Friday, December 4, 2015

The State of the Adventure: Writing, Research, Dogs, and High School Sports

A little more than a year and a half ago I released my first book in the Orphans and Inmates series, a fictional account of the lives of poorhouse inmates in Buffalo, New York, during the early nineteenth century.  With the third book in the series, The Seer and the Scholar, recently released, I thought it was time to assess the state of the adventure.  I hadn't intended to be a writer, and I never expected anyone but my mother and a few close friends to read my books.  Now "the adventure" has become a real job and it's time to determine if it is a job I can keep.

Since the fall of 2012, I have written and released three novels of historical fiction, ran a business that requires a 60 hour work week, produced scholarly research presentations and articles, and mentored my son nearly through high school (he graduates in May of 2016).  It would not be an understatement to say I have been busy.  Many of my fellow authors might decide that writing three books in three years is not a worthy accomplishment.  Never-the-less, I am still hoping for a few pats on the back from my friends in historical fiction, who are well aware of how long it can take to do the research for each story.  I count myself lucky that many of the resources I need can be obtained online (period newspapers, city directories and maps), but I also spent a significant amount of time in local libraries, museums, and even surrogate court in search of other primary source data to add color and authenticity to my tales. With most of my time consumed with the running of my business, my trips to the museum have become less frequent.  If I intend to keep doing this, I'll have to figure out where I can carve out some more time for research.  I'd gladly give up a few hours sleep, but sadly the library is not open at midnight.

The other time consuming part of self publishing is marketing.  I'll admit to being a bit of a slacker in this department.  I try to stay active on Facebook, Google+ and my blog (sorry, just can't do Twitter), but it takes valuable time away from research and writing. All of the experts say the best way to build an audience is to keep giving them books to read, so when I have to choose between posting on social media or writing my book, I choose writing. I usually break my research down into short blogs that give my readers a sense of where the series is going while at the same time keeping organized the important points that I will need as I write the actual book.  However, there are only 24 hours in each day and I tend to run out of time in the middle of a sentence.  In my defense, I have a very unusual day job.  My husband and I own two doggy daycares.  This is a unique business in that the clients have teeth, claws and poor toileting habits.  Thankfully, I have the best business partner and an outstanding staff, so I manage to squeak out a few hours to work most days.  Having said that, there are plenty of days when the dogs keep me going and I get nothing book related done.  

The other reason I have little time for marketing is that I am a wife and a mother.  Over the last century, women have been conditioned to devalue this part of our lives, but the truth is that one of the most important contributions to society is raising well adjusted children to be productive adults.  It's not easy, which I'm sure many of you know.  I have often joked that I want to change my name to Dad, but actually my husband works just as hard as I do. My son is active in sports, so we spend many weekends watching football games, track events or rowing competitions.  We have served as the school bus, the team bus, and even the ambulance. My son is a scholar athlete and is currently applying to colleges to study engineering, so I'm feeling pretty proud of my parenting skills, even if my marketing skills need work.

Having stated my accomplishments over the last few years and offered my excuses for why I have not yet achieved fame and fortune, it is time to evaluate if it was all worth it. Are the books commercially successful?  No, but as I understand it that will take more time.  Have I achieved some success?  Actually, I am hoping you can tell me!  Over the last year I have averaged about two speaking engagements or book signings a month to audiences of 50-60 people each time.  Locally, I have sold hundreds of print copies of my books, enough to motivate me to keep writing but not nearly enough to quit my day job.  My online sales pale in comparison, but given my meager marketing efforts, that is hardly surprising.  

So, what is a working mother, new author, and researcher to do? Keep on keeping on, I guess.  I have learned some important lessons and I'm hoping they will see me through to a bit more success.  First of all, people like my books.  Maybe not a whole lot of people at this point, but enough that I think with some additional effort, I can build a reasonable audience (don't ask me what reasonable is because I am still trying to figure that out).  Also, there is a substantial interest in local history here in Western New York, which can be used to my advantage. I have found a supportive community of indie authors who are willing to share their successes and failures, which I also intend to use to my advantage.   Finally, I learned a long time ago in grad school never to waste my efforts and that lesson has served me well in this writing adventure.  My scholarly work inspires my novels.  My research for an academic article or book is also used for my fictional stories.  That research can be tailored into blog and social media posts to draw in readers and keep them interested in between books.  My public appearances result in more public appearances and they also result in book sales (both online and in person).  I just need to put the plan into overdrive.  In truth, I'm still trying to figure that part out and would welcome any suggestions.  While I'm working on that, book four of the Orphans and Inmates series is underway, so you can look forward to some interesting blog posts about the lunatic asylum, communication with the spirit world, and my old favorite, nineteenth century medicine.