Monday, December 22, 2014

When Authors Speak Truth

I was going to blog about this, but the incredibly talented, and equally kind Cora Carmack said it better than I could:
Your Turn: Do you think writers/authors should criticize books online? SHOULD there be different etiquette for readers and writers?

Friday, December 12, 2014

FOR WRITERS: Amazon Rankings vs. Sales - Some Not-So-Simple Truths

I had an interesting conversation with a friend earlier this week about amazon rankings and what they mean in terms of actual sales. Having been self published prior to becoming traditionally published, I had the questionable advantage of knowing what most of the rankings equate to, at least broadly, in actual sales.
I say questionable, because while I know when my book's doing well, I also know when it's not.
Now, don't get me wrong, EUW had sold really solidly. Almost 5 months after release my ranking has only dropped into the sub 15k in the month of December. I have zero complaints about what's going on with my book. But I have found many around me have very high expectations about what an Amazon ranking means in terms of overall sales. And as for what that means for my income, well, let's just say I've had to set some people straight.
So I'll tell you what I know (or believe) to be true about Amazon rankings. Someone else may have had a different experience. But I think it's time to peel back the veil a little on this stuff, so I'm just going to dive in.
Before we talk about actual numbers, it's important to know what contributes to your Amazon ranking and what doesn't.
Number one contributor to a books' ranking is the number of books sold in that format. This is an important distinction because each have their own ranking, and are calculated separately.

HOWEVER, there's some evidence that strong sales in one format may contribute to a boost in rankings for the other. Is this because the books sell each other, or because Amazon's algorithm has a point at which it says "Selling 10 books in hardcover in a 2 hour period will raise the corresponding ebook X points"? I don't know. I don't think anyone does except some people at Amazon who aren't talking. But regardless, be aware that foundationally, your book's amazon ranking is established by the number of books sold in that format over the past hour, day, week, and month, etc.
Secondarily, your ebook ranking is also boosted by KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owners Lending Library). Regardless of your royalty program (something I'm not going to comment about), Amazon counts every time a book is "shelved" on KU, or "borrowed" through the KOLL, as a sale. (For those of you considering going exclusive with Amazon in order to take advantage of these programs, be aware that a) Not every "sale" will give you a royalty and b) these programs actually contribute only small numbers to your overall sales. They do however, raise your profile. decide).
Please note: Neither of these programs applies to hardcover/paperback formats.
When someone clicks "buy now" or "1-click" on your book's Amazon page, it counts as a sale.
Amazon then runs batch updates on books every hour, or two, or twelve, or whatever it is. I can't be sure of the firm timeframes, but I can tell you from obsessive experience during a self-pub release, and a traditional release, that as a general rule, as long as your book is selling at least a copy a day, you should update roughly every 2 hours. Hourly updates usually only occur (in my experience), when you get very high in the rankings: i.e. sub 1000.
Each update will count the number of books sold during the batch window. Roughly. Again, in speaking to someone who knows what they're talking about in terms of the back-end of these kinds of algorithms, we can't be 100% sure that every update catches every sale (i.e. the update may catch every sale from 10am-12pm, but not actually update on the page until 20 or 30 minutes later--during which time you've possibly had more sales. Or it might catch everything. Or it might be two hours out of date. It's impossible to know without talking to the person who wrote it. BUT, you can be sure that a chunk of your sales have been captured, and your information at the time of update is pretty close to real-time.
However, there's if a book returned within the same update window (ebooks can be returned for up to seven days after purchase--don't get me started), it negates a previous sale. In other words, when Amazon's algorithm runs it's batch update for your book, if it sold one and had one returned, it would count as if there were zero sales.
I know this because as a self-published author I had real-time sales figures. There were MANY updates where I sold only one book, and some where a return occurred during the same period. Trust me, this is real.
Okay, so this is where I have to put my disclaimer: I have sold a lot more books as a traditionally published author than I did as a self-published author. I have insight from self-publishing updates, from other author friends who are self-published and who sold more than me in that format, and I have monthly sales figures from my publisher for the first couple months of my sales after release.
What I'm telling you here gets vaguer as the ranking gets higher because it's harder to pinpoint. Personal and anecdotal experience varies to a certain degree. But I can definitely give you ballparks:
So, strap in. Ready?
If your ranking is approximately....
180,000+ - You probably haven't sold a book in a day or so. If you hit the millions, it's been over a week.
100,000-180,000 - You've sold 1, possibly 2 books in the last 24 hours (or since the last update*)
50-80,000 - You've sold 2-4 books in the last 24 hours (or since the last update*)
30-50,000 - You've sold 5-7(ish) books in the last 24 hours (or since the last update*)
10-20k range - You've sold between 10-40 books in the last 24 hours*
5-10k range - It gets difficult. But you've probably sold 50 books (ish) in the last 24 hours, possibly more*.
1k-5k range - you're getting up in the dozens of books per day range. If you're sustaining those numbers, you're probably selling 100+ a day*.
If you're in the hundreds for your ranking, you're in the hundreds for your sales. Sub 100 usually equals 1000+ or close to it, especially if you're sustaining the number*.

