A Writer’s Life: Ditching Perfection

Today we are starting a new feature on the RWA blog, where we interview our members about their writing lives.   Today’s guest is Anna Hackett.  This column first appeared in this month’s Hearts Talk, the RWA newsletter.  So if you are a member, don’t forget to read it.  And if you aren’t, you might want to join, now that you’ve seen what you’re missing out on!

Anna-Hackett2-208x300When I started writing this article, I tried to think about the things I’d like to go back and tell my younger writer self. Little pearls of wisdom I wish I’d known when I first started writing. The list got a little long…and many of those things I think I just needed to experience and grow through as part of my journey as a writer.

But one thing stood out.

There is one thing that made a big difference in my writing career and it is the one thing I wish I could have realized sooner.

That thing: ditching the pursuit of perfection.

Now, many of us are conditioned to think we need to achieve perfection in our lives (especially women!) We think we need the perfect house, kept in the perfect condition, with our perfectly behaved kids, our loving, perfect marriage, our perfect, successful career and we have to look perfect while we’re doing all of that! We feel the need to be superwoman and have it all.

There’s a quote by Salvador Dali — Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it. He’s right. Deep down, we all know it.

As writers, we can fall into the trap of needing our writing to be “perfect.” It’s easy to do. When that story idea bursts inside our head, it seems flawless. It’s exciting, thrilling, gut-wrenching. It’s the best story idea ever! Then once we start putting the words to the blank page…well, the story never seems to come out as perfectly as what we had in our head. That’s when the pursuit of perfection becomes harmful. The doubts, the dreaded inner editor, all start whispering (or shouting) at us and suddenly we’re avoiding doing the writing, we’re agonizing over it, we’re procrastinating.

If we do manage to get the draft done, then that pursuit of perfection can have us endlessly editing and polishing—over and over—and we’re never quite finished. But it doesn’t stop there. The elusive pursuit of perfect can mean we never let our story out into the world. We worry it isn’t good enough, that we’ll receive criticism, rejections from agents and publishers, bad reviews from readers and reviewers, no sales. It can paralyze us from doing that thing we’re supposed to do—tell and share the stories inside us.

I don’t remember when I finally decided to give perfection a boot to the face, but it was the best thing I ever did. Suddenly, I was focused on just getting words out—any words, they didn’t have to be perfect or even good ones. Then I focused on editing until the story was done (not perfect!) Then I sent those stories out there as they were, for better or worse.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep learning, honing our craft, and improving. We should also always listen to trusted, constructive criticism that helps us become better writers. But if you keep waiting for your stories to be perfect, you’re letting good, great, wonderful, and pretty darn awesome stories get away.

If you’re waiting until your story is so amazing, so perfect that everyone will love it, no one will criticize it, and it’ll never get a bad comment…you’ll never begin, let alone finish.

So, don’t let your good, great and amazing pass you by.

Ditch perfection and begin.

– Anna Hackett [http://annahackettbooks.com]

Western Australian writer Anna Hackett is a mining engineer, a mother of two young sons, and a USA Today bestseller. She writes fast-paced action/adventure/sci-fi/romance. She’s published with Harlequin and Carina Press and now she’s self-publishing and writing up a storm.


Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk. Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA].

Ruby Finalists!

Every year at RWA, we invite romance writers with books published in the previous year to enter the Ruby – RWA’s Romantic Book of the Year contest.   The final results are announced at the Gala Dinner at our annual conference in August (which is in Adelaide this year).  But for now, just to whet your appetite, we are delighted to announce the finalists in the five categories.  We are also delighted to point out that this year, we have included the novella category in its rightful place, in the Ruby list.

Today, to spread the love as quickly as possible, we’re just publishing the list, but over the next week, we’ll devote a day to each of the categories and share the covers and more information about these wonderful finalists – so watch this space for additions to your TBR list!

