More than a month into my Taos stay, and I haven’t posted a single blog. I’ve been so busy hiking and walking, enjoying the sage and sunsets!
(Don’t worry, I’m slathered in SPF 50 at all times.)
Williams Lake was one of my favorite hikes despite the SNOW in the MIDDLE OF JUNE. I huffed my way up to 11,000 feet and then slid down the mountain on my soggy butt, because SLUSH. But the payoff was so worth it! And Mary Karlik is a total peach for tolerating me and rerouting us back to the trail every time I led us astray.
The Taos farmer’s market is fantastic (although I keep buying teaography and empanadas instead of vegetables). Last weekend we caught Curtis Stone filming, and I creeped awkwardly around until I could get a good pic of him. If you don’t know who Curtis Stone is, you need to up your Top Chef game. Best show on American television!
The food in Taos is also spectacular. Northern New Mexican dishes are gloriously spicy, and I’m attempting to try the chiles rellenos at every Mexican joint in town. This week, we drove out to a local brewery for a picnic in the mountains with a few glasses of the raspberry wheat ale.
It’s basically heaven out here.
Despite all the distractions, I’m actually working. I’m cracking away on Deadly Sweet, rebranded my whole website (ta-da!), and am juggling a few really great marketing and editing classes. Also finally mailed out a whole bunch of copies of Quanta Rewind and matching bookmarks.
I’ve been majorly MIA the past few weeks (months?!) and Quanta Rewind is to blame. Lately, I spend all day every day at my desk, working on the draft and listening to ambient arctic noise…
As you can imagine, I’m an inch away from a total breakdown.
The good news is the draft is juuuuust about finished. Bloggers will be able to download it on NetGalley at the beginning of April, and we’re still signing up for the blog tour, so hop on if you’d love to host!
I’ve survived thus far by consuming near-lethal quantities of Cherry Coke and dreaming of all the fun I’ll have when this deadline is in the bag. Thought I’d share a few things I CANNOT WAIT TO DO after Quanta Rewind is off my desk:
Hygiene is the first item to go when the deadlines hit. My hair looks like I’ve been moisturizing with Crisco, and I need to get back on the cleanliness schedule of a normal human person.
2) Play Breath of the Wild for 375603560q9479345 hours
It has come to my attention that I’m a grown adult and shouldn’t get sucked into buying a $300 console plus accessories just to have a Zelda machine… But then again OPEN WORLD ZELDA WITH COOKING AND WHO CARES ABOUT MONEY. I’m going to hunt down a Switch and spend a solid week gathering mushrooms. That’s just how I roll.
3) Catch up on dramas
I’m ridiculously behind on my drama watching. I got sidetracked with all this work (lame!) so I stalled out on Jealousy Incarnate, The Princess Weiyoung, and Hwarang, but I’m determined to catch up. PLUS, I have Goblin on my to-watch list and I can already anticipate the binge because it’s supposed to be the best.
4) Plan my next move
I’ve been in America way too long, and it’s time to skip out before all the visa regulations get crazy. Maybe back to Thailand after the burning season is over??? Or Bali?! Haven’t decided yet, but I’ll finally have time to plan.
5) Start my new series!!!
I am SO EXCITED to start a new project. The first book in my new series comes out on Halloween and I can’t wait to dig into all the early stage research and worldbuilding. It’s been killing me to have this one on the back burner. More updates (and preorder links!) coming soon, but this one is about WITCHES AND CAKES (my two favorite things in life) and I hope you love the new world as much as I do!
Last year I blogged about digital nomads, wondering why more fiction writers don’t take up the call of the road. After a year bopping back and forth between Asia and the U.S., I want to update my thoughts and give you a peek into the reality of my life as a digital nomad.
In the abstract, ditching the 9-5 to travel and write full-time sounds like living the dream. Beaches! Exotic locations! So much inspiration all around! There’s a whole niche of travel bloggers trying to sell this dream, and they’re funding themselves by getting other people to buy in.
Here’s the real deal about the beaches and inspiration bit: 1) I hate sand. 2) Nothing is exotic. I feel more at home in Taipei than I do in Texas. And 3) Inspiration is great for a first chapter, but it doesn’t get a whole book finished.
