Quotas and Goals

When I wrote my first self-published novel Into the Badlands, I simply worked on it when the mood hit. I wrote most days, but not every day, and I had no real sense of how much I was getting accomplished day to day or week to week. Over the course of 210 days I wrote 84,000 words. That’s around 400 words per day.

My next book, The Desolate, was written in a similar fashion. Over the course of 120 writing days I wrote a 70,000 word first draft. That’s 583 words per day. Better, but not great.

My latest novel, Beyond the Badlands (the follow up to Into the Badlands) has seen 114 writing days so far. It’s nearly completed now, sitting at 105,000 words. That works out to 921 words per day.

You can see the trend here: I’ve more than doubled my daily word count since my first novel.

There are some reasons for this. For one thing I’m a better writer now. I can write more, faster. But that only goes so far. I was a little better when I wrote my second novel, but it was written at a pace only slightly faster than the first novel.

The secret is the daily quota.

I’ve set a daily quota of 1,000 words for myself. I’m not quite hitting it, but you can see here that I’m pretty damn close with this latest book. That word count is always nagging at me, each and every day I wake up. I know that if I don’t make my quota for the day then I’m going to be playing catch up over the weekend. If I don’t put in the extra work to get caught up then my release date will slide.

But the daily word count is a means to an end. The real end is the finished novel. So when I project out my year, I see it as 365 days. Using 90,000 words as the average novel, that means I can finish the first draft in three months. Add in another two months for revisions and another month with the manuscript out to the editor and I’ve just written and published a book in six months. That’s my ideal time frame.

If you took my 90,000 words and averaged them over six months instead of three months, you’re not going to get 1,000 words per day. But the 1,000 word per day quota is necessary for me to write and publish a book in six months. So the quota isn’t a mindlessly ubiquitous daily word count for the entire year, it’s a purposeful number required for a period of time in support of the larger deliverable: the novel.

Your goals and your counts will vary. That’s not the point. The point is, if you figure out what you want to produce and how long it will (actually) take you to produce it – and then stick to those quotas – you’re likely to see an increase like the doubling in word count I did.

If you’ve been at the writing game for some time, then this is something you probably already know. But if you’re fairly new to the game like me, then maybe this shift in thinking will be helpful for you. This year I’ll publish two novels instead of one, simply because I use my time more wisely now. And since books sell books, having more books available is a good thing.

Elegy Publishing

printingpressI’m not sure if it’s the six Miller High Life I just drank or if it’s maybe that my near-complete separation from Facebook and all the other frenetic bullshit of the world has brightened my mood, but I’m here to talk about something I recently did that I’m pretty excited about.

I’ve been self-publishing for about a year and a half now. I started out slow in late 2011, peaked in January 2012, watched the post-Christmas drop with trepidation before realizing I was caught up in a cycle I was too green to realize. Sales went up in the summer and fall and then, to be frank, kicked ass December 2012 and January/February 2013 (and have been pretty damn good in March too).

I kept expecting people to just stop buying my books, but they haven’t. And I just keep writing them. Since folks seem interested in keeping up that business model I decided to make it official.

Enter Elegy Publishing.

Elegy Publshing is an LLC that I registered with the state of Missouri. EP is the publishing arm of me, Brian J. Jarrett. Brian J. Jarrett writes the books, Elegy Publishing gets them into ebook and print.

Of course it’s me, but not exactly. Starting an LLC has a few advantages:

  • If someone decides to sue me then I have some limited liability. They can possibly take the business’ assets, but not mine. I’m not too worried about, but there is that.
  • It says to readers that I give a fuck about quality. By going through all the trouble of running an actual business (a federal tax ID, a business checking account, a business PayPal account, etc) it means that I care about the quality of the books I write. I run a publishing company and I care about what it produces.
  • It also allows me, Brian J. Jarrett, to focus on writing as its own thing, separate from the business. When I’m not writing I mentally switch hats and look at things through Elegy Publishing’s goggles. I can mentally separate the roles, allowing me to compartmentalize the time accordingly. I pay my editor and proofreader now from the business’s checking account, as well as my cover art licenses and any other business expenses.
  • I might also be able to publish other authors in the future.

