Setting Goals

Everyone sets goals for themselves. As an independently published author, I’ve set quite a few goals for myself over the years. Every month, my writing mentor gives me an assignment or two. For July, it was about setting goals. He wants me to set some advertising goals as well as some writing goals, especially since I recently achieved a goal and crossed it off my list. But what goals to pick has been complicated.

My very first goal was to publish 5 books. Then after I started selling books at a decent rate it became “make more than the average US writer” which is roughly, $30,000 annually. I achieved it and set a goal to sell books in 20 countries. When I met that one, I doubled and in June 2020, I had officially sold books in 40 countries and I crossed it off my list. Somewhere along the way, I set a goal to sell a million books. I’ve sold 1.1 million and some change, so it too has been crossed off.

Before 2017, I spent about $200 a month on advertising. 2017-2020 I’ve done good to invest $1000 a year in adverts. So that is one of my new goals; get back to advertising. But I need a new benchmark for measuring “success as a writer”. I considered just doubling my sales goal – get to 2 million book sales (freebies and promo copies count as sales in the book world or I’d be much richer than I am). My best sales year was 2016 where I sold more than 200,000 books. Maybe, I need to set a yearly sales goal of say 300,000 then?

I offer 6 free ebooks, which makes my chances of hitting the USA Today bestsellers list virtually impossible. I’ve considered offering fewer freebies, but as a reader, I love free books, as an advertiser free books are amazing for picking up new readers, and as a writer, I like giving someone the opportunity to meet my characters without regretting they paid for it (I know my characters are not adorable and loveable to everyone). But it does mean when I advertise Book A or Book C, I have a ton of downloads of the other freebies which hurts my chances of making a bestsellers list. On average you need 50,000 downloads of a single book in a single day to make a list. I’ve come close at 41,000 downloads of Tortured Dreams in a single day, but I had about 20,000 downloads of my other freebies as well which will not get me on a list. And I don’t believe in setting goals that are doomed to fail.

I’m leaning towards the 300,000 books in a single year goal. It would require me to focus on advertising as well as publishing new books. Besides, there is always the “sell another million books” whispering from the depths of my brain.

As a side note, setting personal goals, competing against yourself, and the necessity of personal achievements has been a topic of conversation between my bestie and myself this week due to a situation she had with another friend. I am a firm believer that people that set personal goals, compete against themselves, and acknowledge their achievements are happier people in general and are more fulfilled in their career choices. I believe people who only measure their success through the eyes of others are doomed to never be happy. People have so much going on (professionally and personally) that they often miss the accomplishments of others. Knowing you’ve achieved something and celebrating it for yourself is more important than getting a “good job” from a boss or coworker. Those are gratifying, but not common enough to satisfy the thirst of the soul for a job well done.

Second Half of 2020 Publishing Schedule

It’s July…. Time to start thinking about what and when I intend to release books the rest of the year. So, this is subject to change based on a number of things, but this is my current plan….

  • Demon Boxes (Nephilim Narrative 3) – September 18, 2020 (Very Rough Summary): Soleil Burns is earning her private detective license interning for her uncle Remiel to supplement her income from her private exorcism business when strange little boxes start popping up all over town. They have one purpose; summon demons to possess the being that opens the box. It increases business for Soleil, but the boxes are getting more and more dangerous as larger and larger demons come out of them. She with Jerome’s help must now work at finding out the creator as well as exorcise all the demons coming out of them.
  • Buried Dreams (Dreams and Reality 19) – October 31, 2020 (Very Rough Summary): Ace and the SCTU go to Tennessee to investigate multiple disappearances where only some of the victims have been discovered. There is evidence to suggest they are all linked, but where are the rest of the bodies?
  • Innocent Dreams (Dreams and Reality 20) – November 23, 2020 – I am releasing this in conjunction with Thanksgiving for my American readers so they can enjoy it over the holiday if they don’t have to work. (Very Rough Summary): Both SCTU teams are being held in Kansas City until they whittle down a growing list of active serial killers and rapists in the metro area, starting with the child predators. The decision is made to divide and conquer the list and the groups are paired off into smaller units and are forced to work together. Ace is more worried about who she’s going to be stuck with from SCT Unit Bravo than the killers and rapists.
  • The Dysfunctional Christmas (The Dysfunctional Chronicles 8) December 25, 2020 – Nadine Daniels decides to throw a Christmas party for her family, Ace’s family, and the rest of the SCTU to celebrate Ace and the SCTU ending her stalker/killer problems over the summer (Dysfunctional Dreams). What could possibly go wrong?

So, that’s what you have to look forward to for the second half of 2020. It is an ambitious schedule, made possible only because most of the books were written before May (I have re-written 2 of them Demon Boxes and Innocent Dreams). Leaving me just 1 to write before it releases.

