Within the writing world, you sometimes run into people who are obsessed with finding The Best Idea Ever. These are the folks who write posts like:

  • I’m terrified to talk about my story because someone will steal my idea!
  • I have an idea for a story that’s so good that it’s guaranteed to get me an agent!
  • I keep abandoning stories because I want to find The One Idea that is guaranteed to be a success!
  • And, of course, everyone’s favorite: “I’m an idea person, but I hate writing, so I think someone should write my idea for me and split the profit 50/50!”

These people believe the idea is all that matters–that their idea will get them published or that their idea is worth something. Sometimes you even encounter writers who are afraid to write at all until they hit on the best idea.

And all these people are getting hung up on the wrong thing. A good idea won’t get you published.

First thing’s first: having a good idea for a story DOES matter.

Ideas aren’t completely worthless. It is good to start with an idea that’s unique or underrepresented in some way. A fantasy that involves a dumb barbarian, an archer elf, and a drunk dwarf on a quest to destroy the Lord of Darkness is probably extremely cliche. Everyone on earth has already seen Harry Potter, and there are now two decades of “So-and-so is a [fantasy creature], in [fantasy creature] school!” stories. Overdone ideas are hard sells.

Does that mean they can’t sell? No, of course not. That’s the whole point of this post!

And if you have a unique, interesting twist for a story, then awesome! That’s a great starting point, and it may very well help you sell your story.

So that’s good! But it’s not enough. That one beautiful idea won’t get you published. And even if your idea is kind of overdone? That doesn’t mean you won’t be.

You see, I have an absolutely shocking truth to share with you.

What actually gets you published is the quality of your writing.

Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t warn you! You should have been sitting. I’m sure you’re all beside yourselves with shock now. It’s all right. Take a moment. Relax. Let that settle in.

Yes, unsurprisingly, the thing that agents actually care about is the quality of your writing. And “writing,” in this case, refers to the five zillion skills any talented writer has to juggle. Grammar? Absolutely. Excellent word choice? Yes! But also pacing, plotting, characterization, and an understanding of the genre they’re writing in. And more! Writing is complicated!

And let me tell you: good writing can make anything good.

I’m sure you can think of books that are popular, that have a lot of readers, and that have an extremely common story at its core. Heck, just look at the entire trend of fairy tale retellings: yes, they’re generally a mixup of Common Fairy Tale + Interesting Twist, but part of the challenge of that genre is taking a familiar story, with familiar themes, and making it new.

A really good author can take an idea that you’ve seen a million times and make it genuinely engaging. Their characters are just that dynamic, or their worldbuilding that gripping, or their tension that absolutely page-turning. If you reduced their story to a one-sentence summary, it might not sound like a completely groundbreaking concept–but it’s still good.

And, sadly, the opposite is also true: a bad writer can ruin a good idea.

So you have a really awesome concept. That’s great! But maybe your characters are flat. Maybe your pacing is terrible, and you spend thousands and thousands of words on scenes where no one learns anything and nothing happens. Maybe you struggle with words, and your story is riddled with grammatical errors and strange word choices.

No one–no agent, no publisher, and no reader–is going to say “Well, the underlying concept is cool, so I’m going to read this absolute mess of a book anyway!” It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to find an agent, a publisher, or if you just want to self-publish. A good idea is not going to give you a golden ticket to success if you don’t have the writing skills to back it up.

For that matter, two people can start from the same idea and write totally different books.

And if you’re one of those souls who worries that someone’s going to steal your ideas, stop. Just stop. It’s fine. Idea theft generally isn’t a thing, but even if it were, it doesn’t matter.

A villain could steal your complete and final draft and do harm to you, sure. (That also doesn’t really happen, but whatever.) But no one can really steal an idea.

And that’s because of what I said above–an idea fits in a few paragraphs. A story may be 100,000 words. Can you just imagine how many decisions someone has to make to write 100,000 words? You have to write dozens and dozens of scenes. What happens? In what order? How are those events described? What details are included? Which aren’t? What characters are in those scenes? How is the world set up? How is the tension described?

