About Krista Phillips

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and a contemporary romance author. She recognizes that life can be frustrating and just plain not fun sometimes, but believes that laughter and smiles can make the not-so-fun a little better! She blogs about the amazing things God has been doing and her journey as a busy momma of 4 and caregiver to a daughter with a rare congenital heart defect at http://www.kristaphillips.com. Her novel, Sandwich, With a Side of Romance, released in September 2012.

My Indie Story (And Why I still *Heart* My Agent)

myindiestoryThere are a gazillion reasons why authors choose to go the “indie” route. (Wanting to use the word gazillion to the chagrin of every publisher out there might be one of them…. :-))

They want more control over covers and editing, more share of the profit, quicker publication. They may be tired of waiting and/or writing in a niche market that isn’t served by traditional publishers… the reasons are as wide and varied as the genres they write in.

I thought I’d share my story and my motivations, and why I still want, value, and love my agent.

IMG_5199My story is a complicated one. When I signed with my first agent and got that coveted first publishing contract, I was in the throes of a personal trial that was, to say the very least, difficult. My fourth daughter was born in 2010 with half of a heart and spent her first 308 days in the hospital.

About three weeks after she came home from the hospital, on oxygen and twenty different medications, and after four open heart surgeries including a heart transplant, an editor offered me a contract. I was also offered representation by an agent, all in the same week.

On one hand, I was ecstatic. This was my dream come true. And considering I’d given up my pay-the-bills day job to take care of my daughter, it felt like amazing timing.

What I didn’t factor in was a fun case of stress induced depression, ongoing medical issues with my daughter (including one very scary helicopter ride which included CPR… Boo!) and the immense stress of editing on a deadline and trying to market a book–all the while dealing with those deeply difficult, personal trials.

SandwichOnce my book came out, I kinda collapsed. I was exhausted and needed a timeout. I took the next year to recharge and focus on my family. Writing was almost laughable during that time.

When I finally emerged during the fall of 2013 and felt God nudging me to write again, I was met with a few stark and depressing realities regarding my writing career.

1.) Releasing a novel without a follow-up anytime soon does not make for grand sales history.

2.) Trying to market a book well during such a difficult time also doesn’t breed super quality sales either. While my book didn’t totally bomb, it fell much below my expectations, which probably didn’t help my depression either!

3.) Even if I polished up my finished manuscript and had my agent immediately submit it, due to publishing schedules, it’d probably be at least two years or more before it would actually be published, thus making a span of close to three years between book releases. The business side of me knows that isn’t ideal for marketing purposes.

So what to do?Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]

I needed a book release sooner than later, and a way to build back up the platform I lost during my mental-health break. I looked at all those indie authors and wrinkled my nose. No. I’m a writer, not a publisher. That is not what I want at all.

But the more I rejected the idea, the more God pushed me toward it. Then ideas started flowing… what if I did some followups to the first book? Maybe some novellas, then finish out the series with a full-length?

The thought blossomed over a few months. God gave me some fun ideas for books and titles and put some amazing indie-authors in my path to teach me the ropes. I am forever thankful to them!

And you know what?

I don’t regret it for a moment. My sales haven’t been astronomical. My “grand plan” is to release three novellas then a final “full length” to wrap up the series, while my fabulous agent works her magic with a new series.

I’m using the three novellas as trial books, trying different marketing strategies on each to see what works, what doesn’t, and what I can do better. The first book, A Side of Faith, came out in August, 2014, and the second, A Side of Hope, came out March of this year.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]A Side of Love will release later this year, and the full length, The Greatest is Love, will release in 2016.

It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I’d originally dreaded every single step in the process, but the idea of being a hybrid author is intriguing.

At this point, I don’t see myself going “full” indie. I LOVE my agent (waving to Sarah) and LOVE working on a team with a publisher. I know this idea isn’t embraced by all indies, and that’s super okay. What is good for one is not for another.

But this is my Indie story, and I’m very thankful I followed God’s leading and stepped out of my comfort zone. In the end, my hope and prayer is that my indie books and my traditional books can work hand-in-hand to help each other.

What about you? Have you ever thought of indie publishing? Why or why not? While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to answer what questions I can!

Stupid Marketing Tips

stupidmarketingideasSo, here I was.

Sitting here, trying to think of a fabulous post about marketing books.

