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12: Where should writers be focusing time and creative energy?

This week J. Thorn and Crys Cain take a question directly from The Author Success Mastermind community:

Where should writers, new to advanced, be focusing time and creative energy?

They define and discuss the focus of the three “levels” of authorhood and what challenges and priorities each level faces.

References:

Transcript

Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost J Thorn. How’s it going J? 

J: It’s going really well. How are you, Crys? 

Crys: All right. Not much done in the work department this week. My kiddo, who is surprisingly healthy, maybe because he hasn’t been able to spend time with other children because of 2020. He doesn’t normally get sick. And so it was his first time running a fever of 103. So we just laid in bed and played Minecraft for a day or two. 

J: Nice. That’s good. You need those days to be reminded of it’s okay not to go like full on, right? 

Crys: Exactly. And it clarified what my ideal life balance is right now, life work balance cause we all know I’m a workaholic, and that’s simply that I can stress free take off time when my kid’s sick, when he needs me.  That’s my life balance right now. If I can stress free take off time when my kid is not feeling well, I’m good to go. 

Excellent. 

Anything new on your end? Projects and fun stuff?

J: A couple of things in the works not quite ready to discuss publicly yet, but some things inside TASM that are pretty exciting and really pleased to see. I took a bit of a, not really a business risk, more of a creative risk, and that offered something to that people have been asking for. And wasn’t sure I had the confidence to step up and deliver it, but it’s going to happen. 

Crys: Yeah. And we’ve had a good influx of people lately. So the energy and the group has just been that lively, new blood pumping, which I always enjoy. 

J: Yeah, it’s great. And I have to remind myself that when new people come into the family, that it’s overwhelming and. I have to remind people like there’s a lot, it’s a very active Slack group.

I don’t remember when we’ve moved over to Slack from our internal bulletin board, we’ve already surpassed the 11,000 posts that you get with the free. 

Crys: Yeah, the free Slack amount for the history. 

J: Yeah. And there’s only I don’t know, what? 60 some people in the group? So yeah it’s pretty engaging. And if I would imagine if you step into that midstream, it’d be like walking out into the middle of traffic.

Crys: Yes, absolutely. Fire hose of information and support. 

We do have a comment from last week’s episode, which was how do I approach new opportunities?  This came up in light of the Kindle Vella stuff, and Roland Denzel said, he’s interested in Vela, but he has to finish his current work and avoid being distracted, which we are well familiar with.

J: For sure. 

Crys: All right. Our question today comes straight from the Slack group from our dear friend, Cathy. And again, it was, I think,  in  light of this conversation that we’ve continued to have around Vella and new opportunities. 

That question she had was: where should writers, new to advanced, be focusing time and creative energy?

J: Yeah, that is a big question. I think maybe we need to break it down a little bit first. Do we need to put some type of parameters on new to advance? Cause that’s all very wide range of experience. 

Crys: Yeah, let’s start new. Where should new writers be? 

Our definition of new writers, I would say… is probably someone who’s published zero to five books. And five is where you’re moving into  medium level. Between three and five, you’re moving into medium level. So right on the edge there. Just depends on how you feel about your comfort with your system. So we’ll say is that’s where we’re putting new. 

J: That’s good. Okay. So let’s start there. For me, I think for new writers. It’s way more important at the beginning to learn about your audience and your craft than marketing or promotions. 

We get a variety of questions in Slack from newer writers and they are variations of ” should I be running Facebook ads or Amazon ads?” Or ” should I publish here or should I publish there?” 

And those are really not questions you want to be thinking about as a beginner. You can know that they’re there. But until you have something and until you’ve created something, none of that really matters. 

The audience will always matter. So in very tangible terms, I would say, if it were me, I would be a super fan of the genre that I think I want to publish in. 

So if it’s cozy mysteries, I’d be reading the top 100 cozy mysteries listed on Amazon’s charts. I would be signing up for those authors’ newsletters and paying attention to what they’re sending out. I would be taking notes on what are the things that I see repeated from one cozy mystery to another? What conventions or expectations do I have to pay attention to? 

All of that is great preparation. It’s fun, too.  Hopefully you’re going to be writing in a genre that you really love. 

But that idea of laying the groundwork, understanding the fundamentals… at the same time, you could be reading a couple books on craft. How to put a good sentence together. What is story structure? You could be doing that at the same time. 

So at the very beginning stages. If you are just now thinking, I love reading and I think I might want to write something. That’s what I would be doing. 

What do you think? 