I mean, just look at writing prompts! Do you think everyone who uses the same writing prompt ends up with the same idea? I attended a writing group just this weekend where everyone wrote about “Two people meet for breakfast.” We ended up with a paranormal fantasy, a thriller about someone getting kidnapped, and a romance about two old flames. Do you genuinely, sincerely think that two people can write two stories that even vaguely resemble each other unless they’re working from a full-novel outline and the same batch of character/worldbuilding notes?

And no, of course they can’t.

In the end, good ideas are nice. But it’s only your writing that matters.

That’s basically it.

Your agents, publishers, and readers are not going to settle down with their Kindle and read your ideas. They’re reading a novel. And in the end, that matters: your writing. Your skill. Your craft.

So don’t let yourself get hung up on ideas. They’re the sprinkles on top of the cake–but they don’t do you a ton of good if you don’t know how to bake one.


I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before: get your first draft down. Don’t overthink it. Just get the thoughts down, get the words down, and finish.

It’s common advice, and it’s not hard to see why. One of the hardest lessons for a new writer to learn is that you have to actually finish projects. And that’s really friggin’ hard! Unless you’re very, very fast, writing 80,000+ words will take several months of work. And that’s just finishing draft #1!

Thus, the advice: just finish, even if it’s garbage.

But you know what? “Write a shitty first draft” means totally different things to different people.  So here’s what it means to me, and why I think it’s an excellent idea… if you’re doing it the way I do.

What does it mean to write a “shitty first draft”?

So, first thing’s first. Finishing is important. Finishing is really important! But this doesn’t mean anything goes. Specifically:

  • Write all the events that you want to happen, even if they’re out of order or don’t have the right emotional tone.
  • If you have scenes you absolutely love to death, put them in here.
  • Connect those scenes as best you can, and foreshadow them as best you can, even if you aren’t 100% sure you’re going to keep all this content.
  • Don’t worry about how nice it sounds. Your scenes don’t have to be beautifully crafted. They just have to exist.
  • Attempt to put all the connections in. For every plotline or character arc, you should put all the major events in: every plot twist, every reveal, every important landmark of character growth.
  • Write all the way to the end.
  • Try to structure it as a story. This means that there are no holes, no “And then everyone was somewhere else, with no explanation!”, and no “WRITE FIGHT SCENE HERE”s. Try to connect the dots.

Does that mean that you only write stuff you want to keep? Of course not! I always have a few scenes (or a few chapters, or many chapters…) that I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to throw out. But I write them if I have to do so to finish the story, then push through to the ending. But I write everything I know I want, connect it with stuff that will probably be similar, and finish.

The end result usually looks like a coherent novel that you could theoretically read and understand. It’s just not very good.

What does a “shitty first draft” NOT mean?

So here’s the problem: I’ve seen people take this advice really differently. “Just finish, no matter what? Great! There are no rules anymore! Nothing matters! There are no standards! Now, as long as I reach 80,000 words, I’m successful!”

And then they just write nonsense. Your story isn’t long enough? Throw in two chapters of backstory! Add characters or events for no reason at all! Who cares! We’re just aiming for a word count!

No! No no no no! You should definitely not:

  • Write nonsense.
  • Completely give up on telling a story and only care about producing a full novel’s worth of words.
  • Change your mind about the story you want to write, but write the old idea anyway so you can “just finish” something.
  • Write filler for the singular purpose of raising your word count.
  • Give up on writing anything that resembles a linear story.

And why not?

The point of finishing a story is to create something you can edit.

When people say “JUST FINISH THE STORY,” they aren’t giving you permission to write anything–anything at all!–as long as the end result is longer than 80,000 words (or whatever your goal is.)

The goal isn’t only to finish. If you want this to be more than just a learning experience, you also need to make something you can edit. And what can you edit?

  • Characters you want to keep
  • Events you want to happen
  • Plot arcs you like

…Even if these are all trash! If your characters exist but are poorly fleshed out, you can fix them. If you have events you like, but they’re not in the right places, you can move them. These things may be poorly written and not very engaging, but they exist, and you want them, so you can fix them.

But if you needed 20,000 words to finish a story, so you padded out the ending… who cares? You don’t care about that content. And when it comes time to edit, and to decide what stays and what goes, your only choice will be to throw it all out. And now you’re 20,000 words poorer and you have nothing to edit.