The thing is, the “m” word tends to bring up fabulous pictures in my head of those middle of the night moments when one of my children come to me, saying, “Mommy, my tummy hurts–” then proceeds to vomit all over my side of the bed and floor, at times giving me and my PJ’s a good dousing as well.

I, uh, am not the biggest fan of marketing, if you can’t tell.

I take that back. I LOVE the idea of marketing. I KNOW it is needed and I LOVE the bi-product of it: my books being known by people and being PURCHASED by people.

Maybe it just brings back bad middle school memories of trying to get people to like me when I was a pimple-faced, slightly overweight, 4-eyed and teeth-gapped teenager…. the thought of trying to get people to like my books (thereby, it feels like, ME) still creates that knee-jerk reaction to curl up on my bed with chocolate and a romance novel to take me to another place.

But enough about my traumatic teen years.

Marketing is hard for a LOT of writers. Maybe we can WRITE some fantastic marketing copy, but getting out there and trying to peddle books out of our comfort zone is HARD! (Those of you who find it super easy… feel free to market mine too. I won’t mind!)

But in putting ourselves out there, it’s also common to get tripped up by some really BAD marketing ideas, in an absence of good ones.

I remember when I first started researching publishing back in 2007 after I’d completed my first novel. I was searching online tips for getting an agent/editor to look at your book. One place touted the value of STANDING OUT in the slush pile. Print that proposal on colored paper! Use FUN fonts with lots of bolds and italics! Send goofy gifts that relate to your book in the mail to that editor. (one example was a baby shoe for a book about babies…??) Make them be like, WOW, this person is really SERIOUS about wanting to be published!

I laughed, then decided I would probably NEVER be published because no way, no how, would I ever sink that low to use silly gimmicks.

Then I found a few agent blogs that suggested that when they got those out-of-the-norm proposals, they were immediately trashed for their stupidity.

PHEW!

The same goes with marketing. Creativity is a MUST, but sometimes in the name of creativity, we stumble on ideas that can be counterproductive.

Here are just a few things I’ve seen over the past 8-ish years I’ve been on this journey–that have made me NOT want to read a book.

1.) THE WORLD IS ENDING! THIS BOOK IS YOUR ONLY SALVATION! Maybe not those words exactly, but scare tactics or broad, unsubstantiated claims does not a good marketing plan make. “THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER.” (different than saying something a little more docile like life-changing fiction, etc) “GOD WANTS YOU TO READ THIS BOOK!” (let HIM tell me that, thank you!) Sure, you might get some saps to buy it, but you probably won’t find publishing success with this type of marketing for books.

2.) BUY MY BOOK (five minutes later) BUY MY BOOK (five minutes later) BUY MY BOOK (repeating 100 times per day!) Over posting on social media is a hard one, because there is a fine line. We NEED to be bold and proud of our books and market them on social media, no doubt. However, tact is needed. When my Facebook newsfeed is filled with 6 different posts by the same author marketing the same book all in the same day? It’s a good way to get yourself unfriended or at least blocked. Your Facebook marketing should draw people in, not annoy them.

3.) I MEAN, YOU DID BUY MY BOOK, RIGHT? Guilting people into buying your book is uncool. We all have different budgets and different reading tastes. I’ll readily admit, there are some writing friends I have (who will remain nameless) that I haven’t purchased their books. Why? Partially because I’m a broke mom of 4 kids trying to make a living as a writer. HA HA! But also, I have my writing friends than I have time. The idea of marketing is to ENTICE them to read your book, not twist their arm.

4.) NOTHING. This is the stupidest idea of all. Just not doing anything because you’re afraid of it. It’s the one I’m most guilty of. Oh, I market, but I’ll get an idea and think, ‘Oh, no, that’d totally bomb” and move on. Just like in publishing, sometimes you have to fail a few (or a hundred…) times before you find that golden ticket/agent/editor/marketing scheme. But if you just sit back, cross your fingers and toes, and hope your books sell? Yeah. That is the WORST marketing idea of them all!

A Side of Faith - front only(putting a picture of my book of my most recent book release as well as a link to purchase it is an example of a not-as-stupid marketing idea… as is to mention that my next book, A Side of Hope, will be releasing later this month…. )

Power in Numbers

Inumbersequalsmile‘m an odd duck.

I’m one of those writers who, while I love crafting words to make a story, also have this strange love of all things numbers.

About 90% of you just had an icky shudder run down your spine.

