#FreshStart - Vanessa Riley
It’s the beginning of a whole new year; what time could possibly be better to become more motivated and inspired? You have a whole 365 days ahead of you, and now is the time to start making them count, so we're asking authors what they've got planned for the year ahead!
Vanessa Riley tells us how she uses metrics to plan the year ahead, and urges you to blaze your own path.
A Calendar World for a Metrics Girls
I’m taking down 2018 calendar and hunting for a new one. Should it have horses, cats, puppies, royal wedding shots? Hmmmm. Yes, I am a paper calendar girl. It’s fun to flip the pages and reflect upon the wins, loss, and lessons learned. In that spirit, I want to share with you a bit of my 2018 assessment, and the things I take from it to make this new year shiny and bright.
The corporate person in me utilizes the practice of clinically analyzing what worked in 2018 and what didn’t. I use benchmarks. These are simple metrics that answer the following:
1. How many times did I say yes, despite the fear?
2. Have I grown my Jabez territory?
3. Did my values line up to my words and deeds?
Metric 1: Saying Yes—What did I say yes to in 2018?
Sowing in 2016 by committing to be a fully-invested hybrid author and developing stories for both the traditional and independent publishing markets, allowed for a harvest in 2018. The Advertisement for Love series with Entangled Publishing and my novella, Paper Snowflake Christmas with Barbour in the Victorian Christmas Brides Collection helped add to the visibility of my stories. This allowed my historical romances to be seen by more people, mentioned in more places of influence, and to set up my writing path for 2019. Saying yes to a fourth book in the Entangled Series, The Bewildered Bride and to the series of Afro-Caribbean heiresses and the dukes that love them for Kensington are going to be a joy to write.
Sadly, the singer Karen White was right. I’m not a superwoman. Writing big stories takes time. My indies stories have slowed. I only independently released a short novella in 2018, A Bittersweet Moment—that was all. At first, I thought I should be releasing more indie. I was saddened, then I started singing Karen White. With joy, I accept that I can only do what I can do.
For 2019, I’m starting with an Indie release in February. I am happy to be in a novella trio with Grace Burrowes and Kelly Bowen, Love by the Letters. I think B is for Beautiful Secret is amazing. I believe my readers will enjoy it, too— a landowner with a debt to pay learns the pleasure of giving, teaming with a dressmaker who covers the secrets of the Ton.
My piece of advice to all writers for 2019 is to believe you can do all things, but be fine falling short. The writing journey is long. Savor what you accomplish.
Metric 2: The Jabez Thingy - Growing Your Territory
There’s an Old Testament reference of a baby whose mother was in so much pain—no epidurals or other good drugs back in the B.C.—the woman named him, Jabez which literally translates, he that causes pain. As an adult, Jabez cried out hoping this insult didn't become his history. He prayed for his territory to be enlarged.
This writing journey is one wrought with pain. It’s called rejection. An author is told no—by agents, editors, reviewers, publishers, readers, critique partners, family members, and friends. Alas, some mothers refuse to read their children’s work. So, take heart. Whether it’s just completing a chapter, entering a contest, finishing an outline, or hitting send to an editor or agent or Mom, every success enlarges your territory.
Some of the metrics that I measured my territory are listed here:
Writing a lot: Wrote approximated 280,000 words which were keepers. This is down from last year by 12%. Nonetheless, the ratio of the words kept to the ones discarded—burnt and never spoken of again, was up by 20%. Win.
Fan mail: Gained new letters and emails. Some of you made me cry. Thank you.
Surviving Twitter: Survived two twitter controversies. Only singed a little.
Hanging with Peers: Hung with the cool kids at multiple conferences and events.
Accolades: Won awards and my work was recognized in national places like Entertainment Weekly, NPR, and Redbook.
Deals: Signed with a hardworking agent who gets me and who sold a proposal to a publishing house and editor I admire.
Reader events: Did two reader weekends and hung out with the best people on earth.
Book signings: Did six signings, double 2017. And I no longer fear that no one will show. Ok, I do still fear this one. I have work to do.
And I grew my team:
In my goal assessment for 2017, I determined I needed a bigger team to support my career. This became my 2018’s mission. Family is great, but I need help in the trenches. I need more trusted advisors to partner with to expand production and distribution. I sound like a factory, but every author needs gears and mechanism to hold it all together. Saying yes to a grassroots guru and outreach specialist, and yes to utilizing my personal editor on just about everything but grocery lists, and yes to an agent, doesn’t diminish the control Indie artists have come to love. It empowers growth.