Long Romance

  • Rise by Karina Bliss – self-published
  • The Spring Bride by Anne Gracie – Berkley/Penguin Random House
  • Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton – Pan Macmillan Australia
  • Lethal in Love by Michelle Somers – Random House Australia

Romantic Elements

  • A Dangerous Arrangement by Lee Christine – Escape Publishing
  • The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns – Harlequin MIRA
  • Pay The Piper by Mary Brock Jones – self-published
  • Between the Vines by Tricia Stringer – Harlequin MIRA

Short Sexy

  • Tribal Law by Shannon Curtis – Australian Romance Readers Association
  • The Wedding Bargain by Yvonne Lindsay – Harlequin Desire
  • Pretend It’s Love by Stefanie London – Entangled Lovestruck
  • Never Surrender by Rosie Miles – Entangled Ignite
  • Seducing His Enemy’s Daughter by Annie West – HM&B Sexy

Short Sweet

  • You For Christmas by Madeline Ash – Tule Publishing
  • Still Married To Her Ex! by Lucy Clark – HM&B Medical
  • Home to Bindarra Creek by Juanita Kees – self-published
  • The Secret Son by Joan Kilby – Tule Publishing
  • Reach For The Stars by Kerrie Paterson – self-published


  • Mistletoe Maverick by Shannon Curtis – self-published
  • Silk & Scars by Cassandra Dean – Decadent Publishing
  • Pursued By The Rogue by Kelly Hunter – Tule Publishing
  • What A Bachelor Needs by Kelly Hunter – Tule Publishing

The importance of backlist sales

More analysis of the May 2016 Author Earnings Report

The AuthorEarnings (AE) May 2016 report studied one million titles. That covered 294,091 authors, broken down as follows:

  • 123,371:  Small/Medium Publisher Authors
  • 75,943: Indie Authors
  • 35,457: Big Five Authors
  •  1,822: Amazon Imprint Authors, and
  • 57,498: Uncategorised (either single title authors or those that AE could not categorise as one of the above)

One of the subsets of the report looked at how much of a boost non-listed titles add to a bestselling author’s bottom line. This is an interesting question. Essentially, it is a look at backlist sales and how much they add to an author’s bottom line.

According to AuthorEarnings, the answer varies by publisher type. Indie authors and Big Five authors with one or more bestseller listed titles benefit the most, gaining an additional 30% and 21% respectively in sales. Authors with small to medium publishing houses get an additional contribution of 13%.

The AE report doesn’t comment on when these backlist sales are highest, but I would think that authors get the biggest boost to backlist sales at launch or shortly afterwards when you are top-of-mind with the reader in question. Promotions of backlist titles within two to six months after launch of a new book could be very beneficial. Of course, this is all based on the premise that your new book was a ‘bestseller’ and made enough of an impression for readers to remember you favourably.

Here’s a graph* reflecting the boost backlist sales give an author by publishing category.

Blog graph

The data for Amazon-Imprint Published authors with listed bestsellers is of an anomoly. Their other non-listed titles only contribute an additional 5% to their bottom lines. AE speculate that this

  • Either reflects the small number of both authors and titles that Amazon Imprints publish,
  • Or that superior Amazon marketing strategies and solutions keeps a higher percentage of these authors titles visible on the bestseller lists in the first place.

AE also pulled related Amazon data on 900,000 top-selling print titles and 67,000 top selling audiobooks, including every format of every single title by any author who had even one title of any format on any Amazon bestseller list. This made it the most comprehensive AE report ever.

They say that their report is very representative of the US market, and that, in fact, in the American market, Amazon accounts for 50% of the sales of all traditionally published authors and 85% of all indie authors.

However, I have some quibbles:

  1. The AE report authors do not say how they know that 50% of the sale of all traditionally published authors and 85% of the sales all indie authors go through Amazon. I would like to know where that information comes from, especially on traditionally published authors. Most publishing houses are not listed companies and like most private companies, they are notoriously shy about giving away information. I have asked them the question and will let you know when I get an answer.
  2. They acknowledge that their study does not include the non-Amazon.com sales: print sales through brick and mortar bookstores and other mass merchandisers; ebook sales through Apple iBookStore, barnesandnoble.com, Kobo, and Google Play; audiobook sales through iTunes; print books sold online through non-Amazon.com retailers; library sales; publisher-direct sales; author-direct sales; non-US digital and online print sales through other Amazon stores such asAmazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.au, etc.; and other foreign sales.
  3. They are not overly fussed about sales in other markets as they say most US authors earn the majority of their income in America. However, that applies equally for Australian authors; most Australian authors will make the bulk of their sales in Australia so if you are not an American author, you have to be aware that other factors may be different in your market, including the percentage contribution of other retailers and outlets.

