Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting Down To Business: Biting off More Than You Can Chew

This month columnist Donna Alward chats about her annoying habit of saying yes too much...

This month I'm going to be really, really honest.

I'm tired.

For the last 17 months, my mantra has always been "I just have to get to July 1". July 1 is the date of all my deadlines being complete. July 1 was supposed to have marked the day I could take some time off. July 1 is going to come and go and it will be like any other day, and there are times that knowing it just about does me in.

I took on too much.

It can be soooo hard to say no. Especially when you're looking at employment and how unsure the economy can be. I also have a habit of saying yes too much not because I feel I have to but because I tend to see things as opportunities. It's a good thing, but it's easy to get caught in a trap of "OMG why did I think I could do all this" at some point during the year. Or, in my case, the 18 months that represented my contractual obligations.

Here's what happened...

Right after we started shopping my single title trilogy, I was moved to a different line within Harlequin land. As I said before, publishing is a fluid sort of industry. We'd sent out my proposals for Jewell Cove to our first set of publishers, and I was very, VERY aware that it could take months for it to sell - if ever. Meanwhile, Harlequin American offered me a four book deal, with a + 1 (to make it five) on a separate contract that was for a special continuity project (my current release). I need work, and I need to pay bills. Of course I took it.

No sooner had we accepted that deal than we got interest from two publishers on the Jewell Cove series. I think it was...six weeks after we'd sent it out. I had been prepared for a 3-6 month wait, not weeks.

And so I found myself with a new three-book single title deal with St. Martins and of course I wasn't going to say no! This was what I'd wanted for like EVER. I looked at a calendar and twisted my brain into knots, trying to come up with deadline dates that I could make work so I could get all the books in on time.

That was last February/March. Over a year ago. And everything went really well until about...Christmas. Then two things happened. Well, three, really.

One, Harlequin asked if I'd write a short 20,000 word prequel for the Texas Rodeo Barons Continuity that would be kicking off in June (this month). I probably should have said no, but I didn't. Because it was 20k and I figured I could squeeze it in. And then I got to Christmas, and realized I was soooo close to burn out that I needed to take some time off. I did. I spent the week between Christmas and New Year's with my family. And sleeping. A lot.

I was just getting back on schedule when St. Martin's offered me an opportunity to do a digital-only holiday book set in Jewell Cove. I'd had some heavy revisions for book 2 and was terrified they might truly think I was a hack and drop me like a hot potato, so this was a HUGE confidence boost for me and I really didn't want to say no to my new publisher. So I said yes...and we pushed back the deadline for the last book in my contract to accommodate the new story.

Basically I took my already crazy schedule and added 80,000 words to it. In fact, when this last book goes in, I will have written 9 books in 18 months.


I bit off more than I could chew, and I'm paying the price.

Should I have added those projects to my calendar? On an "available time" basis, absolutely not. I'm not superwoman. And my life hasn't exactly been balanced for the last six months or so. I have kids and a husband who need me. More than that, I need them. They're all off for the break now and I'm the one left working (though our eldest does have a job for the summer). And I'm sooo jealous. I want to go chill with them. Sit on the deck and drink coffee, or watch a movie at ten in the morning. Play in the garden. Drive up to the park and take the dog for a long walk along the lake.

If I look at career and publishing opportunities, though, I seriously think all the work has been worth it. Five books plus a novella gives me some traction and consistency in my new Harlequin line, and I'm super excited about the Jewell Cove series and upcoming releases with St. Martin's. Reviews for The House on Blackberry Hill have been better than I could have dreamed, and the short read I did for HQ was put up for free as a promotion and I've seen really strong rankings of both my HQ American books that I've had out so far this year.

All good things. But will I do it again?

I hope to God not.

The thing is, opportunities are wonderful things and we hate to turn them down. It's also important to realize what sort of pace you can sustain when you're writing. I'm a fast writer, but 9 in 18 was too much for me. At RWA Nationals in Texas later in July, my agent and I are meeting to talk about what we'd like to do next. Top of my list is work less. I need a year to work and maximize things without killing myself.  Shoot, if I cut my workload in half, that's still 3 books in a year. Nothing to sniff at. Imagine what might happen if I'm NOT under the gun? If I find myself with some "free" time? At this point that's an utterly giddy thought.

Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew because we know it's a "limited time only" proposition, like this year was for me. I knew I wouldn't have to keep up this pace indefinitely, hence the "I only need to get to July 1" mantra. For me, this was a transition year. I have my feet planted both in series Romance and single title, and my workload has demonstrated that.

Anyway, maybe I'm a cautionary tale at the moment. LOL. Or maybe misery loves company, I don't know. But just be aware of your limitations, and make sure you build time for you into your schedule. All work and no play make authors grouchy. :)

Donna's latest release is THE TEXAN'S BABY, Book 1 in the Texas Rodeo Barons continuity. The prequel, RODEO REBEL, is also available for free right now. For buy links and blurbs, check out the latest releases page on her website.


  1. I love your transparency in this post, Donna.
    I think sometimes published authors are concerned that if they say they've taken on a bit too much, it will sound like complaining to those still working toward publication. But it's definitely not. Authors are human, too, and everyone needs a break sometimes to enjoy the life that we work for in the first place. As a big fan of your work, I've loved your many recent releases and look forward to more. :-)
    But I also wish you rest and wellness in the coming year.


  2. Aw, Amy, thank you. And I'm really not complaining...I know I'm SOOO blessed. But even blessed people need to say no now and again. :) Thanks for the lovely words. :)

  3. Everything you've said makes complete sense, Donna!! I love your writing but do hope you manage to get more rest time for you and your family in the near future!! Sue

  4. As someone who needs to learn to say no to opportunities sometimes, I can completely sympathize with this post. I never want to say no because I might not have such an opportunity later. My learning to say no hasn't been necessary in publishing yet, but when I do get there, I suspect I will share your problem of trying to balance things. It's not so bad for me because I am single with no children, but at the same time, that can also throw my writing-life balance out of whack because I don't have anything else I feel like I should be doing.

    I hope that you have a chance to reconnect with your family, rest and come back to things refreshed with a full well. Love your books and your advice, Donna!

  5. OMG! 9 books in 18 months?? You are amazing! (Tired, yes. But still amazing!!!)

  6. Thanks, everyone! And LOL Wendy. :)

    This afternoon it is gorgeous out and I'm inside working. :( I just hope that the weather in August is lovely because I should definitely be able to take some time then!

  7. Thank you for your candid commentary. I am in awe of your work ethic - even if you didn't realize you had it in you, and it almost killed you. With both series and single titles in the chute, you are bound for success. Wishing you many rewards for you hard work and sacrifice.
    Good for you and may you find balance in your near future.

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