#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Crowdfunding

If there’s any one thing I’m grateful to the internet for, it’s the rise of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. And no, I’m not just saying that because my Kickstarter campaign for Moonshadow’s Guardian is 112% funded – I’m saying it because crowdfunding has transformed what it means to be a creative professional.

I first became aware of Kickstarter when Amanda Palmer raised over one million dollars on the platform. I was immediately intrigued, but I was still in the early stages of editing my books and I didn’t have a stable income, so for a while I forgot about the platform.

Kickstarter entered my sphere of awareness again in 2014, when the tech education non-profit I worked for, STEAMLabs, raised $20,000 on Kickstarter to purchase equipment. By then Kickstarter had become something of a phenomenon and raised millions of dollars for creative and business endeavors across many different industries. Working with STEAMLabs, I saw what raising that money looked like from the ground floor, and what crowdfunded money could accomplish.

It should be noted that there are several other crowdfunding sites, including publishing-specific sites like Inkshares, but my experience is exclusively with Kickstarter, so we’ll focus on that.

Making games with Kickstarter

In 2014 I also discovered the plethora of creative projects going live on Kickstarter every day. I quickly became addicted to funding Kickstarter campaigns, and eventually I discovered the campaign for Tiny Frontiers by Gallant Knight Games. I backed the project, interviewed GKG’s founder, and made a friend.

If you believe that luck is success meets preparation, this interview was a stroke of luck. I developed a friendship with Alan, and that grew into the opportunity to work on Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters, Tiny Frontiers: Revision, Tiny Dungeon: Second Edition, and most recently Tiny Wastelands.

Every single one of these games was funded on Kickstarter. Crowdfunding is possibly the most reliable way to make an indie game now, with some of these campaigns seeing enormous success. I’ve had a lot of fun working on these indie games, and learned an enormous amount from watching Gallant Knight Games consistently beat their goals.

Watching publishers on Kickstarter

Last year the publisher for Keeper of the Dawn, The Book Smugglers, raised over $24,000 to expand their publishing endeavors. I had seen small publishers and author groups crowdfund anthologies, but I had never seen any publishing project earn such an enormous amount of money. I was newly inspired, and although I had no delusions of hitting the same level of funding, I gained the confidence to believe that I could crowdfund Moonshadow’s Guardian.

Creating my crowdfunding campaign

Several months ago I buckled down and began working on everything I needed to build a successful campaign. I spent several days researching every science fiction and fantasy book published through Kickstarter, and compiled a list of crowdfunding essentials:

  • A brilliant cover – This is something every book needs, and if you’re crowdfunding, you need to have it before you start the campaign. Despite the old saying, everyone judges a book by its cover. Make sure you’ve got the right one the first time.
  • A strong blurb – Your blurb needs to sell people on your book before they’ll commit to your campaign. Study blurbs in your genre, write your own, and get feedback from a variety of people before you finalize it. You need to hook people right away.
  • A clear set of rewards – Most backers won’t just donate because they like you. They’re interested in the rewards you’re offering. Make sure you’re 100% clear about the rewards in your campaign description and the actual backer sign up area, and that you don’t promise anything you can’t actually provide.
  • A clear budget breakdown – You need this to make sure you’re raising the right amount of money, and to show your backers what their money is going toward.
  • A schedule of guest appearances – Your existing audience will be a significant portion of your backers, but you’ll need to put your campaign in front of some new eyeballs too. I’ve planned at least two guest appearances for every week of my campaign, including taking over several Twitter chats.

All four of these things went through several iterations before I launched my campaign last month. I got feedback from several different people on both the cover and the blurb, and found several kindhearted authors willing to donate copies of their books as rewards. I wrote several guest blog posts, and planned to release a series of excerpts from my worldbuilding notes to build excitement.

And last week, Moonshadow’s Guardian hit 100% funded, with nine days left to go! There are three days left in the campaign, and Moonshadow’s Guardian is now 112% funded. All of my hard work paid off, and now I get to bring Moonshadow’s Guardian out on my ideal schedule, not a schedule based on when I could actually afford it.

Should you crowdfund your book?

Crowdfunding is something you should only consider if you have a strong community willing to rally around your book. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as I have without the readers who loved Keeper of the Dawn, and I definitely wouldn’t have raised the money so quickly (I’ve actually been sitting at roughly 90% funded since last Friday) without the books other indie authors agreed to donate.