Remember: it’s okay to write messy. Just be strategic about it.

A first draft is like a puzzle. You can finish it if you have all 1,000 pieces on the table in front of you. If your pieces are gross? That’s fine. You only have the outline, and you’re missing big parts of the middle? Still a place to start. You have a bunch of pieces that don’t even belong to this puzzle? That’s okay! You can fix it.

But you can’t make a puzzle by starting with 1,000 mixed-and-matched pieces, especially if your master plan is to just sweep the table and start over from scratch. In that case, why bother? You wrote a full-length novel, sure. But you didn’t make it any easier to write the story you want to write.

So write messy. Write imperfect sentences. Write not-beautiful things. But write with purpose, too.

Logo for WriteOnCon.WriteOnCon 2018 is officially over, and I attended about two and a half days of it. (Not that “attending” means tooooo very much when everything is online.) And now that it’s over, let’s talk about how it went!

First thing’s first: what is WriteOnCon?

WriteOnCon is an online writing convention for people writing children’s literature. It covers everything from picture books to new adult, and it’s 100% online. There are several different elements:

  • The Forums: The WriteOnCon forums are active from a week before the event. They’re totally free, so anyone can participate, even if they aren’t participating in anything else in the event. The forums include boards for talking about writing and craft, finding writing partners, and review boards where you can get feedback on your queries and first pages. During the event, agents scour the forums, and they may request your stories if they like what they see.
  • Blog Posts and Pre-recorded Video Posts: If you pay the $5 admission, you get access to blog posts and pre-recorded videos. These were created by agents and successful authors and they cover a boatload of topics, ranging from craft to personal experiences. About two of these were posted every hour, so there was a ton of content to experience.
  • Live Events: Additionally, if you pay at least $10, you get access to the live events. There was one live event held every hour of the event, running from 9:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. These were one-hour-long events with some element of participation. Most of them were Q&As (so you could ask agents and authors your burning questions), workshop events, or agent pitch events.

So we’re talking about an absolute TON of content. And since this is all online, you didn’t have to “attend” all three days in person. You can watch the content whenever you want, even after the event. (But how long you have access depends on your admission–the $10 admission gets you access to the content for a week, and the $15 admission gets you access for a month. So if you weren’t there during the event, you do have a limited amount of time to catch up.)

So that’s what it was. What did I think?

The Forums

The forums were just like I remembered them. Again, I only participated in one place: the YA query review board. So how’d that go?

  • Everyone is so enthusiastic. You will get feedback from someone.
  • The feedback is, on the whole, extremely useful. I thought my query was pretty good going in. It’s better now.
  • You have to give feedback if you want to get feedback. The forum suggests you review at least 5 other people’s queries if you want feedback on your own. Try to review as many other queries as you can.
  • This also means there’s a lot of quid-pro-quo going on. If you aren’t getting enough feedback, try reviewing more queries!
  • You probably want to participate early. Go when the forums open. (That’s a week before the event.) Improve your query then. The agents don’t show up until the days of the event, and you’ll be more effective if the bulk of your edits are done by then.
  • Remember that a lot of these people are very new writers. This means you need to be critical about the advice you get. Not all advice is good advice. Look at what they’re suggesting, think about whether it matches what you know, and see if multiple people suggest the same things.

I got a ton of feedback. Some of it was iffy, some of it was amazing, but all of it was useful. I now have a much stronger query than I did going in.

The Blogs, Videos, and Live Events

WriteOnCon had a ton of content. And since this is an online event, that content varied widely, from polished, well-scripted videos to things shot on grainy webcams, in dark rooms, or without tripods or stationary webcams. There were technical problems. The website got mobbed on day #1 and wasn’t stable for about two hours.

And I found several posts, videos, and panels that I loved. Susan Dennard’s video on Why Failure Isn’t the End (which is publicly available on YouTube, even if you didn’t attend the event) is incredibly heartfelt and inspiring.

I can’t link to the rest of the content I watched (as you’d have to attend the event to see it), but I enjoyed a lot of stuff:

  • A live Q&A panel with several debut authors where they spoke about their “first year” experience, and how they got their agents and publishing deals.
  • Several amazing panels on using social media
  • More fantastic blog posts that I can count–there were several useful ones on writing descriptively, organizing your writing time, and maintaining motivation.

