Four News Items

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

I have four pieces of news for you today:

FIRST: Today is the last day to get The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1 for $1.99! This isn’t to say that I’ll never run a sale AGAIN, but I am not likely to run one for a good long time—so if you haven’t gotten your ebook yet, now is the cheapest it’ll be for a while.

SECOND: Thank you to everyone who responded to my “should Volume 2 start with Chapter 1 or Chapter 71″ query! The OVERWHELMING RESPONSE was start with Chapter 71, which is good because that’s also what I wanted to do. I promise I’ll leave a well-written note explaining the whole thing to people who haven’t read the first volume.

THIRD: If you are in Los Angeles on November 5 or Seattle on November 19, come see me read space-themed fiction at Marian Call’s SPACE TIME. The LA event will be at Kulak’s Woodshed, and the Seattle event will be at TBD, and both events will begin at TBD. (I’ll give you more details as soon as I get ’em.)

What is SPACE TIME? It’s an evening of music and stories and talks about space. (Outer, inner, emotional.) In the past there have been sketches and poetry and I’ve gotten to interview people who work at JPL about whether we’re going to put drones on Mars someday, and you should definitely come if you’re in the area.

I will also have paperback copies of The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1 for sale, if that’s something you’re interested in. I have a special inkpen that I use to sign copies, HINT HINT.

FOURTH: I’ve been writing “what I’m reading” posts at Nicole Dieker Dot Com, and they’ve been helping me organize my thoughts around… well, a lot of things. I wanted to share them with you because I’m never going to get to meet all of you in person, but these are the kinds of things we might talk about if we did:

On Revising My Novel While Reading Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers, or: Books Are Supposed to Make You Think and Feel, Right? 

On Reading the News While Reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

Thanks for reading. ❤️

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This Week in Self-Publishing: Did the $1.99 Sale SELL?

This Week

Books sold: 44 ebooks, 0 paperbacks

Money earned: $58.92

Money spent: $0

Total

Books sold: 316 ebooks, 136 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1,215.76

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $4,820.71


Today is the last day that The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 will be available for $1.99. Starting tomorrow, the ebook price will go back up to $3.99 and stay that way until… probably next summer.

So, if you haven’t yet purchased your $1.99 ebook, now’s your chance:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Kobo

During this week’s sale, I ran promos on both ReadingDeals and ManyBooks; the ReadingDeals promo ran last Friday and the ManyBooks promo ran on Sunday.

In both cases, neither promo performed as well as just setting the price to $1.99.

As you can see from the screenshot at the top of this post, my best sales day was Tuesday, September 19. That’s the day the book was first priced at $1.99 and, assumedly, a bunch of people got notifications suggesting they go buy it.

I got 43 sales that day.

I got 44 sales this entire week.

The ReadingDeals and ManyBooks promos cost me $53 total, so they earned back the cost of promotion, though I’m not sure how many of this week’s purchases came from ReadingDeals/ManyBooks links vs. friends and readers sharing my book sale on social media.

I’ve done four of these book promos so far—ReadingDeals, ManyBooks, and two BargainBooksy promos—and it seems like they bring in about 15–20 sales each. I still have the Fussy Librarian promo in early October, so I’ll be curious to see how that one goes.

I should also note that, thanks to the 43 sales on Tuesday, September 19, I hit #75 in my category. Here’s the Pronoun screenshot:

As we know from the first BargainBooksy promo, it took 19 sales for me to hit #120 in Literary Sagas; if it takes 43 sales for me to hit #75, then I could theoretically figure out just how many sales it might take to hit #1.

(In Literary Sagas, not all of Amazon.)

So. The distance between 19 and 43 is 24, and the distance between 120 and 75 is 45, so it took 24 sales to advance 45 ranking points, which means you move one ranking point for every 1.88 sales, except it probably doesn’t really work like that, it probably takes more sales to go from 100 to 75 than it does to go from 120 to 100, so… I am not quite good enough at math to figure this out!

Plus you’re not only competing against your own sales, you’re competing against everyone else’s sales. If someone else’s book takes off, everyone else’s book ranking drops.

Which means… yeah, there are too many variables for me to calculate this. I could roughly estimate that if I sold 226 books in one day I would be a lot closer to #1 in Literary Sagas, but that’s literally saying “if I sold more books I’d be closer to #1,” so… not helpful.

On the subject of book sales, I recently wrote a piece for Pronoun’s The Verbs about whether I can consider myself a successful self-published author:

I’m very curious about how all of you define success, because I absolutely feel like a success every time I look at anything but my sales numbers. Everything from reviews to revenue has been great for me, so far—and, if I look at the data from Goodreads and Amazon, great for my readers.

But I still haven’t sold 500 books.

I used the number 500 because of that old “most self-published books don’t even sell 500 copies” warning statistic, imagine a spooky ghost saying most people who dooooo this faaaaaail, except the funny thing is that, because of the $1.99 sale, I am suddenly very close to selling my first 500 copies.

Which means I can say that I FOR SURE AM A SUCCESS, TAKE THAT SPOOKY GHOST!

