A big announcement…

I got some seriously exciting news a month or so ago that I’ve been bursting to tell you about…and now I can…

Ready?

I’ll be presenting a workshop at this years Romance Writers of Australia Conference- Love Gone Wild.

This is huge for me – and will represent the achievement of a bucket list type goal.

My workshop is on how you can use basic astrology to help develop your characters and create the conflict that all storylines need. I wrote a bit about how I do it here, but will be talking a whole lot more about it at the Pullman Hotel in Brisbane in August.

It’s a workshop that’s aimed at anyone with an interest in understanding what makes people tick – and how this can be used to identify the deeper motivations and deal-breakers of the characters that come to life on our keyboard. You don’t need to have an understanding of astrology at all – although you might learn something about yourself if you know your own sign.

Doing presentations like this is one of the things that I pinpointed when I sat down to do my marketing strategy and document my longer-term business goals. I committed to do something this year that would align with this goal – and so I have.

Am I scared? Absolutely. Excited? Absolutely.

I’ve spoken in front of large groups of people before in a corporate environment, but this is different. For a start, this is a subject – and a group – that I care about. I certainly can’t say that about any of the work presentations or training sessions I’ve done in the past. Hopefully none of my bosses – past or present – are reading this.

Seriously though, of course I care about my job, but anything that happens in the partition world is towards the achievement of someone else’s business goals and, as a result, I was detached (to a certain level) from it. This, though, integrates the two subjects I’m most passionate about – astrology and story-telling. And yes, I’m aware that in some circles astrology is story-telling.

The organising committee have shown a lot of faith in me – and having a subject like astrology in the workshop schedule is a departure of sorts from the usual topics offered. I won’t let them down.

Will I see you at this years Romance Australia Conference – Love Gone Wild – in Brisbane? Registrations are now open.

How to seek permission to use song lyrics – and why you should…

I was well into the final version of Baby, It’s You, when I realised that I’d need to seek permission to reproduce a few lines from a song, One Crowded Hour, by Augie March.

When I was telling the guys at work about this, I got a combination of:

‘Really? It’s just a few lines!’

‘Really? I’d operate on the use now and ask for forgiveness later basis!’

I even got the:

‘Really? It’s not like anyone is ever going to read it to know….’ Ouch.

The thing is, if you want to use (commercially) anything by another artist, you have to seek permission to do so. That means discovering who owns the copyright and contacting them to ask permission – and being prepared to pay a fee for the privilege to do so.

When it comes to songs, that’s easier said than done. You might know who has performed it, but who actually wrote it?

The thing is, most performers don’t actually own the rights to their work. Instead those rights are assigned or licensed to their publisher. It’s the music publisher who collects the royalties and arranges the distribution of them. As a result, most songs will belong on one of the following performing rights databases:

You can search by song title, and will get the publishers name and contact details from this. This post has some great information in it and was a wealth of information for me.

What about the concept of fair use, I hear you ask. Despite watching every episode of Rake and The Good Wife, my knowledge of the legal system* is not comprehensive enough for me to risk it – and nor would I want to. Even if you’re just using a single line, it’s common for the music industry to say you need permission.

After all, even though Baby, It’s You was my first book, I was going into this venture with a view of eventually making a living from my writing. I had to, therefore, approach the transaction as as a business would. The way I figured it, to assume I would only sell a handful or a couple of hundred copies of Baby, It’s You would be like planning for failure. What if I sold thousands and then got a cease and desist notice from the publishers? This was one occasion where it could be far cheaper to request permission and pay the probably nominal fee than to deal with the consequences of not doing so.

Most important of all, though, those few lines i wanted to use were someone else’s creative product – and the artist responsible for those few lines deserves to reap the rewards for their work. Would I be happy with someone doing the same to me without permission or credit? No, I wouldn’t.

Song titles are a different matter. Except in a few circumstances, song titles aren’t usually subject to copyright. The official argument is because they are short and don’t represent sufficient originality of thought. How many CDs have you picked up with the same title? Books? Songs? Exactly.

Naturally, though, there are some titles that are iconic enough or long enough or original enough that you’d probably want to check it out first. In fact, to be on the safe side, I’d be checking all of them out anyway– but that’s just me. As an aside, I’m sure I read somewhere about how Taylor Swift placed a copyright on the term “shake it off”… Of course, if could be just an urban myth, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be testing it.**

Anyways, this problem – of obtaining permission – is not restricted to the indie author.