It is REALLY important to acknowledge the difference between hitting a ranking, and sustaining it. That's because, while we don't know exactly how the Amazon ranking system works, we do know that it updates many times a day--and your ranking changes every time. That means that somehow it's counting not just the sales you've had since the last update, but also weighting your prior sales against the prior sales of other books the same update batch.
This next paragraph is just my opinion: I believe what happens is that most books on amazon are selling less on Amazon than we think--between 1-20 a day. Given that there's somewhere in the vicinity of 8 million books to be found on amazon, and over 2 million different books making sales in any given week, there are going to be LOTS OF BOOKS that sell the same amount in any update window/24 hours/week/month. So I believe what happens is:
Say between 7pm and 9pm tonight my book sells 3 copies. But there's also a thousand other books that sell 3 copies. Another thousand that sell 4. Another thousand that sell 5... you see where I'm going with this. I think Amazon ranks all the books by number of sales since last update, then within each group of books that have sold the same amount in that update, it weights the number of sales in the prior 24 hours, then the number of sales maybe in the last 48 hours, then maybe in the last week, and so on, and so forth. In that way, it knows the difference between the book ranked 12,310 and the book ranked 12,309 is two sales one week ago. It also knows the difference between the different formats of the same book, etc, etc, etc. But this has just been my opinion.
I base that opinion on two major factors: 1) An unknown book can come out of nowhere and jump to the top 100 in a single day--ergo, Amazon clearly weights the very recent sales much higher than previous sales, otherwise bestsellers which sold a million copies in 2012 would still be sitting in the top 100. But you'll also see an unknown book, which has a price drop and a great promo for a day, drop out of the top 100 just as quickly. Ergo, there is some weight given to the previous sales, because a book which sold less, but continues to sell the next day, will stay higher in the rankings. 2) When I had one particularly good day of sales (EUW hit #114 on Amazon! Woot!), both preceded and followed by weeks of very solid sales, I watched my ranking take a noticeable dip every week on the anniversary of the sale. (I.e. My promo happened on a Friday. Every Friday after that the ranking I had been sustaining all week would take a noticeable hit and not recover). I also saw it take an even large dip on the fourth Friday after that sale, leading me to the believe that the weighting in the algorithm has something to do with the 4 week period. This is speculation. I want to be clear on that.
Confusing? Probably. But that's my opinion.
What I do know for a fact is that a book which sustains a ranking is selling a lot more over days and weeks, than a book that hits a higher ranking then drops.
For example: When my self-published title went on sale earlier in the year, it climbed from 85,000 to 7,000 in the course of six hours. The sales then petered out, and my ranking dropped back below 50,000 by the following morning. During that time it sold about 35-40 copies (yeah, you read that right--keep in mind what that means for ACTUAL CASH IN HAND).
Conversely, the a day a friend maintained a ranking of 10,000 (give or take +/- 1,500) for a full 24 hours, she sold somewhere in the vicinity of 60 copies.
So, when I talk about "sustaining" a ranking, I mean, if a book sits between 6k-9k for an entire week, it's selling, on any given day, more than a book that hit 7k one time, on one day. Because sales have to keep coming in to keep the ranking steady. I couldn't tell you exactly how many books you have to sell to sustain a ranking, but if you're talking about the 5-10k mark, I personally think you have to be selling roughly double what you'd sell to hit the ranking once, then drop.


We've all heard of the Hunger Games. We've all heard of The Fault in Our Stars. We see these books and they're consistently in the bestseller lists, consistently in the top 100 of Amazon. Consistently selling huge numbers.

We think that most books either do that, or don't. Either you're a "successful" author, or you're not.

But the reality is, the vast, vast majority of authors will never hit a "real" bestseller list (and by that I mean the Amazon Top 100, the NYT, or USA Today lists). Most authors are what we would commonly refer to as "midlist". I.e. The author is making an income, but they've probably got another job, or a life partner that financially supports them / their family to varying degrees. This is because it's normal for books to sell in fits and starts, to languish at 50k for a month, then jump to 15, then drop to 75...

The other reality is, it's actually fairly easy to hit the top 10 or top 100 of a somewhat obscure Amazon category list. So, sorry, I don't applaud the "#1 Bestseller in Amazon Kindle-ebooks-Romance--Fantasy and Sci-fi--Space Adventures--Aliens" with the same gusto that I applaud "#124 Amazon--Books" They just aren't in the same league, friends. It isn't my desire to take away from someone's achievement. (I still dance when I hit #3 in Teen books about bullying, and it's hardly a serious contender for a major category). Hitting any bestseller list is a great boost. It just doesn't necessarily mean that your book is selling tons of copies.
The good side of this is that as authors, we probably have much higher expectations than our publisher in terms of what our amazon ranking should be in order for our book to be considered "selling well". Even books with big coverage and lots of promotion from the big Six rarely sustain a ranking higher than 20k for more than a couple months. Don't get me wrong, some bestsellers go mental and stay mental. But most books hit a peak soon after release and just drop from there.