You might have noticed Book 18 of the Dreams & Reality Series is missing… It will be Avenging Reality. Since losing the book to computer gremlins, I’ve had trouble convincing myself to rewrite it. It is easier to rewrite books that don’t need to be rewritten. I am hoping to release it in early 2021. Once I finish writing The Dysfunctional Christmas Avenging Reality is getting all of my attention. Furthermore, the plots for several other 2021 releases have come together and the books will be my focus once I complete Avenging Reality including Juarez Dreams (D&R 21), Movement in the Shadows (Nephilim Narratives 4) and The Dysfunctional Halloween (Dysfunctional Chronicles 9 or 10 – The Dysfunctional Birthday might also get written for release in 2021).

So, there’s my plans for the rest of this year along with a sneak peek of next year.

Nephilim Narratives Character Sketches (Part 1)

This week’s premium content is more of the information I work with while writing (characer sketches to be exact). They are the important bits about my characters that I need to know. Reading through them, you may find information you didn’t know or missed in the books. I have debated how to post character sketches on here (I’ve looked at how other authors do theirs, but much like outlines each writer has their own version). However, sketches can easily overwhelm a reader. So, for this post you’re getting Soleil Burns, Jerome Dusdain, and Valerie Dusdain (the others will release in another post – probably several other posts). I did not start with everyone’s favorite D&R is because I haven’t decided how to split up the SCTU members.

Now for business: the first “log-in” box is for monthly subscribers (they get the first box because they default as coming up first in the list of subscriber assignment options). The second is for yearly. If you want to subscribe you have 2 options: a monthly rate that starts at $5 or a yearly rate that starts at $12. These are the base prices, you can subscribe at higher rates by simply changing the amount. You must click the subscribe box associated with the one you want to use (so first box for monthly, second box for yearly). Once signed up, you will be able to see the content within your box (both boxes contain the exact same information – the program just won’t allow me to assign 2 different types of subscribers to a single box).

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The box below should allow access to premium content for yearly subscribers. If this doesn’t work, I have one more idea for it. Either way, I will get this to work properly (I can see why people use Patreon, it is a bit easier… but they also charge 14% of all subscriptions plus a flat fee and I don’t want to give them 14% when I can pay a single flat yearly fee plus 2.9% for credit card processing).

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The Dysfunctional Expansion Scene Ideas

For every book, I make a list of ideas for specific scenes. Sometimes, they make it into a book and sometimes, they don’t. As with exposing my rough plot outlines, I started with The Dysfunctional Expansion because it is less complicated being a novella.

As you read through this list, you’ll notice some of the ideas definitely made it in and some didn’t. And some may find their way into other books.

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Crime Rates in Dreams and Realty and The Dysfunctional Chronicles

When I was working on Anonymous Dreams and again on Dysfunctional Dreams I got to thinking that I have never released “crime stats” for D&R. In the series, I have created something called Federal Guard Neighborhoods; gated communities operated and protected by federal officers that have retired or semi-retired due to injury from the FBI, Marshal’s Service, Secret Service, Homeland Security, and even the military.

I’ve given illusions as to why the FGNs and FGAs need to exist, but I’ve not given solid numbers. In D&R the death rate for police officers is 2,100 per 100,000 a year. Great. What is that in real numbers though? In D&R and the Dysfunctional Chronicles the death rates of police officers is 21% – way higher than real death rates – in 2019 there were a total of 89 officers killed in the line of duty in the entire country (the rate turns out to be something like 2 per 100,000 per year) – and 41 of those deaths were the result of traffic accidents while on duty.

So, back to D&R. If 21% of active duty law enforcement officers are killed in some way. There are roughly 9,000 officers (local and federal) in the KC Metro area in the books. In any given year, 21% of those officers are killed. That means 1,890 officers are killed in D&R each year. Given that the average is 100 officers per year in the US for us, that is a whole lot of dead police officers. Of course, in the books about 2% of the US population is a serial criminal, so it’s not surprising. In real life, less than .35% of the US population is a serial criminal that would fall under the purview of the SCTU (yep not even half a percentage point).

And in D&R less than 5% of those 2,100 deaths of officers are related to fatal car accidents and don’t also qualify as murder (as in a suspect ran the officer off the road to kill them or some other form of vehicular related homicide). In Innocent Dreams, I translated some of these percentages and rates into real numbers and the book starts with Gabriel telling the team that both teams are staying in KC for the two month, because there are 378 open murder and rape cases linked by DNA to 31 offenders and nearly all of them have passed a 6 body threshold including five preying solely on children.

