Sunday, August 7, 2011

Overexposure


I've spent this year recovering from and weaning myself from overexposure. You see, my first couple years in this business I spent feeling driven to turn out more and more work. I had multiple releases in the same month with different publishers. I struggled to figure out how to do any promo and keep it fresh and relevant because I had sooo many releases.

And then I looked at my sales in months with multiple releases. What I discovered told me it was time to slow down. Like way down. My editors told me my work was still strong but despite their assertions I wondered if the readers weren't thinking I must be lacking in quality because I was turning out so much stuff in so short a time.

Perception is a big thing. I don't actually have to be turning out bad work for people to think that it must be bad because I had so many releases in a year, sometimes two in a month, once two in the same week. So I decided that multiple releases in the same month were not for me. Based on the few times it had happened to me in the past, I could see that sales on one of those books invariably suffered. That’s when I started to wonder if fans assumed it wasn't a very good book because I’d put it out so quickly. And honestly, when it came to my sales, I think some books just got lost in my deluge of releases.

With a full-time, very demanding job, I live with a lot of stress and the pace I set for myself early in my career made it worse. When I crashed, I crashed hard and I had to take a good long look at what I was doing and whether I was helping my career or killing it by overexposing myself.

Initially, I didn’t like going a month without a release. I feared people would forget about me. Which is crazy. When I looked at it all logically I realized overexposure was more likely to turn people off me. When I allowed myself to take a step back and analyze whether putting out so many books in a year was really worth it, I discovered that I felt overwhelmed. And if I felt overwhelmed by my volume maybe my readers did too.

I realized I was doing too much. I couldn’t keep my promo dates straight without a calendar to tell me which book I was talking about and where. I had never ending edits and had to start calendaring when I got edits, when I sent them out, when I got them back…and I had to put a lot of time into planning promo so I wasn’t duplicating my efforts or wasting my advertising dollars. I was out of control and had to put on the brakes.

So I slowed down my frenetic pace of writing and promo. And having the time to build up a little suspense in my fan base over my next release has turned out to be a good thing. The buzz J. R. Ward builds among her readership between releases is amazing. Could she do this if she released so many books in a year that she had multiple releases in a month? No freaking way. Like Ward, I want readers to anticipate my next book and get a buzz going about it. I want them to throw a party when it does come out. And I want them to sigh with joy when they finally have their copy.

I'm not going to stop writing. If I happen to go through another driven phase, I'll just hold onto those manuscripts to help space out my releases. No more multiple releases in a single month. (Unless it's Christmas. Christmas shorts are one of those things that just have to come out in the holiday season no matter what!) In fact, no more releases every single month. I've decided that 4 or 5 in a year is my absolute maximum in order for me to concentrate on judicious promo of those books. This will make my advertising dollars have the biggest bang for the buck too. I won't be competing with myself for the time and money of readers. It's a win-win situation for me.

Will I be the next J.R. Ward. Not likely. But I will be able to spend time on building a buzz and a community of fans which is something I've always wanted to do but never had time for. Planning my career instead of letting the releases drive it, puts me in control. And I'm never, ever going to let overexposure happen to me again. I care too much about my writing and my readers for that.

For a taste of what I'm working on currently, stop by my author blog for my Six Sentence Sunday post. Wishing you all a wonderful Sunday!

21 comments:

  1. First of all, I've never noticed the quality of your work slipping. But I can see where the frenetic pace would be hazardous to any writer after a while.

    I'm certainly in no danger of that! LOL...But, now that I've read your post, I'm encouraged that my slower pace is fine for me, my own personal level. And I know, since you've given it so much thought, it will be so for you, too.

    You're a fabulous author. No matter what you write, or how much you write, it will always have the Lex Valentine stamp of quality.

    Of that I am confident.

    Hugs and happy writing, lovely lady.

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  2. As long as you keep writing, I'll keep being a happy fangirl! I think I missed the multiple release per month phase of your career...and you know, I might have been overwhelmed. I know I've seen other authors churn out multiple releases month after month...and I did wonder if they were sacrificing quality for quantity.