If you're obsessing about your ranking, and it's keeping fairly steady, that's a really good sign. It means that word of mouth is keeping your sales going, which gives you the chance to bust out at some point. What you don't want to see is your ranking dropping to 80k+ and staying there. That means you're grounding out.
The other thing I've been told by authors who've been at this game longer than me, is that books from the same author sell each other. It's way harder as a debut author because you've got one product out there. BUT even though second books in series might not sell as many as first books, second books boost sales of first/previous books, so at each release the author is selling more books overall.
This also applies to different versions of the same book - your hard cover might be selling 10 a day, and your kindle edition 20 a day. Each format page rankings aren't super-high, but together they're selling strongly.
In other words, when "they" said this is a marathon, not a sprint, they meant it. Don't let yourself decide that your first book is bottoming out, therefore your career is too. Publishers are WAY more patient than authors when it comes to building an audience. If you earn out in the first year, you're Golden.
The last thing to keep in mind is that while Amazon is a really good indicator of the audience for your book, it isn't the only place that you can be successful. If you have even a modest deal with a major distributor, you won't live or die by your Amazon ranking. In fact, in my humble opinion, the real value behind the big publishers isn't the marketing budget they may or may not put behind your book. It's their reach in terms of distribution, whether they hold table space at the front of bookstores, or have publicity teams that know how to position you as an author...but that's a post for another day.
I think that's everything, folks. If your experience varies greatly from this, please weigh-in in the comments and let people know. The more information we all have, the better!
Your Turn: What is your expectation of an amazon ranking for a "good" book? What do you think determines a book's success?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Celebrating 100 Amazon Reviews--A Sneak Peek at IN MY SKIN

You guys are awesome. That's all I have to say. Not only has Every Ugly Word hit 100 Amazon reviews, but it's averaging 4.4 stars. Thank you!!!

In celebration, I'm releasing this sneak peek at my next book. So first, I'll introduce you to "Tully". Then you can see what she has to say at the beginning of her story.

Thanks again for all your support. I'm humbled.

IN MY SKIN (Working Title)
(c) Aimee L. Salter, 2014

Since Tulip "Tully" Harden was little she's known two things for certain: That she hates her real name, and that there's something wrong with her.

No, seriously.

Tully's not the kind of wrong that talks too much stupid, or looks like a douche. She's the kind of wrong that shouldn't exist. And worse, whenever she touches someone else, they feel everything she feels. Every dark, decaying inch of her sick. Every ounce of her pain.

No one wants more pain in their life, so no one wants more Tully.

Until she meets Chris.

If Tully had known people like Chris existed, she might have fought the darkness longer.  But now the blackness in her past is threatening to swallow her and even Chris can't shine enough light to push it back.

The only person who can save Tully, is Tully. And maybe she doesn't want to.


I have to put it down to the fact that the first time Chris saw me, I wasn’t me. He saw someone who didn’t exist. My ugly got in through the back door. Slipped up behind him like a thief. And by the time he figured that out, he didn’t care anymore.
He should have cared.
He cares now.
We’re in my room. Dust motes hang in the air so thick I can smell them. In the half-light of my pitiful bulb, everything looks gray. My narrow bed is unmade, sheets shoved back to the wall. The quilt mom stitched when I was two lies twisted, half-on and half-off the mattress, its corner flung across the floor, towards the door, like it too would flee this room if it could. The rest is bare – the drawers, the closet door, the walls. Even the clothes strewn over the chair and rug on the boards are plain and dirty and blank, and that’s never bothered me before.
But Chris is here and alive, and so much, I can’t help feeling the room should bust wide open for him.
The black inside me stretches and I tamp it down.
I can only see the side of his face. His eyes are closed, those burnished lashes quivering because he’s screwed so tight, everything’s shaking under the pressure. The little muscles in his jaw twitch. His hand is a white-knuckled fist. His shoulders… oh, Lord, help me, those shoulders that have lifted things I can’t carry and swept me along too…they’re hunched. Knotted. Pressing in on themselves. On him.
There’s so much of him that I always feel small beside him. Yet he’s become the place where I can breathe.
At least, he was.
My insides are in freefall because I did this to him.
I shouldn’t have that power over him. I shouldn’t have that power over anyone. But he gave it to me and refused to take it back.
“Chris?” My voice is barely above a whisper, but he flinches as if I screamed. My throat is raw and full of sharp angles. “It wasn’t about–”
“Don’t.” It’s a hard syllable. A word bitten off. He doesn’t even open his eyes. “I swear, Tully if you say one word…” His fist becomes a hammer.
I am ugly. I am black inside, rotting and putrid.
I have told him this. Many times.
But tonight, finally, he believes me.
And as he turns on his heel and stumbles out the door, I can’t even call after him.
Because when he gave me the power to turn him inside out, I gave him mine. And even though I knew this day would arrive, even though I knew he was wrong about me, he gave me hope.
As I watch him walk out the door, turn down the hallway and disappear, my hope begins its death throes.
It doesn’t die quietly.
It screams and curses and shoves at me.
And for the first time ever, I am grateful for my life, for my father, and for this house. Because if it’s taught me anything, it’s how to take a blow.

