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Q2 Kanban Board

Since I shared my Q1 board last time, I thought I’d show my continued effort to get more organized and stay on top of my many TODOs.

I don’t have every task on the board yet, and I want to break larger tasks down better. e.g. “On Death’s Wings” could be broken down into 5K increments or some other easily identified task so I have the satisfaction of moving things over to the next column. I also only put up my newsletter and takeover tasks for April. My board isn’t big enough to keep the entire quarter before me.

The colors aren’t quite meaningful yet. I am trying to group certain things together better – but messed up a couple. Going forward, I’d like to keep general admin stuff one color, takeovers another, and true writing tasks. But I tend to just grab the first Sticky note I can find, rather than putting thought into which category the task is really in.

Focusing on PROGRESS not PERFECTION.

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Personal Growth as a Writer

I’ve been working really hard on improving myself lately, both by understanding my personality better, and also by improving my writing processes. This is likely to be a really long post with some data and analysis if you’re so inclined. Though I’ll spoil it here and say in summary: wow, have I grown a lot as a writer since 2005. Also, newsflash, momentum is key for my personal success as a writer.

I’ll also preface this with: this is my personal experience. Slower is not better. Faster is not better. DO YOU. Also remember I have a full-time, usually stressful job and three busy teenagers/college kid to manage. So while I’d love to write for hours and hours a day, it’s just not possible for me at this time. My normal writing session is 9PM-midnight if I’m lucky and the kids don’t bother me with homework or emergencies.

First, the data analysis. Queen Takes Triune is the first book where I successfully kept track from start to finish of my word counts per day – and then followed up to analyze those numbers. Yes, there were days I forgot. I’m sure there were many. (I hope there were lol.) But in general, I kept track of my word counts every day. Toward the last half, I also kept track of sprint sessions, and whether they were timed, untimed, or interrupted. Again, I’m sure I missed many – but there were enough there for me to gauge some trends.

I did keep word counts for all the other Queen Takes books – but not always by session. I also didn’t make notes about other stuff going on in my life to explain gaps in time. I made extra effort to keep track of this information this time around so I could improve.

But before I get into the actual takeaways, let me touch on a personality element that has always prevented me from doing this kind of analysis before. (If you’re interested in learning more about your personality and how it affects your writing, I highly recommend signing up for Becca Syme’s Write Better Faster and Strengths for Writers courses).

ACHIEVER is only my #5 top strength. However, it has handicapped me in the past. How? I would get hung up on “how well I was doing.” If I felt like I was getting a bad grade (even on my writing), then it would crush my mood and I’d give up on tracking. Say I only managed a couple of hundred words, and my goal was 2000. “Oh well, I failed. Stop taking notes. I can’t recover from that. Your daily average is already trashed and it won’t recover (like GPA).

I know, that’s not the best way to think about it – but that’s my first reaction. Or I’d set crazy high word counts because I *can* write 5K a day. So I should be able to write 5K *every day*. Right?

Wrong.

So even though it kills my achiever side to look at the numbers, I did keep track as much as possible. Then I put all the numbers into a spreadsheet so I could see them. Painful. Ouch. “How did I only keep track 6 days in November? (Note: I wrote other days, I’m sure – but I didn’t track them.) Why was December even worse!? What’s with all these empty days? Even after I found my stride?”

What were you thinking, Joely? Why didn’t you do better? There’s no way in hell this book should have taken you until MARCH to finish!!!

That’s immediately where my Achiever went. I had to face that pain, suck it up, and look again. And understand why.