Crys: I think that’s spot on. And when you’re reading, not only would I be tracking what’s super common in your genre, but what are the things that you love most? What are the things that gets you really excited? 

Because you can get overwhelmed when you go to write a book, if you are attempting to find that match up between what you want to write and what the genre expects, you can go too far on what the genre expects if you are not also paying attention to what it is about the genre that you love. 

You want to focus on those things. What are the things that are coming up super common in the genre that you love? And that’s what you want to focus on when you start writing. 

J: Good point. I’ll also add too, if you are at the zero published books mark, there’s another little piece to this. And this was a question that came up recently from someone who’s relatively new to our community:  where do you start? Do you publish on Amazon? Ebook? Paperback? Do you go wide? Do you play with Vella? Do you go to Patreon? 

There’s an overwhelming number of options available to you. And the question is where do you start? And my personal perspective is: it doesn’t matter so much where… is that you do. 

If you’re spending five years and you’re still researching and you’re still preparing studying the market,  that’s resistance.

That being said, I think you pick the thing that is, for lack of a better word, easiest for you to do. Just to sort of learn. You gotta learn how to do these things. 

So if you eventually went to publish novels, maybe writing one short story and publishing that just on KDP is the way to go. 

And then you can learn, “okay, how does this look for novel? How about a series? What if I want to take the short story now I want to publish it on Kobo and Barnes and Noble?” 

But again, it gets overwhelming. So pick that one little thing, the easiest thing you can do for you, and start there. 

Crys: I am pro publishing something for practice. Something that’s not on your name. Something that will probably never sell.  I think one of the first things I published was a counting book. Just simple drawings. Because I wanted the practice of hitting the publish button. 

I wanted to know what all the steps were before I got to it with something that actually matters.

In your brain, you might be like no, everything I have to put out has to be salable.  It has to like worth and sell. Yeah. Sure. Try and market everything to the best of your ability, but pick something the first time that honestly doesn’t matter. Make a terrible picture book that is the best picture book that you can make and put it out there so that what all the steps are. 

And you’re like, okay. I feel slightly more confident in my ability to put out a book where I go full throttle and hire out people to do the different things. It just makes it that much less overwhelming. 

J: So true.

And you don’t have to publish in order. You don’t have to publish in the order you’ve written, right? Like you can set that novel from the heart aside and say, okay, this is done and it’s ready to publish, but I don’t know anything about publishing. So I’m going to write the short story about accounting and I’m going to publish that first it doesn’t have to be in the order that you created things. 

Crys: And chances are no one’s going to see the very first thing you published. So it’s okay to publish something that you don’t want anybody to see because Amazon’s not gonna just start pushing people willy nilly at it. It’s just not how marketing works.

J: Exactly. 

Crys: We draw back to that, like writing is your number one creative and time focus when you’re a beginner. 

J: Yes. So what’s it look like when you’re starting to transition from. Beginner let’s for simplicity, let’s say beginner, intermediate, advanced.

So what’s it look like when you are now in that five to seven book range, and you’re transitioning from being more of a beginner to more of an intermediate author. What’s that look like? 

Crys: I think here is when you really start to have an idea of what’s not working for you anymore. And identifying those things. It could be, I’m not getting anyone at my books with whatever marketing tactics I’ve been using up to this point.

And so most people at this point have not started to spend money on marketing, or they’ve been spending very little on newsletter promotions. 

Right now is when you it’s maybe time to start looking at learning how to do ads. Very small ads. You’re still writing first and learning your craft, I think it’s still so much craft focus at this point, but then maybe setting aside like a fifth of your time, a quarter of your time, like half a day, a week, where your focus is, okay, now we’re going to focus on business stuff. 

J: Yep. That’s great. I would also add that, in that same vein, it’s also a good moment to start thinking about what is it that lights you up? From say, a writing standpoint, is there a certain genre that you just, you love writing or certain style of storytelling that you really enjoy or maybe you really love writing scenes or maybe dialogue is your thing.

I think in that intermediate space is where you start to understand yourself as a writer better. I think to give a real life example for me, that was more the transition from the kind of writer I thought I was to the kind of writer I enjoyed being. Which was going from more traditional horror to burning more  post-apoc dystopian.

It was in about that five to seven book range. That’s what it took for me to figure that out. It doesn’t mean I don’t like horror, that I’m not going to ever go back to writing it, or that I’m going to keep writing post-apoc. 