To be honest, even with that community, I still wouldn’t crowdfund your book unless you absolutely have to. If I believed I could fund professional-quality publication of Moonshadow’s Guardian this year on my own, I would be doing it that way. Having a Kickstarter before your release is essentially launching your book twice. It’s a lot of work, even for a modest goal like my $1500. Work I could be putting toward the actual release, or the sequel.

But my resources are limited, so I turned to the crowdfunding community. And I’m grateful to have that option.

Have you ever considered crowdfunding your book? Why/why not?

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

About the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

This article is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community.

Why I’m self publishing my second book (and how YOU can help)

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Moonshadows_Guardian_blog_sizeLast week I launched a Kickstarter campaign for self publishing Moonshadow’s Guardian, my second book. I made the decision to self publish, and to run this Kickstarter to fund professional editing, over a year ago. Today I’d like to explain why.

Why I chose to self publish Moonshadow’s Guardian

My first book, Keeper of the Dawn, is traditionally published by a small press. When I decided to publish my second book, Moonshadow’s Guardian, many people had a question for me: why self publish when you know you can get traditionally published?

This question often has good intentions behind it, but it’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Despite how far self publishing has come, these people still believe it’s a last resort. They fail to see that self published authors aren’t just publishing books, they’re making a living, often a much better one than traditionally published authors with comparative sales.

Explaining my decision over and over again is exhausting, so I’ve decided to share all the reasons why I’m self publishing here:

1. I control the timeline

The main reason I’m self publishing Moonshadow’s Guardian is that it gives me full control of the timeline. Big publishers typically take two or three years to get a book from signed to published. Most small publishers take one year to get a book from the original contract to a published novel, excluding the time it takes to find that publisher in the first place.

The easiest way to ensure a successful writing career is to publish regularly. This keeps your name in readers’ minds and gives them an extended catalog to explore once they discover you. Many of the successful authors I follow publish two or three books a year, and they generally recommend publishing one book per year as an absolute minimum.

I didn’t want to rely on a publisher’s timeline. I wanted to get the book out myself, this year, so I could hit that one book per year pace and build my author career.

2. I control the content

My other big concern, and the reason why most of the authors I know self publish, is maintaining full control of the content. Moonshadow’s Guardian is not your typical adult fantasy novel. It features a host of women with actual autonomy. It explores trauma and regret, focusing on Riana’s inner journey as much as the outer one. It’s also written in first person, with two narrators.

There are many other aspects of Moonshadow’s Guardian that I would consider changing if an editor suggested, but none of the things I mentioned above are optional for me. And adult fantasy editors are still mostly stuck on the same old tropes they’ve been working with for fifty years.

I’m aware that with a traditional publisher I would be able to fight suggested edits if I believed they ruined my story, but I don’t want to fight. I want to work with people who love my story, understand my vision, and want to make that better–not people who want to insert their vision into my book to make it more “marketable”.

3. I control the marketing

Traditionally published writers are largely in charge of their own marketing, but there are limits to their control. They don’t get to decide how much marketing budget their publisher has, or to run Amazon ads for their books. They certainly don’t decide when or if their books go on sale, or if their books get free days. They don’t even decide what stores their books are available in.

As a self published author, I control everything. I can run a sale for Moonshadow’s Guardian whenever I want. I can do as many Amazon ads as I can afford, or advertise anywhere else I want. I can do sales and free days and endless giveaways. Everything is up to me, and maybe a couple people I’ll hire down the road.

In short, I’m choosing to self publish so I can have complete control of my career. The validation of a traditional publication was nice, and I love working with The Book Smugglers, and I might seek traditional publication for other books down the line, but I don’t want to put all my eggs in the traditional publication basket. I don’t want my entire income to rely on other people, and I especially don’t want it all to rely on one company.

The catch

Unfortunately, self publishing isn’t as simple as deciding you want to do it, at least not if you want to publish a successful book. That book must be professionally edited and formatted, and it sure as hell needs a professional cover design. You can learn to do the formatting yourself, but every writer needs an editor. Covers sell books, and an experienced cover designer will know what imagery and fonts sell in your genres.