Monday, October 20, 2014

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARD AND HARMFUL: An Open Letter to an Increasingly Precious Society

Bully (n) a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.
About a year ago I saw a regional news team cover a story about bullying. I’d heard the headline and watched the promo, so I settled down to watch because it’s an issue that’s always close to my heart.
The newscaster stood on the sideline of a football field in the black of night, outlining the events of the previous evening in a tone of solemn concern. He informed me that several parents had complained, a community was up in arms, and many “children” had left the field in tears. The word “bully” or “bullying” was used several times during the course of the story which revolved around . . . a high school football team being defeated by a huge margin.
I’m sorry. What?
I sat in stunned disbelief over the following minutes while I learned that one team dominated so completely, they shut the younger, less experienced team out 95-0 (or something like that). The coach of the winning team, and by implication some of the players, had been labelled bullies because they didn’t “let up” when it became clear they could win without competition. Parents had complained, first to the umpires, then to the school. The committee that deals with…whatever this was, was investigating.
Now, I have zero problem admitting it’s hard as a parent when your kid’s on a team that’s being pummeled. And well do I remember the sense of shame and weariness as a teenager when my small-town school teams were trounced by the city-kids. I do not want to suggest that the evening wasn’t a challenge for all involved. But bullying? Really?
Let’s take a look at that definition again:
Bully (n) a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. [Emphasis mine]
I don’t want to stand on any toes here, but I don’t define a single, embarrassing incident as proof of habitual behavior – especially when that incident involves a competitive sporting arena at high school level.
To me this story encapsulates how at times the media, teachers, parents, and even kids themselves, actually damage the cause of highlighting and educating on the issue of bullying.
See, the word “bully” holds some weight now. You start throwing that around every time a couple kids get in a fight, or someone gets hurt, and you will minimize the effectiveness of the word. And, as any kid who is actually bullied can tell you – words can hurt. They can also do good. Using “bully” correctly, and applying the proper weight to it can help the victims get the assistance they need and avoid assigning a damaging title to those who don’t deserve it.
So let’s get this right.
BULLYING IS a relentless, intentional campaign to intimidate and shame. It is targeted and malicious. The victim cannot walk away because the perpetrator will follow. The victim fears speaking up because the perpetrator will punish them (in hiding) for any discipline received as a result. The effects of this kind of relationship – and believe me, this is a relationship – are harrowing, creating deep-seated fears and insecurities which will follow the victim for years. Sometimes for the rest of their lives.
BULLYING IS NOT someone getting mad, irritated, or even aggressive with someone else. It isn’t winning where someone else has to lose. It isn’t having an argument, losing a friend, or disagreeing with passion.
Bullying isn’t conflict. It is sinister.
Bullying doesn’t just make someone feel bad for one afternoon, or over the course of a week. Bullying tells a person they lack value, and are alone in this world. It creates messages in the victim’s head that run on a loop even when that person is alone:
You’re ugly.
You’re useless.
No one cares about how you feel.
People would be better off if you weren’t here.
Shut up.
Go away.
That’s why this problem is so difficult to solve – because we aren’t dealing with a conflict which can be reasoned and negotiated. We’re dealing with inherent, subversive messages that, over time, are actually adopted by the victim. In a perverted form of Stockholm syndrome, the person who is being hurt begins to think that the perpetrator is right.
Here’s my point:
There is a canyon of difference between normal, negative human interactions and bullying. As a culture, we need to stop pretending that people can always get along. We need to stop deciding that young people shouldn’t experience and learn to cope with negativity. We need to draw a very clear line between something that’s hard, and something that’s harmful.
So let’s stop jumping on the bandwagon when advertisers, media, or even parents cry Bully! Let’s avoid sensationalism and just listen for the signs that someone close to us is being intimidated. Let’s stop using the word “bully” to shut down people we don’t like, and start using it as the first step to empower the weak. Let’s create a genuine dialogue about what really happens when one person undertakes a campaign of violence – either physical, or emotional – against another, and start looking for ways to change what those internal voices are saying – on both sides.
And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re someone who often hears those italicized messages in your head, take it from me: They are wrong.
No one on earth sees things quite the way you do. No one loves and lives quite the way you will. You don’t need to disappear, you just need a hand.
If you can’t be sure that someone already in your life will be able to offer the help you need, talk to TEEN LINE:
Call (310) 855 4673 or (800) 852 8336
Text “Teen” to 839863 (between 5:30pm and 9:30pm PST)
Or go online:
Reach out. Find out that you aren’t alone, find some friends to help you through this. Get stronger. Because one day this will get better. Then someday after that you’ll find your sweet spot. And when you do, all those people that told you to hate, and loathe, and fear yourself will all wish they had what you’ve got.
And trust me, there’s no better revenge than that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Interview with Bullies Keep Out

I was recently interviewed by Dana Jocoviello, the anti-bullying advocate behind Bullies Keep Out, a
website and movement dedicated to raising awareness, advocacy, and assistance for the victims of bullying at all ages.
Dana asked me about everything from my book, to my personal experiences, to my opinions on social media. You can read the interview here.
Check out the site, it's a great resource!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Calling all YA Authors - Teen Connection Opportunity

So I just found out that I'm going to have the opportunity to meet with a group of teenagers at my local high school to talk about books, writing, and YA fiction. They are all avid readers and have voluntarily connected with their teachers to be included in this group.
If you're a YA author who'd like to get swag or books in front of real teens in real time, email me or DM me on twitter and I can send you my address. I will happily pass out bookmarks, pens, any kind of swag, or do spot giveaways of books (paperbacks only, sorry!).
Alternatively, if you have specific questions you'd like me to ask them regarding their thoughts as readers, I'm happy to do that too (time permitting).
Our first meeting is on September 16th. I'm not sure when the next will be after that, so if you're wanting to send materials, please get in touch asap on aimee (at) aimeelsalter (dot) com or you're welcome to tweet me if you have short questions (@aimeelsalter).
Look forward to hearing from you,

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Curse of Being Imperfect

When I started writing my first novel to (attempt) to sell a few years back, the words flowed like water - in fact, I had trouble catching them in time. It was a hurried, frantic fever. Life became little more than a barrier to words. I had to force myself to look up from the page. I over wrote most of it - by about one hundred thousand words.