There was a ton of good content! Do I have some caveats? Absolutely!

  • WriteOnCon does seem geared toward beginning writers. At larger conferences, there are just more panels, and that means that you can choose between really basic panels on simple topics or really specialized panels on specific topics. At WriteOnCon, you have only one live event and maybe a pre-recorded 10- to 30-minute video every hour, so they tend to be about universal concepts, like “being motivated” or “writing dialogue.” The blog post were most likely to be about very specific things–but the panels? They were usually high-level. This means that a lot of the content is about things you’ve probably heard before: why it’s important to structure your stories, what voice is, what too much description looks like, how agents have specific querying requirements and you need to follow them… Yeah. Stuff like that.
  • You hear a lot of similar questions in the Q&As. And due to WriteOnCon’s low barrier to entry and the low admission rates, you get a lot of basic questions. So most agent Q&As had questions about what queries were, how long they should be, and why people get rejected. Every Q&A about social media ended up going down the “do I really need a platform? why?” track. You really don’t need to watch every single event that happened in the convention, particularly the Q&As. When Q&As cover similar topics, they usually have similar questions.
  • The query events weren’t very well organized. Here’s how it worked: some agents read your query letters live and responded to them verbally. If you wanted your query to be read, you had to post it on a specific thread on the forums. And the forums opened a week before the event. And, more importantly, I didn’t see those advertised anywhere. The WriteOnCon schedule only listed that pitch events were happening. It didn’t say “Hey, post in this thread if you want your query reviewed!” I didn’t notice them on the forums (although they were probably more obvious.) So what did I do? I waited until the day the pitches were supposed to occur. 45 minutes before the pitch event, I’d see a post saying “Post here if you want your query read!” And then I’d realize that they were already 5 pages deep, because people had been posting their queries for days. (Additionally, there was some sort of kerfuffle mid-event about how people weren’t following the rules of submitting, and this made at least one of the query pitch events go sour. I didn’t follow that since, by that point, I had simply accepted that I had lost my chance because I hadn’t posted my query in the days before the event.) Soooo I didn’t get my queries in front of agents’ eyes. That’s fine. I know how to query the old-fashioned way. But it was still disappointing.

My thoughts overall

As a semi-experienced writer–at least one who knows how to query, knows a smidge about publishing, and has one book out with a small press–WriteOnCon’s events were hit-or-miss. Some of the events were fantastic! Some of the Q&As were amazing! And… some of the Q&As felt identical, and some of the panels were just really, really basic.

But WriteOnCon is still absolutely fantastic, and I’d recommend it to any writer in kidlit. I mean:

  • You can see everything for $10. $10! You can’t beat that price.
  • It’s online, so you can watch as much or as little as you want.
  • You can watch and read the content after the event, if you want.

And you know what? I’ve gotten trapped in real-world panels at real-world writing events where I was bored out of my mind but didn’t want to disrupt things by getting up and leaving. But if I get bored of something in WriteOnCon? Close that video. Find another. Watch that instead. DONE.

If you write children’s literature, WriteOnCon is an easy, cheap, low-effort way to get a taste of a conference experience. There’s got to be something in those ~100 blog and video posts that you’ll find interesting, insightful, and inspiring.

Logo for WriteOnCon.

WriteOnCon is coming up! This year, it’s running from February 9 to 11, Friday through Sunday.

Haven’t heard of it before? Check it out. WriteOnCon is a writing convention for children’s book authors, including everything from picture books to New Adult. It’s also completely online, which means you don’t have to go anywhere–just register, sign on, and watch the panels!

It’s only $5 to read all the blog posts, $10 to see all the content, or $15 to see all the content and also have access to it for a month after the conference. So it’s dirt cheap, it’s fun, and it has a lot of seriously good speakers and topics. And Susan Dennard (author of the Something Strange and Deadly and Truthwitch series) is doing the opening keynote! How cool is that?

My experience with WriteOnCon is limited, but it’s something!

I attended WriteOnCon half-assedly in… I’m going to say 2014? It’s hard to compare that experience to now, because the convention was managed by a different team, went down for a while, and now has apparently been revived by a different team.