I’ll keep looking at the results from the Author Earnings May 2016 over the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you would like to read the full report, you will find it here. You can also sign up to receive their reports of follow them on Twitter: @AuthorEarnings

Note: Graphs provided by AuthorEarnings.

Covers that we love!

As writers, we pour our hearts into choosing just the right words to tell our stories – but to put a finished book into the reader’s hands, we need to rely on others’ skills.  Chief among these others is the cover designer.  A good cover can entice a reader and add to the pleasure of the story – and the best ones thrill authors!  Each year, to celebrate the blessings of the cover fairies, our published members submit their favourite recent covers for fellow members to choose the ones they like most.

The contest is over for another year, so without further ado, here are our favourite covers for this year, as judged by our members in the following categories:

Contemporary Romance:

  • Title: Operation White Christmas
  • Author: Nicki Edwards
  • Cover Design: Unknown Artist

Operation White Christmas-Nicki Edwards


Erotic/Sexy Romance

  • Title: The Veiled Heart
  • Author: Elsa Holland
  • Cover Design: Hang Le

The Veiled Heart-Elsa Holland


Historical Romance

  • Title: The King’s Man
  • Author: Alison Stuart
  • Cover Design: Escape Publishing

The King's Man Alison Stuart


New Adult/Young Adult Romance

  • Title: The Finn Factor
  • Author: Rachel Bailey
  • Cover Design: Unknown Artist

The Finn Factor-Rachel Bailey


Paranormal Romance (includes Fantasy and Sci-fi)

  • Title: The Shattered Court
  • Author: M.J. Scott
  • Cover Design: Unknown Artist

The Shattered Court-M.J. Scott


Romantic Elements

  • Title: Pretty Famous
  • Author: Carla Caruso
  • Cover Design: Unknown Artist

Pretty Famous-Carla Caruso


Romantic Suspense

  • Title: Storm Clouds
  • Author: Bronwyn Parry
  • Cover Design: Hannah Janzen

Storm Clouds-Bronwyn Parry


Rural Romance

  • Title: Summer and the Groomsman
  • Author: Cathryn Hein
  • Cover Design: Kellie Dennis, Book Cover by Design

Summer and the Groomsman-Cathryn Hein

Thanks to everyone who entered and judged, to our co-ordinator and back-of-house organisers (Claire and Kerrie particularly) and to the cover fairies!

Have Fun Researching Your Novel – OWL this July!

Our online courses (OWLs) keep getting better and better.  We have such a depth of skills in our membership and the OWLs let you access their expertise at a fantastic price.  Our July OWL is with Carla Caruso, so without further ado, here she is to tell you about it.

Carla Caruso, author pic, HarperCollins

by Carla Caruso

Many writers have done extreme things in the name of research.

Bestselling Canadian-Australian author – and former model – Tara Moss has spent time in morgues and courtrooms, been set on fire and choked unconscious, earned a certificate as a private investigator, shot firearms, flown with the RAAF, and toured the FBI and LAPD headquarters.

Britain’s George Orwell lived in the slums to learn what it was like to be poor and unwashed, and American journo Hunter. S Thompson hung out with the Hells Angels for his non-fiction tale.

Bill Broyles, who wrote the Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away, also stranded himself on an isolated island for R.E.A.L. This experience inspired many of the film’s iconic scenes, such as Hanks’ character licking water droplets from leaves, making a spear out of a rock, and chowing down on raw fish. Even Wilson the Volleyball was inspired by a real ball that washed ashore! Unlike Hanks’ character, though, Broyles only lasted 10 days as a castaway before diarrhoea got the better of him…

Know of other writers and artists who have really hurled themselves into their research?

Of course, novel research doesn’t have to be this extreme. You’re free to take it as far as you want. But doing some research is essential if you want to add ‘layers’ of authenticity to a story and stretch yourself creatively.