Then I joined a critique group. I learned about scene and sequel. Conflict and resolution. Internal motivation and external stimulus. I learned body language, dialogue beats, and how I was using too many words for everything.

Over months, then years, I learned a lot. And I loved it. Each little fact and facet added a new layer to the personification of information I was beginning to call my internal editor.

Then my internal editor took on a life of his own (and yes, for some reason, he is a he). He's also a bully, as it turns out.

First drafts are no longer an exercise in remembering I have a life outside of writing. They're an act of discipline. The gritting of teeth and getting through. The internal flaying of my confidence in a concept. The general abuse of anything I produce.

"That sucks. You know that right? No one wants to read that."

"This scene is boring. You're getting completely off track! Fix it!"

"You might think that character is hot, but this is reading like he's a thug with a god complex."

"You do realize that's the fifty-fourth time you've used his eyebrow? Dude doesn't emote, he has a twitch."

You get the picture.

The thing is, I know I can write. I know there are moments when the genius bubbles to the surface. Small passages people read and use words like "powerful". But those moments seem so small next to the avalanche of pages bracketing every tiny scene that works.

In talking this through with a wonderful author-friend, we discovered a mutual inclination towards self-deprecation, an internal editor that didn't distract so much as create self-doubt. A fear that drove away, rather than embraced the process.

When our conversation closed, I kept thinking, ticking away at the things in life that were heavy, or poking. The things I gripped too hard, or tried too long to push away. And I started to see a pattern.

It turns out that much of the weight I carry today - and in recent months - has less to do with circumstance or pressure, and much much more to do with all the things wrong with me. Because I have many roles in this life and lately I've felt I've pursued all and achieved none. Which is ridiculous, really. Because my life is blessed. I don't want it to change. I just want to be different in it.

I don't loathe myself. I'm . . . disappointed. The first draft I'm currently pushing through is an analogy for, well, everything:

Why can't I do it right first time?

My dreams are coming true on a variety of levels. Yet, somehow, I'm not doing everything the way I wish I could. I'm not always easy. I'm sometimes rough. Occasionally downright wrong. And my writing is variously inspired and insipid.

I know this isn't an affliction confined to me. This is just life. But somehow in my head it's become okay to beat myself up over this. To tell myself that the wrongness will always outweigh what's right, and I should just give up.

This morning I determined that I was wrong (again), but this time it was about myself, my roles, my work.

My internal editor should be there to catch technical flaws, not berate me as a writer. He should be helping me mold a fresh product, not make me doubt every word as it's torn from the keyboard.

And he definitely has no place offering commentary on my skills as a wife, or mother.

So today I'm turning over a new page (pun intended). It's time to start coaching my inward coach. Time to moderate my monitor.

It's time to stop messing with myself and just get on with what I can do and achieve. And leave the rest to God.

Because the irony is, all the energy I give to inner conflict and self-doubt would be much better spent on doing something right. And there are many things I do do well. That doesn't mean I am flawless. Only that aspects of me don't require flaying on a daily basis.

Today I will be stronger than I was yesterday. That's a good thing.

It will be interesting to see if results in more words and fewer face-palms. It might not. But at least I'll be able to walk away from those moments with a smile that doesn't threaten tears.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I sense I'm not alone in this process. And I want to encourage you - whatever your pursuit - to be fairer on yourself. To resist the voices inside that would tell you how wrong you are.

If we can do that, then when the external voices start up a chorus of "You Suck!", you and I will both be better prepared to measure whether they're right.

The truth is, sometimes they are. I suspect it's rarely as often as we'd like to think. And usually in the moments we'd like to pretend they're wrong. But that's a different blog post.

Your turn: Do you struggle with self-doubt when writing, or pursuing your day? Chime in!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