When you sign a publishing contract, most will have something in it stating that the work is entirely yours. The contract may have something in there about whose responsibility it is to seek permission for copyright owned by others. Usually, unless you’re important enough to have minions for this, it falls upon the author to obtain the appropriate ok, although most publishers should be able to assist you with the process.

So, how did I go with my request?

As I said earlier, I was looking to use three lines from One Crowded Hour by Augie March. Through the performing rights database I managed to find the name of their management – who forwarded my request to the publisher.

In my email, I told them:

  • That I was self-publishing a work of fiction
  • That the work would be available digitally on the Amazon and iBooks platforms
  • The lines I was wanting to use
  • I included the passage that the lines were in – for context

I requested they forward the request to the song’s publishers for approval, and also stated that as I had a limited budget, I hoped they’d consider my request for no fee.

They came back and also wanted to know the name of the licensee (that would be me as the author), the estimated RRP, and the number of units I hoped to sell. For this last one, I advised the number I needed to sell in order to break even. (As an aside, consider this one carefully – often there’s a difference between a fee for an estimated 1000 copies versus 100,000 copies.)

Permission was granted – for a cost of $200 – which I thought a tad steep. I was expecting maybe $50, or even $100.

In the end I decided not to include the lines and rewrote the passage. I was already over budget on the project and I don’t think the story suffered at all from the omission.

I’m coming across a similar problem in I Want You Back, but this time I’m choosing to write around the lyrics instead of quoting them. As much as I’d love to include something by Bananarama or Manfred Mann (you’ll need to read it to find out why) I’ll be resisting the temptation.

Have you ever used lyrics in your work? How did you go about seeking permission?

*which is, of course, why you should always seek appropriate qualified legal advice and not rely on posts like these! This post should NOT be relied upon as advice .

** and nor should you. This post should NOT be relied upon as advice . I already said that…right?

Marketing strategies – and why you need one…

Midway through last year I had a crisis of confidence. I’d already published Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry and was about to publish Wish You were Here. I was proud of what I was doing, but at the same time aware that no one knew my books were were out there. That had to change. I had to start getting my message out…but how?

Did I need to find an agent? Maybe start the run around of publishers again? Or, was there a part of the publishing cycle I was missing? There was: marketing.

The way I figured it, if I had a contract with a traditional publisher, they’d do some marketing for me, although as a newbie author, I’d also be required to do quite a bit of it for myself too. It followed, then, that if a publishing company had a marketing department, then I’d need one too.

Why invest in a marketing strategy?

Because I wanted to sell more books.

As I’ve mentioned before, this business of writing is, for me, a business. I do it because I love it and I do it because I want to be successful at it – and success for me is measured in terms of sales and, therefore, income.

Besides, what’s the point of writing a book that’s as good as I can make it, and spending the money on a great editor and a cover I’m proud of to have no one buy it?

What to expect from a marketing strategy…

It really depends on who you use and what you want to achieve. If you want to sell more books, a good marketing strategy should give you the tools and the information to help you do that.

I chose Mel Kettle, from Mel Kettle Consulting, to help me with my strategy. Mel and I had got to know each other (virtually) though various forms of social media and, despite having been in weekly fitbit challenges with each other for a couple of years, we’d never met in real life.

Mel broke my strategy down into 3 parts:

  1. What do I want to achieve?

First up was an introductory session. This was where Mel got to know me, my motivations, my background and my goals – all of which were important for the next step. Mel is based in Brisbane, so rather than do this by skype, we arranged to meet when I was on the Sunshine Coast last July. I won’t post the photos because I think I had dreadlocks…ok, I know I had dreads.

Anyways, this was the most challenging part of the process for me – it was also arguably the most valuable. Why? Although I’d said that I wanted to sell more books and be successful as a writer, when asked I had absolutely no idea what that looked like.

Mel asked me questions that I couldn’t answer – not properly. Questions like:

  • How do I measure success?
  • How many books do I intend to sell this year?
  • Next year?
  • The year after?
  • How do I see my business looking in 5 years time?
  • How much am I prepared to invest?
  • How much work am I prepared to do myself?

Answering questions such as these was a huge step for me. From this I was able to develop my business strategy to complement Mel’s marketing strategy.

  1. How do I want to achieve it?

The second part of the process was a brainstorming or planning session.