    And just so we're clear, I never met a Lex Valentine story I didn't fall passionately in love with. You get me right in the heart every freaking time. I'll definitely be one of those fans sighing when I get my hot little hands on the next Smexy Lexy story.

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  3. Carol - I try hard not let any story suffer from a lack of anything. Sometimes that tough to do and still give a publisher what they require. Some expect a high level of sex within a specific word count and some of the characterization might suffer, the backstory or underpinings that tell you why someone acts the way they do. Still, I try my best not to slack off. Thanks for the compliment and for coming by to comment.

    Cherie - It's readers like you and Carol that keep me plugging away. It's very easy for authors to get discouraged when they see other authors getting agents and releasing lots of books and having fans squee over them relentlessly on Facebook and loops. I'm no different. If I post a snippet and two people say "That's great" but then they go on and squee over someone else's snippet and ten other people squee over the other person's snippet...you think that doesn't make me wonder if I should still be writing? It makes me not want to write. It makes me want to go back the serial story I wrote in before I was pubbed where everyone loved what posted and none of the writers there were ever overlooked when it came to praise and appreciation. (Not that the story is still there cause it's not.)

    No one likes a lack of appreciation for their efforts so every comment like yours and Carol's means something to me. It keeps me writing. Without your appreciation for what I do, I wouldn't be doing it at all. Thanks for being a fan and for commenting today.

    *HUGS* to you both.

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  4. Lex,

    Ultimately, you have to do what you feel is best for you, your writing, and your sanity. I will say that one of my best friends is a published author and typically puts out 4-6 releases a year and it totally works for her. As long as you do what's best for you, you'll never go wrong.

    That being said...I love your work and I will always be happy to read anything you put out, whether it's once a month, once every other month, once a quarter, or once a year. As long as you continue to write and publish on whatever schedule truly works best for you, then I'll happily scoop up your books on release day. :)

    Danielle

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  5. Brilliant observation, Lex. I came to the same conclusion last year. Aside from a few short works, I'm giving myself some breathing room. In 2009 and 2010 I put out so many books and I too could not keep my blog posts straight, forgot which end was up...
    Not going there again. There's something to be said for being a bit mysterious.
    Think intermittent reinforcement.

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  6. Know what you mean Lex - I was shunting them out like a battery chicken at one point - this year I've slowed down just to catch my breath - BTW the blurb for Breathe Me In sounded so intriguing I ordered it. Cheers, JP

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  7. Danielle - I'm so happy you like my work! And it's true that every author has to find what work's best for them. I could see that the over the top pace wasn't helping me sell books though and it was making me nutso too so I knew it was time to slow down and sip the coffee, not gulp it! LOL

    Julia - I knew I wasn't alone in this. I'd seen other authors slowing their pace too. And yeah, mysterious is definitely good! Probably because people are naturally curious. LOL

    JP - Catching your breath, slowing the cardiac arrest pace...Sometimes it's the best thing to do to stave off burnout. I hope you like Breathe Me In. My editor said it's the lushest thing I've written to date.

    Thank you all for coming by to read and comment!

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  8. All I can say is excellent post. :-)

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  9. In 2009, I only had three books out. (That was my first year of being published.)

    In 2010, I had five. (Two young adult and three romance.)

    This year... this year has been crazy. I've done the two releases in the same month--and in the same week. I think there was one month that I had three releases (one was young adult). I'd been thinking that I needed to slow things down, and after reading this post, I think that even more.

    Thanks for posting this, Lex.

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  10. Se - Thank you, darlin!

    Karenna - You're welcome. Some of the best authors out there have been mentoring me (thank you Watercooler ladies!)and originally I'd written this post more like a lecture on the evils of overexposure rather than a focus on me and what overexposure has meant to me and my career. I have to say that they were right. It's had a lot more power to focus on this topic in a me-centric manner. People who have been there or are headed there will get this post without being offended by a lecture. I'm so happy it is ringing a bell with others.

    Thank you both for commenting today!

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  11. Lex, one more comment from me. LOL...
    I know intimately the feeling you expressed about the 'squees' and exclamations from readers to some author snippets and...well...the kind I get.LOL...