But that’s not really relevant for this post, because this much is the same: in 2014, I literally only signed up for the forums. I paid no money and didn’t attend any panels. I specifically did the Query Feedback forums, which are exactly what they sound like:  you post your query and you get feedback from the tons and tons of attendees.

Better yet: since agents are participating in the event, they look at the forums, too! And if you get super-super-super-duper lucky, you might get a request!

But chances are you’ll just get a ton of feedback, which is still super useful. You do need to take it with a grain of salt, of course–the attendees range from brand-new writers to honed veterans, and since everyone wants to be fair (if you get feedback, you want to give feedback, too!) you get a lot of feedback. This means you’ll get a mix, some great and some decidedly iffy.

Back in 2014, I was querying Justice Unending, and I got an absolute bucketload of feedback. And while I definitely didn’t use all of it, WriteOnCon did help me forge the query letter I eventually queried with.

Buuuut, I admittedly don’t know what to expect.

That said, I’ve never attended the full event before, so I have no idea what to expect. I’m attending this year, though! I’ll be  listening to all three days of events and participating in the forums. And, hey, it’s $10 and a few days. This isn’t a massive investment.

So if you write kidlit, give WriteOnCon a look!

I looooove Sarah Andersen’s comics. They’re one of the only reasons I check Twitter, because I’m clearly not going to get over my social anxiety and talk to someone.

This gem came out over the holidays. Let’s talk about it!

Practice! Practice. Practice. I want to keep its URL in an easy-to-reach place and paste it into every “I’m new to writing, and I don’t know how to…” post. I want to smoosh it into the face of every person who claims “I’m just not good at [thing]!”

This comic speaks to me. Now I will speak to you. About the comic. And creativity. And practice!

The Myth of Innate Artistic Talent

Let’s talk about drawing for a little while. This problem exists in the writing world, too–and I’ll talk about that in a second–but it’s more obvious with art.

Here’s the myth: many people believe that creativity is an innate part of your being. It’s not something you learned–it’s who you are. You don’t have to study or practice it. You have nothing to learn. You were born with a natural talent for art, and this makes you better at it than other people.

Before we go farther, check out the comments on the above comic. People vehemently disagree with this comic. Let me paraphrase some of those comments. (These’ obviously are not quotes.)

“This isn’t true!” they argue. “I could practice every day and never draw well.”

“It’s definitely not all practice. I can barely draw stick figures. So obviously, I could never get better, even if I tried.”

“But two people can practice the same amount and one will get better faster. Obviously some people will just never be good.”

“It’s all practice,” an artist who has put in a lot of hard work and practice says, and people fight it! I think this is fascinating. Americans have a complicated, weird perspective on work ethic. This is a culture that believes anyone can become better if they try harder. It’s a culture that says that everything you get in life is a result of your own personal choices, and that if you really want something, you should work harder for it.

Unless it has to do with talent.

Then we give up. Talent! No, you’re born with that. You either fall out of the womb with a preternatural talent for art or you will never, ever, ever be good at it. In fact, if you have to work hard at being creative, you should be ashamed of yourself. You are bad, you will never be good, and you should just accept it and find something else to do in life. You are making a fool of yourself. What are you doing? Don’t you have eyes? If you were meant to do this, you’d already be good at it.

Holy moly!

Some people really believe this. They deeply, fiercely believe this. And when someone struggles, this is the first thing they club themselves with:  you must not really be an artist if you didn’t figure all of these out yourself.

But you know what? This is nonsense.

You could learn how to draw. Yes, you. Even if you can only draw stick figures. If you took lessons, practiced every day, and put in hundreds of hours of practice, you would get better. You could, if you tried hard enough, even get good at it.

Don’t believe me? Check out this Reddit post. That person wasn’t blessed by a fairy at birth. That’s practice. And heck, even in the comments, you’ve got the same argument going on: artists who have put in the time to learn these techniques saying that it’s all hard work and learning the right technique, while complaining that everyone blames it on “innate talent.”

How this all applies to writing

The same assumptions happen in the writing world, although they take more time to play out. You can look at a piece of art and see that someone’s talented in a few seconds, but it’s much harder to objectively label a book as “good.”

