September flowers. Portland, Oregon. (Jennifer Willis)

finding my rhythm, and more experiments in publishing

On October 5, my latest novel, Crooked Curse, will be available. This is the first book in a new paranormal cozy mystery series—Haunted Coast—set in the same literary universe as the Rune Witch urban fantasy books.

It’s also the first book I’ve published in nearly three years. I’m not so much thrilled about that part.

Since my first book came out in 2001—twenty years ago (!)—I’ve put out ten books. That first was a stand-alone, then there’s the six-book UF series and the MARS sci-fi-romance trilogy that came out in the middle of the Rune Witch books. Not counting Crooked Curse, that comes out to a not-exactly-terrible rate of a book every two years, though I’ve written much more than that during that time.

But the release frequency hasn’t been steady. Ten years passed between my first book and my second. I was on a once-per-year track for a while with the early Rune Witch books, when they had different titles than they do today and when the series was called Valhalla instead. But I hit a burnout bog, and it was something like three years between the release of books 3 and 4. I somehow managed to release all three MARS books in the space of a few months in 2017, though I spent a bit more than a year writing them. Then I was republishing the first four books of the Valhalla series with new covers and new volumes names and releasing the last two books to round out the series; I think all of that happened in a single year? The last one came out just after Christmas in 2018.

And then, nothing.

Well, not nothing, of course. I’ve still be writing this whole time. Mostly. But I never really shook the burnout that hit me earlier. It’s been suggested that I’ve been in burnout for years now, maybe a decade or more, and I’ve just been stubbornly slogging through.

A big reason I’ve been frustrated by my publishing history is the inconsistency of it. I’m not in a steady rhythm or flow with myself or my work, and no one really knows when to expect anything new from me.

I’d been trying, many times, to start and stick to that “indie rule” that authors should publish multiple books every year. Some authors are cranking out multiple books every month, while others seem to have settled into a routine of somewhere between three and six books per year—which I still think is incredible, and downright impossible for someone like me. Just the thought of trying to accelerate toward that kind of pace, and then maintain it, was often enough to spike my anxiety and leave me functionally stuck. I couldn’t get past the enormity of it.

At the beginning of this year, I had an audacious plan: I would finalize the first three books of the Haunted Coast paranormal cozy series and launch them in quick succession this fall, and then continue on from there. But I again found myself stymied by the pressure of trying to get so much done in such a short space of time, and because of that I was struggling to make even slow progress on revising the first book.

Then a kind of miracle happened. It was a regular meeting of my writers’ group on a Wednesday morning, and I think Dale Ivan Smith was talking about trying to plan out his publication schedule for the remainder of 2021 and his decision to squeeze in an extra project (which he did successfully, I might add). Rebecca Stefoff said something about the old days of publishing, when you could count on a new release from your favorite author around the same time every year.

And it hit me that I could do exactly that. I could slow down. I could adopt a once-a-year publication schedule to give myself some breathing room and to accommodate the flares of pain, health issues, and other complications that invariably arise. Because I love spooky things, I decided to claim October as my annual release timeframe for this new series, and if I find myself itching to publish something outside of the current series, I have the entire rest of the year to choose from.

There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to pull off even this more sedate schedule, even though I already have Haunted Coast books two and three mostly first-drafted. For the time being, I’m ahead of the game, and it’s comforting to have this built-in buffer.

So that’s a bit of a splash into where I’ve been book-wise, and where I’m hoping to go. I hope you’ll come along with me.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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