    I get nice comments from snippets, and have good feedback on my ONE book. Not riotous fans who beg for more, more, more, but good fans nonetheless.

    I do think the feedback I see for you is very enthusiastic, though, and I know people (including me) love your work and are tried-and-true fans.

    I have to accept--for myself--that I will never be a 'rock star' author. I will not have groupies and squees. And I think I'm okay with that.

    My feeling is this. The small handful of readers who loved my characters, and the deep insight they had into them...well, I think that's what I take to heart most of all.

    I'm not a rock star writer. And---if a reader shimmies and swoons at my book, in exactly the SAME words they do every book by every author---how can I know MY book was really all that unique? Someone asked me that one time. I had to really think about it, and learn to love what I write, and know that my work WILL have its niche audience. I think I'm cool with that. In fact, I think I might even prefer it.

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  12. My thought was that more releases = more money. Since my doctors keep giving me more reasons why I can't have a full-time day job, or even a part-time one that involves more than a few hours a week, more money sounded good. But it doesn't seem to be working out that way, and I know that I'm not as effectively promoting my books as I'd like because I have too many of them to promote. The young adult stuff is particularly suffering, because I find it harder to promote that anyway.

    Carol, I'm not a rock star either, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I get all happy when someone tells me they like one of my books, because it doesn't happen all the time. Heck, I get all happy when I realize someone's heard of me! (I met someone in person at a friend's party a couple months ago who said he'd heard of my books and had seen them on Amazon...that was amazing!)

    I think I'd rather have those moments with a few books, and be able to promote effectively, than do what I've done this year, which in addition to not really working is making me a wee tad bit crazy. LOL. I'd already made arrangements to back down a bit on the young adult releases (a book every other month this year has been killing me), and I think I'll be doing the same on the romance. I want to get the books written and get them out there, but honestly, does it really matter if my next book comes out in October or January?

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  13. Carol and Karenna - At this level we're none of us rock stars. Those are people like Yasmine Galenorn and JR Ward. People with thousands of followers and fans. I'm certainly no rock star. I'm still playing local parties having just stepped out from the garage band level.

    And it's okay. I don't mind paying my dues at all. Not everyone can land an agent without soliciting them with a manuscript. Not everyone can have a NYT bestseller. But it's nice to have people acknowledge your work and say something appreciative about it.

    When you find those comments coming less and less frequently and less and less fervently...well, you also find it harder and harder to keep doing this. Even in my EDJ, staff complain about the lack of appreciation shown to those of us who aren't on salary and still work a 50 hour week like the managers do.

    With the writing, maybe the problem is that some groups only show that appreciation to certain authors. Which makes me feel that those groups aren't the ones for me. If they are ignoring me or not really showing a liking for what I post, then I guess I don't belong there. It's the reason (along with out of control promo) that I've put most of my groups on digest or left them.

    We all have to find the place we belong where we get the support we need to go on. No one ever does this all alone. We all need someone to tell us we're doing good. We need the appreciation, acknowledgement and accolades. Oftentimes I wonder if I'm on the wrong groups because I don't feel this in most places. And it's part and parcel of rethinking my career and where I truly belong in terms of the communities out there in Yahoo and FB-land. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only author that feels this.

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  14. As a reader and a student of publishing I find this incredibly informative. The need to promote in a healthier way that doesn't stress you makes perfect sense to me.

    As a fan of your books, I understand your need for less stress and hope that you will release 5 or 6 books a year not including the very short Christmas books. (This, of course, is the selfish part of me!)

    As someone who hopes she is supportive and a yahoo friend, I hope that the fewer books you have to concentrate on writing, editing and stressing over, the healthier and happier you will be.

    As a Student and part-time Professor who also loves to read every book that her favorite authors write, and has a list of over 30 favorite authors whose books are not available to borrow from libraries, so therefore must purchase all of them, My checkbook thanks you. I am able to occasionally purchase a book or two by authors not on the list, but most months this isn't possible. Some months I am catching up on purchasing books I couldn't afford from the previous month.