As a freelance writer who lives in a big city, these costs add up fast for me. I knew I wanted to self publish Moonshadow’s Guardian, and that I was willing to pay to make it the best book it can be before it hits the shelves. I also knew that I’d never be able to do it in a year long timeline on my own, which brings me to my final point:

How you can help

I’m running a Kickstarter to bring Moonshadow’s Guardian into the world in 2018 despite my limited personal resources. My goal is $1,500, enough to pay for professional editing and proofreading, along with uploading my book to Ingram Spark so I can access better print distribution. As of writing this article, I’m already almost $900 in. I need YOUR help to get the rest of the way to my goal.

What you’ll get

As a campaign backer you can access a range of bookish prizes, including ebooks donated by indie authors Brian Rathbone, Crystal Collier, and Chris Pavesic. You can also get SIGNED copies of both Moonshadow’s Guardian and my first book, Keeper of the Dawn. Oh, and you get the pride of knowing that you’ve helped bring an amazing book into the world.

What are you waiting for? Support Moonshadow’s Guardian today!

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to make healthy comparisons

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Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 Hi folks! Today I’m participating in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. Last month I tackled comparisonitis, the tendency to make yourself feel like crap by comparing yourself to others. Today I’m going to look at the opposite: how you can make comparisons that actually serve you.

What are healthy comparisons?

I’ve heard it said that the only healthy comparison is a comparison to your past self. I even almost agree with it. After all, using your past self as a basis for comparison keeps you focused on your own journey, but still encourages you to keep moving forward. It seems like the best of both worlds.

But here’s the thing: our work isn’t created in a vacuum, and our goals shouldn’t be either. We need at least a vague idea of what other people can accomplish to make realistic goals for ourselves. We need people to admire and achievements to look forward to. Comparisons, done right, can give us all of these things.

Healthy comparisons, then, are comparisons that inspire you rather than dragging you down. They are comparisons that push you to improve yourself and your life.

Today I’m going to show you how to make those comparisons.

How to make healthy comparisons

You can build healthy comparisons into your life by intentionally choosing what my friend Sharon Ledwith calls pacesetters. These are people who are living the life you want, with one caveat: it must be reasonable to believe that you can replicate their success. In other words, you don’t want to compare yourself to a writer like Stephen King, because his level of success is an anomaly. But it is reasonable to believe that you could achieve a level of success similar to someone like Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, who is one of my own pacesetters.

You can create a list of pacesetters with this three step process:

1. Choose an area of your life to improve

Comparisons are only healthy when they’re intentionally used to improve specific areas of your life. You need to know what you want to improve to be sure that you’re making the right comparisons. You also don’t want to be comparing every single detail of your life to someone else’s. We’re all different, and our lives should be different.

In fact, I think healthy comparisons should focus on specific skills you want to improve. For example, you shouldn’t compare your entire writing career to someone else’s, but comparing the quality of your worldbuilding to someone else’s can be useful. You want to compare your cooking skills, not your overall diet or health.

You probably want to improve more than one area of your life, but for now, pick one and focus on it. Once you’ve trained your brain to make healthy comparisons with pacesetters, you can add more to the list.

2. Find people with the level of skill/success you want to develop

This should be the simplest part of the process. There’s a good chance you already know who these people are, even if you haven’t intentionally designated them as pacesetters. These are the people you avidly follow on social media, consuming their podcasts or blogs or whatever it is that they do. They’re the ones whose work already inspires you on some level.

I chose Joanna Penn as my primary pacesetter because she publishes quickly (28 books in just under 10 years) but not so quickly that it sounds impossible. My goal isn’t to hit her pace exactly, but to train myself to write faster so that I can eventually be publishing at least two books a year. I also want to write a combination of fiction and nonfiction, and Joanna’s balance between the two is pretty close to ideal. I’m confident that if I keep improving my process at the rate I have been for the past two years, in another five I can hit a similar place with my own work.

Your own pacesetters should be similar. It shouldn’t be easy to achieve their level of skill, but it should be something you can accomplish with a solid five year plan.

Choose no more than three pacesetters. Like everything in life, healthy comparisons can become unhealthy if you spend too much time on them. The easiest way to prevent that is to limit who you’re allowed to compare yourself to.

3. Study their success

For pacesetters to truly improve your life, you need to go beyond simple comparisons. Become a student of your pacesetters’ success. Study how they got to where they are, and what they’re doing to move forward. Map out their journey, taking careful note of anything you can replicate in your own life. Create goals that will help you do that.

If your pacesetters are other writers, you get lucky on this front: many writers openly track their goals and successes through blog posts, podcasts, and/or YouTube videos. Joanna Penn does all three, and has been since the beginning of her author career. This means you can access all the knowledge you need to replicate elements of their success, without having to reach out and hope they have time to answer some of your questions.

