Why are you just standing there?” She turns to me with a steely gaze. I can almost see a glint of bronze in her eyes, like the mysterious metallic plants. “I must see them where they live. You know as well as I do that plants behave differently in the wild.”

I may as well have sprouted my own roots, planted as I am to my spot on the floor. I don't know why, or how, but I know it's not safe for Gran out there.

“I have pictures! I took a lot of pictures when I was out there.” Jamie likes to make fun of me for taking my camera everywhere. I'll never let his teasing bother me again now that my obsessive camera-hauling means I don't have to put Gran in danger.

“Well go on, get your camera then.” She swishes me along with her sweater. “Hurry.”

The urgency in her voice scares me. Like she knows more than I do. I dash upstairs and grab my camera, then take the stairs two at a time on the way back down, narrowly avoiding tripping and breaking my neck. Weird metal flowers turning trees to gold and invading my bedroom, but it'll be the freaking plain oak stairs that do me in if I’m not careful.

Slow down, Jessica! My mom was constantly scolding me that way as a child. I haven't heard her voice in a while, though.

I thrust the camera into Gran's hands and show her the button to push to scroll through the 127 pictures I took the other day. She's quiet as she looks. She's always quiet, but man is she really quiet today. It's unnerving. I pace the floor in front of her. After a moment, she places the camera on the table by the back door.

“Does anyone else know about this?” she asks.

“I—I don't think so. I didn't tell anyone. What is it? Do you know what they are?”

“No. Not exactly.” She takes my hands in hers.

“We should make Jamie come home. I bet he could help us figure this out.” I suppose being an evil genius would come in handy at a time like this. He'd probably figure out a way to grow and harvest the gold plants for money. We'd be rich.

“No.” She squeezes my hands. “No. You cannot tell your brother about this, do you hear me?”

“But if anyone can—” The strength of her grip makes me falter.

“Do you understand me, Jessica?”

“Gran, you're hurting me.” The cut on my palm has opened the whole way, and warm sticky blood seeps from it, coating my hand and my grandmother's fingertips. It burns.

“He cannot know of this. Tell me you understand!”

“Okay, okay. I understand! Please, let go...” We both look down at our hands simultaneously.

This time there's no imagining it. I’m bleeding again, but it's not blood. At least it doesn't look like blood. It shimmers. Liquid gold. Gran lets go of my hand and stumbles back toward the staircase, her eyes wide and mouth open in a surprised O. Instead of dripping to the floor, my blood – or whatever it is – flows the other way, up her fingers. It seems to evaporate the farther it flows, as though it's seeping into her skin.

She sits with a thud on the stairs and looks from her hand, to me, and back again. When the last of the liquid disappears, Gran's hand drops to her lap and she slumps backward.

“Gran?” I approach slowly. What was that? What just happened? “Gran... can you hear me?”

I drop to my knees beside her, but she still doesn't move. She's so still, like she's...

“Gran!” I shake her shoulders, but no response. Her head rolls to the side and her wide eyes meet mine. Except they aren't brown anymore. They're gold. Moving, swirling gold. What have I done?

My hear nearly explodes from my chest when I hear the raspy breath pass through her lips. Once. Then again. She's breathing! But what am I supposed to do now?


I whirl around at the sound of my name to see a woman standing in the doorway.