We worked through strengths and weaknesses; examined opportunities; and looked at where I tend to waste my energy (I didn’t tell her about my procrastiwatching, procrastibaking or Midsomer obsession…but I think she knew). We also identified issues that were obstacles to me achieving my goals. In my case these were summarised into just 2 areas:

  • Limited time – I work 4 days a week (sometimes 5) and they are long and full days involving me being away from home for over 12 hours a day (3 of which are spent commuting).
  • I have competing priorities – As well as my partition job, I also dabble in some freelance astrology writing, and maintain a content-hungry astrology blog.

The key take away for me was learning to prioritise the time that I have available, and committing to set aside a particular chunk of hours each week to focus on marketing activities.

  1. What do I need to do?

From this planning session we agreed some actions – some of which I could put into place immediately, and others that would require a little more thought and commitment. These were clearly outlined in a strategy document for me to follow.

We then agreed to catch up in three months to see how I was going against these actions. This too was a super valuable part of the process as it kept me accountable for my results.

Was it worth it?

Yes. Without a doubt.

Mel came up with ideas I hadn’t thought of, and simplified concepts I’d thought were too complex or time-consuming. Before writing the plan, she’d taken the time to understand me – and my goals – and tailored the strategy accordingly.

I’ve completed a number of the action items on the list, but others I’m yet to do. A few more will be appropriate for when I publish I Want You Back. Most importantly, the strategy Mel devised for me can also be used to grow my readership and email list on the astrology blog – and sell product through there as well.

The bottom line is that paying for a marketing strategy is a little like reading a diet book. It’s not enough to read it – and just having it won’t guarantee you success…you actually need to live it and commit to it. Nor will it bring overnight success – it takes time for improvements to be seen, but when they are, if you’ve been keeping a track of your sales before and after, it’s relatively easy to measure the impact of your strategy.

The way I figure it, I’ve paid for a tool – if I sit on my arse and don’t use or refer to it again, I’ve wasted the money.

When should you do this?

There are some marketing actions that you can do from the start – before you even have anything published. These are things like:

  • Creating a website
  • Creating a blog – and creating regular content for it
  • Establishing your presence on social media.

For other actions, it’s best to already have some books out there. Not only do you have something to measure your results against, but you can also spread the expense across each of those books – rather than attributing it to just one.

The biggest message though? It’s all very well having a marketing strategy, but you have to have something to market. Speaking of which, I have today’s word count to finish!

What makes a happy ending?

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So anyways, I’ve got to thinking about happy endings – which is probably a good thing given that my tagline is all about happy endings: Happy Endings Begin Here. When you think about it, it’s pretty much the ultimate spoiler.

The thing is, my current character isn’t really playing ball – at least, not as far as the stereotypical happy ending goes.

I had a similar issue with Emily – my lead character in Baby, It’s You. She had a happy ending (hey, it’s not a spoiler alert to say that – after all, as I said, it’s in my tagline) but it wasn’t the down on one knee proposal sort of happy ending. That wasn’t the point with Em.

I had quite a few people asking me why she didn’t – or rather why I didn’t give her that particular conclusion. I wrote the ending I wrote for Em because that was the ending that she needed. Anything else would have made everything else all for nothing. Besides, it was still a hopeful and satisfying end. I think Em was happy with it.

Callie, my lead in I Want You Back, is proving to be just as elusive.

The thing is, a happy ending doesn’t have to be a proposal and a white dress and a happy ever after – especially if that doesn’t fit with the journey the character has taken. As an aside, I hate that word – journey…but I digress.

I’ve been reading some straight romance genre of late – namely some regency romances by Anna Campbell, an Aussie author who I admire greatly. Unusually for the genre, her heroines don’t always end up in the frothy white toilet roll doll dress – well, not immediately anyway – unless it suits the story arc for them to do so. Of course, we know that they’re in love and assume that it’s a forever thing, but these women don’t say “I will” until they are ready to do so. I find that refreshing. It shows a strength of character and, dare I say it, a sort of feminism that way too many people believe can’t be found in a romance novel.

I want my girls to find love and the forever thing too – but also on their terms….although very often they need someone else to help them with that – or, at the very least, help point them in the right direction.

As for Callie? She’ll get her happy ending, but I’m not quite sure at this point what that looks like. Nor is she anywhere near to deserving it. Not yet. She’s still got a bit of work to do.

Aaaah the joys of being a pantser.

8 ways to beat writer’s block…

Exhausted and overworked

Writer’s Block.

noun. A usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

I’m at the soggy middle stage of I Want You Back. I’ve written the beginning, I’ve written the ending, now I need to work out how A will get to B…so to speak…and the words are having problems coming through.