But it was a moment where I looked back over the first couple of books that I published and went, okay. Yeah. I can see what parts of this I like and what parts I don’t and how I want to position myself. So I think it’s a great opportunity to do some self-assessment and reflection once you have some titles under your belt, 

Crys: In line with what you just said, this is often the point at which you are able to say, “here are my craft weaknesses and here are my craft strengths.”

You can choose to either focus on bolstering up your weaknesses, or you can focus on bolstering up your strengths. Neither is necessarily better than the other. 

Becca Symes would say, “focus on your strengths and let your weaknesses just be weaknesses.” But there may be points where you’re like, this is being problematic in my fiction, and this actually does need to be fixed.

This is the stage when you really start figuring those things out. 

J: Yeah. Yeah. And even if it’s not something you actively work on, it’s something you’re now starting to think about. If dialogue is a weak thing for you, you go, okay. You make it a little like note to self. I could shore up my dialogue. 

Even though I’m not working on it right now, I know at some point in the future, when I start thinking about how am I going to level up my craft, what is my next learning plateau? How am I going to break through? Then you can go back and say, Oh yeah, this is a weakness I have. Now I’m going to work on it. 

Crys: Yep. Now advanced. 

You’ve got a pile of books under your belt, what kind of writer you want to be and you know what your publishing system is.

What now? 

J: This is a tricky one. I think this is where you and I sit and I’ll speak for myself. I’d love to hear what your perspective. Right now, what I’m trying to think about is, and this sounds so cheesy and I don’t mean it this way, but what is my legacy as a writer?

What do I want to be known for?   It’s not, I don’t know for me at this point, it’s not so much about royalties or money or awards.  Those things are very motivating at different times and they have been for me at different times. 

But right now I’m thinking more about what’s that unique story I can tell that nobody else can, that’s going to stand up as to best represent me. 

It’s not about writing to market or rapid release. That’s just not like for me right now, that’s not what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about making my mark as a writer. The book I want to die, I want to be buried holding. That’s kind of where my head is right now. How about you? 

Crys: Yeah, I think at this point, what kind of business you want. Which is slightly different from knowing what kind of writer you are, but it’s tied in. 

So some people are going to want to have really strong businesses and some people are going to simply want to spend all their time in writing. They know which one they are at this point. 

You can have a successful business either way, whether you are somebody who likes to work on your business or if you’re somebody who just likes to work on your books. You know that at this point. 

For the people who like to work on their business, you might be spending 50% of your time doing business things.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If you enjoy that, a hundred percent. You might be doing ads. You might be exploring different avenues to expand your intellectual property. You’re going to spending a lot less time writing if that is the kind of joy you have. 

If you are a person who says, I only want to write, you maybe more of a person who’s just, I want to spend four hours a day writing, or I want to spend two hours a day writing or whatever it is. 

Or I want to spend three months writing and then not write the rest of the year. But those three months are going to be head first in the words and nobody’s going to see me and my skin’s gonna turn weird colors of white if you’re pale like me. 

So when you get to that advanced writer, you know where you lie on that spectrum. Being able to just say, that’s the kind of writer I am, that’s the kind of business I am is going to be very different for every author. So how you spend your creative time and energy at this point is going to be so diverse.

It’s going to be so personally dependent. 

J: That’s such a good point. Yeah, you’re absolutely correct.  I even look at some of my friends who I came into the Kindle world with, back in 2011, 2012. And just seeing how the radically different trajectories, like at one time, I’m sure that like Brian Cohen and Jim Kukral and Lindsay Buroker and Joanna Penn and myself were all working on the exact same stuff.

And now, a decade later, we’re just in totally different places because that’s how it works. So you’re right. There is a very personalized piece to this. But what about you personally? 

Crys: Me personally, I am probably a 50/50 business and writer. And I may even be leaning a bit more business side because so much of my writing has had to do with romance for the past few years and that has been a burnout for me on the writing side. 

But the serialization has piqued up my writing side for writing the stuff I actually want to write. So I’m moving back more to a 50/50split. A lot of my time is spent managing the IP expansion. So putting a books into paperback, getting our books in audio. 

Today a lot of my time is just spent catching up with narrators. Cause we have three different narrators working on our projects right now and getting in contact with them, getting my VA working on stuff for that. That’s where a lot of my– I have to do covers. 

So a lot of my time is actually 50% working on the business and 50% working on writing.

 Knowing what kind of business I want, I want to be at a point where I don’t have to work many hours in the day on either writing or business. And that’s more in the future, but I know that whatever it is, it’ll probably still be 50/50, because I love the business side of things as much as I love the writing side of things.