With all my business expenses separated it really makes things feel like a true business. I’m considering producing an audio version of Into the Badlands, published through Elegy Publishing. It’s a business investment. You wouldn’t believe how having separate banking accounts legitimizes one’s writing as a true business.

Setting up an LLC is pretty easy. Missouri’s website allowed me to do everything online. I was also able to get a Federal tax ID online as well. I had to change all my self-publishing accounts (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, CreateSpace, etc.) to now deposit royalties to my new business bank account. All but Barnes and Noble were easy peasy. I think it cost me less than $100 to get all the paperwork, open a business checking account and buy checks.

So if you’re serious about self-publishing as a business you might want to consider starting an LLC. While there are some legal advantages I think the mental separation of the writing and the publishing tasks helps the self-publisher keep the two processes separate.

There’s tremendous value in that, at least in my opinion.

Enlightenment

To me, enlightenment is just a fancy way of saying you’ve figured shit out.

I won’t claim to have figured everything in life out (which is impossible), but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I turned 39 this month and I’m in a much better place mentally than I was ten or even five years ago. I’ve learned how to avoid some major distractions and I’ve learned some techniques for calming my mind and sparking creativity.

Since this is taking away writing time, I’ll get right to it. Remember, these are my opinions and your experiences and opinions may differ.

1. KILL FACEBOOK

Seriously, this has done wonders for me. I wasn’t even a heavy user, but giving it up has given me back not only time, but my sanity. All those people, rambling about all kinds of shit, almost none of it relevant to me or my writing. Sure, set up a fan page. Check it once a week. Respond to comments where appropriate. Engage your fans via the fan page. But reading page after page of meaningless status updates and political/religious rant-posts is counter-productive. Not only does it rob you of your time, it also upsets your brain and blocks the creative process.

Kill Facebook, take back your time, and write your books. Make your art.

2. STOP FRANTICALLY CHECKING SALES

Sales will come. Or they won’t. Checking them won’t change that. A couple times a week isn’t too bad. Once a week, even better. Once a month is probably best. Sales are a distraction from your story, a reason to fret over the smallest things you can’t really control. If you’re tweaking pricing or blurbs you probably don’t want to change those more than once a month anyway. Tweak it then leave it alone for a month. Get back to writing in the meantime.

3. STOP READING YOUR REVIEWS

Seriously stop this. Believe me, I know it’s hard to resist, but they don’t help. Use beta readers to vet your work before you publish. These are people whose opinions you trust; they’ll tell you when they like your story and, more importantly, when they don’t. Take their feedback into consideration and then write the best book you can FOR YOURSELF.

Reader reviews don’t give you anything tangible on which to act. Often the reviews are conflicting, which is even worse because it’s confusing and you don’t know how to “fix” it so everyone likes it. Truth is, you can’t make everyone like  it, so stop trying. For example I received a review saying my book was “confusing” while another review claimed it was “easy to follow”. In another review someone said the book was “hopeless” while another reviewer liked that the book had “an underlying theme of hope”. WTF??? THIS DOES ME NO GOOD AS A WRITER. I can’t act on anything in these reviews. They’re just a distraction, taking me away from writing.

Stop reading your reviews. Write your book, vet it with your TRUSTED beta readers and then unleash it upon the world. At most the average star rating might be useful (and even that’s debatable). Stop worrying about what every little John Q. Public thinks about it.

4. SEVER YOUR TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS

Get away from those people who are driving you mad. If you can’t get away from them, figure out how to tune them out. Hell, a lot of them are probably on Facebook, so following tip #1 will fix that. If they’re not making you happy, then you’re not in the frame of mind to write your book. Get those people off your radar and focus on your art. Are you better off dealing with their bullshit, or writing your book? Ask yourself that question.

5. SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE

We all do things that require a portion of our time. I used to tinker with computers a lot, building servers, taking computers apart, installing and configuring operating systems, all that kind of stuff. I don’t do any of that now. Why? Because I don’t have time. My wife and my kids and my close friends are my “good” distractions, so I spend my time on them. That other stuff? Well, it’s not more rewarding than writing. By getting rid of these other complexities and time vampires in my life I have more time to write.

6. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH CREATIVITY

While writing, I often listen to music that inspires me to be creative. I prefer movies that make me think and make me want to be a better storyteller. I like artwork that’s different, unique, even odd, stuff that I don’t see every day. You never know what kind of art is going to inspire your next killer idea. Immersing yourself in it makes it more likely to happen.