    Final note: I think a solid back list of 20 to 30 books will also help with your income. Remember sometimes that if you are new to a reader and they really enjoy a book that they have picked up on a whim or after reading an excerpt, then they are likely to look to your back list to find a few cheaper books and determine if you are an author they could love. Not all readers are this way, but a good number of us are.

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  15. Lex, you're definitely right about some groups seeming to only support some authors. I've belonged to groups where not only were my promos ignored, but all of my posts were, even if I was directly responding to a discussion.

    I'm starting to get comments, and even got my first actual fan email the other day, which was a major rush :)

    Susi, for some authors, I think backlists do help. In my case, though, I haven't seen any uptick in sales of my backlist books when I release new books, and I think that's partly because I have too many new books coming out at the same time.

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  16. Well, Lex, I can only say I hear and appreciate your perspective. I've been doing the one (or more) release a month thing the past year, and it is really, really hard to keep up, because the last thing I want is my work to suffer and my readers to be disappointed. I would hate for them to expect a certain quality and not deliver what I know I'm capable of because I'm not giving each story and each character the time and attention they deserve. I appreciate this post so much because I've been thinking around the edges of this topic for a few months, now and I am so relieved to realize I'm not crazy for coming down on the same side of the fence on it as you have. I write because I love to write, I love the stories and the characters, and I am miserable when I begin to feel I'm shortchanging any of them.

    Thanks, Lex. :)

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  17. Susy - It's tough. There are some readers who would love to have something new from an author every month. But in this economy, I think more and more readers are like you. They wish they could buy that many but they can't and they end up having to choose between authors and books. I know I find myself in that position as a reader. With regard to a backlist, having a backlist in a series is what I think helps me. They aren't individual stand alone titles. People will read one or win one in a contest and get hooked and want the rest of the series. Then, if they loved the series but I don't have something new coming out, they buy the other titles that are stand alones. And I thank you so much for being a steadfast fan. I appreciate it so much!

    Karenna - The loops work better for people who have the time to work them during the day and for people on the East coast. I've never had much luck with them being on the West coast with no time during the day to pop in and talk to readers.

    Jaime - I worried a lot about speaking out on this subject and my friends on the Watercooler loop advised caution as well. My sense was that I wasn't alone in this regard but I really had to frame up the idea from my POV. I'm very glad that it resonated with others though. Giving the best you can to readers is the most important thing. I think if you give readers the best books you can and find a venue for advertising them that works to your benefit without being cost or time prohibitive, you'll sell books. I didn't like the idea of being in competition with myself for sales. I couldn't see how that would help me at all. So I had to make the decision to pull back.

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  18. I think it's great that you have the energy to write and work fulltime. But slowing down a bit may improve quality. It's always a good idea to write a manuscript and then re-examine it in a few months in terms of a critical edit before you submit to your agent or publisher.

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  19. Definitly will take the advice of a seasoned writer. After selling one book years ago and then nothing for years, I find myself driven to write more and sell more and beg to get the releases close together. I guess putting out qaulity instead of quantity is a good thing. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

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  20. Wow, as usual you have such a dead on and thought provoking post. I've been feeling much the same way, trying to find what works for me and is true to how I like to write.

    Recently I decided to sit down and meditate before going into a book and along the way to make sure it's serving my higher self. It might sound hokey but I think it's a good thing.

    Jan

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  21. Jacqueline - I don't really second guess my Tales series books and my editor has been with me from the beginning with it so if it's missing some critical she'll tell me. Same with my MLR Press editor. We work well together and she'll pick up on something that is lacking and tell me, "Uh, right here, work on this." On the other hand, with other manuscripts, I would prefer to set them aside for a couple of weeks before sending to my editor.

    Gabriella - The sense that you need to do more and more is something I had to combat within myself. I do it every day. I have things I want to get completed and off to my editor so I can start something new, but I keep myself from trying to do too much now. I don't like how I feel when I put myself under pressure so I just have to control myself. I really don't make any more money by having more releases. In fact, I'm pretty sure I lost myself money by being in competition with myself for reader dollars.

    Jan - You're so Zen! I wish I could be more like that and less the A-type headed for a stroke kind of person that I am. I'm working on it though!

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