Note: This is another “write to market” post. If you don’t want to read it, skip this one.
Real life story that does lead into the theme of this post:
Yesterday morning, I woke up and discovered mold that had been sitting along the hallway wall for months. (The bathroom shower is on the other side of this hallway wall.) I have no idea how long it was sitting there, quietly growing and spreading. It was hidden by some shoes and some towels. (We had shelves that were on this wall. Needless to say, those shelves are gone now.) I called a handyman I know, and he tore into the wall so we could see how much damage we were looking at. In short, we’re going to need to remove the entire wall and put in a new shower. If anyone wonders, the way to kill mold is by bleach. But this wall was too far gone. There was no saving it, and the shower and tub were a part of the damages in this whole thing.
So here’s how this ties into theme of the post:
Sometimes there’s something wrong within us, and, like mold, it quietly works in the dark. It’s often something that is at work for a long period of time, which makes us unaware that it’s even there. This morning as I was spraying bleach to kill off any remaining mold, it occurred to me that the problem I’ve been experiencing with my writing has been bothering me since last August 2017 (yes, I mean 2017). I know it was that month because it was the first time I got completely wiped out, and I’ve been limping along ever since. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Last week, I actually contacted a couple of close author friends and confessed I was seriously consider quitting. This isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to quit. I’ve been on Amazon and Smashwords since 2009. There have been other times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and give up. It’s not easy being a writer. I bet it’s not easy being anyone who is creating something.
When you create something, a lot of people find ways to criticize it. There is no story that pleases everybody. That is an impossible mission. That’s why I don’t believe in revising a story to death. No matter how much you go through a story, it’ll never be perfect. On the flip side, you do want to write the best story you possibly can. You don’t want to rush through the story and throw it out there.
The rushing part is what I’ve been guilty of for the past 2.5 years. I bought into the “hurry up and get another book out” mindset in my pursuit to keep making the same amount of money I did back in 2015. I realized I could no longer take my time writing a book and expect to make the same amount of money I was up to that point. I know a lot of it has to do with the supply of books going up. Authors who started out in 2009-2011 like I did were used to taking our time writing books and yielding good results from it. We suddenly found ourselves in the hamster wheel I’ve also discussed on this blog. And a lot of us have been trying to keep up. We also had to learn to write to market in order to appeal to the majority of people, which is another thing I did.
Apparently, just getting out of the wheel wasn’t enough for me. The mold within my own writing life was still there. I feel like I’ve been playing whack-a-mole in nailing down the source of the mold. If I can rip out the mold, I can stop the damage from spreading. My last couple of books pretty much bombed. I only have one book this year that sold decently. Now, I knew the pen name books weren’t going to do well because no one knows who that person is. But my romances had way underperformed, and it did get worse in the summer, which (from what I heard) is the same time frame a lot of other authors got hit with lower-than-average sales. So it wasn’t just me during the summer months.
So then what? Well, authors run to educational resources (books, videos, courses, podcasts) to learn how to improve sales. I’m not immune to any of this. But I found the more I focused on this stuff, the more stressed out I was getting, and I’m sure that helped the mold in myself grow faster. I realize all of these educational resources are there to help authors, and they do have a benefit. However, the advice in these recourses doesn’t work for every author who follows it. I have a really nice author friend who has been writing awesome books this entire time (we started out at the same time), and her sales aren’t what they should be. According to the advice of this latest You Tuber, my author friend should be making $10,000 a month. But I know my friend isn’t making that much, and she’s followed every piece of advice that this You Tuber said she should do.
I’m at the point where I think marketing advice is like throwing spaghetti up on a wall. Maybe it worked for THAT author, but it’s not something that is guaranteed to work. But a lot of other authors will blame the someone like my author friend for not following the advice better. And this contributes to “mold” that builds up within a writer. I know it contributes to my own mold. I can’t control what happens if I do X, Y, or Z. All I can control is the story I write. These marketing people make it sound like authors can control what happens after a story is published, but that’s not true. Authors can try different tactics to get noticed, but we can’t control who is out there buying our work, if they even buy it at all. And that’s a very frustrating and discouraging feeling. If people don’t buy our work, we assume it’s because the story isn’t good. Of course, this isn’t true. I’ve come across a lot of excellent stories that don’t sell well.
Is all of this rambling getting somewhere?
Yes, actually, it is. Last week, I hit rock bottom. For the first time this morning, I saw the “mold” in my own writing life. Some people will say the answer is to stop writing for a while. I thought that at first, too, but writing is not my problem. When I write, I feel a lot better. I did a couple of days off and felt extremely frustrated. I went ahead and wrote, and I felt calm and in control over things again. But, it really does depend on what I’m writing and why I’m writing it.
My problem began when I started writing to market. I was also rushing books out, but it was the writing to market thing that did me in. From 2007-2015, I wrote what I was interested in. That meant I loved every story I was writing. It wasn’t stuff everyone loved. Some people who loved my earlier books said they didn’t like the recent ones, but I loved them. Over these past three years, I’ve only been passionate about a handful of the books I published. I enjoyed every book I wrote, but there’s a difference between enjoying something and being passionate about something. Passion means I want to go back and reread my own books. Enjoyment is okay but not something I care to go back to.
So I had to admit something that’s not easy: I write to a niche market.