But everything I mentioned above? The complicated feelings? The “I’m not good at this now, so I am completely incapable of ever getting better” thing? That happens in writing, too. It happens all the time.

People think writing is an innate gift, too. They think that you either have a talent for ideas, worlds, and words or you don’t. They assume that if you’re “meant to be” a writer, you’ll effortlessly write publication-ready, agent-worthy pieces, and vault right over that awkward “no agents will even respond to me” phase.

And people absolutely maul themselves over this.

“I’m not good at coming up with new ideas for stories, so I obviously have no ideas and am not creative. I can never learn these skills or practice them, so I guess I’m not an author.” Yeah. I’ve seen posts like that. Heck, I literally argued with someone who said, “if the first book I write isn’t agent-worthy, I’m never going to write again–it’s not worth practicing writing unless I know I’m good at it.”

Good golly! So let me get this straight: you’ll consider practicing after you become a professional? It doesn’t work like that. Nothing works like that!

Your favorite authors did not spend their lives not writing. They did not go from “never writing a single word for fun” to “writing a masterpiece.” They’ve probably written for years. They probably produced a lot of junk before they started producing professional work. They might have a natural gift for wordplay or clever ideas or realistic dialogue, but they still had to hone that talent into something useful, and they probably produced a lot of awkward garbage while they were figuring it out.

It’s practice! Practice. Practice!

It’s all about practice!

Does talent exist? Maybe. Something probably separates the grand masters from people who are just really, really good at something. But having a natural talent for something doesn’t mean you’ll never have to work at it at all. That’s just a fixed mindset.

We should definitely stop thinking “if I’m not good now, I’ll never be good.” You don’t know how good you’ll get if you put more time and energy into it. How good you are now is no indication of how good you could be.

Art is not an innate part of your being. It’s something you learn over time by practicing and doing. And if you aren’t where you want to be right now, that’s okay–just keep practicing. Just keep doing. Just keep learning.

It’s practice! Practice. Practice.

It’s 2018! You know what that means, right? It’s time for self-indulgent introspection!

Let’s start by checking my 2017 resolutions and seeing how I did!

My 2017 New Year’s Resolutions

I did okay! Okay-ish?

  • I did edit my new YA fantasy, the tentatively titled Garden in the Waves. It took WAY longer than I expected, and it’s still not quite ready to query. But I did finish my second draft. Garden was 115K at the start of 2017, and now it’s 90K–and almost all of that is completely new content.
  • I didn’t query Garden, but I do have a query letter drafted and (nearly) ready to go.
  • I didn’t write any short stories this year, unfortunately. I was hoping that the above-mentioned edits would take ~6 or so months, and… they took 10. Huh. And even when I was done, I still didn’t have time for short stories, because…
  • I did NaNoWriMo! I wrote about 70K of a novel that’s probably going to be 80K. That draft isn’t done, and it also needs to be completely rewritten, but it was nice to blow through something new after spending 5 months writing and 10 months editing Garden.

So I got a fair amount of work done. Let’s look at it in more detail!

Reading: I could have done more.

According to Goodreads, I read 30 books and approximately 10,000 pages. That’s about average. (It’s a little behind the 35 I did in 2016, though.)

The best book I read was–shock! surprise!–not a YA fantasy. It’s never a YA fantasy! I read boatloads of them, I swear! I really like them! But I always seem to run into something totally unexpected–and something totally not YA–that blows me out of the water.

This year, the best series I read was The Broken Earth series (the first of which is The Fifth Season), an exceptionally powerful adult fantasy series with some mindblowing worldbuilding. It’s hugely popular. There’s a TV series coming out. It’s definitely worth picking up. I don’t like morbid, dark, post-apocalyptic stuff, but this series absolutely devoured me.

Writing: I’m pretty inefficient!

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know I seriously love tracking how much I write. So I can tell you that I:

  • Wrote 251,078 words this year.
  • 229,534 were just brand new words in brand new chapters.
  • 8,673 of them were related to outlining.
  • …Leaving 8,082 related to editing. But that number’s wonky. I only count my words as “editing” if I’m keeping the majority of the content I’m working on. If I toss out content and rewrite it from scratch, I count it as “writing.” And lemme tell you: I did a lot of rewriting. A LOT a lot. So even though I edited a single novel for 10 months, most of that time wasn’t logged as editing.