My characters are still chatting away and jostling about in my head – as they do. The problem is, they’re chatting away and jostling about with other characters whose turn to come out and play hasn’t yet arrived.

Plus, their chatter and story is currently being drowned out by all the noise in my head associated with buying a house, selling a house, and arranging an interstate move. Next time I pronounce, ‘seriously, how hard can it be?’ remind me of this moment.

I know I’m being hard on myself – there’s a lot going on and perhaps I should give myself a break, but:

  • This is a business and commitments that get made have to be kept – just as they would be in any other business or if I had a book with a deadline to a traditional publisher
  • I am busy – as are all of us who are juggling writing with day jobs, kids and other responsibilities. As such I can’t afford to waste any of that precious time staring at a blank screen
  • I knew that we were moving when I set my production schedule at the end of last year. Any over-commitment is my problem.

I’m in this game because I like the process of creating – and (mostly) find writing fun. It got me thinking about what I do to keep it fun when the words aren’t behaving themselves.

1. Write a scene any scene.

When I’m stuck for words, I write a scene that’s completely out of order to where the manuscript is up to. Often the scene playing in my head is not the one that I set out to write, but there’s no way I’m wasting the limited time I have to write by trying to force a scene that isn’t yet ready to be written.

Because there’s always a lot going on in my life (and my head) I write this way a lot. It’s one of the reasons I love scrivener – I can easily move the scenes about when I work out where they need to go.

Writing in this higgledy- piggledy fashion certainly adds to the edit effort, but you know what they say: you can’t edit the words you haven’t written. Besides, we’re in this game because we like the process of creating – so

2. Finish at least one paragraph before you run out of words.

This is a little like the writer’s version of the rhythm method. Yes, I truly did say that. Anyways, my point is, leave a little behind. I’m making this worse, aren’t I? If you stop a few sentences from the end of your scene, you have somewhere to start in your next session that doesn’t require too much thought.

3.Write a blog post.

Aside from this site, I also have an astrology site (Jo Tracey Astrology), and and anyways – a site where I blog pretty much anything else: food, travels, rambles, thoughts, whatever.

I keep a loose schedule for astro blog posts, and a sheet of paper on my desk with a heap of word hints for blog ideas for here and for and anyways, so when the block hits, I get the juices flowing again with something from the list.

4.Watch good writing.

Ok, this could possibly be drawing a fine line between procrastination and research, but watching good writing (and I mean good writing) or something in the genre that you’re writing can help. Again this is about learning and inspiration – not entertainment. Oh, and set a time limit or before you know it you’ll be binge watching episodes of Lewis…did that come out loud?

5.Read.

Preferably away from the genre you’re writing. Sometimes the problem is that you can’t hear your voice over the voices you’re reading – especially if you’re reading something of a similar feel to what you’re writing.

I’m reading Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series at present. It’s cozy crime set in in 1920s London and country England. I’m reading it not just because I’m enjoying the jolly hockey sticks, and spiffiness of it, but because it’s so different to I Want You Back – which is contemporary women’s fiction set in modern day Melbourne and Hong Kong.

6.Go for a walk.

This is usually my fail-safe never fails to work option…except when I don’t do it – which I’m not at present. Somehow walking has the same effect as a moving meditation. Focusing on something else – being aware of everything else around you – clears your brain so you can sort out whatever plot or character problem that’s stopping you from moving forward.

7.Pull out your playlist…or pinterest board.

Playlists are to me an audible inspiration. I’ll listen to a song that I just know a particular scene has to feel like. I know that it doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but it does. Yesterday I wrote a scene that I’m hoping reads like Missy Higgins’ The Way You Are Tonight looks in my head.

Maybe you use a pinterest board or some other type of vision tool. Whatever it is, revisit it.

8.Interview your characters.

I went through a similar stage with Wish You Were Here. In that case my “block” was largely because I didn’t understand Max’s motivations. What did she really want, and what was she prepared to do to get it? Knowing her chart helped me answer that question, but so did a spot of free writing in her voice. Have some questions up your sleeve that could help, as could writing some back story that while never seeing the light of day will help you understand what it is that makes your characters react the way they do.

As the definition says, writer’s block is usually temporary – so take comfort in that.

Do you have any tips to beat the dreaded white page or blank screen?

Finding an editor – and how I found mine…

business dog typewriter

So anyways, I realised the other day that I haven’t contacted my editor yet to book in this year’s edits – not that I’m anywhere near finishing the first draft of I Want You Back just yet. I’ve found that if I set myself deadlines – much like I would have if I were contracted to a traditional publisher (remember, we talked about that last week) – I work towards meeting those. If I don’t have deadlines, I tend to drift rather aimlessly – and that isn’t good if you have, like I do, a production schedule to meet.