J: Same here. And I think I used to feel a bit ashamed to say that because a true writer would just want to sit in the cabin and type all day. And I’ve gotten past that. For me right now, I’m probably 75 business 25 writing and I like that. 

This community takes up the majority of my time. And that’s how I want it. That’s by design. And in three years or four years, that might not be the case. It wasn’t three or four years ago, but it is now. 

And I think that’s the other important thing to recognize at the advance level is that once you hit an advanced level, once you have a sustainable business model you have systems in place for producing content whatever that happens to be, you have such a degree of flexibility, and autonomy, and you can change your mind anytime you want about how you want to allocate your time. 

It takes a certain proficiency and a certain modicum of success to get to that point. And you might have to sacrifice some things to do that, as we both have, but once you get to that point you do have a lot more options. And like I said, you can change your mind at anytime you want. 

Crys: I suspect that the majority of authors are people who get bored doing the same thing for too long. And this isn’t for everybody.

Absolutely there are some people who all they want to do is write all the time and read and they do, and they’re happy as clams. But a lot of us. And this was also why I went into software development, and I think while you end up teaching, things are changing all the time in those particular industries. So we didn’t get necessarily bored in them. 

I’ve seen a pattern happen where people who have fought so hard to get into writing only, they do, they manage that for a few years and then they get bored. They’re not stimulated enough. So then they have to like, me personally, have to start up different things outside of writing because I’m bored.

I want a new challenge. 

J: Yup. That’s such a good point. And we have this conversations with less experienced folks who they look at ” Oh, the dream is to quit my job and Write!” And absolutely it should be. That’s great. But also understand that it probably isn’t going to look the way you think it does now when you get there, and that’s okay too.

There is a level of intellectual stimulation that you lack when you do the same thing every single day, no matter what that is. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you do the exact same thing every day, it’s hard to stay engaged for many of us. Certainly for me.

Crys: Yeah, how often your dream will change. And one of the great things about being an author, particularly one who’s had success, and you got money. You don’t need to work a day job. Then you can go do random other stuff. So if you’re a fantasy author and you’re like, Oh, I’m bored. I am getting tired writing my books all the time.

Then you can go be a worker at a Renaissance festival for the summer, and that will give you so much to write about. 

J: Exactly. 

Crys: Yeah, everything’s an excuse to write stories. Like honestly, everything we do, everything we learn. How could I put this in a story? 

J: See, I thought you were going to say everything is an excuse to work at a Ren fair, like that…

Crys: And that also is true. Everything’s an excuse for me to buy more wigs. So there’s excuses abounding. 

Well, what is our question for our dear listeners today? 

J: I would like to know where they think they are on the journey: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. And if so, what are the things that you’re doing mostly at this stage?

Crys: That’s great. 

Thanks for joining us this week!  If you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind.

Comments on 12: Where should writers be focusing time and creative energy?

  1. ChadBoyer says:

    I am definitely in the new author category. I noticed you specified novels in the metric for beginner, intermediate, advanced. Is it novels or just words written? Wasn’t it Stephen King saying that you aren’t a decent writer until you have published 1 million words? (There is your King reference J)
    I have only 75k published so as a beginner I am doing almost exactly what you are suggesting. The first book I published is the one that is always kicking around in your head when you think you will write a book. I decided to make a trilogy just to 1)see if I could finish it. 2) Have a mini series that I could promote together while I work on the next series.

    I will say that being on the other side of book 1 published is probably another big level up as an author. There might be a novice level that I am at. Where as a beginner level is one who hasn’t seen the KDP Royalties Estimator page on amazon. Course that is just my two cents.

    1. J. Thorn says:

      Stay the course, buddy. You’re doing it 😉

  2. Faye Whyte says:

    I want to thank you again for this podcast and for your generosity and vulnerability in what you share.

    I’m working on my first novel (finished a first draft, finally) and learning intensely right now, so I’m a beginner. I have been purposely avoiding a lot of publishing information because I find it daunting.

    Lightbulb moment for me this week – publish something for practice. Talk about taking the pressure off! Such a simple idea, but you shifted how I think about the great wall of self publishing. It’s just something else to learn!

    As I write this, I realize have a couple of retired blogs that could be cobbled into short books.

    When I’m taking a break between drafts and letting this story marinate at the back of my mind, I’ll haul out those old pieces and get my publishing training wheels without the huge ego hit I’ve been dreading. Thank you!

    1. J. Thorn says:

      That’s awesome, Faye! So glad we could be the catalyst to your lightbulb moment. Thanks for listening to the podcast.

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