Part of me really wants to see what would happen if I priced my book at $0.99.

But I know that the whole point of a sale is that you have to bring it back to the regular price after a certain period of time and keep it there.

So buy Biographies Vol. 1 today, if you want that $1.99 deal. ❤️

On Reading the News While Reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

I checked Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys out of the library for three reasons:

  1. I love her posts on writing.
  2. I love her rules for living.
  3. Her background appears to be similar to mine in some interesting ways.

Supernatural/paranormal YA is not usually my genre, but character is my genre and feelings is my genre and mythology was definitely my genre when I was a teenager, and I ended up reading all four Raven Cycle books in five consecutive days.

I’m not sure that reading is the right word, though. More like actively hallucinating. I remember taking this pause, looking away from the page, and realizing that my bedroom looked wrong because it wasn’t the kitchen in 300 Fox Way. (Then I asked myself: Nicole, can you mentally walk through every room of that house the same way you could walk through the rooms of any place where you’ve actually lived? And I could. It was weird. I’d also created a memory map of Monmouth Manufacturing.)


Even though I love my adulthood much more than I ever enjoyed my teenagerhood—which can be emotionally, though not factually, summed up in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000The Raven Cycle made me wish I could be a teenager again.

It’s like… I wasn’t just seeing the walls of everybody’s houses, I was also inside those houses—and caves, and cars, and characters’ perspectives. Although I had a very different adolescence, I still had a moment with a guidance counselor and I still had a smile that I put on in public and I still had so many questions about love.

So I felt all of these emotions that are so vividly associated with youth and then I had to put the book down and be in my thirty-five-year-old body. Which was just as jarring as seeing my own bedroom and not the kitchen at 300 Fox Way.


But here’s why I’m actually writing this post:

If you haven’t read The Raven Cycle, I don’t consider it much of a spoiler to say that there are several primary characters and each character is involved in at least two or three intersecting plotlines. Sometimes one of the plotlines will be experiencing some stress, shall we call it—you could also call it property destruction, demon possession, or occasionally blood—but then you get to the next chapter and it’s about characters learning how to trust each other or finding joy in a cup of Dannon “Fruit on the Bottom” Yogurt.

(I don’t have time to write about the role that socioeconomic class plays in The Raven Cycle—and anyway, it’s already been written—but that cheap cup of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt struck me right in the lived experience. Also the sentence describing the bookshelf that also holds cooking stuff. That bookshelf is in my apartment right now.)

Anyway, by the time you get to the fourth book in the series, all the plotlines start experiencing stress. You turn the pages and there is no relief; you keep turning the pages and things start happening that can’t be undone. You watch a few powerful people make choices that you know are going to hurt so many other people and there is nothing you can do to stop them.

And then you take a break and make yourself a cup of Celestial Seasonings tea and check Twitter or the Washington Post as the electric kettle on your bookshelf heats up, and you feel like you are still in the book.


The trouble is that I’m not a teenager, and I’m certainly not a YA teenager who is crucial to the narrative. I haven’t even figured out the love thing to the point that I could—well, now I am getting dangerously near spoiler territory, but what I mean is that I feel very unpowerful right now.

I’m not the Chosen One and I’m not young enough to feel like I could be someday. I’m a background character and I have to watch the monster or the earthquake or the government or the corporations and wonder if the heroes will show up—or if the only person who can fix this is off doing their homework, leaving me stuck within the boundaries of my single paragraph. Calling my reps and saying my one line of dialogue.


There is a section at the end of The Raven Cycle that addresses what we can do when we don’t know what else to do; when we feel powerless and afraid and the bad news keeps coming. I don’t want to spoil it, but I read it I felt so grateful that it had been included. You don’t have to be the Chosen One to do it, either.

Of course, the drawback is that it doesn’t really change anything except yourself. But you already know how I feel about magic only working when it’s applied to your own actions.


Maggie Stiefvater’s #1 Rule For Living is this:

Decide life is going to be great. All other methods will fail without this prerequisite. A decision that life will be great allows a terrible event to turn into a plot twist along the way, not a confirmation that your life is shit.

I love that it begins with the word decide, and I love that it implies that we can write, though not necessarily control, our own stories. Mostly I love that it’s about keeping on, moving forward, doing the work, pursuing happiness if you want to describe it that way—even when, to borrow a phrase I learned when I was an executive assistant at a DC think tank, the situation on the ground has changed.

The situation on the ground is changing faster than I can turn the pages, these days.

I don’t know what to do when all the plotlines start falling apart.

I really want to end this with “I guess I’ll write my own,” which feels like the most selfish and honest thing I could possibly say.

But I’m going to keep doing the work, which is to say doing what I can for the world and then doing my work, which is to say doing what matters to me BECAUSE IT MATTERS TO ME and that is enough reason to do it.

And because, as I wrote earlier this month, I feel emotions through stories—which means that if it does in fact come down to love, this is how I create and share it.

Now go read The Raven Cycle.❤️

Photo credit: Andrea Pokrzywinski, CC BY 2.0.

A Question About Chapter Numbers

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

I have two pieces of news for you! Or… like… one news and one question.