This means that in D&R and The Dysfunctional Chronicles being a police officer is in fact the most dangerous job in America, by comparison it isn’t even in the top 20 in the real US. Knowing all this, what sort of criminals must exist and in what quantities to make such a thing happen?

A lot of very brutal killers. In this world, other crimes are less common, especially crimes like home invasion because you don’t want to force your way into the home of a serial killer or mob boss with goons. And it is violent “stranger” crimes that dominate the criminal landscape (murder, rape, arson, mugging, organized crime, etc). And this shows in the deaths of both main characters’ fathers; Nadine’s died either from a random armed robbery or a contracted hit set up by her own grandfather and Aislinn’s died while responding to a domestic violence call – interestingly, this does reflect real life more than most of the crimes in D&R. Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous calls officer respond to.

At one point, Ace says towards the beginning of the series says there are roughly 1,000 active serial killers in the US… but the number has grown as the series has continued. For each one they capture Ace estimates there are at least 2 they don’t capture or even know about. This is a gross underestimation though as you will see in Innocent Dreams.

Why I went with Paid Premium Content

I put a lot of thought into whether to offer premium content or not. I create a lot of “writer material” for every book I publish. There are plot outlines, ideas for scenes in the book, character sketches have to be created and occasionally that means writing a few short stories to fully understand the personality and motivations for that character. And nearly always there are deleted chapters and deleted subplots. But why am I charging for it?

That was an interesting internal debate this past week or so with me flip flopping back and forth on a decision. I talked to authors that offer paid premium content and some of my readers, as well as a few others about it, and decided to give it a try. While I create most of this content regardless of whether readers see it or not, spending the time to format it and prepare it to be examined by readers is time consuming. Not to mention, it does give a glimpse into how “writing happens” for me. Plus, there will be new and original content that has nothing to do with any of my series(es). When I’m struggling to write I use a writing prompt generator to create a short story or if I have writer’s block, I create new characters – usually minor ones, but I have a few major ones waiting in the wings for books to star in.

I love to offer “bonus” content whether it’s short stories or more information on characters, but it’s work. I don’t release most of the extra content I create simply because that’s even more work, work I feel I randomly generate for myself by offering extra content and I don’t “get paid to prepare the extraneous content” for release, I get paid to write and release books. But as another writer said to me “If you could get paid for releasing this extraneous content, it becomes worth it.” I used to think this was the absolute wrong idea, but the longer I do this, the more I realize while it is a bit mercenary, its necessary. Offering freebies encourages others to think I can do more for them at no cost…

Oddly, being a fiction writer means people who know you ask things like “I have this idea for a book, write it for me, so I can publish it” and “can you write a kid’s book for my child with them as the star so I don’t have to pay one of those companies that charges a fortune just to insert my kid’s name in a vanity board book that’s going to cost me $50?” Uh, no. Although, my absolute favorite has been “I want to write a blog series of essays on topic X and I saw you publishing all those freebie short stories to your blog, so would you help me write the blog series? I mean since you were giving away short stories for free, you obviously don’t need money and I can’t afford to pay anyone to ghost write them or do the research for me.” So, why do you want to write the essays? Usually, when I write a series of essays it’s because I want to do the research and I feel strongly about the topic.

I believe I have it set up where you can subscribe at the suggested price of $5 to gain access to my weekly premium content posts or if you don’t think it’s worth $5 a month (or if you live in a country where the conversion rate makes $5 expensive – Australians for some reason my first thought was of you where $5 USD is $7.36AUD), you can pay what you do think it’s worth and it can be anywhere from $1 to $10 a month as it is a recurring charge until you cancel (instructions below). The charge will show up as HJ Publishing on your card.

I have decided on a premium content post every Wednesday at 12:01am. Others will randomly pop up from time to time and the first 2 have already been set up. I decided for the first two “mechanics” of writing posts to release stuff related to The Dysfunctional Expansion, so for the first rough plot outline you’ll get my outline for The Dysfunctional Expansion as well as the first “ideas for scenes” post.

Changing the Subscription Amount: When you click the subscribe button you get a payment form to fill out. It says at the top $5. I took a screenshot and and circled where you change it. In the box circled in blue you can write your own amount. I tried it and it will let you write any amount of $1 or more.

Here’s the link to the first opportunity to subscribe to premium content. If your subscription is successful you’ll see a thank you note from me and get access to the first chapter of Dysfunctional Dreams.

Celebrating

My best friend did an analysis of my writing on Lyrica v. not on it. I shared some of her results in a blog post. On Friday night, she got her grade. It was a 3-man (well woman team). They aced the paper which was for big data analysis.

Not only did they ace it, their professor recommended they do some more polishing and consider publishing the paper. I’m hoping when she talks to her partners they agree to work on it a little more and publish it.