Which brings me to the OWL– or online course – I’m teaching this July for the Romance Writers of Australia. It’s called ‘Have Fun Researching Your Novel’ and I’ll be using my background as a print journalist (and romance author with Penguin and HarperCollins) to get you out amongst it to add colour and depth to your work-in-progress.

Topics will include:

  • Interviewing techniques
  • Historical research
  • Travel research
  • Online research, and more.

Hope to see you over on Moodle!

You can do some more research on the OWL here😉 http://www.romanceaustralia.com/owl/22

Author Earnings Report May 2016

A million-title study of US author earnings from Amazon.com reveals indie authors outperform Big Five authors in terms of percentage market share of ebook unit sales and author income but Big Five still hold edge in gross $ sales, despite declining percentage.

For some time now I have been on the mailing list of AuthorEarnings, a website by authors for authors whose purposes is to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions.

They’ve taken on a big challenge given how difficult it is to extract data from different sources within the publishing industry to cover the sales of all book formats – hardbacks, paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks. As they say in their most recent report, ‘Data in the publishing biz is hard to come by. Without widespread sharing of data by retailers, publishers, agents, and authors, we are all left like the blind to describe different parts of the same but seemingly disjointed elephant.’

However, AuthorEarnings has made enormous strides, especially in the area of ebook sales data, and are gaining respect and credibility amongst publishers, agents and retailers as well as authors. This year they were asked to present the keynote speech at the Digital Book World 2016 conference.

Their methodology employs a software spider that crawls across Amazon’s bestseller lists. The 200,000+ titles on those lists make up roughly 60% of Amazon’s daily sales. However, AuthorEarnings acknowledge that this leaves an appreciable number of titles and sales unaccounted for.

AuthorEarnings say, ‘Independent authors familiar with our data have claimed to be making a livable wage without a single one of their books appearing on any Amazon bestseller list. These are the truly invisible among the already difficult-to-discern. We wanted to see if they could be found.

‘So for this report, instead of just looking at Amazon’s bestseller lists, we had our spider follow links to also-bought recommendations and also through each authors’ full catalog. This resulted in a million-title dataset, our most comprehensive and definitive look yet at author earnings. We were able to tally up precisely how many indie authors, Big Five authors, small/medium press authors, and Amazon-imprint authors are currently making enough from Amazon.com sales to land in a number of “tax brackets”.

They ended up with daily sales data on a million of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks — nearly a third of all titles listed in the US Kindle store. They captured practically all of the titles selling with any frequency whatsoever, the vast majority of the infrequently-selling titles, and many, many of the non-selling books. Their dataset includes:

  • Nearly every single Kindle book selling 1 or more copy per day (98.5% of them)
  • 90% of all Kindle titles selling at least 2-3 copies a week
  • 81% of all Kindle titles selling 1 or more copies a week
  • 64% of all Kindle titles selling 2 or more copies a month
  • 32%of all Kindle titles listed in the Amazon US Kindle store.

With this report, Author Earnings is now capturing and breaking down a full 82% of daily Amazon Kindle ebook sales. Only 18% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales remain unaccounted for in their data — and they say that  18% is coming from titles selling less than a copy a day  and most of that coming from titles selling less than a copy a month. These are books by very lowest-selling authors on Amazon, who have no other titles making any significant sales either.

Obviously Amazon is only a proportion of the market, but it is a significant proportion of the market. The AuthorEarnings report is US-centric, but I do think it provides an interesting analysis of trends that are relevent to Australian authors, especially those who have books for sale in the US. This particular report breaks down sales and looks at trends in terms of five groups:

  • Big Five published authors
  • Small to medium-sized publishing house authors
  • Indie authors
  • Amazon-only published authors
  • Uncategorised single author publishers

The data confirms what so many long-standing authors tell newbies: the more books you have, the more readers you will gain, the more success you will have and the more money you will make.

Ebook Market Share: 27 month trends

The first AuthorEarnings report was published in February 2014. For the May 2016 report, they had a look at trends over the last 27 months: how has the distribution of ebook unit sales, gross consumer $ spending, and author earnings changed among publisher types?