Takeaways

  • Momentum is key. Early Nov, I went to Vegas for 20Booksto50K. While I did write while I was there, I was busy and forgot to track. It also wasn’t anywhere near 1K+ a day. Same with the Australia trip for Books by the Bridge. I was busy for days before preparing, and then had to take a week to recover. I did write while on the plane and in Sydney – but I didn’t keep track and it wasn’t enough to keep my momentum.
  • Focus is key. Late Nov – early Dec, I paused work on Queen Takes Triune to write the Holidays Between the Sheets short story. While it was fun and I’m glad I did it… it totally killed my momentum. I didn’t recover from that break until January. Obviously holidays and family stuff added to that delay – but it was a costly mistake.
  • Timed sprints really will make me focus. I know this isn’t earth shattering. I’m not that fast a writer – and my achiever got hung up on “doing well.” I know writers who can do 1K in 25 mins. I can’t do that, even if I’m completely in the zone. So my brain said, “why sprint at all?!?” Well, brain, because setting the timer and making myself do nothing else for that time is GOOD. 300 words in 25 mins is GOOD ENOUGH. And if I do it again and again and again, I will finish the book. Duh. Sidenote: the more sprints I did in a day, the more words I got. So while the first one or two might be “average” at 350 words, toward the end of the day’s work, I could write 550. Momentum, again.
  • Even when I am finally finding my stride and consistently hitting days in a row and multiple sessions each day, I still will have an off day. That’s OKAY. That’s my INPUT (#2) and INTELLECTION (#1) strengths speaking up. On days where I didn’t have as many words, I was researching or thinking. I needed to find something that sparked the next piece of worldbuilding. When I get stuck with the plot – I need to RESEARCH. I need the INPUT to spark the next bit of creativity. I need to THINK and scribble on paper and make weird connections that don’t mean anything to anyone else but me.
  • I am also an “exponential” writer, meaning I go faster toward the end (if I keep my momentum). I wrote 30% of the book in 5 days. Gulp. That’s the “P” in my INFP Myers-Briggs kicking in. I need the pressure to finish. Deadlines are great – but self-imposed ones don’t always work for me.

Some actual data references.

  • Untimed session examples: 158, 80, 68, 345, 186, 286, 195 words
  • Timed sessions (usually same days as untimed ones): 330, 325, 531, 499, 589, 550, 622, 514 words

You can definitely see doubled results across the board, even when the session was interrupted.

Side note: untimed sessions are not BAD. In fact, I plan to allow myself at least one untimed session at the beginning of every writing session. That way I can flip back through the last couple of paragraphs or even the entire scene, read and make light edits, and then continue with the next scene when I’m ready.

Now the fun part. How am I going to take this information and improve?

I have two novellas (20K each) due by May 10th – with an Evil Day Job trip likely somewhere in that time frame. There is plenty of time for me to do these. If I focus. If I work on my momentum. And I implement what I’ve learned so far.

For each novella, I will come up with a schedule – but it won’t be a “write 2K words a day” kind of schedule. That doesn’t work for me.

  • A couple of days for INPUT and INTELLECTION. Research, brainstorming, jotting notes.
  • Write the BLURB first. That gives me a road map for the main conflict.
  • A complete plot outline generated from those days of thinking and researching.
  • Write each day – even if I only read through what I’ve already got to keep the story in my head.
  • Don’t work on any other projects, even the second one that’s due.
  • Use the timer, but allow myself 1 or 2 untimed sessions daily as needed.
  • Keep a daily “words remaining” count on my notes so I can see that number going down. But don’t stress about how many words I get each day.
  • Lean into my pressure personality. If I feed the momentum and keep my focus, I know the words will be there when I need them – at the end! For Triune, I went from writing 500 words a day to 5000+ near the end. I just can’t lose that momentum!
  • TRACK. So I can make adjustments on the next book again.

What was the reference to 2005 about? That’s when I finished the first draft of Beautiful Death. I wrote a long post in the Triune about my unhappiness with that book, and I had decided to rewrite it for an upcoming anthology to be the way I always wanted it to be.

So this weekend, we made a trip to Mythos in Joplin and to visit my Beloved Sister. I planned to read the old draft on the way down, and jot down the major plot points I wanted to keep, along with all the things I wanted to keep or change.

I didn’t even make it 4% through the book before I gave up. I wanted to unpublish the book and print it out… so I could BURN IT. I don’t want to say it was bad, but goddess above, I could not get through it. That is not the kind of book I want to write now. I just can’t. I couldn’t even think about lifting out the characters as they are now.

So let’s just say I have more work to do for the first anthology piece than I planned, lol. So I’d better get busy.

It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!

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Long live House Isador

Queen Takes Triune is finally done!

This was a tough book to write. First of all, she’s a long puppy, clocking in at over 90K, making it one of the longest books I’ve written. (That first draft of Rose ages ago at 154,000 doesn’t count). But I had a lot of small threads to tie up.

I wanted some private one-on-one time with as many Blood as I could cram in, that made sense and moved the plot or characterization in some way. There are more tidbits about their past lives that are slowly revealed.

Questions that you had from as far back as the very beginning have now been answered.

It still is awesomely terrifying when the magic happens. Something that I wrote over a year ago as a side-item without much thought is suddenly important and makes sense. Even though I had no idea at the time – I just knew it was true. That it had to happen, or had to be mentioned. It always amazes me when that seemingly careless detail suddenly MEANS something, and I swear I’m not a genius. I had no idea!