The news is for people who have not yet read The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000; the question is for people who have.

NEWS: Biographies Vol. 1 is on sale for $1.99.

It is exactly four months since I published Biographies Vol. 1, which means the book is no longer “recently published” and it is time to run a sale promotion.

I did a blog post on Nicole Dieker Dot Com on how I set up the sale and what I’ve learned so far, but the most important information from that blog post is that the Biographies Vol. 1 ebook is on sale for $1.99 through Friday, September 29.

That’s FIFTY PERCENT OFF.

Here are your links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Kobo

Fun question: when is Google/Alphabet just going to merge with Amazon because they both want the same thing and they both already have names that deal with A to Z?

That wasn’t the question I was going to ask you, though.

Here it is:

QUESTION: Should Biographies Vol. 2 start with Chapter 1, or Chapter 71?

So I originally wrote The Biographies of Ordinary People as one book, and then it became one enormous book and I decided to publish it in two volumes. (The Vol. 1 paperback still feels pretty enormous when I hold it; it’s larger than the other books on my shelf and the print is smaller. Also, that’s your opening to tell me that the print is too small to read comfortably and I should make it bigger for the second volume. And… for the first volume. I can re-release it.)

Now that I’m revising Vol. 2, I keep turning over the first page, the one that reads “Part 3: 2004–2009,” and thinking “I need to change that to Part 1.”

Except it isn’t Part 1. It’s Part 3. Especially when you consider the role it plays in the larger two-volume story. (This is the scherzo movement. The curtain opening after intermission. We are starting the story with the characters both in media res and in flux.)

I’m working on a note to go at the beginning of the book that basically reads “I love you all, but if you haven’t read Volume 1, you need to go do that first,” and I am already thinking about how I can get Kindle to ACTUALLY SHOW READERS THAT NOTE instead of automatically opening the book to the first page of Chapter 1, WHY DOES KINDLE DO THAT, SOME OF US LIKE TO READ THE FRONT MATTER BEFORE WE READ THE BOOK, THAT IS WHY THE FRONT MATTER IS THERE.

Anyway. So with this note and with the larger “this is one book in two volumes” concept, do I have to change Part 3 to Part 1?

And… does that mean I should call the first chapter “Chapter 71” instead of “Chapter 1?”

I want readers to understand where we are in the characters’ lives and to get at least a subconscious sense of what to expect re: rising and falling action.

But I don’t want it to seem clever. It won’t work if people think I’m just doing it to be clever.

So… what do you think?

And if you don’t have an opinion because you haven’t read Volume 1 yet, well… it is currently on sale for $1.99. ❤️

This Week in Self-Publishing: My Book Is ON SALE

This Week

Books sold: 50 ebooks, 1 paperback

Money earned: $79.53

Money spent: $53 (on ReadingDeals and ManyBooks promos)

Total

Books sold: 272 ebooks, 136 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1,156.84

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $4,820.71


BIG NEWS Y’ALL: The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 ebook is ON SALE for $1.99. 

This deal was featured on ReadingDeals this morning and will be featured on ManyBooks on Sunday. Here’s the ReadingDeals promo, if you want to see how it looks:

My current Amazon ranking is #37,052 in all books and #216 in Litfic Sagas. That’s about where I was with my second BargainBooksy promo, and since I haven’t formally announced the sale on my Twitter or my TinyLetter yet, I’m assuming this performance is due entirely to ReadingDeals.

However, I’m not sure what caused my ranking to spike at #9,489 on Tuesday. That’s, like, the highest it’s been ever. (I also know, because of Pronoun, that it represents 43 sales.)

Here’s what I’m guessing happened:

  1. I wanted my $1.99 sale to run from Friday, September 22 to Friday, September 29. (ReadingDeals says the promotion will end on Sept. 26, which makes me wonder if I typed the date wrong in the form. I just sent them an email to clarify.)
  2. I emailed Pronoun about the logistics of setting up a discount. They told me that I couldn’t schedule a discount to start on a specific day; once I submit a price change through Pronoun, it usually takes 1-3 days for the retailers to update their systems.
  3. Therefore, I submitted my price change request at 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, September 18, so it would for sure be active by Friday, September 22.
  4. The price change was active on all retailers when I woke up on Tuesday, September 19.
  5. Amazon must have notified readers about the $1.99 sale somehow, because 43 people bought the ebook that day.

Is it, like, if you put a book on your wishlist or something, Amazon lets you know when it’s discounted? Or are people tracking Amazon prices through a third-party service? I have no idea how this happened, but it’s pretty clear that pricing my book at $1.99 made a bunch of people want to buy it.

I can’t attribute it to someone mentioning me on Twitter, because as far as I can tell nobody did. I can only assume that it was because of the sale that I still haven’t publicly announced.

(Technically, I’m kind of announcing it now.)

This is my first sale, so I’m still learning how it all works. Advice is always appreciated, since I’m probably going to do another one of these someday.