I was telling someone about it the other day and they asked the question I get asked more often than you’d think: how did you find your editor?

It’s a good question. To begin with, I had in mind a few considerations:

  • I wanted to work with someone who had worked on commercial fiction in the traditional publishing world
  • I wanted to work with someone who had worked with indie authors
  • I wanted to work with someone who had worked with chick lit/commercial women’s fiction
  • I wanted to work with someone who actually enjoyed reading chick lit and women’s fiction
  • I wanted to work with someone who I thought would also be in my target audience
  • I wanted to work with someone based in Australia
  • I wanted to work with someone who “got” my voice and my story and who could help me make it all come together
  • I wanted to work with someone who I could work with…yes, that does make sense…and who I could work with in the long term to improve my craft

Armed with this information I went looking:

  • I popped the search term “freelance editor” into Linked In
  • I put the request out on Twitter
  • I read the acknowledgement pages in books that I really enjoyed
  • I googled the terms “freelance editor” and “how to find an editor” and landed on the Freelance Editors Network.
  • I checked out the website for NSW Writers Centre (of which I’m a member).

Then I went through profiles, checked out their website links and made a list of people that I thought I’d like to work with. Then I emailed them.

Price was an important consideration, of course it is – self-publishing is a business, and businesses have budgets – but ultimately, ticking the boxes above were more important to me.

There you have it.

Who do I use? The delightful Nicola O’Shea from ebookedit.com.au. Now, excuse me while I get back to the business of writing – my deadline is now locked in.

Want to know more about the editing process? You might also like What To Expect From A Structural Edit and What To Expect From A Copy Edit

Why I’m an indie author…

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I gave my mother a copy of Wish You Were Here for Christmas. There’s something quite confronting about your mother reading a story where the occasional swear word is uttered and sex happens.

It reminds me of the story when my brother was really young and we were on the farm just outside of Bombala (in southern NSW) helping with the lamb marking. If you don’t know what lamb marking is, I’ll explain sometime much later. Anyways, my brother was wrestling this lamb that was almost as big as him – it was one of the early born lambs that season – and he said ‘F’n hell, you’re an idiot, lamb!’

We all went silent. Ummmmm aaaaaah.

Tearfully, my brother apologised, ‘I’m sorry Mum – I didn’t mean to say idiot!’

Given that Mum’s reaction to my potty mouth is usually something like, ‘ you’re better educated that that, Joanne,’ it’s fair to say I was concerned that Mum was reading my book. I even joked about redacting the spicy bits. As one of my sisters said, I can’t believe you used the word “cock”.’ Really? What else was I going to call it. Hi Leese…

As it turns out, Mum loved the book and said the sex was nicely done. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing…in fact, I don’t want to know. I was, however, thrilled that she liked it – and was prepared to tell all of her friends that she liked it. She asked me, though, why I’d decided to self publish this book. ‘Surely it’s good enough to be published, Joanne,’ she said.

Yeah, I think it is – which is why I published it.

The thing is, after I self published Baby, It’s You, I made the decision to continue to self publish. I’m still not making a living – or anywhere near a living – from my books, but I’m proud of them, and I’m proud to be an indie author. It’s what I want to continue to do.

Why did I go indie in the first place?

I’d sent Baby, It’s You off to a few publishers. It got through the slush pile with one – who asked to see the first three chapters. Then three months later they asked to see the whole book – and requested that I not show anyone else while they were deliberating. Three months later the answer came back: sorry, like the story, like the voice, but not enough romance for us.

Disappointed, I repeated the process. Can we see the first three chapters. Sure. Three months later: we’d like to see the rest of the book – you’re not showing anyone else are you? After six months I got the same result: sorry, like the story, like the voice, but too much romance for us.

At that point I figured that if it was good enough to get through the slush piles and good enough to be considered for acquisition, the bones of a good story were there. It was then that I decided that I was tired of waiting. It was then that I decided that it was time to back myself and take control of the process.

What happened next?

A lot of research.

I sat down and worked out what it was that a traditional publisher would do. They’d hire a structural editor, a copy editor, a cover designer, and there’d be someone to do marketing and promotions. At least.

So that’s what I set out to do. Hire the same people that a traditional publisher would hire. Except for the marketing part – although, I’ve since done that too.

That means an investment?