4. Do regular reality checks

Healthy comparisons are great, but you need to be careful with them, especially if you struggle with comparisonitis. The downward spiral into crippling comparisonitis and self doubt happens fast. If you’re not paying attention you might not even notice it happening.

At least once a month, check in with yourself. Ask all the questions from my article on how to beat comparisonitis. Are your comparisons realistic? How much time are you spending on them? If you don’t like the answers, stop making the comparison completely. Pacesetters are only helpful if you’re mentally healthy enough to avoid the spiral into comparisonitis. Get some professional help, learn some practical coping mechanisms and self care techniques, and return to this article when you feel ready.

Final advice

Comparisons can be healthy if they’re used properly. Choose your pacesetters, study their success, and model your own life after it – but don’t forget to check in regularly and make sure those comparisons are still serving you.

Do you have pacesetters? Who are they and how did you choose them? Let me know in the comments section below!

The story behind my semicolon tattoo

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A couple weeks ago I got my first tattoo, a semicolon with the lyrics “in my darkest night I am beautiful” written underneath. Today I’d like to share the story, and the symbology, behind that tattoo.

My affinity for tattoos

I have wanted at least one tattoo since I was twelve, a wolf similar to the one my dad had tattooed on his forearm. Unfortunately, there are no good pictures of said tattoo, so I don’t have a good basis for mine. This means I will get it one day, but it’ll probably take me another decade to decide exactly what I want.

Discovering the semicolon movement

In 2015 I discovered the semicolon movement and Project Semicolon, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide awareness and prevention. The semicolon was chosen because in grammar it represents the choice not to end a sentence. In tattoo form, and for Project Semicolon, it represents the choice not to end your life.

Creating my own semicolon tattoo

The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark, so I immediately fell in love with this idea. But I knew I didn’t want just any semicolon. I wanted something unique, something to represent my personal journey. To show the individuality of my struggle.

This is what I ended up with:

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In the end I chose three symbols:

The spiral of life

Instead of a regular dot, the top of my semicolon tattoo is the Celtic spiral of life. It represents the journey we are all on. I chose this instead of a circle because I don’t honestly know if I believe in reincarnation, so the spiral, with its fixed end point, has always seemed a more appropriate representation of the cycle of life to me.

The unfinished tail

The tail isn’t filled in, and in fact has something of a splatter effect, to represent that my journey isn’t over. The struggle continues, even if I happen to be winning it most of the time these days. I might get this filled in someday, if I come to feel that the battle is well and truly won. For now, it’s a reminder of how much work remains to be done.

The lyric

The words “in my darkest night I am beautiful” are a modified lyric from the Icon for Hire song The Grey. I knew I wanted to add an Icon For Hire lyric to my semicolon tattoo for a long time, because their music speaks so clearly to my specific journey. I’ve never felt so much like a band was telling my exact story. This was the first lyric I wanted, and I kept coming back to it, even after their most recent album came out.

This lyric represents the lessons I’ve learned and the art I’ve created during my darkest times. It reminds me that there’s always an opportunity to turn the darkness into something beautiful, to transform it. And it also reminds me that I’m not alone, that so many people are also on this journey.

Final thoughts

This tattoo is many things to me. It is a reminder to choose life, no matter how bad it gets, because I have so many stories left to tell the world. It reminds me that many of those stories will come from my future struggle. And it reminds me that as far as I’ve come, there’s still a long way between “not suicidal” and “actually healthy”.

What do you think of the tattoo? Of Project Semicolon itself? Let me know in the comments section below!

How to stay motivated through February and beyond

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As many as 80% of people fail their New Years’ Resolutions by February, and only 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions by the end of the year. But if you want to deeply improve your life, and especially if you want to build a creative career, you’ll need to stay motivated long past February.

Today I’m going to show you how to do exactly that, using three strategies I’ve built into my own life.

Self Care as a Mentality

Sort-of Transcript:

In the year long stream of chaos since Trump’s election I’ve had thousands of conversations about the importance of self care. Social workers, activists and artists have been talking about self care for decades, but sometime in the past few years it entered the mainstream consciousness. Self Care became a buzzword, an almost meaningless short form for a laundry list of things that are supposed to make us feel good. There are millions of articles offering self care tips (over 17,200,000 according to Google), all offering the same advice. Get some exercise. Take a long bath, preferably with an aromatherapy bath bomb to calm yourself down. Rewatch one of your favourite movies. Book a professional massage.