I was chatting on the ride home from ACFW a month ago with Carol Award winner Patrick Carr. Patrick is a fellow numbers lover, a math teacher by day and former engineer.

In our chat, I finally found someone who does the same thing I do — follow the numbers!

Granted, the numbers can royally stink. I’ve known a lot of authors who purposely do NOT look at their sales numbers or Amazon rankings because it is depressing.

I get this. Oh BELIEVE me, do I get this.

But the thing is, there can be power in numbers if you use them correctly and don’t overly obsess.

Any savvy business person knows the key numbers of his business off the top of his head. In a previous career, I was a corporate payroll manager for a billion dollar company. (Yes, I knew their annual sales numbers…). One thing our executives required was that all corporate managers know their numbers. At any time, I needed to be able to spout off total annual payroll dollars, number of employees (and by company too, as we had 16 of them…), and a host of other metrics related to my department. The point was to be an expert on your area of influence, and an expert knows their numbers.

Numbers matter. They tell us a host of facts and help us make wise, educated business decisions.

Below is a list of numbers I think would be useful and necessary to all (published) writers who are treating this whole publishing thing as a business. (Because not all of us are… and that’s okay!)

1.) Profit and Loss. Basic accounting here. Income minus expenses = profit. If that number is a negative, it’s a loss. If you’re operating at a loss, two things to do: Increase income and/or decrease expenses. I suspect many of us operate at a “loss” for the first few years. It’s our start-up cost, if you will. But keeping an eye on profit and making sure you’re not overspending is a sign of a good business-savvy writer. Don’t wait until the end of the year when you do your taxes. At least once a quarter, do the math. Make a plan for the next month. You’ll be more fiscally responsible for it.

2.) Trends. I tread lightly here. Paying TOO much attention to trends (i.e. checking our Amazon Sales ranking on a daily or *ahem* hourly basis, not that I would EVER do that…) can be counterproductive, because you waste WAY more time than it’s worth. But following trends, especially after particular marketing events you’ve done, is super useful. You can get an idea of the value of your marketing dollars, whether spending $X amount of money for an ad on that blog was worth it or not-so-much. I’ll be the first to say, I am a firm believer that marketing value is about more than the immediate hard-dollar sales impact. It’s about building your brand and getting your name out there, and a GOOD marketing campaign will have worth beyond anything you can see on immediate sales trends. BUT! If you have little or no impact on the short-term, chances are you’ll have little or no impact on the long term either. So check those numbers, know what they mean, know what your “normal” is. Then use that information when formulating your marketing plan.

3.) Goals. In the accounting world, you have “sales budgets” but in the writing world, I call these sales goals. What numbers do I WANT to hit and NEED to hit? Personally, I usually set my goal number really high, but not so high it’s unattainable. Mostly because for ME, I like to hit goals. I don’t always do it, but if I have a good, high goal, some internal oomph in me says, “Hey, I’m lagging, I need to step it up!” Other people need smaller goals, and that’s good too. Set that goal, and when you achieve it, set a higher one. Regardless your method, set sales goals and work to achieve them.

4.) Platform numbers. At ACFW, I sat down in a pitch session with an editor from a publishing house and in our talk, we chatting about social media. I rattled off a few of my numbers…total fans on my FB page, total friends, etc. She wrote the estimates I gave her in a notebook and nodded, saying, “Good. I was just going to ask you that.” Publishers want to know your numbers too. What is your reach? Even if it isn’t as big as you like, know your numbers. Be proud of them, because you’ve worked hard on your platform building. (Then see #3 about setting goals to achieve that next level!)

5.) Your agent’s phone number. Just sayin’. It’s a nice number to have for when you get overwhelmed at the numbers and need to be talked off of the ledge! (Not that I’d ever do that to Sarah…) Oh, and your accountant’s phone number would be helpful too if you have a little tic in your neck after reading all this!

A few numbers to not worry about….

– Hourly rate. I’ve known a few people who log their writing hours and then once they are published, calculate out how much they “made” per hour on that book. My advice: Don’t do it. If your sales numbers don’t depress you, THIS number surely will! It has no intrinsic value, because it’s hypothesizing that you wouldn’t have written those same hours at a rate of zero. And let’s face it: We probably still would have.