I’m always posting my desks on Instagram. I get to write at some of the coolest cafes around Asia, but I’m guessing your corner Starbucks has a selection of equally flat and lovely tables to work at.
The life I’ve chosen has tons of advantages–low cost of living, no cooking when street food is cheaper, and a level of cultural immersion that keeps my brain churning–BUT there are a few massive downsides.
1. Distractions. Today I should be writing, but I’m blogging and then I’m going to go to the Sunday market, because I want fried coconut puffs more than I want to sit down and work. Tomorrow I’m planning to write, but instead I could book a spa day for cost of a dinner at home. I could also play with elephants on the spur of the moment if I felt like it. That level of freedom is both exciting and dangerous.
2. Distance. I’ve talked about feeling distant from friends and family before, but being on a different timezone than everyone I’m working with makes accountability a big challenge. The twelve hour time gap puts me out of sync, and it’s real easy to let things slide. REAL EASY.
3. Self-discipline. Adding points 1 & 2, self-discipline becomes essential to being a successful digital nomad, and it’s something I struggle with daily. When I have a raft of distractions and everyone who could call me to task is sleeping… It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s just that writing is a mental challenge, and there are so many things my instant gratification monkey would rather do instead.
Since last year, I’ve met a few fiction writers living in and traveling through Chiang Mai. Inevitably, they have a certain level of drive. They can shift aside the distractions and buckle down on whatever project is due. They’ve also built a foundation before booking plane tickets–either establishing a pool of freelance clients, or locking down another revenue stream. I also know of people who hit the road with no backup plan or set income. Those types tend to want the digital nomad lifestyle more than they want a specific career.
That seems absolutely bonkers to me. There’s something to be said for the digital nomad experience if that’s what calls to you, but if you embark on the travel adventure of your dreams without a goal in mind… Temples and Pad Thai get boring eventually. Ask the locals. Or ask yourself–how often do you do touristy things or adventure around your home town? Once the wonder wears off, you find yourself in a routine, and if you don’t have a reason to get up in the morning, friends and home and familiarity may start to seem more compelling than musty hostels and a sea of interchangeable backpacker buddies.
I think my life is very much a ‘grass is greener’ situation. It sounds sublime that I get to travel and write and nothing else, and so many things about this lifestyle keep my engines purring, but it’s not all peaches and champagne. I have to book a trip for May and I’m dreading making the reservations. Can you imagine? I can go wherever I want, and I still don’t want to book because every trip means time lost in travel, sucky layovers, and an escalation of the mental battle between productivity and distraction. I’m not so jaded that I won’t have fun on that trip, but if I went back in time five years, I’d think the current me was crazy.
Yes, I can make you jealous with my pictures and spa days, but ultimately, this lifestyle involves sacrifices. I’m missing reunions and the baby showers and weddings of dear friends. I haven’t seen most of my extended family in years. This life was my choice and I’m not complaining, because I could go home this week if I really wanted, but it’s important to remember that living the dream means living A dream–not necessarily all the dreams at once. It’s also more work than the Instagrams would lead you to believe.
As soon as you stop cropping out the tourists, the glamour starts to fade…
If you think being a digital nomad and working on your masterpiece novel (or your startup or budding freelance whatever career) sounds amazing, then all power to you, and please come have a Thai tea with me in Chiang Mai. Maybe this lifestyle sounds like a nightmare. Or maybe you’d love to try a few months abroad, but just can’t or are too afraid to get started. Fear not. The pages aren’t any easier to write on the other side of the ocean. Whether you’re sitting at your dining room table or at a hipster cafe in Seoul, the words don’t come any faster. Your problems definitely won’t disappear on the road, and as romantic as visiting Angkor Wat sounds, I’m guessing your fantasies of Cambodia don’t factor in a hoard of tourists poking you with selfie sticks. Not as glamorous as advertised.
That’s the reality of my life as a digital nomad. Join me or don’t! Just remember that life doesn’t improve on a curve proportional to the number of stamps in your passport. It’s all about the drive and dedication you bring to your work–whatever and wherever that is.