Plus life happens, and so a book that I had hoped to release last December suddenly takes me 3 extra months to write. I’m sorry about that, sincerely. Personal life complications plus traveling to Australia, which was incredible, by the way, all interfered with my momentum. I’m a momentum, or exponential writer. I write faster the longer I go and I have to find my stride. So every interruption, or days where I couldn’t write, meant I had to basically start over at the 500 words/day speed.

Sometimes a book can dump out of me in a month. This one needed that extra time.

Deep down, it was hard because I wanted to do Shara full, complete, perfect justice. This is her last book as I know her story now, in this moment. Her series is complete. Yeah, I know. I didn’t want to see her finish either, and I wrote about that in the Author’s Note at the end.

This isn’t the last we’ll see from her, I promise. She will have more to say after she takes a much needed rest. Please remember that she’s still VERY YOUNG, only 22. Her youngest Blood is already 69! She deserves some down time and fun. It might have taken me over a year to finish her story, but if you look at the calendar… Only 3 months has passed between Knights and Triune.

THREE MONTHS.

She went from a nobody on the run, to Shara fucking Isador, last daughter of Isis. She conquered not just the queen of New York City but also Ra, the god of light, and that’s before you even see all the shit-kicking and name-taking she does in Triune.

In three. Fucking. Months.

So she has big plans. Huge. There are things I know you’ll all want to learn more about and you’ll still have NEW questions at the end of Triune. There is so much more to come! But Shara is taking a break for now. Let her live and love and grow and rest, for just a little while.

And brace yourself for the incredible showdown she’s going to reveal in this book.

We’re in final edits now. Look for the release in the next few days!

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Where is Queen Takes Triune?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about when you can expect the next Their Vampire Queen book. I hate to be vague, but SOON is the best I can say.

She’s my #1 Priority. The only project I’m working on. And I am making really good progress. The end is in sight. I know how the book ends and I know most of the showdown. It’s just a matter of getting there, but not skipping any of the good stuff.

However, I leave for Sydney, Australia on Monday, and I have a million things to do over the weekend, both to prepare for the trip as well as some Evil Day Job things that I couldn’t finish this week. They really really need to be done by Monday, so… it’s weekend work or it doesn’t get done.

I wanted to be finished by Monday, but with EDJ needs this weekend, I don’t know that I’ll get enough hours in the chair to finish. And it is HOURS. I write exponentially more at the end of the book in a shorter amount of time. That means when I get the final goal line in sight, I start writing 8-10K a day, sacrificing sleep as needed LOL. I don’t think I’m going to be able to write 8-10K a day *and* prepare for the trip *and* work. But we’ll see.

She is coming. Soon. I’m doing the best I can given all the pieces in motion. I won’t do a pre-order – she’ll go live immediately as soon as edits are finished and my team has already seen the first third. I’ll get the them the next chunk before I leave for Australia, even if I don’t finish, and I will be writing on the trip too.

Long live House Isador!

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Under Construction

Over the next few weeks, things may look wonky as we work to implement a store on the site where you can buy signed print copies and other merchandise. Please be patient! I’ll be writing like a mad person during this time too since I have 3 stories due 10/1, AND will be traveling to St. Louis next weekend. 

But it’s going to look great once everything’s up!

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Mark Your Calendars!

If you’ve been waiting for news on Checkmate… My goal is to have it ready the week of August 27th!

If you’ve been with me for long, you know that my writing process is usually pretty slow in the middle. I might start a book like gangbusters, but sometimes getting 10K, then 20K, then 30K… can take FOREVER.  Then I finish the last HALF of the book in like a week.

That’s what I’m hoping to do this week. Yes, I’m at the halfway mark, but I’m still announcing that I want to release on August 27th or within a few days of that (for sure by the end of the month if at all humanly possible). I feel the tides shifting inside me. Now. It’s time. The words are there. The parts of the book I had to feel my way through are written.

I have some “fun” scenes to write that I already know. Then the big showdown. The End. Easy, peasy, right?

Of course, it’s not really that easy and I’m sure there will be a few more hiccups along the way, but I’m riding the wave now and picking up speed. I may crash and burn on the other side, but it’ll be one hell of a ride.

To avoid chaos this time, I’m going to set a very brief pre-order period once I have the final book back from my editors. That way there’s no mistakes with the incomplete file going out (because it’ll be THE file) and everyone will know when the book will drop. Again, it may not be exactly the 27th depending on timing, but it should be that week.

Then…. What’s next? Well, I’m not going to tell you that, yet, because I want it to be a surprise. 

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On Writing: Process 2

This is an update to this Process post.