Indie-published author sales continue to grow at a significant rate, by approximately 17% over the 27-month period to 43% of total Amazon ebook sales. Big Five published author sales continue to drop but seem to have bottomed out at around 23% of Amazon sales as the average price  of their books has dropped from $10.31 in January this year to $8.67 in May. Big Five author earnings continue to drop to reflect their lower market share.

Trend ebook unit sales by publisher typetrend ebook author earnings by publisher typetrend ebook gross $ sales by publisher type

How much of a boost do non-bestselling listed titles give to a bestselling author’s bottom additional author earnings from other ebooksline? The answer varies by publisher type. Indie authors and the Big Five are the  beneficiaries of these additional sales. Indie authors on average receive the highest increment of additional revenue – 30% – versus Big Five authors who make an additional 21%. The contribution for authors with a small or medium publishing house is 13% on average. The data for Amazon-Imprint Published authors with listed bestsellers is particularly interesting. Their other non-listed titles only contribute an additional 5% to their bottom lines. AuthorEarnings speculates that this either reflects the small number of both authors and titles that Amazon Imprints publish or that greater Amazon marketing adeptness of their books keeps a higher percentage of their titles visible on the bestseller lists to begin with.

I’ll continue to explore the results of the Author Earnings May 2016 over the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you would like to read the full report, you will find it here. You can also sign up to receive their reports of follow them on Twitter: @AuthorEarnings

Note: Graphs provided by AuthorEarnings.


Member new releases for June

The last two days in Sydney have seen a distinct drop in temperature from lovely mild autumn to ‘nippy-with-rots-in-the-garden’. It’s definitely time to pull out the winter sheets, switch on the heaters and huddle under your  doona with a hot water bottle. And a book, of course. Without a good book, you’ll never be able to forget it is cold out there.

Luckily, our members have obliged with a host of fabulous new books. Enjoy!


Ripping Start Results!

We are delighted to announce the winner and placegetters of the Ripping Start competition, as  judged by Deb Werksman from Sourcebooks Casablanca:

1st:       Cassandra Pennington

2nd:      Jo McAlister

3rd:      AJ Macpherson

Congratulations to the placegetters. Deb has provided some excellent feedback for each finalist – we thank her very much for her time and expertise in judging our contest.

Thanks also to Leisl Leighton for finishing off the contest management, to Erica Hayes, our overall contest manager for her tireless work, to all our volunteer judges for their outstanding efforts, and to everyone for their patience.

The good, the bad and the darn right obscure

Anyone who reads these posts regularly will know I am somewhat obsessed with data on the book buying habits of Australians. My obsession is fuelled by the fact that American and British readers and writers get regular public feedback on varying kinds of genres (fiction, non-fiction, biography, romance, crime, sci-fi, etc) and more often than not, at least a smattering of sales data to go with it.

The good news – Books+Publishing has started printing Australia’s full weekly top 10 and fastest moving titles instead of just commenting on or two random titles. Their information comes from Nielsen and we now know that there data comes from 1,000 retailers nationwide.

The bad news – there are still no figures attached.

The darn right obscure – Publishers Weekly (PW) in the US has started publishing a weekly chart of the top ten bestsellers in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, also based on Nielsen data. Nielsen is, after all, a global company. But guess what? The two top ten lists do NOT match. There are only four books common to both lists and only one in the same position – Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare at #2. The other common titles are The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet (Michael Mosley); All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr); and The Road to Ruin (Niki Savva).Both lists also include fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. However,  a further difference is that the PW list gives a year-to-date sales figure.

You can compare the two lists here:Top Ten comparison

If you can make sense of the differences, or have any insights about how bestseller lists are compiled, we’d love to hear from you.



First Kiss Results are in!

Congratulations to the winner and placegetters in our First Kiss contest, as judged by Meghan Farrell of Tule Publishing:

1st   Michelle Skidmore

2nd   Sue Knight

3rd   Marianne Bankovic

Thanks again to Meghan, to all our volunteer judges for their time and effort, and to the contest manager, Tricia Sargant, who is new to the role this year and did a fantastic job. And congratulations to all our members who entered their fabulous stories.

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