In other news, the BookLife Prize announced its quarter-finalists today, and I am not on the list. I got a really lovely Critic’s Report from BookLife, including a blurb which they told me I was free to slap on all my marketing materials:

Dieker writes with unrepentant honesty about the human condition, crafting the story of the Gruber family with subtle narrative tension and the central claim that every life is worthy of a biography.

(Yeah, I know some of you have seen that blurb before because I did in fact add it to all of my marketing materials. It’s still great.)

The Critic’s Report also gave me some indirect suggestions re: how to improve Volume 2:

Dieker’s distinct voice is forthright, thoughtful, and charming. Structural flaws, including awkward shifts in perspective, are small distractions from Dieker’s eloquence and humor.

I AM WORKING ON IMPROVING THE PERSPECTIVE SHIFTS FOR VOLUME 2. It is on the list of things to revise, which I will start pummeling through once again tomorrow.

Until then, if you would like to buy my book for $1.99, now’s the best time to do it. ❤️

On Revising My Novel While Reading Meg Howrey’s ‘The Wanderers,’ or: Books Are Supposed to Make You Think and Feel, Right?

I read Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers last week. To say that it was a book that made me forget the rest of the world existed might be a little on the nose, if you know what the story’s about, but I haven’t been this fully absorbed by a book in… I don’t even know how long.

I’ve loved a lot of books this year; Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years Trilogy, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1, Ali Smith’s Autumn, Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, and Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn stand out as some of my favorites. But in many cases I’m studying the language along with the story, which means I am both in the book and outside of it.

In The Wanderers‘ case I was all in.

I empathized with all of the characters—important, in a character-driven book—but felt the strongest pull towards Yoshi and Helen; with Helen, in particular, I felt like Howrey was writing truths about my own life that I was not yet ready to admit to myself.

But hey, it’s been a week. So here we go.


Mild spoilers, if you want to skip the rest of this post: Helen is an astronaut. She values her ability to perform complex tasks on command and knows that doing what she loves—that is, going to space—depends on her being able to function at top capacity at all times. This means discipline of body, of mind, and of emotions both internal and projected. Which is to say she cannot be misperceived, especially in public. Astronauts represent things, after all.

Helen is proud of her ability to maintain this discipline and geniality. The discipline, at least, comes naturally. If she had not become an astronaut she would have found another job that utilized similar skills.

I put the book down partway through—because I am also disciplined, and it was time to go to bed—and thought about how remarkable it was to be reading this story about a woman who has chosen a career that comes with certain requirements and constraints, is honest about what she has given up in order to work within those constraints, and admits that the choice is worth it.

It was also remarkable to finish the book and understand that Howrey had written a story about characters growing and changing and learning from each other without having to give up their discipline. This isn’t a story about uptight astronauts learning how to love before floating around in zero-gee soap-and-ketchup bubbles because it’s okay to be messy now, aren’t you glad we learned that?  (Not saying being messy is bad. Saying that’s the cliché.) This is a story of highly qualified people who do know how to love, who share an intense experience that teaches them how to be more specific with their love and with themselves.


I made the burndown chart for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 today. It’s divided into the following sections:

  • Revisions
  • Rewrites
  • Checks
  • Permissions
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Prep
  • Reviews
  • Publicity
  • Awards
  • Promos
  • Ads
  • Appearances
  • Longterm
  • Maybe

For the book to publish in May 2018, I need to get Revisions through Prep done by March, in addition to my writing and editing work at The Billfold and my work for other freelance clients.

I write about 40,000 freelance words a month and edit 40 pieces, which might not require the same discipline as an astronaut but certainly requires me to function at top capacity at all times. (Or, at least, never drop below 85%.) Part of me thinks this isn’t anything worth remarking on; don’t all careers assume that we’ll show up on time, ready to go?

But other people, when I mention what I do, tend to remark on it. Generally along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it.”

I do it the same way that Helen does it: discipline, skill, compartmentalization. (And, by this point, years of practice.)

I also know what I am giving up. Not necessarily to have this career, but definitely to do all of this and get The Biographies of Ordinary People ready for publication. To do all of this, get Biographies ready, and prioritize the exercise-nutrition-sleep required to do all of this and get Biographies ready means a lot of saying no—whether it’s out loud, or internally before anyone has even asked.

This is where I’m supposed to write something about how I feel a little badly, the way the characters in The Wanderers occasionally remember to say that they feel a little badly, about this choice.

But the truth is that I want it more than anything. I have structured my entire life to have this choice. My job is to be good enough to get to keep making this choice for as long as I can.


Now I do feel badly, because I’ve written something that is both true and could be perceived as callous or careerist or lacking love, and part of what I do—you knew I was going to bring this up—involves not being misperceived.

This is both the literal definition of writing and the more contemporary definition of not being disliked. I know that telling you something true about myself is actually more likely to make us feel connected to each other, but I also know that admitting that I avoid some types of typical everyday stuff in order to focus more fully on my work might make you feel disconnected from me.

I could try to reconnect us by saying that we all make choices like this; we choose what we want to move towards and we choose what we want to move away from. (Sometimes we wish we could move towards or away from something, but there are circumstances or obstacles preventing us.) But that runs the risk of being doubly misperceived; in this case, the assumption that I’m saying my choices are better.

