Putting out two books in one month (and what it’s really like to work as a mother-daughter team).

May was a busy month. I released Book 7 in the “Christmas Key” series–Polish the Stars–as well as Elizavetta, the third book in the “American Dream” series that I write with my daughter. That would actually be more impressive than it really is, except that it took us two years to put out our co-authored book. Yes, two years. We started that book in 2017 and worked on it in fits and starts between the time my baby girl was thirteen and still wearing braces, until now, as she nears the end of her drivers’ education course and the finish of her freshman year of high school.

Why did it take so long, you ask? WELL, let me tell you a few things about mothers and teenage daughters, the most important thing being that we don’t always get along. Nor do we always feel like doing the same thing at the same time. What started as a blissful project back in 2014 with Iris turned into a bit of a battle as we worked our way through Book 3. When we first wrote together, it was always sitting side-by-side, her head on my shoulder as we talked and typed out our ideas. Over the years, we’ve had times when we didn’t totally agree on the way things were going in a story and so it would bring us to a standstill, but we’ve also had times when we each found the other nearly impossible to work with.

Months have gone by where she would ask me to write and I’d be tired or just not in the right frame of mind, or I’d ask her and she’d say “I’m busy now–maybe later,” which roughly translates to “I’m watching some crappy show on Netflix and I’m enjoying it too much to shut it off and be creative.” And that’s fine–of course it’s fine! We both have to be in the right mood to work on a story, and when we’re not, we’re just not. We have the right to be individual humans.

I’ve also accused her of not wanting to write with me anymore (melodramatic Mom Moments where I’m like, “But you used to love to write with me! Maybe you just don’t want to be my writing partner anymore!”), and she’s accused me of enjoying my other series more than ours (“You’d rather work on your Christmas Key stories than on ours!”) It’s difficult to write with someone else–I’ll admit that freely–but the rewards are amazing. I’ve done it now with two different writing partners, and to be fair, the same thing happened both times: sometimes one of us wants to write, and sometimes the other person does. But not both at the same time. And that’s okay! When the magic happens, it really happens. And that’s worth waiting for.

But ultimately, the beauty of writing with my teenage daughter is knowing that–even when she doesn’t feel like talking to me about other things–if the stars align just so, she might still put her head on my shoulder and disappear into a fictional world for a while where we make all the rules. She might want to talk about the characters we’ve created together, and we might finish a project and get that same feeling of satisfaction we’ve gotten before, just knowing that we did something special together. And–if I’m really lucky–we might get to do it again. Possibly even this summer, which is mere weeks away.

So maybe two books in a month is impressive after all, given that one of them flowed freely from my fingertips from first words to publication in three months, and the other took faith, cajoling, patience, and partnership over the course of two years to finish. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll check them out!

Happy reading!

New Year’s resolutions for 2019 (and how much I made from my books in 2018).

My only resolutions this year have to do with writing. (That’s a lie–I also want to lose ten pounds, read fifty books, sleep enough, and be amazing at everything. But the need to focus is forcing me to be a bit more realistic!)

I want to treat this like a business and not a hobby. It won’t take away the fun of writing, because that’s an escape that will always bring me joy, but it will force me to learn the dreaded part of being an indie author: marketing and sales. Sure, there are stories about people who write, release their books, and become best sellers, but for most of us, there’s a whole other side of the process that we’re not so good at, and that’s crunching numbers, learning algorithms, and promoting ourselves. I need to embrace that stuff far more than I do.

I want to write more consistently. A couple of years ago I started waking up during the 5 o’clock hour on work days just by my own internal clock. I’m back at it again this year, and when I get up, get the coffee going, and put my fingers to the keyboard, I can easily get 2,000 words written before work. I don’t get writer’s block, I’m never in-between projects and stuck without ideas, and I can fall into writing and lose myself anytime and anyplace, much like people who can fall asleep on airplanes or in cars (lucky bastards!) So it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it consistently. Every single day.

I have several things in the works for this year, and I’d like to surpass my own goals. Up next for release is Book 3 in the American Dream series I write with my daughter (there needs to be a whole other post on why THAT book has taken so long, but we’re close!); a standalone title that I’m working on with my other writing partner, Omar; another novella and another full-length title in the Christmas Key series (novella #3 and book #7!), and whatever else I decide to work on.

I want it to be a productive and prolific year. I’ve been immersing myself in writing-related podcasts in the car and at the gym, and I’m going to absorb the lingo and the ideas to the point that I understand it all and know what needs to be done. Last year with just a little advertising I made $18,000 from my books. I know that qualifies pretty firmly as a part-time side hustle, but I think with a bit more know-how, I can double that and start coming closer to what I consider a “wow–impressive!” amount of money. So here’s to 2019 and all the opportunities it will bring. And here’s to thousands and thousands of new words and lots of joyful writing time!

Happy New Year!

Living the dream…halfway.

I’ve been working on writing and self-publishing now for about four years, and I want to be the first person to tell you that it’s not as easy as it seems. The writing part is easy–that’s the fun stuff. But the editing, the advertising, the nuts and bolts of it…that takes work. I started by looking up as much information as I could, reading message boards (I still do), buying books about self-publishing, and searching for other people’s success stories. So now whenever someone tells me they want to publish a book and asks if I can just “give them the basics,” I take a deep breath and sigh. The basics are: write, dive into the indie author world, research, and go for it. 