-Nitty-gritty details. Number of blog comments per year, number of Facebook likes on comments, number of tweets, number of gross sales vs net sales (really, you only care about the net). So borrow from the Bible… Meaningless, meaningless, they are all meaningless. Only spend your time on the numbers that have value in knowing them.

Let’s chat: How you do look at your numbers? Do you study them or just leave them alone, figuring they are what they are? Any interesting ways you’ve put your numbers to work for you and used them?

Holy Deadline, Batman!

Back in November, I received an e-mail from my editor.

My FIRST editorial letter. I was giddy with excitement!

A little while later, she sent a follow up e-mail noting my FIRST deadline of 12/16/11.

Again, excitement bubbled out of this newly contracted debut author! A deadline! And it wasn’t so scary… all those silly published authors who complained about being “on deadline” were going to eat my socks, because I was going to make my deadline and triumph.

That said, I KNEW that someday I’d have that pit-in-stomach at the dreaded deadline. But not now. This was a fun “first” and I was determined to enjoy it!

Then I read my wonderful first (16 page long!) editorial letter. The word “overhaul” was used at least once. That is enough to put fear into the heart of ANY debut author!

I looked back at my deadline and cried.

Then pulled my bootstraps up to my armpits and dug in. For the first week or two, I determined to be organized about my massive rewrite/edit that was going to be needed. I made sticky notes, printed out the edits and manuscript and started to carefully plot a plan.

Then Thanksgiving happened. Read: First time making a turkey for my extended family of 17, at MY house, while my 4 kids were off school. So there blew a whole week.

When I came out of my turkey and Black Friday enduced fog, reality slapped me in the face.

My deadline was fast approaching, and I was still in my planning stages. And I had presents to purchase. Weekends filling up. Doctor and therapy appointments for my special-needs daughter coming out my ears.

I’m here to tell you:

DEADLINES IN DECEMBER STINK!

I tried. I really really did. My house resembles a warzone as I haven’t cleaned it in about two weeks.

I’ve made frozen pizza and frozen waffles for dinner WAY too much.

I made my daughter dig through the dirty laundry on at least two occassions for jeans to wear to school as I had edited instead of doing laundry.

And when I DID do said laundry, folding it was not in the cards. It laid heaped in a large pile covering half of my bedroom floor for a week, and kids were required to dig through it for school clothes. You think I’m exaggerating. I am not.

Deadline-Eve came. And I was still a good ways from being done, and not pleased about the work I had done, mostly because I was in “hurry” mode instead of “quality” mode. So I did the one thing I had refused to allow enter my brain.

I e-mailed my agent and told her how much I hate December deadlines and that if I turned this in on the 16th, it’d royally sucked.

She in turn got me a couple day extension.

So now, today is my NEW deadline. And as I got through the final read through, I fully plan to push send later today and meet my revised deadline.

I am officially a humbled, thankful debut author. Never again will I look at deadlines the same!

Now, I have to go finish my edits. Wish me luck!

The Bloody Page

I received my first critique of my first book (from someone other than my mom or husband) in the spring of 2008.

After much fear and trembling, I’d joined a small critique group through ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers.) Pushing send on that first submission made me feel like I was walking the plank on a gigantic pirate ship, destined to plunge into the shark-filled waters, causing my poor words to be slashed and slaughtered.

What if they hated it? What if they came back and said it was the worst thing they’d ever read? Worse, yet, what if they said it was fabulous but silently snickered behind their cyber-mail back and plotted ways to kick my sorry rear-end out of the group?

But then a thought came to me. What if they really DID love it? What if my work was utter brilliance, and they begged me to critique their work because of what they felt they would glean from my writing prowess? (Think jumping off the plank only to be rescued by friendly dolphins who let me ride on their backs while those on the ship hoot, holler, and applaud!)

I’m sorry to report, the reality was somewhere in between, leaning toward option A.

The critiques I received back were a bloody mess. And I’m not swearing in a British accent there. Comments overwhelmed the pages, words were sliced everywhere, whole paragraphs were victims of the brutal attack.

At first, I was left numb. But as I read through the notes, the wheels in my head started to unthaw and turn. Their notes to a very novice writer started to make sense. Show, don’t tell. Don’t explain here. Explain this more. Adverbs in every sentence is not a fab idea. Adjectives after every noun doesn’t help the cause. Beats, not tags. The list of my faux pas goes on and on.

After a day of mourning, I got to work.