They’re not. I’m writing this because I’m putting a lot of intense focus on my novel right now, so I’m very interested in the choices I’m making.

I’m also writing this because I know that other people like to read about how writers work, and this is how I do it.

Mostly I’m writing this because I can’t get The Wanderers out of my head.


Back to the revisions. The reason that I am fairly sure I can complete everything on that list by March—assuming I keep the health stats up—is because this part of the writing process is mostly about discipline. It’s about me thinking critically about my writing: Is it clear?  Is every word the best possible choice, within some kind of 80:20 Pareto Principle? (Knowing which words for sure need to be the best possible choice is also part of revision.) Do the characters move in understandable ways through the narrative?

The most difficult part of that checklist will be REWRITES, which is the list of scenes I need to either rewrite in full or create from scratch. That requires emotion and sense memory and a presence of mind that is very different from the part of me that thinks “is this person a minister or a pastor?”

Which means that for the next several months, I have to be ready to jump on REWRITES on the days that I feel most emotionally capable of doing them. I already know that I’ll only have certain times free to do REWRITES (and everything else on the list), and I’ve blocked those times off on my calendar the way you’re supposed to, and I’ve already told multiple people that I won’t be available on certain weekend days because I need them, a month from now, for Biographies.

This is part of what it means to structure your life to be able to make the choices I am currently making (and knowing what you’re giving up in the process, like being less available to family, friends, the non-profit at which I tutor, etc.).

I know this isn’t the only way to revise a book. But it’s the way I’ve figured out how to revise mine. This is the second book revision process I’ve ever done, and it’s different from a lot of other writers’ first because of the way Biographies is published and second because all writers are different. We aren’t all Helens, or Pearls, or Berts, or any of the other characters that have ever helped me understand myself.

(That’s a terrible way to wrap up this post, though. Let’s revise it.)

I do want to be more specific with my love, and with myself, and with my work. I could tell you, if I weren’t coming to the end of this post, about the time I did an intensive class with Anne Bogart and learned how very specific a person could be when telling a story—and how much work it takes. (And how much love.)

And specificity requires choice, which means saying no to something in order to say yes to something else.

And now I will admit, honestly, that I do feel regret—or, more specifically, disappointment that I cannot be everything to everyone, that I am failing both them and my ideal version of myself—about the things I say no to. Right in this moment, as I write this, of course I do. ❤️

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating, CC BY 2.0.

This Week in Self-Publishing: The Revision Process Starts Tomorrow

This Week

Books sold:  4 ebooks, 1 paperback (at Readerfest)

Money earned: $10.67

Money spent: $0

Total

Books sold: 222 ebooks, 135 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1,077.31

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $4,767.71


As promised, I went through Mint, figured out exactly how much I had spent on publishing and promoting The Biographies of Ordinary People thus far, and updated the “money spent” metric. I had left out a few travel expenses, as I suspected.

Still, I’m in the black! (Pre-tax, anyway. Also, I need to set up a meeting with my accountant to figure out how book sales will affect my taxes.)


I don’t have a lot to share this week; I’m still working on getting those last promos set up, and I’m going to start revising Volume 2 tomorrow. My goal for this weekend is to knock out all of the copyediting notes I left for myself in the printed copy of Vol. 2 (see above) and to create a burndown chart listing every additional revision and rewrite I have to complete, along with everything else I’ll need to get done before I publish the book next spring.

(When do I need to submit for awards? When do I need to launch the pre-order? Etc.)

It’ll be a lot of work, which is why I set aside several weekends to get the revisions done, and will no doubt set aside several more weekends in 2018 to get the prep and promo work done.

But I’ll keep you posted on my progress. ❤️

Thoughts on Disneyland

I’ve always been the kind of person who feels emotion through stories. This isn’t to say that I don’t experience more immediate emotions, but that the two best ways for me to process my emotions are by thinking and writing or by thinking and reading. 

So when I thought of where I wanted to go on vacation—a vacation that I decided to book because I thought of the part in Ballet Shoes where Pauline says “we need a holiday, the other two are crying,” which is to say that I thought of that part instead of crying myself, and then read the entirety of Ballet Shoes to process that emotion—there was only one place I wanted to go. It might have been the only place in the world that would have counted as a vacation for me, and by the end of this you’ll know why.


I had a friend who once said that if you go to a new place by yourself, you’ll understand yourself better. I went to Disneyland alone because I hadn’t gone to a new place by myself in a very long time. I hadn’t taken a vacation that was just me in years. I’m lucky to have family and friends to visit, or to go places with, but this time I needed to go somewhere by myself.

I wanted to see who I was, as my former friend put it, when I was somewhere else.


I also went to Disneyland alone so I could take as long as I wanted to look at things.


Of course I was going to Disneybound, because I love dressing up and because there’s always something fun in perusing a group of characters—or wizard boarding school houses—and deciding which one of them is most like you.

When I was very young I imagined myself as Alice; once the Disney Princesses became a thing everyone assumed I was Belle, because she liked books, even though I more strongly identified with Ariel, who decided what she wanted and made the necessary sacrifices to go after it.