All I ever wanted to do when I was a kid was be a writer. Well, that’s not entirely true–my mom used to ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my first response was always “happy.” But my second answer was “a writer.” And now that I’ve published my 10th full-length novel, I think I can officially say that I’m a writer. Some people love what I write (thank you, wonderful people!), and some people hate it, but that’s okay. That’s what it means to be a writer or to create anything, really. For every person who gives me a review that feels way too personal (“I hope she’s not really a teacher–her grammar is horrible!” or “This feels like a middle-schooler wrote it. It’s trash!”), there are a handful of other people who ask when the next book is coming out, follow me on social media and say nice things, and buy whatever I put out. And this is thrilling! What an amazing feeling to have humans I’ve never met enjoying the things that I make up in my brain! And they’re so supportive and friendly…it’s wonderful. It makes it all worthwhile.

So now I can officially say I’m a writer, and I love that. But I feel like I’m only living the dream halfway, because I’m not doing it full-time. That’s the next goal, and it’s a “someday” goal. I deeply love my day job (in spite of the people who think my writing is so bad that I shouldn’t be a teacher! *insert a million laughing/crying emoji here so you can see what I think of that*) and I don’t want to quit that to write all day long yet, but…it’s in the future. I can see it: sitting in coffee shops with my laptop and the characters in my head; working in my writing room in the backyard with my storyboards and handwritten notes; books and books and books to my name. That’s when I’ll be living the dream all the way. 

But for now–this is incredible and totally satisfying. I just released Book Six in the Christmas Key series this week–Baby, It’s Warm Outside-and that felt like an incredible accomplishment. To think that I’ve somehow taken a story that started in my head ten years ago and turned it into nearly half a million words over the span of six novels and two novellas is…wild. To anyone who has read my books or just cheered me on–thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means everything to me to be living my dream even halfway, and it means even more that people care enough to be supportive! Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

So. Much. Joy.

When I started writing with Holly, I knew people would go relatively easy on us. As a self-published author you understand that it’s mostly family and friends who are going to read your work first (in fact that they might be your only audience!), and that their reviews will be gentle. In addition, I knew that people would be extra-kind given that our work is co-written by an 11-year-old. Which is lovely–I definitely don’t want her to get her feelings bruised by bad reviews, and I’m more than grateful for any and all support and feedback!

But when you write something–particularly in the over-saturated YA genre–there’s always the chance that you’ll get slammed for missing your mark. Because I published my first YA work under a pen name (as explained in a previous post), I have far fewer friends and family reading it. I desperately wanted to see how it went over with my target audience, and I was thrilled when Cherry from Read Forevermore decided to review @Robertopancake on her blog. I saw her post today and slowly, slooowwwly, scrolled down, unsure what it would say. And I have to add here. for those who are non-writers, getting a review on Amazon, or someone’s blog, or on Goodreads, can be like Christmas morning: you unwrap it cautiously, waiting to see if it’s a pair of socks, or a $100 Sephora gift card. Well, this review was like a $500 Sephora gift card, because she loved the book!

To find that someone got exactly what I wanted them to from my writing left me stunned. You always hope that they will, but then there are moments where you ask yourself if you’re the most mad human being to ever live, going out there and self-publishing things like anyone cares. After reading the review, I think I sat there in a quiet room for like fifteen minutes, not blinking. I was like, So wait–an actual teenage-type reader liked my book? And laughed? And almost cried? Whaaaaa? In all the years I’ve been writing (a lot) it’s been the book that I’ve gotten the most and best feedback from agents on, but even getting as close as I did to having someone take me on based on that work, it still never quite came together. But none of that even matters now, because to read the praise of a complete stranger over something you made is…so magical. And while I know there is an equal and opposite reaction that comes with negative reviews (which I haven’t yet encountered, but am certain to), I’m so grateful that I got to experience this feeling first.

If you feel inclined to read Cherry’s review on her blog, you can find it here. And if you decide to read @Robertopancake after reading her honest, unbiased review, it’s available on Amazon here.

Now I need to go and bask in this glow as I prep for the first day of school on Wednesday, because I have other teenage-type people who will expect a teacher whose head isn’t stuck in the clouds!

Why I chose to use a pen name.

I’ll be totally upfront about this: using a pen name, putting it on my books, and creating a Facebook page for this alter ego made me feel like I was going to end up on an episode of Catfish. But I weighed the pros and cons of it, and decided that keeping my works separate would benefit me in a lot of ways, plus–once I got used to it–it was actually kind of fun to be two different people.

The works I’ve published under my pen name so far are a book of short stories, and a YA novel written from the male point-of-view. I do feel like there’s an edge to them that isn’t there in the work I’m doing with Holly. Even the romance/contemporary fiction series that I’m working on aside from all of this stuff is pretty tame, so it felt right to me to really distinguish between work that I don’t mind being linked to my child in some way, and things that I don’t think she’s ready for yet. If it has words, themes, or ideas that aren’t appropriate for my 11-year-old to read, it goes under my pen name, which has its own Amazon page and Facebook page. That’s been my line in the sand so far, and I’m comfortable not stepping over it.

That said, if you’re interested in reading either of them, as always I’d be honored to have you do so, and I’d owe you a debt of gratitude if you’d leave a kind review on Amazon or Goodreads. Both books are only available on Amazon as ebooks, and both are free today, August 16th, until midnight. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download them using the Kindle app (which is free!), and you can read them on whatever device you prefer.

Tiny Tales: A Book of Short Stories is available here, and @Robertopancake, my first YA novel, is right here.

Hope everyone is enjoying these last weeks of summer!