Absolutely. Publishing costs money – especially if you want your book to be the best version of itself that it can be. When you’re publishing independently, you’re making the investment that a publisher would normally be making for you and in you. You’re also reaping a larger proportion of the royalties – assuming, that is, that you’ve done your marketing and sell books outside your immediate circle of friends.

If you’re with a traditional publisher, they hire the editors, organise the cover, and do your marketing (although many first time authors have been disappointed with the amount of marketing they’ve had to do for themselves). If you’re lucky you’ll be paid a small advance, and will be paid a portion of the royalties once their investment has been repaid. It’s basic business common-sense. If you’re successful, you have the support of the publisher for your next venture, and your next, and the one after that.

So why self-publish then? Surely it’s better to have someone do all of that for you?

The easy answer would be to admit that I’m a control freak. The longer answer is that as much as I love the creative process, I really enjoy the business of writing –  and I’m prepared to make an investment in my business.

I’m in this for the long haul, so the team I’m building around me is one I trust to help me achieve my publishing goals and to help me be a better writer.

Do I secretly yearn for a publishing contract?

Man, yes! Especially when I get great feedback about the books, but the sales remain slow – even though they are improving with each release. Would I go out looking for a publisher? Not at the moment – but I wouldn’t rule out doing that in the future. At this point I’m enjoying being the CEO of my writing career, although there’s no denying that I’d love to one day see my books in an airport – and have the instagram to prove it.

Can you keep the costs down by skimping on an editor and doing your own cover design?

In theory, yes, but would a traditional publisher skimp on an editor or a cover designer? No, they wouldn’t. And when you’re an indie, you’re your own publishing house. Just saying.

Is indie publishing for everyone?

No. You need to be prepared to be responsible for your business, treat your creative output as the product or assets of your business, and manage it in the same way as a traditional publisher would.

If you want to simply create and leave the business to someone else, then indie publishing is not for you.

Business Planning for Indie Authors…

businesswoman thinking

So anyways, one of my goals this year is to grow my writing business. Given that it is a business, it needs to be treated as one – and for that reason it needs a business strategy.

I began the process of this in the middle of last year and invested in some marketing consultancy. As an aside, I used Mel Kettle Consulting and she was fabulous. I’ll tell you all about why indie authors need marketing strategies and what to expect from the process in a separate post.

Part of the outcome from this work was an examination of my strengths and my weaknesses – and, most importantly, required me to talk about what it was that I wanted from my business. I have to admit, at the time I hadn’t thought as long and hard about these things as I should have. I threw some figures around, but hadn’t put a lot of science behind them.

Since then, I’ve analysed the data – and developed a longer-term plan. It’s one that has actions and dates and numbers attached to it. Of course everyone knows it’s not a strategy doc until it’s in a power-point presentation, but I consulted with my business partner (Kali, Adventure Spaniel) and we decided we couldn’t be faffed.

In building my strategy I looked at:

WHO I want to be: My vision

WHAT I aim to achieve

HOW I’ll implement the strategy in 2017

WHY I want to do this. What values are important

Ok, here goes:

Vision Statement

To be a financially successful independent author.

3 year Strategy for focused growth

  • Increase product offering
  • Increase independent income to day job levels
  • Begin speaking at conferences and workshops

My Priorities: 2017 in focus

1. Double the number of products offered for sale.

Currently I have 5 products for sale:

  1. Baby, It’s You (Amazon)
  2. Big Girls Don’t Cry (Amazon)
  3. Big Girls Don’t Cry (ibooks)
  4. Wish You Were Here (Amazon)
  5. Wish You Were Here (Ingram Sparks print on demand)

By the end of 2017, there will be 10.

2. Double business income year on year

Despite fiction being responsible for over 80% of my cost base, it accounts for just over 22% of my writing income – the remainder comes from freelance astrology commissions. This needs to begin to even out.

3. Increase email list- both astro and fiction lists

  • Double down on content offerings
  • Develop a calendar for blog posts and schedule in advance
  • Develop a schedule for newsletters
  • Marketplace for astrology list

4. Increase general brand awareness

  • Attend Romance Writers Conference
  • Draft list of potential speaking topics and begin actively seek out opportunities
  • Develop press releases for all new fiction
  • Begin developing networks in Sunshine Coast and Brisbane when relocated

Values – my WHY

Success, for me, is defined as living (or being) the following values:

1. Freedom

  • The financial freedom to travel, explore and create
  • The professional freedom to choose and pursue my projects

2. Independence

  • The financial independence to build my own income and success
  • The professional independence to work with teams of my choice

3. Make a difference

  • Fiction: To be known as an author whose books provide a happy ending and whose stories make a bad day feel better
  • Astrology: To provide readers with the tools to expand their potential and increase their good day ratios

Checking in…

I’ll check in on progress on a quarterly basis – sort of like my own mini-roadshow.