But I don’t feel like Alice or any of the Princesses, anymore. I’m not dreaming of a different life, or going to the ball for the first time. I’ve been to the ball, I’ve worn the dresses, I’ve had the kisses. (I’ve read the part of War and Peace that describes that phase of life as a brief moment that only some people get and been sad because it doesn’t last forever; I’ve thought about it later and felt happy that I had it at all.)

Now I am a thirty-five-year-old bespectacled spinster who is focused on improving her craft, which is why I Disneybounded as Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ Eglantine Price.

Which, by the way, no one recognized except one person on Instagram.

I remember not liking Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a child because it was mostly about adults. Now I’m exactly the right age for it. I love that Eglantine’s “I want” song—which was cut from the film, but it’s on the soundtrack—is actually a “keep trying” song, because she’s at a point in her life where she doesn’t have to wish that she lived in a different town or with a different species or whatever. Instead, she wants the same thing I do: to get better at what she does.

And… she does end up at a ball, eventually. Wearing a gray suit with box pleats. (If there’s one thing that should have given my Disneybound away, it was finding a gray dress that had box pleats. I had to scroll through so many Amazon listings.)


I paid the $10 extra (per day) with my tickets not for the MaxPass part, but for PhotoPass. I know how to take selfies that make me look like the vision of myself I have in my head; I wanted to see how the Disney photographers would view me.

That’s about right. I squint when I smile, and I look more boxy when I’m not leaning forward to do the “head slightly bigger than it should be because we’re used to seeing those proportions in art” look. (Or the “drop the jaw to make your face less square” look.)

I’m less pretty when I don’t craft my own photographs, in the same way that I’m less engaging when I’m not writing something or talking on a podcast. It is disheartening to pay $10 (per day) to know this, but I came to Disneyland to understand myself, which means understanding how I appear to others.


On the plane ride over, I sat in front of a mother and her two children (the dad sat across the aisle). The kids wanted to touch and look at everything; they wanted to talk constantly; they didn’t want to sit down even after their parents and the flight attendant told them, multiple times, that the plane was about to land.

I thought of myself at that age. I liked to look at things, and I’d been taught not to touch things, and if my parents had told me to sit down and be quiet I would have sat quietly and thought about things. (I spent so much time, as a little kid, sitting quietly and thinking.) It occurred to me—and this assumption may be completely wrong—that these kids experienced the world externally and I experienced it internally.

I’m not sure I know what experiencing the world externally is like. I do know that’s one of the reasons I wanted to go to Disneyland instead of, say, staying home and reading another book—or even, like, going to a national park, because that’s another place that would prompt me to be quiet and think about things.

Going to Disneyland engages the entire body, all the senses, and—as I found out—every single emotion. You can climb things, you can fall, you can walk for miles, you can hug characters or sing along with the Dapper Dans, you can be sprayed with water or doused with scents, you can buy a slice of pineapple that is so juicy that a stranger to whom you’ve just started talking will get up from the table and bring you a stack of napkins.


The thing that bothers me about the Disneyland renovations is the way they lose some of this engagement by removing the rider from the center of the story. Take the Alice in Wonderland reno, for example; the original ride was constructed as if the rider was seeing the world through Alice’s eyes—or, more specifically, through their own eyes, imagining themselves as Alice. (Or, if they were the kind of child I was, imagining themselves as themselves, in Wonderland.)

The renovated ride asks the rider to watch Alice. It’s a three-dimensional movie, made explicit by the loops of Alice animation that weave between the animatronic cards and flowers.

The Pirates reno, although it keeps some of the first-person-POV by having characters address the riders directly, no longer allows riders to build their own interpretation of what they’re experiencing. It’s the strongest memory I have from my first trip through Pirates of the Caribbean—arguably the strongest memory of that entire Disney visit. The two drops, and then the ride opening up into this space that felt like I was inside a dream. The lights weren’t bright enough, and the scenes kept changing. (I would later learn that this dream sensation was, perhaps, Disney’s intent.)

Now it’s about spotting the Pirates of the Caribbean characters. You don’t get to fill in the gaps with yourself, because they’ve all been filled in with Jack Sparrow.


Here’s my other thought about Pirates of the Caribbean: they’re removing the “buy a bride” auction scene and replacing it with a scene in which pirates with guns—including the infamous Redhead—force townspeople to “surrender their loot.”

So they’ve removed fat-shaming, lust, and subjugation of women and replaced it with… armed robbery! But hey, the Redhead has agency now? (Arguably she had agency before; it’s clear that she’s making her own choices in that bride auction scene.)

It’s hard for me to read the claims that Disney no longer wanted children to see the bride auction and think that buying/selling/leering at women was okay, because the inverse is “but we’re fine with them thinking that threatening people with guns is okay.” Pirates has slowly stripped away all of its non-Johnny-Depp sexiness, including a number of scenes involving dubious consent, but there’s still an extraordinary amount of violence; at one point the pirates burn down an entire town, and I’m pretty sure none of the residents consented to that.


I don’t even bother with the renovated Star Tours.