Stephanie Christine asked if I was still using a bujo for writing and the short answer is YES.

I actually filled up an entire notebook!  Okay, this might seem like a dumb thing to be proud of — unless you saw how many notebooks I have with 10% (or less) of the pages used and then it’s stuck on a shelf, never to be used again.

Here’s proof that I filled up an entire notebook! You can see the word count stickers I continued to use all the way to the end, plus random notes to myself as I needed it.

My only complaint with this method was cutting out the word count stickers. They were just a hair too long to fit into my notebook without hanging out, and it annoyed me when it hung off the side or got crooked.

The Etsy shop where I bought the Tomoe River notebooks (Paper Penguin Co) had a new notebook they intended to be used as a monthly calendar/planner. It was so colorful and artsy with the watercolor splashes that it inspired me to give it a try, even though it’s not the super nice paper I like. I got the grid version, and now instead of having to cut out the word count stickers, I just color in the grids under each day’s totals. It’s not dated, so if I want to skip days, or need to go over to another day, it works perfectly.

(You can see those massive weekend counts I had in order to finish!)

My only slight gripe is that it bugs me that each day isn’t symmetrical. But I’m trying to just go with the flow and not be anal about one day having more space than another. It’s actually great (if I’d just get over my appreciation for symmetry) because I can’t write as much during the week as I can on the weekend, assuming That Man stays out of my hair.

I’m still using my other Tomoe River notebook that I customized a bit. For example, when doing my first pass edits, I make a scene list, a timeline, and a fresh character list, along with a master list of any questions or things I want to consider changing that involve more thought. It also has all my research notes in it. I know a ton of Maya mythology after the Bloodgate series – but did not know quite as much Aztec mythology as I needed for Queen and I had to look a bunch of things up.  There are *many* similarities, but unique items too that I had to document.

I’m also using a combination of several planners at the moment – but I haven’t settled into a routine with them yet.  I picked up both the New Release Planner and the Book World Domination planner from Nicole.  There are pieces of each one that I like a lot and have printed out, but I keep forgetting to use as much as I need to.  These are especially helpful for planning out release schedules.  I need a calendar to do that – and I don’t want to have to draw one in my bujo.

That’s one thing I’m still adjusting to:  lead time.  I have pre-order dates to set, coordination with the formatter, cover artist, editor, beta readers, etc.  It’s not just MY date I need to keep track of. I’ve already had one release go out with my crap temporary cover and it was my lack of enough cushion in the schedule to get other people’s things in place.  I’m also struggling with the best way to keep track of the various promotions I try, for which book, how much it cost, and what the ROI was.  I’m getting better at this with the New Release Planner though the sheets provided are for a single book – not across all my spending each month.

AND yes, I bought a different downloadable planner that is focused on tarot: The Biddy Tarot Planner. This one is more weekly and monthly focused with spreads to help you tap into your intuition. I’m behind on it already, but I’ve been trying to pull a card each day and think about what it may mean. It came with a cool printable tarot card set that’s the perfect size to stick into the planner for the card of the week. I printed them on sticker paper!  However now I’m back to having to cut things out, which yeah, I find annoying (I can’t cut straight and back to the symmetry thing again).

For each of these downloadable planners, I printed out the pages I liked and used an ARC system to make my own pseudo 3-ring binder. I’m reusing the cover I made ages ago because I love how it looks – even though I get annoyed because things slip around.

 

So what has all this tracking accomplished, you ask?  The numbers speak for themselves and you can see exactly when I started to shake things up and get some traction after a disappointing 2016.

  • May: 2,324 words
  • June: 49,281 words
  • July: 19,888 words
  • August: 3,589 words (a bit of a hiccup here with school starting, Princess went to college)
  • September: 29,851 words
  • October: 38,265 words
  • November: 41,194 words
  • December: 17,711 words (this would have been way larger if That Man hadn’t planned an Eureka Springs trip on my week I’d taken off from the Evil Day Job to write)
  • January: 61,434 and the month isn’t over yet.
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Writing in 2017

2017 was a stinking pile of burning trash in a giant Dumpster for many reasons that I’m not going to rehash or get into here. I’m going to concentrate on only WRITING and mostly GOOD stuff. 

Between Samhain drama and my Carina series getting canned, I wasn’t in a good place. In 2016, the only new material I’d managed to finish was a short novella. I felt stuck in many ways. Then I had surgery at the end of the year. Up until May of this year, I wasn’t writing in 2017 either (at least not with my normal drive and determination). It was looking like another really bad year and I thought about walking away from publishing for good. Who would notice, honestly? (That’s what my brain was telling me. I hadn’t had a new release in so long I might as well have dropped off the face of the planet.)