I didn’t think this was ever going to happen, but it’s happening. I am touching a marketing topic–not with a ten-foot pole, but with my grubby little fingers. INSTAGRAM!
There’s a ton of info out there on how to market on Instagram, but most of it isn’t for writers. How can a writer use Instagram??? We’re word people. We write in dimly lit cave dwellings that don’t photograph well. We lead boring lives shackled to our computers.
I have bad news. If you’re self-promoting, no one cares anyway. I love this Delilah Devlin post on the topic of self-promotion. No one cares about your book (or my book) and you can’t use social media to interact with your fans when your only fan is your mother (thanks for reading my blogs, Mom). Everyone has a book. Everyone is writing a book. Many of the writing/reading hashtags on Instagram are filled with people self-promoting. They might follow you, but odds are they’ll unfollow if you don’t follow back because they’re just trying to sell their own books or services. That’s not helpful to anyone.
How do you get Instagram famous? Already be famous. Or be pretty and post a lot of selfies. It can be a really superficial platform if you let it. At least fifty of my followers are ghosts, and most of my likes are from bots. If I wanted to boost my ego, I could go ahead and buy a few thousand followers. Or pay for a bot to follow and unfollow accounts and inflate my numbers that way. But that’s wicked fake.
(Obligatory post soundtrack. Jason Derulo CAN make you famous on Instagram.)
So why bother? You might not want to. I just really like Instagram. I like playing with the filters and sharing pics of my noodle bowls and where I’m traveling. Someday I’d love to use it to repost fan-generated collages and #bookstgram posts, but until then, I like it as it is. It’s fun to see what the bloggers I’ve made friends with are reading and up to. It’s fun to browse through the writing memes. It’s fun to follow Etsy shops and foodies in my city and look at things that have nothing to do with being an author.
Instagram as a beginning/mid-career writer is all about making connections. That’s it. That’s the secret.
When most people talk about marketing books on Instagram, they go straight to photography. Take better photos. Learn composition. Use editing software. That’s great if you’re a photographer and/or interested in photography, but I’m not. I don’t want you to like my pictures. I want you to like my books and the more time I spend learning to take photos, the less time I have to write and improve myself as a writer.
Here’s the best news in this post. If you’re an author, the quality of your photos makes close to zero difference. Look at John Green’s Instagram. He’s already a big name, but I don’t see him posting from a photo shoot. It’s selfies, movie stars, vacations–a slice of his life.
A photo posted by Colleen Hoover (@colleenhoover) on
For these big names (and all us writers) followers are readers–not photography fans.
If you want to play in #bookstagram, that’s a whole different ballgame. You’re gonna need some white bookshelves, twinkle lights, a crate of Funko vinyls, and a studio-quality lighting setup. The pictures on there are fun and beautiful, but incredibly staged. It’s mostly where the readers party. If staging photos plays to your strengths and you enjoy doing it, then go to town! It’s definitely one way to build a following and I will for sure like your pics.
Unfortunately, a following doesn’t sell books. Neither do double-taps. The equation is much more complicated than that.
When we talk about writers who are killing it on Instagram, the examples people give are always their favorite writers. Is Colleen Hoover killing it on Instagram? Absolutely, and she gets a ton of credit for putting so much of her personality into her photos. She’s also a break-away success and at this point in her career, she has a bajillion loyal fans who’d probably make her successful on most other platforms, too.
Which writers are specifically good at Instagram?
Adriana Locke is a perfect example. I have never met or interacted with her so there is zero bias when I say that she has got this Instagram thing Locked down (no pun intended?). I found her account through bloggers–in one of her book acknowledgments, she thanked her loyal Insta-followers by their handles and the bloggers were freaking out with appreciation and love. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that perfect? Sure it was also a marketing move, but it felt totally authentic because Adriana’s account is REAL. It’s her life. It’s pictures of her kids, book quotes, memes, fan reposts. Nothing about it feels staged. She’s just interacting with fans and living her life, and that’s exactly what I want from an author on Instagram.