Interestingly, her analysis did support one of my chief complaints. It felt like I had aphasia while on Lyrica and she found the books I wrote while on it, had far less variety in my vocabulary.

I am so proud of her and her hard work. I hope her partners agree to polish and publish. I was surprised and pleased when she asked permission to do the analysis. I know she picked it because she knew I’d struggled so much for all those months. Knowing that they knocked it out of the park, makes me even happier for them.

Analysis of D&R

I mentioned a day or two ago that someone had analyzed all the books in D&R. Today, I’m going to discuss some of the results of that analysis. There was a stance from the beginning of the project that Lyrica and Gabapentin had affected my writing. Both the publication (so slow) and the actual writing of them. Meaning there was quite a bit of comparison built in to the project.

One of the first things noticed was that the key words, the words that showed up most often could identify the book. The book Butchered Dreams had the iteration of Butcher, Butchered, and The Butcher, more than any of the other books in the series. The words Summoning and Summoned showed up more in Summoned Dreams than any other books. This was to be expected, but it was still neat to see it.

For books 1-11 and 14, I averaged 7,000 unique words per book (excluding names). And the readability score (how hard is it to read) were all around 5. For Flawless (book 12) and Demonic (Book 13). My unique words went down significantly to 5,500. And the readability score went up to a 7.1.

I prefer the lower readability score. I know that sounds strange, but one of the best compliments I’ve ever received on the series came from a medical examiner. He told me, “I don’t know anyone who can explain medical stuff like you do in your books.” Essentially, he was congratulating me on being able to get across my ideas in a way that were easy to understand, particularly the state of remains. Despite the fact that I am not involved in the medical field, I try to keep my deaths as realistic as possible. A lower readability score is indicative that nearly everyone can understand what I’m writing about whether it’s the goo that seeps out between the layers of skin when you get a deep cut or the results of a severe impact by a blunt object to the chest.

However, having fewer unique words is not a good thing. It indicates I repeated myself a great deal and failed to use a wide vocabulary while writing. I’m not sure this surprises me. I often complained it felt like I was struggling with aphasia while on these nerve pain medications. And my brain just worked slower and had to work harder to find thoughts, keep plots, and other things.

Furthermore, the books were considerably shorter and took longer to write. One would think that being shorter would mean that the readability score would be lower, but apparently, I didn’t express myself as thoroughly and effectively on Lyrica, as I did off it.

The time between books tripled on Lyrica. And my overall ratings (number of stars) was lower for these two books. Interestingly, from my own analysis of it, I had far fewer unique situations. My normal array of subplots and deaths, just didn’t happen in those 2 books. Even more bizarre, The Dysfunctional Mob is more in line with D&R than either Flawless or Demonic Dreams.

So, I wanted to check readability and unique word score for Ritual Dreams. I wrote half the book on Lyrica and half of it off. The first 13 chapters have a higher readability score, than the last 14. And the first 13 took longer to write than the last 14 chapters. The unique word score is also back to my average, but only because I seem to have expanded my vocabulary in the last 14 chapters.

The conclusion, Lyrica and Gabapentin really did hinder my ability to write.

Analytics

My best friend is finishing a second master’s degree in something technology related. One of her classes was big data analytics. She made the decision to analyze the D&R series. There were some interesting things discovered. However, the project isn’t due until today, so I won’t be releasing her findings until later this week.

However, I will go ahead and say she did find significant differences between D&R books written under the influence of Gabapentin and Lyrica and the others in the series. Not just in length or quickness of publishing, but in word choices and things.

Today, though, I have an advert for Elysium Dreams running on BookBub. And Ritual Dreams remains on pre-order for just a couple more days. Just as a reminder, I moved the publishing date from April 1 to March 22nd. So you only have 3 more days to wait.

I also have a much better idea of how this year is going to go (as far as writing is concerned) and can give better estimates on release dates for a couple of books. Avenging Reality will publish at Halloween. Anonymous Dreams will come out in December. Goddess Investigations in July and Oh My Wizard in September. And Dysfunctional Expansion in November.

This does mean a heavy end of the year publishing schedule, but as I am cranking out books pretty easily right now, I realized there was going to end up being a cluster somewhere, might as well have it at the end of the year to kick 2020 off in a good way (November and December royalties won’t pay out until January and February).

PS: I have 3 books that are still marked as WiP that will probably get put out in 2020. All of them are stand-alone novels. Throughout the day, I’ll be checking my Amazon rankings with the BookBub advert running. Tomorrow, I’ll post how it went. Currently, Tortured and Elysium Dreams are ranked #35 and #36 in crime fiction > serial killers on Amazon. I think they will both hit 1 in a couple of categories today. And the rankings on some of the other books in the series will also rise quite a bit. More on that later this week though.