I’d love to tell you that I rewrote that chapter and it was perfect. No such luck. I’ve edited that chapter about 100 times since then, even getting more dripping red critiques.Much of my problem was that I was trying to put Barbie Band-aids on very large holes that really needed antiseptic ointment, gauze and an ace bandage, if not amputation all together.

Fast forward three years. My original manuscript is sitting, bandages still intact, in ICU.

A new baby was born a few years ago and survived the plank a little better. In September, I was tickled pink to sign my FIRST publishing contract. Sandwich, With a Side of Romance is set to release September 2012.

But very, very soon, my poor sandwich book will be dripping in blood again, but from a new source. A publishing house editor!

I’m getting ready to walk the plank again. On one hand, the safety of the boat sounds really nice. To live in my-book-is-wonderful land is tempting! But I’ve survived many massacres now, from critique groups, to rejections, to contest results. And I’ve learned that what doesn’t kill my book will make it better.

Discussion: For you unpubbed out there… who do YOU have to “bleed” your writing? Have you survived, or did the coroner have to get involved? For you pubbed among us… *gulp* does it hurt too badly???

Just do (aka write) it!

When I was a teen, I had a habit of using the words “I’ll try” often. In my teenage mind, saying this was non-committal and got me out of stuff.

Mom: “Krista, clean your room.”

Krista: “Okay, I’ll try to get it done tonight.”

If I didn’t… oh, well. I tried. Just got busy and wasn’t able to finish. Shucks….

I remember at one point, my to-be-husband and I were talking about something (I don’t recall what now) and I responded with the reply, “Well, I guess I’ll try.”

It is his response that I DO remember.

“Don’t try, Krista. Just do it.”

I then realized how much my “I’ll try” excuse was just that. A big honkin’ excuse for mediocrity. A way to not feel so bad when I didn’t succeed. Because at least I tried, right?

Now don’t get me wrong. Trying is a GOOD THING. Too many people drag their feet and never TRY something because they fear failure or are just too dadgum lazy.

But that wasn’t me. My trying was only an excuse.

I’ve realized lately that “trying” has crept into my writing. “I’ll try to get some writing time in…” and then time just floats away like a helium balloon you give your kid outside and expect them to actually NOT let go of. At the end of the day, little writing done, I will look back and say, “Whoops. Well, I tried. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

At some point, if we’re going to be serious writers, we have to do more than just try. We have to glue ourselves to the chair, duct tape our wrists to the keyboard, and just WRITE.

If you were running a business (which if you are a writer, YOU ARE!) would you tell your customer, “Well, I tried to _________ but just got busy. Maybe tomorrow…?”

There will always be distractions. Other things to do. Kids to take care of. And sometimes those things DO take priority.

My youngest of four daughters has spent almost the last year in the hospital, and after several failed open heart surgeries and three very long months of waiting, she received a heart transplant in April. She’s been in the hospital 4 times again since May after her first 10 month hospital stay. Um, priority? YES. I wrote VERY little this past year.

But even as crazy as my life is now with meds 4 times a day, vitals to take, a Gtube to feed through, oxygen to manage, and a billion and one doctor’s visits, if I’m gonna be serious about this writing thing, I gotta stop just trying to write.

I have to just do it.

Because she’s home, and if I don’t get back to it now, I might as well quit. And quitting is NOT an option.

Tips for “Just doing it”

Enlist the help of your family. That’s what I have done. When my hubby is home, he will take over for an hour or two so I can hunker down at the computer.

Take advantage of even the little times. A few weeks ago, between physical therapy and transplant clinic appointments, Annabelle and I parked ourselves in Panera near the hospital. She napped while Mommy wrote for an hour! I wrote maybe 500 words, but it was something. And that something counts!

Set a schedule. SO many people do this successfully. I’m not one of those thus far, but I’m working toward it! Having a set time to write not only makes you honor your writing commitment like a professional, but it also helps you to act the part of a time managing business professional too.

Set goals. Some have a daily word count goal. Others have a weekly goal, or maybe even a month goal. Still others just have a goal related to time, say, spending an hour a day. Or maybe you’re editing and it’s to edit a chapter a day. Whatever your pleasure, set a goal, high enough that you have to work at it, but not too high that it’s unattainable. (i.e. no 100 words a week… but no 100,000 words a week either!!)

How do you carve out your writing time? Any tips to making yourself “just do it” even when life could easily take over? What are some excuses YOU have made?