My favorite ride, officially, is Mr. Toad. The first time I rode it I was expecting to be safely pulled away from every danger at the last minute, the way rides (and stories) usually worked; learning that the ride actually killed you and sent you to Hell—and this is a first-person-POV ride, you are not watching Mr. Toad from a distance—was as formative an experience as seeing the Narrator get killed in Into the Woods.

I ride Mr. Toad again and again because when I was young I didn’t know stories could do that. I keep worrying that they’ll renovate it, or tear it down.


I brought three pennies to Snow White’s Wishing Well, because I was thinking about how many pennies I could bring, all the wishes I might want to make, and then I decided that three seemed like the only fair number.

And yes, I took my wishes very seriously. I don’t believe in magic but I do believe that people can create magic, which is to say they can imbue items or people or experiences with meaning. They can imagine, to borrow what seems to be the theme, something more—and then it exists.

I stood across from a woman who crossed herself after she tossed in her coins, and it was comforting to know that she and I both, as the Disney T-shirts like to put it, believed.

I dropped my first coin, and I will not tell you what I wished for but I will tell you that it came true instantly. (Think of The Magician King, and Asmodeus asking for a scar to be healed.) I dropped the second coin, and we’ll see what happens with that. I dropped the third one, and it hit a metal bar at the center of the well and made a noise like The Price Is Right trombone sound, which is to say it sounded nothing like that at all, but I knew that wish would probably not come true.

It was the kind of wish that relied on someone else’s actions, anyway. Maybe you can’t make those kinds of wishes in a well that you only believe is magic because you’ve decided to believe it is magic. (Or, at least, more important than other wells.) Maybe the best wishes for that kind of well are the ones wished on yourself and your own actions, since you’re already in the position to believe they’ll come true.


When I read the news the next morning I thought that of course I should have wished that we wouldn’t have a nuclear war. (If I’d read the news two days later I probably would have felt guilty for not wishing that we would have fewer devastating hurricanes and wildfires—or that we would successfully prevent future damage, and mitigate the damage done by, global climate change.)

I spent my second day at the park, when I remembered to check, scanning the ground for dropped pennies. I figured if I found one, it could count as a bonus wish—but I never did.


A short list of Disney Magic:

  • Discovering the Rose Court Garden and sitting in the wedding gazebo
  • Everything about the Grand Californian Hotel, from the architecture to the lounge pianist
  • Walking into the park at 8:05 a.m. and feeling like I was one of the only people there
  • Hearing Maynard give the safety instructions in the Tiki Room
  • Eating my first Dole Whip
  • Stopping to listen to the Disneyland Band and watching the very precise drum major
  • Walking into the perspective shift at Toontown
  • Coming around the curve on the Storybook Land canal boats and seeing a near-full moon
  • Walking through Pixie Hollow after dark and catching the Matterhorn, perfectly framed, between two blades of grass
  • Riding the Jungle Cruise after dark
  • Riding Peter Pan’s Flight for the first time and being once again amazed at the way Disney can blend both story and craft while still leaving enough space for emotion and imagination; I love Mr. Toad but Peter Pan’s Flight might be the one perfect ride currently in the park, in terms of what it provides and what it asks of the rider

And of course as soon as I say that Peter Pan’s Flight is perfect I remember that the way the film presents Native people isn’t that great, and even though that song isn’t in the ride it’s still part of Peter Pan—and when my gondola swung by the cliff where the Native chief was drumming, my imagination briefly dropped out so I could think “fuck, that song.”

I also don’t know how to emotionally respond to Small World; I spent the entire ride alternating between optimism, fear that our various political leaders would not heed the song’s message (which reminded me that I needed to look for that penny), and a feeling called are they seriously flying on magic carpets?


I’ve been to Walt Disney World, but I love Disneyland best. It’s small enough that you feel like you can know it, the whole thing; in two days you can do everything you want and still have time to ride your favorite rides twice.

One of the reasons I booked this vacation is that I kept thinking that if I won some big prize or a bunch of money, or met a magician who would sing about my charms while pushing me around on a library ladder, I would go to Disneyland. Then I decided I didn’t have to wait for someone else to give me a reason to go.

In two days, I did everything I wanted.


The second time I rode Pirates I sat in front of two parents who were enacting the familiar familial bitch: you should have done this, I told you I did, well I would have done it this way, and so on.

When we went into the tunnel, and everything became dark, I heard the woman say “this is Mommy’s favorite ride.”

I didn’t turn around to look at who she was talking to. For all I know, it could have been an infant. But it could have been a young child like me: sitting quietly, taking it all in, and thinking about it.


I left Disneyland feeling like I’d had all my emotions, all the way through, to the end. (I know the word for this is catharsis, and it is literally the Aristotelian goal of storytelling. Disney is really good at what it does.)

We don’t get to have emotions to their end very much anymore. I didn’t realize it until I opened Twitter and was hit with rising blips of FEAR! INDIGNATION! ANGER! SHAME! that changed as fast as I could read.

But being in Disney was like dreaming, both in the “lights too low, flowing between scenes” sense and the “clear all the gunk out of your brain” sense.