This Isn't A Soapbox - Stopping the Cycle of Self-Rejection

Over the past year my entire professional (and a lot of my personal) journey has been focused on a fictional version of the rejection I suffered as a teenager. Now, normally I jump at opportunities to talk about the process I went through from majorly screwed up teen, to self-destructive twenty-something, to predominantly healthy almost-adult (somewhere in my late twenties/early thirties). But a weird thing's been happening in the past week or so: I've been hearing those messages again.
You aren't good enough.
People think you're a complete $%#& up.
No one cares.
You're too fat/ugly/stupid/*insert-insult-here*.
Just shut your mouth and go back where you came from
These words aren't new for me. Since about the age of twelve, I've heard them in my head. Between twelve and twenty-five, I lived in that place.
Now, thankfully, I have the resources to deal with this, to see it for what it is. But I started wondering why these messages have become so strong just lately. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I'm more successful now than I've ever been, my marriage is strong and cherished, my son is healthy and thriving. Circumstantially I am better off than ever.
So why are these voices louder than they've been in years?
And it isn't just me. I heard the story yesterday about Robin Williams and it broke my heart. I knew he heard those messages too. And he'd never found the help he needed to put them in the box they deserved and set it alight.
I've always maintained that the biggest concern I have for victims of bullying, or any other kind of emotional or physical abuse, isn't their circumstances or ability to cope. It's how those attacks erode at the person's mind.
See, my brain doesn't tell me these things because my life sucks (or soars). My brain tells me these things because they were learned by rote at a time in my life when my brain was still forming. My thoughts, my opinions, my views on the world were all growing and changing. And a massive part of my world-view became the expectation of hate.
Not meanness.
Not difficulty.
Not personality conflicts.
And the most frightening part of that equation is when the hate becomes self-imposed. If there's no one around hating on me (like right now), then I start hating on myself.
Negative messages were so prevalent in my early life, they become not a battle to be waged, but a theme. A motif. An expectation.
So, when no one else lives up to that expectation, I turn it into self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is, I've decided, almost a form of brainwashing. Or maybe an internal version of Stockholm Syndrome. Regardless of what name we put to it, I suffer the affliction. I'm grateful to God that I don't suffer the belief in those words anymore. I am still prone to inflicting them on myself, but I've healed and grown enough to call myself a liar when I need to.
That said, I know many young and not-so-young people aren't so blessed. Those messages are still rocketing around inside their skulls, still being given airtime, still increasingly powerful.
If that's true for you then I hope you'll start talking about it - to me, to a friend, a family member, a therapist, to anyone who cares enough to start helping you replace those messages with something more grounded. One of the reasons I'm so passionate about the #stopthehate campaign is because I know sometimes it just takes one other person saying "Hey, I feel that way too!" to ease the sense of isolation and to break the loop of those messages in your head. And they do need to be broken. They need to be thwacked with a baseball bat, taken out back and shot. They need to be napalmed.
If there's anything in this world that I believe is worth waging war on, it's the cycle of self-rejection.
Because inside your head is the one place no one can touch unless you let them. Which means it's the one place you can take acid to yourself, and no one else might notice.
So whether you're a writer whose career hasn't taken off yet, or a reader whose dreams are still dreams, or just some person who landed here by accident, I want you to know that I have those messages in my head too.
And it is possible to reprogram them.
Sometimes you just need a little help.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hate Breeds. Let's Stop the Hate!

Today means more to me than any other in my writing journey. This is the day we aren't talking about my book, but we're fighting against what inspired it. We're talking about hate - how we experience it, are wounded by it, inflict it. Today me and some really cool friends are working to #StoptheHate. We want to silence #EveryUglyWord.
This is your chance to be part of a positive voice, to add your story, your experience to the conversation.
My story starts this way:
HATE BREEDS By Aimee L. Salter

I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always been a story-teller. When I was young, writing was a blessing to me. An escape.
Except for the time that it wasn’t.
I was walking by the English block on warm afternoon, right towards the end of lunch. I can still remember the smell of sun on cement in the second before a girl a year younger than me opened a window and leaned out, her face bright with glee.
“I swear on my grave that I’m in love with you!” she called as I passed.
I turned my back, kept walking, pretended I had no idea what she meant. But the words jangled in my head, reminding me of one of those stupid notes I’d written a few months earlier – for no one’s eyes but mine – and zipped into a tiny pocket on one of my bags. It really was a tiny pocket. Looked like it was just for show. Surely no one had found it?
My heart raced. No.
Not even possible.
Was it?...
Read the rest and become part of the conversation HERE

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This is Bigger than a Book - Help #StoptheHate on 8/8!

By now you probably know that I wrote Every Ugly Word based on my own experiences being bullied in high school. It makes this book incredible personal to me, but also means the issues of bullying, and self-value are very important to me.
With that in mind, I wrote an essay called Hate Breeds. It tells the story of one of my worst days being bullied - and how I had turned into my own worst nightmare. Because the reality is, when we get hated on, we often turn that anger and hurt into hate of our own. And that doesn't help anyone.
So, my publisher is doing some amazing stuff this week, and with the help of some pretty cool friends, on Friday (8/8) we're launching #StopTheHate.
If you've ever been bullied, intimidated, or just plain frustrated by watching someone else get hurt, this is your chance to add your voice to the conversation.
On Friday 8/8 we're going all-out, all over twitter, all over facebook, all over anywhere you want to be. If you follow this link, you'll find my essay, but also a ton of images that you can link and share with the world in whatever format works for you. Choose the one that speaks to yours story and share it.
Or, even better, actually share your #stopthehate story. Use your blog or your facebook page, use an image that resonates for you. Use your story to stop the hate. Tell the world what you've seen or experienced, and ask everyone to change how they view both the hate from others, and the hate we press on ourselves.
Because in the end, no one is more effective at hurting us, than we are.
On Friday, 8/8, help stop the hate! Join all of us who are standing up:

There is UGLY in EVERYONE. Your "UGLY" doesn't give ANYONE permission to bully you.   
You don't have to be outwardly beautiful to deserve respect.   
Find a safe place to be yourself. That's where you belong.    
Because I've experienced (???), today I want to help #StoptheHate. 
Write a story about a time you've experienced hate, and link me on twitter, or tag me on facebook. I'll promo it for you! Just be sure to include #stopthehate, and one of the images from this site:   