A photo posted by Adriana Locke (@authoradrianalocke) on
Another case study is Nicole Peeler. And this one is definitely biased because Nicole was my MFA mentor, but still, I love her posts. They’re all booze, humor, and her adventures (and foodventures) through Pittsburgh–and that matches perfectly with the content of her books. It’s marketing in one way and yet it feels totally natural. You like looking at this stuff? You’re going to love my stories. Boom.
A photo posted by Nicole Peeler (@nicolepeeler) on
Or Simone Pond. I have no connection to her, but I love her feed. It’s like, this is my dog, this is my desk, this my exasperated face when some dude is talking at the cafe. Plus reposts of other people’s pretty #bookstagram posts. It’s real. It’s doesn’t feel like anyone is forcing her to Instagram for marketing purposes, but it’s also not trying to image craft some glamorous picture of writing life that I don’t believe. It’s just the writer trying to do this whole writing thing, and I respect that. I will follow that.
Readers (especially book bloggers) are tired of having books shoved in their faces. If you use millions of hashtags you look like a spammer. If you’re all BUY MY BOOK, FOLLOW ME, GIVE ME ATTENTION, people will block you. Even being good at Instagram doesn’t sell books–but being a PERSON–showing that you’re not a marketing bot–makes you a lot more likable, approachable, and interesting as a writer among so many other aspiring and working writers. In this over-saturated ebook world, that’s the best you can do.
It’s a paradox. Social media can be a great tool for putting yourself out there… And yet it can also be a huge, useless time suck. So here are my tips for using Instagram as a writer:
Interact. Don’t be a snob who doesn’t follow anyone. Also don’t be obnoxiously posting follow for follow requests (I will block you so hard), but if you’re going to use the Instagram, use it as a platform to make connections. Until you already have a legion of fans, that means geeking out over books that aren’t yours and showing your other interests. Yes, share news if you have a book on sale or a special blog post you want to pimp, but that shouldn’t be the focus of your feed.
Be authentic (not Socality Barbie authentic). I don’t want to follow staged. I want your version of authentic whether that’s a blurry photo of your fourth cup of coffee on deadline or a perfect pastel shot of your workspace. Although fair warning, we’re all going to know if you don’t really have a perfect pastel workspace ; ) (See Jenny Han or R.S. Grey for examples of photo-savvy authors who are believably authentic). The reasons people will like you are probably the reasons they’ll like your books, so show yourself and your style, whether you’re perky or macabre or a sarcastic mess.
Have reasonable expectations. You will not get 10k followers overnight (unless you pay for them). You will get followers one at a time, and if you’re doing it right, you probably have to get to know them first. Have a little romance, y’know? Don’t elevator pitch on a first date. Even if you do get five million followers and ten million hearts, you’re not going to sell fifteen million books, so take a step back. Don’t obsess over followers and likes that mean nothing. Wouldn’t your time be better spent writing??
Be practical. If you don’t like Instagram, don’t use it. You don’t have to be on every social media platform and Instagram is no exception. If you take terrible photos and you think it’s a stupid platform, then stop wasting your time because anything you post is going to smack of I’m just doing this to market myself because everyone says I have to do this to market myself. Experiment with something else if you must. Try vlogging, Vine, Bubbly, Periscope, or the million other platforms that are so new and cool that I haven’t heard of them yet. Find what helps you showcase your talents, but doesn’t feel like a chore.
Be a writer. You are not a photographer. You are a writer. I repeat. You are a writer. You are not using Instagram to connect with photographers or food bloggers or to become a celebrity. You are using Instagram to connect with readers. Readers will follow you because they like you and/or because they like your books. Not because they like pictures of your books. Not because you have a slick brand.
Have fun. Post your dinner. Post selfies. Post your bookshelves. What is much less important than how. Tell me a story in the captions. Share excerpts in your handwriting. Share videos. If you’re a great photographer, then use those skills. If not, do something else that only you can do. Because if it’s not fun and it’s not selling books, then why are you bothering?
And now it’s your turn. Who are your favorite authors on Instagram? Who do you think we should all follow for Instagram knowledge? Please share in the comments!