This is huge. I wrote approximately 212,000 words last year. I wrote 139,000 words the year before. I am writing a ton of content, and I’m writing more every year!

But that doesn’t mean I used my writing time well. I spent this year editing a YA fantasy that–with any luck–I’ll query this year. I also rewrote the first half of it 3 times. I tossed out my first draft. I rewrote the first 14 chapters, then tossed them out. I wrote 15 new chapters to replace them, then tossed most of that out. Now I have 14 also mostly-new chapters, and they mostly, but they still need edits. Argh!

I essentially took a 115,000-word story and rewrote it. It is now 92,000 words. But I had to write 159,000 words to get there.

And then I wrote a new story, which is currently 70,000 words long. But it was a NaNoWriMo story, it was really quickly outlined, and I… really want to do all of it differently. So that’ll have to be rewritten, too!

So while I created a lot of content, it’s also really easy to feel like I’m running in place–creating and creating and creating, but inching toward the actual act of finishing something and getting it published. I’m close, sure! But it’s easy to feel like I didn’t actually do anything in 2017.

Other Writing-Related Goals!

I was busy, though!

  • I attended my first major writing convention!
  • I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time (and won!)
  • I actually left the house and made some local writing friends!

These are all really good things!

My Goals for 2018

So! 2017 was a… well, it was a year. I did some stuff. It might not have been the year I was hoping it’d be, but it certainly wasn’t a wash. So what do I plan to do in 2018?

  • I need to finish my third–and hopefully final–edit of The Garden in the Waves. I want this one to go much faster. I’m 90% of the way there!
  • And I’m definitely going to query it this year. Fingers crossed!
  • I need to rewrite the Justice Unending sequel from scratch. I got a lot of ideas down on paper, I wrote 70,000 words, and now I know a lot more about what I actually want to do.
  • I’d really like to write 1 or 2 short stories this year. I haven’t published any since 2015! I had a few out on submission in 2017, but I didn’t write any–I just kept a few old 2016 stories out on rotation. It’s time to put those to bed and focus on something new.

And that’s that!

It’s been a productive–if not slightly frustrating–year. I might not have accomplished everything I wanted to do, but I definitely did a lot.

I didn’t query, no. But, with any luck, I’ll be out in the query trenches in a month or two. And once I’m there, I promise: I’ll cover everything that I learn along the way here on the blog.

And for those folks who follow me: thank you for another year! I’ve loved chatting with all of you and hearing about your experiences. I hope you all have a wonderful new year!

Cover of 'Help! My Facebook Ads Suck.'

Image from Goodreads.

A month or so ago, I tried my first Facebook ad campaign. It was unimpressive. “That’s just what marketing’s like!” I told myself. “You never make back the money you put into ads. You’re paying for exposure!”

I’m not yet convinced that’s wrong. When I see someone talking about making big bucks in marketing, I assume they want to sell me their books.

But, then again, I also know absolutely nothing about advertising. I know I made mistakes, and I know I can do better. And while I’m a long way away from running profitable ads, I’d still love to know more about running better ones.

So I picked up Help! My Facebook Ads Suck. Is this going to turn my ads around? I have no idea. Is the advice in this book helpful? I haven’t tested it out.

But it did tell me that my Facebook ads did, in fact, suck. Here’s what I learned.

I shouldn’t have done a 30-day campaign.

This was something I discussed in my Facebook ad postmortem. Facebook gives you two ways to do ads:

  • You plug in a time period (like a week or 30 days) and give it a budget. It divides your budget over those days.
  • You give it a daily budget (which can go as low as $5) and let the ad run until you stop it.

I did the first one: $30 for 30 days. This meant Facebook gave me $1 of ads a day to play with.

My Facebook Ads Suck confirmed that this was a bad idea. It suggests that ads should “fail fast.” I cycled in ads and let them run for one or two weeks at a time. The book suggests running ads at $5 a day and letting them go for three days. Then you check numbers, gauge success, and pull the ad if it doesn’t measure up.