I left Disneyland in a state that was beyond happiness. Full and empty; satiated and clear-headed. (Also, sunburned. Despite multiple sunscreen reapplications.)

And yes, I know myself a little better now.

I hope you do too. ❤️

This Week in Self-Publishing: Starting the Next Round of Promos

This Week

Books sold: 7 ebooks, 0 paperbacks

Money earned: $16.56

Money spent: $16 (on a Fussy Librarian promo)

Total

Books sold: 222 ebooks, 134 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1077.31

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $4,290.85

I’m trying a new way of sharing metrics this week! Hope it makes things a little clearer. I know the “money spent” metric is still a little off, because I forgot to add in bus tickets to the Portland reading and Lyft rides to airports for the Missoula reading. I’m going to go into Mint and get a better “money spent” number for next Friday.


This month, my goal is to set up book promos with four sites: Fussy Librarian, BookSends, Reading Deals, and Manybooks.

Here are the requirements and costs for each:

Fussy Librarian

  • Must have at least 10 Amazon reviews with a 4-star average
  • Must be priced under $5.99 (does not have to be on sale)
  • Costs $16 for a literary fiction book

BookSends

  • Must have at least 5 Amazon reviews “with a high overall average”
  • Must have an attractive cover
  • Must be on sale for less than $3 and at least 50% off full price
  • Cannot previously have been on sale for a lower price
  • Costs $20 for a literary fiction book on sale for $0.99
  • Costs $30 for a literary fiction book on sale at $1.99 (but they don’t always accept $1.99 books and prefer lower sale prices)

Reading Deals

  • Must have at least 5 Amazon reviews with a 4-star average
  • Must have an attractive cover
  • Must be on sale for at least 33% off full price
  • Costs $29

Manybooks

  • Must have at least 10 Amazon reviews with a 4-star average
  • Must have an attractive cover
  • Must be on sale for at least 50% off full price
  • Cannot have been on sale for a lower price in the past three months
  • Costs $29

Since Fussy Librarian doesn’t require a sale price, I can schedule it to stand on its own; then I can run a week-long sale and stack the BookSends/Reading Deals/Manybooks promos one after the other.

You might be asking “what about BookBub? Isn’t it the biggest and best promo site of them all?” Here’s my answer:

BookBub

  • Must be on sale for at least 50% off full price
  • Cannot have been on sale for a lower price in the past 90 days
  • Must pass a selection process that favors books with quality reader reviews (which I have), quality industry reviews (which I have) and recognizable accolades like awards or bestseller status (which I don’t have)
  • Costs $580 for a literary fiction book on sale at $0.99
  • Costs $1,000 for a literary fiction book on sale at $1.99

So… yeah. I know that I can, in theory, get BIG REWARDS from a BookBub promo. But I don’t think I have an accolade that’ll hook ’em, and while I have both $580 and $1,000 I’m not sure I’m ready to invest it yet.

Like, way better to wait until after I get that accolade, right? Because they put all that emphasis on “books that have earned rewards or bestseller status or famous blurbs perform significantly better than books that haven’t?”

Which means my current plan is to save BookBub for next spring after I know whether I’ve won any of the awards to which I’ve applied. It might even be smart to save BookBub until after Volume 2 releases, so readers who love Volume 1 can immediately buy the second one.

I’ll still be able to do the “stacked promo” technique with the other promo sites too, since the “can’t have been on sale in the past three months” limit will have worn off by then.


On the subject of Volume 2: I’m doing Readerfest this weekend, but I’ve blocked off the following three weekends just for revisions. I know it’ll take more than just three weekends to revise and rework Volume 2, but I have a burndown chart of everything that needs to be addressed and I’m going to see how much I can get through in that time.

I can definitely knock out all the piddly stuff; the copyediting and consistency notes I made on my first revision pass-through, the fact-checking, etc. Ideally, by the end of these three weekends, the only major revisions left will be the handful of scenes that need expanding or reworking.

Which will be the hardest part.

Which is why I’ve given myself three months in which to get ’em done.

Part of me is like “you’ll totally be able to finish your revisions by the end of 2016, and even if you don’t, you’ve got January and February as overflow months before you need to do the final proof and send it off for formatting (and then do the final final proofread).”

The other part is like “BUT WHAT IF YOU DON’T AND YOU HAVE TO WRITE ONE OF THOSE POSTS EXPLAINING HOW YOUR BOOK WON’T RELEASE IN MAY 2018 AS PROMISED?”

And, really, I have no idea what will happen. I only have a good guess based on the way I’ve been able to get things done so far.

Also, I really really really really want to revise this book by the end of the year, which is the best kind of motivator. (For me. Your motivational tools may differ. I tend to work the hardest on the things I want the most, which… wow, I feel like I could write a whole post on what that means, and how I’ve constructed my life to make that kind of work possible, and the privilege/discipline/logistics/knowledge of self involved. DO YOU WANT A POST ABOUT KNOWLEDGE OF SELF because I could do that.)

Anyway, that is this week’s update, and I gotta go do the rest of my Friday work for my freelance clients now! As always: ❤️ ❤️ ❤️