Monday, August 4, 2014

The Difference Between Being Critiqued and Being Edited

So, one author asked me "But isn't having an editor just like having a critique partner who can force you to do stuff to your book?"
Um. No. At least, not in my experience (and I want to be clear in all these posts that my observations are very subjective and based solely on my experience - so other authors may say differently).
Here's the thing, I've talked before about how critical I think it is for authors to critique for each other. My opinion on that hasn't changed. I will still (when time allows), make great use of CP's, and hopefully they'll continue to make use of me.
But there is a WORLD of difference between a critique partner's role, and an editor's. Here's my short list:
CP Editor
Makes suggestions for story either in-line, as an overarching letter or notes list, or chapter by chapter. Re-reads entire novel several times with new focus each time - substantive editing (over-arching plot/character development), close-editing (writing/technical direction), and line-editing (instruction offered line-by-line with specific location and detailed analysis of changes and redirection). Book is also copy-edited at the end by another editor to check punctuation, grammat, continuity, etc.
Reads from point of view of writer, offers subjective advice based on personal experience/expertise (which in some cases is advanced, others not). Reads from the point of view of an editor - professional knowledge and understanding of story structure, character development, reader engagement, etc, etc, etc. Brings years of study and experience to the table and is able to identify, qualify, and instruct at each stage.
Usually one of a chorus of voices. Author looks for consistent advice and/or suggestions that fit the author's view of the story. Offers a single, professional voice to guide the development of the book. Yes, you are putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, but the basket really knows what it's doing. (And in my case was incredibly personal and considerate in offering advice for new directions and/or significant cuts).
Focuses on helping the author identify flaws and/or offers encouragement where book is shining to aid future drafts. Focuses on making the book the absolute best it can possibly be. No more room for "next time", this is knock-down-drag-out-get-this-baby-in-shape time.
Provides author a sounding board and ally - and, if you're lucky, a friend in the trenches. Provides author an industry advocate, professional guidance, a touch of therapy and (hopefully) future-proofing.
 This might make it sound like I'm knocking CP's. I promise, I'm not at all. I think that process is critical for any and every writer.
What I've observed, though, at least for myself, is a difference in the roles. CP's offer advice and suggestions that an author then agonizes over - which advice to take? Which suggestions will work best?
To my mind, there's a lot of ambiguity involved in the CP process (which is as it should be - after all, the book is really still in development). But with an editor there's a lot more clarity. We have a goal, we have a focus, and we're working toward it together. Sometimes we'll have to discuss an issue to find a solution that works for both of us. But we're also collaborating to work out those suggestions that seem great, but feel too hard.
I guess what I'm getting at is that with a CP you're still aiming for a book that will tempt an editor into a deal, or tempt readers to press the buy-now button. You're still flying blind, a little. When you're working with an editor, you've found the person who's going to partner you in finally attaining that goal.
At least, that was my experience!
Your Turn: Did your experience differ to mine? Or, I'm happy to offer more info on the editing process if you have questions. Ask away!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Difference Between Indie and Traditional Publishing

The first question I get, 90% of the time when talking to authors who know about my new publishing deal is, "Which is better, indie or traditional?"

Obviously, my experience in traditional publishing is limited, so perhaps my opinion will change in a few months, or years. Certainly my opinion about self-publishing changed in the years I was pursuing traditional.

Plus, the real answer is going to be subjective. I know some indie authors out there who wouldn't take a traditional deal if it was thrown at them. I know some traditional authors who are turning to indie (or back to indie, as the case may be).

What I'm trying to get at is, take this with a grain of salt. It's just my opinion. For now.


1. Speed

I doubt any self-pubber (or, frankly, half the traditionally published community) would disagree with this one. A self-publishing author can turn on a dime. They choose how quickly and how often they publish, with no restrictions but their own processes. I know plenty of authors churning out four books a year, or more. And they're happy doing it that way. By comparison, traditional publishing is a tortoise (though I will note that this appears to be changing).

2. Control**

The reality is, you get to mold a project to be exactly what you want it to be**, on your own timeframe. If you're ready to push "publish", there's no-one getting in your way. If you have a book that doesn't fit cleanly into a genre category, no one cares. If you're challenging the status quo, drifting outside of genre "guidelines", or just plain giving the finger to the world, no one can stop you. In fact, more power to you.

** Disclaimer: I firmly believe (and always have), that we don't always know what's best for our own stories. Sometimes we're just too close to see what they need to gleam. There is an argument that the absolute control offered in self-publishing might not always serve your best commercial interests - but it will be creatively satisfying.

3. Acclaim

While this won't always apply, the truth is that if your book is successful, you'll be the one getting all the kudos. Not that that wouldn't happen anyway, but there is a difference in the perception, I think, when a self pubbed author "makes it".


1. Professional Help

I can't get away from the fact that with the help of my editor, I was able to write a better book. And since I was working on the same book, it was even more clear to me. I was applauded by many reviewers for writing a page-turner, etc, when I self-pubbed. Yet my editor was able to clearly and concisely, help me peel back layers and develop characters and heighten tension in 25% fewer words. This is a big plus for any writer, but for a YA author, it's critical.

2. Networks and Teams

I put these together, because they are effectively one and the same - my publisher knows people. My publisher employs people. There are a lot of people working on my book, being drawn into marketing my book, generally raising the profile of my book. These are people I would never have met, nor had the chance to engage with meaningfully as a self-published author. And they work in the background. Half the time I'm not even aware of them until it's "their turn" for something prominent in the process. This is incredibly encouraging, as well as challenging (in the good way). I have to be on my game, because there's a bunch of people putting their time, effort, and even their names to my work.