It’s obviously easier to do this if you’re running an ad day-by-day. You run them for a few days and only spend more than $15 if the ad is doing very well. By scheduling my ads for a 30-day period, I spent less per day, kept my ads up longer, and kept so-so ads running for weeks at a time.

I had no idea that images with text on them perform less well on Facebook.

According to My Facebook Ads Suck, Facebook doesn’t like images with text on them. Apparently, if your ad image has text on it, Facebook will show it less often and charge you more per click.

Consequently, the author suggests not using book covers as ad images. He suggests using stock images instead.

This is… curious. I don’t honestly like stock images, or like the idea of associating generic images with my work, but…

I was paying way, way, way too much per click.

…Maybe I should consider it, because my ads didn’t work that well.

The first chapter of My Facebook Ads Suck is about math. There’s a lot to it, but the end result gives you how much you can afford to pay per click on Facebook. Basically, you can only afford to spend so much on ads. You want to make ads that average a certain number of sales, then make sure you pay less to get those sales than you make in a sale.

But if you don’t want to do the math, he gives you a ballpark: keep your Facebook price per click under 30 cents.

This is tricky. Unlike Goodreads, you don’t set your price per click on Facebook. You plug in your budget and audience, and then Facebook wiggles its fingers and decides how much it costs to reach those people. Lots of things result in a higher click rate–My Facebook Ads Suck describes several of them. But two of the ones I want to think more about are:

  • The image you used
  • The audience you selected.

Images with text on them are (apparently) more expensive. Reaching certain audiences is more expensive. Choosing the wrong audience makes it more expensive. Choosing overly large or extremely popular audiences can drive up your cost, too.

If your ad is going to a carefully tailored audience who is closely associated with what you’re trying to sell (i.e., they’re actually readers and actually like your genre), and it’s not an oversaturated marketing term, you should have a lower price per click.

My most effective Facebook ad cost me 40 cents a click. That’s expensive.

I probably had low amounts of interaction, too.

The book suggests that good ads get roughly one sale for every 30 clicks. My ad campaign resulted in 57 clicks and one sale. So a truly effective ad might have gotten two sales for that much interaction, but with numbers this small, it’s hard to definitively say “My ad resulted in half as much interaction as it should have!”

But I was paying too much those impressions (40c/click), and my $1/day budget didn’t buy me a lot of impressions in the first place. If I had played with my ads until my Facebook-calculated cost-per-click was lower, then one sale for 57 clicks would have… well, maybe not been approaching profitability, but it would have been more cost-effective, because then I’d be getting a lot more sales out of $30 of investment.

Furthermore, I didn’t even know what the “relevance” score was when I ran my ads. This is Facebook’s attempt to see how relevant, on a scale of 1-10, your ad was to the audience you targeted. My Facebook Ads Suck suggests you aim for 8 or higher. So, of course, my best ad was 7. That means my ad was reasonably well targeted to my audience, but something was off. That definitely implies that I could have done better by changing my audience.

So where does that leave me?

My campaign was, unsurprisingly, not very effective.

This was my first time advertising on Facebook, and I didn’t go into it with a ton of information. So none of this is surprising! But if I was going to do it again, I would do a few things differently:

  • I’d run campaigns at $5 a day and decide whether to stop them in a matter of days, not weeks.
  • I’d try out using text-free images and possibly even stock images.
  • I’d fiddle with the audience. I need a much more intelligently focused audience–people who read “young adult books” or “fantasy books” is definitely not narrow enough.

The risk is, of course, that spending $5 a day makes it really easy to waste a boatload of money. This means that just testing an ad costs $15, and any ad that approaches viability is going to cost you $35 a week to keep up. Those costs ad up quickly–unless, of course, they start making more money than they cost to keep up.

And that still seems like a far-off dream. In the meantime, maybe I should just keep fiddling. And learning. I definitely have a long way to go.

Of course, there’s also the other option: write more books. (I’m working on it! I promise!) I’ve seen several places suggest that you shouldn’t bother marketing at all until you have at least 3 books out. And even My Facebook Ads Suck spends a lot of time calculating the value of a series, because a certain number of people who read book #1 will read everything the sequels. I only have one book out right now, and that seriously limits what I can do.

Ah well. One step at a time!