The books I’m passionate about are not the same as what the majority of readers out there seem to like. I like to mix a Christian perspective with sex in a marriage relationship. A lot of people don’t like that. They prefer to do one or the other. So authors who want to reach the largest market end up choosing which side to go on. It’s hard for me to find a Christian romance that has love scenes between husband and wife. This has been true in traditional publishing and indie publishing. Combing both things is not popular. I tried breaking out of the niche by being more secular in my work, but I didn’t feel fulfilled doing that. In fact, I think that’s what God’s will is for me: to write books that glorify Him in and out of the bedroom. I believe sex is a beautiful act between a husband and wife. I don’t think it’s dirty. I’ve been married for 18 years now. I have four children. I still have sex with my husband. I’m not ashamed of it, and I see no reason why my characters should be.
A sex scene isn’t just about sex. Sex is only the physical actions. There are things happening between the characters that are much more than physical. You have emotional completion on an individual level, and you have a spiritual bonding where the two become one. Sex is a very layered event. And it complements what happens outside the bedroom. What happens outside the bedroom is just as important as what happens in it. This is why I added sex scenes to my romances early on. I felt that Christian romances that were clean missed out on the opportunity to show the additional layer within a marital relationship. I still feel that way. I don’t see why a Christian perspective needs to exclude the sexual part of a marital relationship. So I mix the two, and because of that, I will end up upsetting people from both sides of the aisle. Most of the Christian romance crowd isn’t happy with me, and most of the non-Christian romance crowd isn’t happy with me, either. So how can I expect to appeal to the largest audience out there? It’s not realistic.
Looking back on the years I’ve been writing romance, I believe the mold started to develop inside of me when I decided money was more important than doing what God wanted me to do. That’s not easy for me to admit, but how can you solve a problem unless you point out the cause? Like the pipe from the shower in the bathroom, my decision started out as s trickle. Easy to ignore. Not doing a lot of damage. But over time, the leak got bigger and stronger. I think it went full blast in August of 2017. I think that was the point where I could no longer ignore it.
While I was writing to market, I was removing as much of me as possible because I had stopped writing for myself. I think that’s what passion is. Passion is writing the story that has layers and layers of things that mean something to the author who writes it. Writing to market removes those layers because the books are tailored directly to the largest number of readers in a given genre. You can have themes and such, but they are going to be society’s important themes, not an author’s.
I’ll give you a couple of examples of what I mean. I’ve done some books with a spiritual theme in them. Eye of the Beholder is actually about how Christ loves the Church. His love makes the Church beautiful, just as Dave Larson’s love made Mary beautiful. His Redeeming Bride and Loving Eliza both have the spiritual theme of Christ’s love removing all of the sin from a person’s life so that there’s no blemish in them. (In other words, Christ offers another chance in life.) I didn’t set out to put those themes into the books. They just developed. I don’t put in spiritual themes in all of my books. Some books are just supposed to be for fun. Books like “A Bride for Tom” and “The Wrong Husband” are just comedies that were meant to make me laugh. I love a variety of books.
The mold in my life came from fear of putting those themes into my work. They are my themes. They are my interests. Sometimes I want to do something with a spiritual theme, and sometimes I just want to sit back and laugh. Either way, I put pieces of me into everything I was writing. This is why I was passionate about writing them.
Back then, I also wrote the story that most interested me at the time. I didn’t worry about what number I was in for a series. I just wrote the character’s story that I was dying to write. This is why the Nebraska Series was writing out of order. (Eye of the Beholder, Book 4, was the first book written.) The Virginia Series was written out of order, too. (An Inconvenient Marriage was written first, and that’s Book 3.) Everyone seems to want books written in order. So I started forcing myself to write them in order, and I think some of those books were forced before they should have been written. I don’t know if I’ll go back to writing out of order, but if I do, I’m not labeling the books as a series until the whole thing is done. We’ll have to see how things proceed.
I’m going to stop writing books according to other people’s interest. I’m going to only write the ones that interest me the most. Fortunately, I am interested in the current books I have in progress. The Imperfect Husband is a comedy, but it also has a spiritual theme, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” In other words, God’s best often comes in ways we don’t expect. We just have to be open to His leading. Kidnapping the Viscount is just a fun comedy. I’m working on both at the same time, and I find the variety helps me stay creative. I’m also working on the YA psychological thriller to give myself a complete break from romance. I’ve always found variety to be the key to staying creative. This is why I don’t focus on one genre all the time like some authors do. I know “smart” authors do that, but that would be the worst thing I could do, especially being as weak as I am at the moment. Mold has a way of weakening things. The wall in the hallway was soft when I was cleaning it with bleach. I felt the wall give under the pressure of my fingers, and I wasn’t even scrubbing. That’s similar to what’s happened with my creativity.
Removing the mold and putting in the new shower and wall will be a lot easier for the house than removing the source of the mold within my own writing life. I’ve spent the last thirteen months in the middle of a storm where I knew something was wrong but not knowing what it was. What I didn’t realize until this morning was that the last thirteen months have really been a blessing in disguise. I’m finding my way back to the stories I really want to write. One might think this would be easy. I thought so, too, when I dropped out of the rat race earlier this year, but it’s not easy. I have to fight against all of the negative thoughts within myself and the negative comments from others that keep creeping up around me.
So I tell myself to be patient. The mold didn’t get here overnight. It’s not going to go away overnight, either. This is going to be something I’ll struggle with for some time. Progress is not going to be a straight line. But then, the mold that was growing on the wall behind the shower wasn’t linear, either, and it’s requiring the handyman to cut out the entire wall and remove the tub and shower to rip it all out. I am confident that in the end, all of the frustration, pain, and work will be worth it when everything is cleaned up.