On writing to the market

Mum says that most people know what they want to be, they’re just too afraid to say it.

I’ve wanted to write for money since I was in third grade. See how I said write for money there? I could be a writer and not be paid for it. But I had a goal and it was a goal I held from the beginning.

So, third grade. Just imagine the oddball collection of stories I’ve created since then in this quest. In the pantheon of my lost writings, there’s a strange outlier. I don’t know why I recalled this recently, other than the fact that it involves rabbits and my children are bunny-crazy. There’s total bunny escalation around here and it gets worse around Easter. My son will sometimes put all the plush bunnies in a pile on the floor and roll around in them. (I totally need a picture of this to show his future anything.)

This particular lost story only exists in my memory and never progressed more than a few paragraphs. It was about a mommy bunny going out for a picnic with her baby bunnies with a basket full of sandwiches and carrots and all that. The grass was green, the sun was sunny. Blah, blah…

This story is an outlier because if you look at the rest of my early body of work *tee hee*….my third grader to sixth grader body of work, you can already see elements of the writer who would become Jeannie Lin. My first full story was a haunted house mystery. I cut my teeth on stories about space ships and quests and big adventures. The bulk of my early work was what I later learned was called fanfic. And my fanfic was all Voltron and Transformers. Big clashes. High drama.

So what was this idyllic bunny crap?*

Ah, realizes current day Jeannie. That must have been me trying to write to market.

8-12 year old Jeannie would look at published books to figure out how to write quotations “like they did in real books.” So it makes sense that early Jeannie would look around at children’s books and wonder, what would actually sell? Early Jeannie read Charlotte’s Web and Bunnicula and heard everyone raving about this thing called Watership Down (haven’t read it yet…I should remedy that.)

This must have been why she tried to sit down and write this sunny, happy bunny story about a picnic. Early Jeannie had never been on a picnic! Picnic’s were things people did in books. Jeannie’s family shuffled off to the beach with a plastic shopping bag of bao and oranges. We didn’t have baskets of sandwiches and carrots.

After realizing this, current Jeannie imagined a conversation with my then writing circle, cousin Mary and my brother. Where we all sit around and gripe about what’s selling or not selling after our latest round of Voltron re-imaginings.

And this scene, which never actually happened, made me smile. Lots.

There’s no great point to this story than the fact that 1) I’ve always been trying to write to market, 2) I’ve never been particularly good at it and 3) I’m smiling.

A final note, sunny bunny picnic stories are exactly the type of stories I tell to my children when asked to perform ON COMMAND at bedtime now. This is a new market for me and, let me tell you, here I’m the Nacho Grande #1 Bestseller.

I wonder if I can put that on my next book cover…

See? Nothing is ever a waste in storytelling land.

*I sincerely apologize to anyone who came here thinking they’d hear something big and important about how to write to market.


On Success

I realized it’s been five years since the publication of Butterfly Swords — October 2010. Crazy, huh?

It’s also fall. And I always get kind of moody and thoughtful in the fall. Partly because in growing up in southern California, it’s one of the few palpable change of seasons. The air gets crisp and a little chilly and the wind picks up in Simi Valley. Plus fall is back to school time and I still get that little buzz leftover from my teaching days when fall was the busiest time of the school year as you’re establishing your class room.

So I thought it was a good time to revisit the five year plan. The cool thing is I actually wrote one down at Bria Quinlan’s blog in 2009: (okay, it was then end of 2009, so let’s pretend I wrote it in 2010)

In 5 years I will:
1. Complete 10 manuscripts – by year 2 I’m going to try to finish more than one book a year.
2. Publish in another genre besides historical romance
3. Take at least 1 research trip to China
4. Do at least 1 writing workshop a year
5. Create or be involved in some sort of program to mentor new writers


I’d say have some sort of steady income from writing, but I don’t know if I want to include that as part of the plan just yet.