None of this is necessarily bad advice, but there are a couple problems with this approach to self care. The biggest issue, the one we’ll be discussing today, is that the mainstream approach to self care is entirely superficial, acting as an emotional band aid rather than a proper treatment for overwhelming stress or mental illness.

Put another way, these temporary self care strategies are great ways to avoid truly changing your life.  They give you an endorphin rush that makes individual days better so you become complacent about tackling the bigger issues bringing your down. This effect is particularly powerful if you are struggling with an actual mental illness, as eventually the bigger issues overwhelm you so much that no number of temporary self care measures helps.

If you want to drastically and permanently improve your life, you need to dig deeper, to change your entire approach to life. You need to develop something I’ve come to call the self care mentality.

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to beat comparisonitis

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Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 Hi folks! Today I’m participating in the first #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. This month I’ve decided tackle one of the most common personal struggles writers face: comparisonitis, the tendency to make yourself feel like crap by comparing yourself to other, more successful/wealthier/happier/more in love people.

Are your goals actually serving you?

Sort-of Transcript:

We’re exactly one week into 2018. Some of us have already started on our 2018 goals. Others are returning from vacation to begin their 2018 work today. Either way, the year is officially kicking into gear and it’s time to dive headfirst into achieving our goals.

Or is it?

I want to encourage you to stop for a moment. Take a look at the goals you’ve created, and ask yourself an important question: are these goals really serving you?

Most people wait until one, three, or six months into the year to re-evaluate their goals, but by then we’ve often already wasted weeks on goals that aren’t helping us. Some of those goals might even actively harm us.

Checking in with ourselves more often, especially at the beginning of the year, helps us avoid wasting time and keeps us on track as we work towards the life we want.

18 Articles to make 2018 your best writing year yet

18 Articles to make 2018the best year ofYOUR writing life2017 is officially over! I’ve accomplished a lot of great things and written many wonderful words. Now I’m gearing up to make 2018 the best year of my writing life – and I’ve compiled 18 of my best articles to help you do the same.

Articles to improve your writing practice

1. 5 Tips for working with beta readers, critique partners, and editors – Based on everything I learned preparing Keeper of the Dawn for publication.

3. How to be a good beta reader or critique partner – Lessons from my own time as a beta reader/critique partner.

4. Evening Pages – A night owl’s take on the concept of “morning pages”.

5. How to push through when you hate your novel – I did this one for Nanowrimo participants in the second week slump, but it’s applicable to all of us at some point, no matter how we’re writing our novels.

6. How to boost your creativity even when you’re exhausted – I’m a night owl and an insomniac. Over the years I’ve learned how to stay creative despite those things – and now I’m sharing my best strategies with you.

7. Using Twitter chats to connect with other writers – An extensive guide, including a list of Twitter chats I love.

8. How to reap the rewards of the Nanowrimo community all year long – How to keep the community momentum going after Nanowrimo.

9. Letters to explore character – How letters have become my most powerful character development exercises – and how you can use them too.

Articles to improve your overall life

This year I also started writing a lot about mental health, something I plan to explore more deeply in 2018. These articles are just the beginning:

10. Learning to be honest about (my) mental illness – If we want it to get better, first we must talk about it.

11. Writing to yourself – I wrote a letter to myself in my new book. Here’s why – and why you might want to do the same.

12. Why you should never feel guilty about taking the time to write – The guilt monster is the ultimate enemy of productivity.

13. Your personalized definition to success – Why it matters and how to create one (bonus video on this topic coming this week!)

14. 5 FREE self care activities to help you survive the winter – Self care doesn’t have to cost money when you use these strategies.

15. Hold on to the light and shine it into the darkness of our minds – My contribution to the #Holdontothelight 2018 campaign, a series of blog posts from over 100 science fiction and fantasy authors raising awareness about mental illness.

16. The physical side of self care for writers – Your physical health is essential to your mental health – and your writing practice.

17. 3 Simple strategies for fighting imposter syndrome – Imposter syndrome is one of the most common problems for writers. These strategies will help you kick its butt once and for all.

18. A writer’s (or artist’s) holiday survival guide – All right, so it will be a while before you need this one, but I promise these strategies will bring you plenty of holiday joy come 2018.

Now get out there and make 2018 amazing!