7. SUBSCRIBE TO BLOGS WITH HELPFUL CONTENT

Instead of Facebook, try subscribing to blogs. There are many writers out there with lots of good advice on the craft and the business. Anecdotes, opinions, philosophies…all these things can be helpful on your path to “enlightenment”. Stay away from the haters and the jealous types; they’re no help at all. Look for writers who want to share their experiences in order to bring others up, not the writers who want to get ahead by pushing others down. Artists shouldn’t be competing with each other. Our only competition is with ourselves. Anybody who doesn’t get that isn’t worth your time.

So there you have it, my advice on getting yourself on the path to enlightenment. Or, as I like to call it, one step closer to figuring shit out. I think if you can do some of these things that your life will be a little better and you’ll probably be more productive. If nothing else I hope this sparks some thought and serves as a springboard on developing your own thoughts and opinions around what can make you a better writer (and maybe even a happier person).

I wish you happy writing and happy living.

“The Desolate” and KDP Select

When I published my horror novel, The Desolate, near the end of July I purposely opted it out of KDP Select. Kobo’s Writing Life platform had just gone live and I wanted to give it a try. I also wanted to give Smashwords, Sony, Apple, and Barnes & Noble another chance. After opting both of my other books into KDP Select back in February of 2012 I’d been exclusive to Amazon for the better part of the year. I thought maybe things had changed with the competition while I was away.

Well, it seems things are pretty much the same outside of Amazon.

After nearly three months on the market, 90% of The Desolate‘s sales were through Amazon. That left 10% to be shared across all other reader platforms combined. It sold 2 copies on Smashwords before that channel went dead. 1 copy sold on Kobo, but they won’t pay out until I accumulate $100 in sales. At that rate my grandchildren might see that money. Barnes and Noble’s Nook platform performed the best out of all the non-Amazon channels, selling a whopping 11 copies. And after nearly three months Sony still didn’t have the book available in their store for sale.

So I decided to give KDP Select a chance with The Desolate and see how it fared. Continue reading

Sockpuppets

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about sockpuppets. It appears some writers are buying fake reviews to bolster their sales while others are creating fake personas to give themselves glowing reviews. Even worse, some are creating sockpuppets to attack their rivals.

While I’m not signing any petitions or sanctimoniously staking claim to some sort of unique piety, I figured this is as good a time as any to let folks know how I operate when it comes to reviews and my peers.

First off, I don’t solicit reviews. Not that I haven’t considered it, but when I did it just seemed like a bad idea. I figured solicited reviews would come off as sounding faked and I want the review system to carry at least some weight.

That’s not to say people I know haven’t reviewed my work. They have, I just never asked them to. So if another writer leaves a good review for any of my work, I’m going to assume they enjoyed it. And I do have some two and three star reviews out there that I hope will help to give folks a well-rounded view of my work. Not everyone likes what I write and there’s nothing wrong with that. Continue reading

One Year In

Nearly one year ago (actually about 358 days) I published my debut novel, Into the Badlands. I started out with the modest expectation that I’d sell 50 copies in the first year. I set a goal of selling 100 copies in the first year, though I found that a stretch.

One year in, Into the Badlands has sold over 5,000 copies.

To say I’m surprised would be the understatement of the year. I’m still flabbergasted by this brilliant stroke of timing and luck. It’s changed my life. I’m living a dream I never thought possible.

I’ve sold over 5,400 books including my short story collection and my newest novel, The Desolate, which has been on sale for about a month or so. I’m overwhelmed with the knowledge that so many readers have taken a chance on me. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for. Continue reading

My Brand

Over the past few years I’ve grown a lot.

I shook off years of low self-esteem, finally realizing that I deserved the same things in life that everyone else deserved.

I’ve learned that more “stuff” doesn’t bring more happiness.

I’ve learned that pre-occupation with negative thoughts and ideas were wasting my valuable time and were making me unhappy.

I’ve discovered that most folks are motivated by fear and that this drives much of their bad behavior.

I’ve deconstructed much of what I was taught as universal truths to determine if they’re truly valuable to me anymore (or if they ever were).

In short, I’m changing. Continue reading