What about you? If you’re an author (indie or traditional), have you planned how you’ll grow your author business this year? What’s your ‘why’?

Have you signed up for the newsletter yet? Don’t worry, we won’t spam you, or fill your inbox too often. You can opt in here.

Astrology For Romance Writers…

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I’ve wanted to write love stories since I was way too young to know what a love story really was. I’m not necessarily talking about category romance (although I’d like to have a shot at that one day), but the sort of stories that allow you to escape from your own life into one where despite the crap, there is the possibility of a happy ending. Even if that ending doesn’t involve a bended knee proposal, the whole point is for the heroine to learn something and for me – the reader – to feel hopeful for her.

That’s why I started writing about astrology – and yes, I know that some of you reading this who would say that writing astrology is the perfect base for writing fiction, but go with me on this…

They say that if you want to write, then you have to read, and you have to write. The reading part I had no issues with – I’ve been a prolific reader my whole life. The writing part? Well, that was different. What could I write about? Most of my writing had, until then, consisted of project charters, credit proposals, or tender responses.

I was studying astrology at the time – initially the result of a rather drastic mid-life crisis, and later out of a real enjoyment of the subject.  I figured I’d write about what I was learning… as I learnt it. And the astrology blog was born.

It’s through the thousands of posts that have followed, that I’ve discovered my style and my voice – and developed a writing habit.

It’s also the tool that I use to help me get into the head of my characters.

I’m not what you’d call a plotter. The manuscript I’m working on now is at the 40,000 word mark. I’m about halfway through and due to finish the first draft at the end of February – yet I’m still not entirely sure how Callie (my heroine) is going to have the happy ever after she deserves. What I do know is what her chart looks like – no spoilers. In knowing this I know what her motivations are, how she thinks, how she reacts instinctively to stresses and challenges, how she relates, how she goes after what she really wants, and what (and who) turns her on.

In my first draft of Wish You Were Here, Max was seriously floaty. I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t know why – because she didn’t know what she wanted. As soon as I gave her a chart, I had her motivation. Once I had her motivation, I could create a conflict that would send cause her more than a few problems.

It was the same with my heroine, Abby Brentnall in Big Girls Don’t Cry. I knew right from the start that Abby was an Aries. I also knew right from the start that she needed some triggers to confront the events of her past and take her to who she needed to be and what she needed to be doing. Without getting too technical, I used astrology for that too. In order to bring Abby forward, I needed to take her into her shadow side.

Every sign has strengths and shadows. Generally we stray into the shadow without knowing. We escape to there from whatever is stressing or haunting us, so we don’t have to deal with whatever it is we don’t want to face. Of course, being fiction, we highlight these in order to create a contrast between who the character is at the start of the book, and how she has grown.

Very often that shadow is the exaggeration of the strength of our Sun. Abby, an Aries, is assertive and independent. Qualities that, in extreme, can easily be seen as selfish, self-centred and willful – both words associated with the Aries shadow. Abby laughs at herself when she says to Todd:

‘Typical fricken Aries ‒ it’s all about you.’

‘You’d know,’ he said.

Brad used to laugh at the self-centred impatience that Todd and I ‒ whose birthdays were only a week apart ‒ had in common.

The famous Aries need to compete can become a need to win at all costs, or regardless of the cost. I used Andi, Abby’s best friend, to illustrate this when she warned Abby:

‘You don’t have to win every battle. If you’re not careful, you’ll take it too far and be left with nothing.’

If taken too far, the Aries self-reliance, or doing it for themselves by themselves can also result in isolation or loneliness- as Abby finds out.

We can also find our shadow when we stray too far into our opposite sign and find instead its shadow. This is what happened with Abby. Ever so gradually over the years her independence and fearlessness – the strengths that saw her stand up for what she believed in; the courage that made her charge head-first into whatever it was that was challenging her – those edges were smoothed, civilised and compromised.

In the first chapter, Brad sets this up when he tells her:

You’re picking an argument because I asked you to come with me and you don’t want to make the decision. What’s happened to you? There was a time when you would have jumped at the chance of an adventure ‒ you’d have been on that plane before I finished the sentence. Once upon a time, you would have jumped out of the plane!’