The best piece of advice for increasing your territory is to add to quality people to your life, people who have your back. Don’t hold to the belief that all the stars will align for your benefit. Hire stars, and you will benefit.
Metric 3: Deeds and Values
Every author I know brings a little bit of themselves to each story, except the ones who craft serial killer stories. I hope my buddies don’t have those notions, but I did read about an Oregon romance author who may have waxed her husband. That’s waxing poetic of another kind. I digress, back to values and deeds, good deeds.
1. Writing to Heart
I’m a firm believer in writing to heart, not to market. If you can predict the future, buy stock or a lotto ticket. Don’t spend time writing something that may not be in vogue when you are done. I’ve been writing my stories since 2008. I first sold in 2013 and was still told the market wasn’t ready for me, a woman of color writing inter-sectional histories of powerful people of colors. That was the conventional wisdom. Then I went Indie, and my work found an audience. None of this was to market. It was all for the burden of my heart.
My goals haven’t changed. I want to tell stories that showcase a different side of history, stories that illustrate empowering romances, strong sisterhoods, and enduring faith. I feel good about the characters and situations and chuckles and tears I delivered in my 2018 books. I’ll check this value-deed box with a yes.
2. Loving My Readers
I firmly believe readers make or break a career. I went all out for readers at two 2018 reader retreats. I plan to do at least three in 2019. I held crazy contests and giveaways to thank readers for their support. I’m already thinking about this year. I’ll stamp this value-deed box with a yes.
3. Pal-ing Around with Peers
I believe in comradery. The writing life can be isolating. Deadlines can make one a hermit or cloistered nun. In 2018, I hung out with my writing divas, my mentors, and friends, both online and off. I held my second writing retreat at my home which taught techniques and power. I even upped my participation in my local RWA chapter. I must admit this was a low bar. I’ll do better Georgia Romance Writers.
So, I grade myself a solid B in this metric. I have more to do, more to sow.
My Wishes for 2019
I want more. I want to write more, be more, and grow more. I need to keep writing scared, taking risks, and putting out the best book possible. This sounds vague but when matched up with my metrics, you can see how this will manifest.
When the editor at PHS, Ali Williams, asked me what I wish to change in Romancelandia, two things came to mind:
1. The belief that diversity is a trend
It’s not, and for all the grief that comes with being inclusive, it’s not even fashionable. It’s not a disease that’s leaching creativity. Diversity is not the actions of the “Zealous” PC police attempting to make everything sterile. It’s not a movement to take away racist, sexist, or homophobic talking points of the ancestors, our youth, or the present. Well, maybe it is this.
Knowledge means change and scrutiny of all things that cast differences as fetishes and less than. Diversity is not a way to exclude. It’s an addition. It adds more stories and themes to our soup-pot. Romancelandia can deal with a little more flavor. If I can try the food of the gods, macaroni and cheese, enhanced (butchered) with kale, or potato salad enriched (slaughtered) with raisins, you too can try diversity.
2. The belief that if one person wins, someone else loses
On announcement day for my first mass-market print deal with Kensington of an Afro-Caribbean heiress and her duke, circa 1814, someone felt compelled to post in multiple Facebook forums a half-hearted, "Congratulations" and to vent about the state of their Romancelandia. Because of my deal, this person ranted that his/her work was no longer special enough to compete.
Because one deal was made?
One deal out the hundreds announced weekly caused this person to feel insignificant and wounded, probably with tears.
Welcome to the party, buttercup. Writing is hard. Readers and publishers demand more. They want works that shine. There’s room for everything, traditionally and independently, to be published if you are willing to put in the work. If someone can put down your story, then you’ve not worked hard enough, or you haven’t reached your readers.
Make your yes come true. You have the power. It may be yes to the indie route or yes to revisions or yes to gaining a new perspective. Find it.
Romancelandia, say after me, “What is for you, is for you.”
Not feeling it?
For some, this chant may not be enough to forestall an ill-conceived rant.
I believe in you. I know you have power. You can break this stronghold.
Let’s try some old-time religion, “What God has for you, is for you.”
One deal does not upset the established apple cart. For every feminist story that’s published, there will still be misogynistic ones. For every inclusive historical, there will be plenty of others. Other sub-genres won’t stop either. There will also be paranormal and fantasy and contemporary and more.
For every author who does the research to showcase a marginalized character as having dignity and truth, there will be plenty that don’t. There’s room for all. Do not despair. Instead, write scared, hold to your values, and put out the best work you can. In the end, that’s how every author will be measured.
You’ve been charged.
Go into 2019 and blaze your trail. Don’t stop until you’ve met your goals or come darn close.
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