I’ve been MIA from the blog since Angel released… And I have no real excuse. I actually have this fancy editorial calendar that tells me what I’m supposed to post and when I’m supposed to post it, but then I look at it and go NAH. I’ll just watch K-dramas or write a book or something.
I have a busy cafe-hopping schedule, okay??
I’ve been blogging a bit over at Ink Monster if you want to see what I’ve been up to, but as I try to balance writing and social media, I find that blogging is the thing most likely to fall of the rails. I love Instagram and it’s the funnest for me out of all the networks, so please find me over there if you want to keep up with my projects or just say hello : )
I’ve also been planning to redesign loladodge.com for a while and it looks like it’s going to be more static in the future. I’ll post when I have an announcement or find a fun topic that I really want to talk about, but for the most part, I’m trying to focus my brain energy on writing and editing.
And that brings me to the point of this post–an announcement!
Quanta is releasing October 13th and to get the word out, Ink Monster has partnered with Sparkle Book Tours to host a one-week tour from October 5th to 13th. If you’re a blogger who likes SF romance, join the party HERE. We’re still signing up for reviews, promo, etc., and there’ll be a truckload of awesome giveaways for you readers out there.
So excited that Quanta is finally escaping into the world! We’re working on finalizing the file and the book will be up soonish for review on NetGalley.
I’m not the biggest fan of the term digital nomad, but I’ve used it before and it does apply to me most of the time, so I’m kind of stuck with it. It actually fits most writers—we can write from wherever as long as we’ve got a laptop and the occasional Internet connection to send our files along to beta readers and agents and editors.
But so few fiction writers are into this digital nomad subculture. Bopping around cafes and coworking spaces in Asia, I rarely run into anyone involved in fiction. There are always a few characters who want to write a book, but few are actually making a living writing—most do marketing, social media, tech, design, or other businessy things I can’t explain in less than a paragraph. The writers are almost always bloggers, freelance editors, or travel writers who are into more of the non-fiction side of life. Which isn’t to say that fiction nomads don’t exist…they just don’t necessarily use the same labels or advertise themselves as such.
This puzzles me, but I somewhat understand. Writing fiction isn’t as reliable as say a freelance graphic design business or as official sounding as a tech startup, and advances and royalties are low, especially when you’re just starting out. It would be a terrible idea to fly to Chiang Mai or Ubud or Medellin or wherever the kids are going these days with a book idea and plans to start writing and making a living. You’d run out of money before you left the airport. But established writers?
This is the life, man. Even for a writer firmly at mid-list, what you earn can go so much farther in Asia or South America. My Thai apartment with cleaning service costs less than $300 a month. It’s not glamorous by any means, but it’s clean and located in cafe central, so it checks all my boxes.
Most fiction writers just aren’t plugged into the idea of going mobile. It’s fine for me to galavant around—I’m single and my parents let me crash with them when I’m stateside as long as I keep them swimming in homemade pasta and quiche. I know a lot of other writers, and few of them are in my demographic. Most have kids and/or spouses, house payments, and are otherwise locked into wherever they are. Or they think they are. I think more could make the switch to this kind of lifestyle, but haven’t considered it, or just aren’t interested.
I wish more fiction writers would branch out and hit the road, partially for selfish reasons. I’d love to have a buddy or two to write around with and join in my cafe-hopping habit.
Given, being away from home isn’t the greatest. I can’t contact my family that often and I’m perpetually out of the loop with what my friends and relatives are up to in their lives. Even so, I think giving that up (at least temporarily) is a fair trade for what you can get out of the nomad lifestyle. I’m so much more creative when I’m on the road, and experiencing other cultures always gives me new insights into what I’m putting on the page. And for a foodie like me, this is heaven. Yeah, I can get Thai food at home, but little roadside buffets that sell MSG-coated Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese/Thai fusion food can’t hold a candle to the real thing. I’m getting so spoiled by curries cooked to order and perfectly mixed Thai teas.
This lifestyle isn’t for everyone and it’s not forever, but I’m digging it in the short term. If you’re out there wondering how to make it work, drop me a message. I’m all for getting more you genre fiction peeps out into the world, and I’m happy to co-sign the decision to leave the country if you’re having doubts.