But a few things happened in 2017 that set the wheels in motion for bigger and better things.

I could write paragraphs about how each of these bullets cascaded into new opportunities and challenges but I don’t want to write a book in this post! So I’m going to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Achievements/New Challenges in 2017

  • Set up my first pre-order in KDP (and met it).
  • Set up my first print book with CreateSpace.
  • Set up my first boxed set.
  • Re-released 4 of my old Samhain titles as an indie.
  • Re-released 3 of my old Samhain titles with Entangled.
  • Finished 3 new books (just under 200,000 words) and started a 4th.
  • Submitted a different proposal (3 chapters + synopsis) to Carina. Ultimately it was rejected but I’m still glad I went through the motions and I fulfilled a promise I’d made.
  • FINALLY hit #1 bestseller in an Amazon category!
  • Tracked all my sales across all channels and all books that I have control over for the entire year.
  • Created 3 graphs to plot out the optimum release schedule for the rest of the QUEEN books.

Here’s the GOOD STUFF – the numbers.

  • I’ve given away 11,072 FREE books to increase my newsletter and KU pages read.
  • Jan – Aug I had 2,318 page reads (very few books in KU).
  • Sept – 12,208 page reads (when I moved everything into KU).
  • Jan – Sept I sold 664 books.
  • Oct was the game changer with QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS release.
    • Gave away 3567 downloads the week after release
    • Still had 125 sales
    • With 201,757 page reads
  • Then QUEEN TAKES KING continued to push the numbers up in Dec.
  • Bringing my 2017 totals (through today) to
    • 1987 sales
    • 554,097 page reads

These are not huge numbers for the big-time indie sellers. I’m not hitting any lists with these numbers!  But for ME, this is huge and means I can easily continue to fund new covers and books and even pay some other bills without depending on my Evil Day Job bonus to seed a new series. Comparing July sales (163, when Mal’s book released) to December (774, when King released) is a 375% increase.

It came down to THREE THINGS.

*   Not giving up when I really wanted to.

*   Not being afraid to give away free books to build my readership.

*   And stumbling across the premade cover that I fell so hard for, which went on to be QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS.

That cover inspired the entire series that turned the numbers around in a huge way.

So here’s to a bigger, better 2018!  My pie in the sky goals:

  • 1 million words written
  • 1 million page reads
  • 5,000 sales.
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NaNoWriMo 2017

Let the race for words begin! Yes, I’m participating this year (you can find me as joelysueburkhart).

I wasn’t sure which book I was going to write for NaNoWriMo this year. I’d intended to start The Mummy’s Captive Witch, but Queen Takes King was flowing too well and all the stars aligned for me to just continue writing in that world. I had 32,000 words at the end of October and decided to just keep on going.

So my plan is to finish the King (guessing 60-65K) and then go straight into Queen Takes Queen. Ideally… I’ll finish both this month!  Though Queen might go a bit into December.

I’m taking every Monday off in November, plus the week of Thanksgiving. We’re not hosting this year, so I won’t have to burn days of vacation cleaning house and shopping and cooking.  So I should have plenty of 3-5k+ days to get both books done this month.  That’s the plan at least!

I’m still working out my release schedule for the next few months and beyond. I did finally hear from Carina and it was a no. The only remaining publisher obligation I have is a contemporary proposal for Entangled, but it’s not working yet and I’ve got other things cooking right now.

I haven’t decided if Queen Takes Queen will come in Jan or Feb yet.  I should have the cover early Jan, so it’s possible I could release that month. We’ll see.  I’ll firm it up once I see how this month unfolds.

For 2018, I’m really going to shoot for the moon. My ideal releases will include

  • Queen Takes Queen (Jan-Feb)
  • secret pen name release, books 2 and 3.
  • Another Queen book or two in a different queen’s POV.
  • Queen’s Checkmate or Endgame (haven’t decided which title I like best)
  • Three Cuts Deader
  • The Mummy’s Captive Witch
  • The Prince’s Beast under a new pen name
  • A spinoff of the Billionaire series for Entangled

I’m also working on

  • A Connagher boxed set. Have the cover–but need to get the formatting done.
  • Getting the Shanhasson trilogy into print
  • Getting the Connagher books into print
  • Getting Lady Doctor Wyre and her men back up for sale (new covers).

These all cost $$$ so I need new releases out to pay for everything. Hence the big push for words.

Words, all the words. My focus in 2018 is MORE WORDS.