Once I’d put Abby into her shadow, I needed to give her the tools to find herself again.

I did the same with Em in Baby, It’s You. Em is in many ways a good example of the textbook Pisces shadow – inappropriate footwear and a tendency to fall for unattainable men… not that she fell for anyone who belonged to anyone else, just men who were rebounding from someone, and needed to be fixed up so their past wanted them back. Her friend Susie, referred to it as renovation dating.

Em had, over the years, gone to her opposite sign (Virgo) to find a way of controlling her environment, but in doing so had become dependent on lists, organisation, and her comfort zone. For Em to have her happy ending, I needed to take her beyond her own boundaries so that she could step out into possibility and trust that things would still be ok. To do that, I gave her someone else’s bucket list.

As for my heroes? They have a chart as well. Not so that I can send them on any personal growth journey, but so that I can develop their character. Josh in Baby, It’s You, has all of the mutable, how – hard – can – it – be optimism of Sagittarius. For him, life is an adventure. An exhausting adventure.

Brad in Big Girls Don’t Cry has the steady patience and reliability of Taurus. Yes, he has a stubborn streak, but he’s learnt to temper that and save his anger for when it really matters.

As for Richie in Wish You Were Here, he’s a Scorpio – and has all the magnetic, strong and sexy appeal that goes with that. And, he should have been taught how to use his words when he was growing up. Just saying.

2017: The Writing Goals

2017 goals word abstract on napkin

So that was 2016. Tomorrow night we’ll be raising a glass to it and sending it on its way. There’s no denying 2016 was difficult – for me personally, and for many of you too. Yet it was also a year that brought with it some pretty big highs. I guess, though, that’s what you need – a mix of highs and lows. It’s what gives the year texture. Plus, it’s the lows in life that make us uncomfortable enough to change what isn’t working.

Another thing I’m a believer in is setting myself goals. Aside from the fact that if you don’t know what you want to get done, you’re unlikely to get it done, I’m not great with boundaries. Having a set of goals and deadlines helps me not only remember what it was I declared so confidently on the stroke of midnight last year, but also keeps me on track. It can somehow help to balance out the highs and lows – or at least bring the lows more into your favour. As an aside, my resolutions are usually declared confidently somewhere before midnight as I’m rarely still awake for the main event.

2016 was a big year – even if my output doesn’t show it:

  • Published Wish You Were Here (in October)
  • Released Wish You Were Here to print on demand – and got so busy with selling the house I didn’t tell anyone about it
  • Revamped the cover of Baby, It’s You so it aligns with the other two
  • Wrote a 3000 word feature article for Wellbeing Astrology in April
  • Spent much of February and March writing 2017 horoscopes for these astro diaries.
  • Between each of my 3 websites (Jo Tracey Astrology, And Anyways and this one), I wrote over 280 blog posts.

Put it all together and that’s an awful lot of words – and doesn’t count re-writes and edits…and boy were there a lot of them for Wish You Were Here.

Anyways, I’m keen I have to continue the momentum. This, the writing, is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. That means that if I have to continue to do the juggling thing in order to afford to live and pay the mortgage and other essentials like location scouting trips (ahem) until I have enough of a back catalogue or enough of a following to make a living, then that’s what I‘ll do*.

Which leads me ever so neatly into my writing goals for this year:

  • Publish another two chick lit novels.
  • Publish the first two astro workbooks in the Tuesday Toolbox series
  • Release Baby, It’s You and Wish You Were Here on ibooks and kobo
  • Release Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry to print on demand.
  • Sell loads of all of them (and yes, I have a number in mind)

Because I’m a project manager, I did, of course, pop everything I need to do into a project plan. Yep, I’m sad. I’d print it up and stick it on the wall, but I think my real estate agent would frown at that.

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Of course, the dates will be dependent on whether my editor and cover designer etc can fit me in, but that’s ok, I have contingency built in.

To make sure I wasn’t losing track of it all, I also filtered the tasks to whoe when I’d actually be writing. It looks like below – and, all going well, frees me for a completely new project at the end of the year.

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What else?

The key to all of this is increasing my mailing list, so I’ll be working on that this year too. I have the same sign-up form over at and anyways, so if you signed up there, you don’t need to do it here as well.

So, that’s my year taken care of- what are your writing goals for 2017? Go on, let’s get them out there- so loudly that the Universe has to take notice!

*It doesn’t follow that I won’t whinge or dramatically declare just how totally stressed I am from time to time.