1. Complete 10 manuscripts

Clockwork Samurai, which releases in December, is my 10th full-length novel. If you look at novellas, I’ve completed sixteen manuscripts with a couple of additional short stories thrown in there too.

In the romance world, that’s not that much. But you know what? Ten books — published — in five years doesn’t suck. I didn’t even have to throw in the “I was on track until I had twins and my life turned upside-down” card.

So check. Done.

2. Publish in another genre besides historical romance

In 2014, I released Gunpowder Alchemy, which is a steampunk adventure. Sure there are elements of historical in it as well as romantic elements, but as a few disappointed fans and several RITA judges would say, it’s not a romance.

(I say this tongue in cheek. I love my fans and RITA judges and I agree with them. Sorry for disappointing — but Berkley insisted on categorizing this in historical romance as well as steampunk.)

I also published a novella in the This Wedding is Doomed continuity this year. Which is a contemporary romantic comedy.


3. Take at least 1 research trip to China

Look at that. Silly Jeannie.

When I sold Butterfly Swords, I thought it would be really cool to take a trip to Xi’an, formerly the Tang capital Chang’an. And now I had a good excuse! I was going to be a published author! Never happened.

In 2010, when I was first conceptualizing the steampunk, I said that if I sold the series, I’d take a research trip to Beijing. Never happened. (The trip, not the sale. The sale happened.)

When Courtney and I were brainstorming a potential collaboration, I talked about possibly taking a short research jaunt to Shanghai with her. Never happened. (The trip or the collaboration.)

I still look longingly at vacation packages to China. Like just a couple of months ago, there was this awesome Groupon deal….*le sigh*

So no. No check.

4. Do at least one writing workshop a year

This year, I’ve done….three?

Even in the year I was pregnant and gave birth — 2011 — I presented a workshop in San Diego. Barbara Vey posted a very pregnant Jeannie picture on Publisher’s Weekly to prove it — yeah, thanks a lot Barbara. *winks*

I might have been a no-show in 2012, when the twinsies were newborn. I say I might have been, but I have no recollection of that year. I think I wrote two books that year. I think people said they liked them.

So I’m going to say technically I don’t deserve a check, but…I just wrote and delivered a workshop in one week.

Hell yeah I’m taking a check here.

5. Create or be involved in some sort of program to mentor new writers

I’m president of the MORWA chapter this year and will be again next year if I’m voted in come November. Vote for Jeannie!

I think RWA’s most important function is providing access to information and creating avenues for mentoring. Not everyone feels that way, but I do.

I don’t count the Lonely Owls venture because though we are dedicated to providing craft knowledge and advice, it’s designed as a profitable venture and mentoring is not the primary goal.

But due to my active involvement in RWA, I’m saying: Check!

Bonus: I’d say have some sort of steady income from writing, but I don’t know if I want to include that as part of the plan just yet.

Good thing I left that off. LOL. I’ve been making money steadily on writing since 2011. Has it been predictable? Has it been steadily trending upward? No and no. Sometimes I get on myself for that, but when I look back to Jeannie circa 2010, she wasn’t thinking of making bestseller lists or fan adoration or making lots of money.

In retrospect, 4 out 5 goals doesn’t suck. I think it’s pretty badass.

You know, I think writers…well, actually everyone, not just writers…should say that more often to themselves. I mean, if they can believe it and mean it honestly, it’s important to counter all the times you and the world try to tell yourself you’re not badass.

“I’m pretty badass.”

There are a lot of author reports lately about earnings and copies sold and indie publishing is making them so much more than traditional publishing. I think that’s all really awesome because money from writing is pretty awesome.

If I didn’t think that, I’d write for free. And I definitely don’t write for free. Well, except for this blog. 🙂

For me, success has always been about saying what you’re going to do and then setting about doing it. I said I was going to teach. And then I said I was going to write. Then I said I was going to write and teach. Check.

Hi, I’m Jeannie Lin. And I’m a successful author.