3. Money

Yeesh, I hate talking about this stuff. But let's face it, an un-established, debut, self-pubbed author is usually paying money to get their book publishable, then earning -- generally -- very little until they have at least three books out. Conversely, a traditional publisher pays you for the right to do all the work you would have had to do yourself, and usually with better results.**

**Yes, of course I've heard the horror stories. But my experience, and that of the traditionally published authors I know, is that a publisher really does know what they're doing. And their people work hard to make your book awesome.


1. Lots of closed doors

It's funny, you know, I haven't heard many indie authors talk about this part, and I'm really not sure why. But this was absolutely the single most frustrating aspect to self-publishing to me.

Here's the knock-down, drag-out truth: Most reputable, creditable reviewers, bloggers, and book-touters aren't even marginally interested in hearing from a self-published author. You can talk about professional designs and being edited until you're blue in the face. They just say no, for no other reason than that the book isn't being backed by a publisher.

In fact, in my experience, unless your book has already broken out (in which case, you don't really needs these kinds of contacts anyway), most online reviewers won't even respond to an email. Their review policies include "No longer accepting self-published submissions", or something along those lines.
2. Money**
I still hate talking about this, so... every penny you earn is yours, but for most self-published authors those pennies run in the hundreds, not the thousands. And for many of them, they don't even get that far.
It's hard out there folks. I was well above average in my earnings, and I barely earned enough in six months to pay back what we'd put into publishing it and take us out to dinner to celebrate.
Don't be swayed by people like Colleen Hoover, or other big names you've heard who hit bestseller lists before they went traditional. There are literally millions of books self-published every year. You can count on one body the number that become bestsellers in the same timeframe.

**Disclaimer: So, yeah, if you do buck the trend and become successful as a self-pubber, you'll make money WAY faster than you will traditionally. But walk into it with eyes wide open. Did you know that the AVERAGE (i.e. not the lesser mortals) self-publisher sells between 50-100 copies of their book in the first year? Consider that when you're investing in your own future, if you know what I mean.
1. You aren't in on every conversation.
That's it in a nutshell, really. Perhaps it's the lack of control. Perhaps it's just impossible on a practical level. But the truth is, I don't know EVERYTHING that's going on with my book right now. And that's actually okay. But after being self-published and at the center of everything, and knowing even the slightest detail, it's hard to sit back and say "Okay, I trust you." I'm used to being hands on now, and I need to shake it off. I don't want to be that irritating person in the office who's forever walking in and saying "So have you done that thing I asked you about fifteen minutes ago, yet?" 
2. You're a small fish in a big pond.
Again, not necessarily a bad things, but definitely something to consider. As a self-publisher you are king of your own domain. You get to make ALL the decisions. You get to choose the timing. You get to be at the center of everything. When you're an asset to a traditional publisher, you're (or at least "I" was) well treated, valued and consulted. But in the end, they paid for the rights and they can do what they want. Ask questions before you get involved. Make sure you know what you're in for.**
**I would just like to publically acknowledge that not only has my publisher not been pushy or inconsiderate, they've actually changed their plans to suit what I want for the book. So I have no complains in the small-fish-big-pond scenario. I'm just recognizing the differences.
I think that's all the highlights. If you have any questions, just ask 'em!
Your Turn: Anything I didn't cover that you're wondering about?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Reason I Became An Author

We all have those moments to look back on - the moment when you realized stories were your "thing", the moment when you first wrote "the end" on a novel. The moment when the first agent, or editor, or reader told you they loved what you'd written...
I love those moments, and I love that God always seems to bring them to me in those other moments - you know the ones, when you're discouraged, or afraid, or just downright frustrated.
My husband talked to me yesterday about things like perseverance and tenacity, and how authors need them, and how I have them, and how he was kind of blown away by that. I was grateful. Because the reality is, we all have an end-goal, right?
Well, I figured out today that there's more than one end-goal. Earlier this week I achieved a really practical one. And today I achieved a really emotional one.
My goal for this book was always that it would have a voice that was bigger than the story. (Thankfully, my publisher got that too, and they're helping me do something AWESOME next week - but more on that later).
Today I read a review that encapsulated everything I ever hoped someone would draw out of this book. It literally brought tears to my eyes - not because they applauded me as a writer, but because the story, for that reader, achieved what I'd always hoped it would achieve: to make them think about the ways we treat each other and ourselves.
If you want to, you can read the entire review here. But this was my favorite part. My first quote-graphic!
To me that quote is one of the most critical points in Ashley's story. I can't believe it's the first one to get pulled out by a reader. I am literally overjoyed. And, maybe very emotional. But let's pretend that isn't happening.
My point is, putting aside any other practicalities to do with money or careers, this is why I became a writer. This is what I wanted to see happen with my stories.
I wanted to see people reading and thinking and applying the things they were thinking to their own lives and the people around them. I wanted to start conversations - and even arguments. I wanted people to see cruelty through an objective filter. And I wanted people to feel.
This reader did all of that and more. I am so filled up with awesome right now, I could pop.
Your Turn: So what about you. Why did you become a writer?