December 26, 2011

Indie Publishing: Four Authors Dish

I recently had the idea of hosting a virtual roundtable among authors who have dabbled in indie publishing to share their experiences and thoughts. I invited three of my author friends. As is not unusual among writers but might seem odd in other professions, I have not actually met any of these women in person, but we have either corresponded or chatted online over the years. All three ladies accepted, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them.

Here’s our conversation. I hope you enjoy it! Please forgive the formatting glitches, font changes, highlighting...this is what happens when you try to piece together information from different sources into one document. This would be unacceptable in an eBook, of course, but this column is 100% free!

Feel free to ask us questions, either individually or collectively, or contribute your own opinions.

At the virtual roundtable:
Angela Benson
Chicki Brown
Shelia Goss
Bettye Griffin

I listed everyone alphabetically, and I must say that this is the first time in my life that I, with a pen name that starts with the letter “G,” am listed last! As an aside, the fact that the participating authors' last names are either B or G (my own initials) is purely coincidental...

Authors, let’s start by having you introduce yourselves to everyone who’s reading this:

ANGELA: I'm Angela Benson. I've written 12 novels, two novellas and a nonfiction writing book for six different publishers. My first book, Bands of Gold, was published by Kensington in 1994 as part of their Arabesque line of African-American romances. My thirteenth book, Delilah's Daughters, will be published by Avon sometime in 2012 if I make my January due date. (That's a big ‘if.’) I've been fortunate to receive several industry awards in my career, including awards from Romantic Times Magazine, Affaire de Coeur Magazine and the Romance Slam Jam. I recently indie published five of my backlist fiction titles, three contemporary romances and two Christian romances, as well as my nonfiction writing book

SHELIA: Hi, I'm Shelia Goss. I write in multiple genres: romance, women's fiction, suspense, Christian fiction and young adult. I have over thirteen books published, and I'm currently indie publishing my romance stories.

BETTYE: My name is Bettye Griffin, and I’m a compulsive writer, LOL. I write women’s fiction and contemporary romance. I had six mainstream novels and ten romances traditionally published, plus I’ve independently published three more romances to date (2011). I am strictly indie publishing now, with my titles available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and the Sony eBookstore. I have never won a single award, have been dropped by two publishers, and have never been able to legitimately claim bestselling author status, but regardless of these factors I'm doing reasonably well.

CHICKI: My name is Chicki Brown. I write multicultural romance and women’s fiction and have been self-published for eighteen months. My latest release, I Can’t Get Next to You, a faith-based romance, is available on Kindle and Nook.

I won Grand Prize in the Black Expressions Book Club Fiction Contest in 2004 and 2011 Fiction Book of the Year and New Author of the Year from Shades of Romance Magazine.

QUESTION: Why did you make the decision to indie publish?

SHELIA: Before I got with a traditional publisher, I started off as an indie publisher. Last year, after visiting J.A. Konrath's blog on a regular basis, I decided to publish my unpublished romance stories as eBooks independently to test the waters.

ANGELA: I'm only publishing backlist. I did it because I had the rights to the books and I wasn't doing anything else with them. Also, because of some health issues, I haven't published any new work in the last two years. Bringing back some of my old titles was a way to keep my name and work in front of readers.

BETTYE: I think it’s important for established writers to stay active in terms of output. My own production is nothing to write home about, but I can say that I’ve been actively publishing since my first book came out at the end of 1998.

CHICKI: I guess you could say I made the decision to self-publish when I just got sick and tired of the traditional submission process. I’d been writing for almost ten years before I published in June 2010. After signing with two well-known agents and still not being able to get a contract, I chose to try my hand at the new option author Joe (J.A.) Konrath was raving about on his blog at the time–electronic publishing directly to Kindle. Nook wasn’t in existence until several months later. Looking back, I can say without hesitation this was the best decision I’ve ever made.

BETTYE: I started self-publishing when I couldn’t sell what I felt was a charming contemporary romance that I called Save The Best For Last (the problem, I suspect, was that readers were demanding that sex occur earlier and earlier in books, and this particular story called for it to happen in the latter part of the book). I felt the story deserved to be read, so I published it in June of 2009, initially as print on demand (POD), and soon after that for Kindle. At that time I already had the rights back to my first two Arabesque novels, which I planned to reissue (I’ve since done one of them). In the 2-1/2 years since, I was dropped by the house who was publishing my women’s fiction titles (the second time that happened to me in my career). A writer with less confidence might have gone away quietly, but I’ve never had any doubts about my abilities. I kept writing and now publish exclusively through my own imprint, Bunderful Books.

QUESTION: Angela and Shelia, both of you still traditionally publish. Have you encountered any flak from your publishers for doing your own thing?

ANGELA: I haven't had any discussion with my publisher about it. I think they'd appreciate me doing something to keep in touch with readers who like my books.

SHELIA: No one has talked to me directly. I've heard that some don't like you doing things independently, but a person has to eat. Since there's no contract violation, I don't see why it should be a problem.

BETTYE: It seems to me that if readers discover new writers whose work they enjoy, they are highly likely to look at their other books, so it sounds like a win-win all around to me. But I do wonder if having indie published makes a writer persona non grata. In my own experience, an editor at a major New York house who demonstrated an eagerness to see a project I queried her about was never heard from again and did not respond to requests from neither myself nor my agent, and I wonder if my having gone the indie route had anything to do with that cold shoulder. At any rate, it soured me on the idea of trying to get back into trad publishing.

QUESTION: Chicki, your situation is unique among the four of us in that you were previously unpublished and did not have an established audience. Yet you had success with your very first eBook. I’m sure there are aspiring writers who’d love to know how you did it, so do you have anything you want to share?

CHICKI: First of all, let me make one thing clear. I am not selling huge numbers of books like Amanda Hocking or some of the other Kindle millionaires, but as an unknown without an established audience, I am thrilled to have developed a faithful following in less than two years. I attribute this to having spent two years studying the changes that were taking place in the industry. Reading the blogs/sites of those authors paving the way in this arena taught me the details of the process e-publishing process. Joe Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing became my bible.

My advice to aspiring e-book authors is to learn everything about e-pubbing before you even consider putting a book out there. Now there are scads of great, informative sites out there which offer free education. The amount of information you need to know about formatting, cover art, differences between e-tailers, and marketing can be overwhelming. It’s not something you can learn in 30 days.

I’m glad I created a website and blog three years before I published. It was a place for me to share my thoughts and also helped me to develop a following.

BETTYE: Yes, I do believe that previously unpublished writers should have a strong web presence; it will help with their sales. And, just as there are eight million stories in the Naked City, there are varying degrees of success.

QUESTION: What are the things you like and hate the most about indie publishing?

ANGELA: I like having control over my work—everything from content to pricing—but it’s more work than I imagined. I hate the work involved in having control over my work. To sum it up, I have a love/hate relationship with indie publishing.

Reading and enjoying my old books has been an unexpected reward of indie publishing. I had a really bad experience with the publication of my second book and since that book I've never read any of books after they're in print. So reading Friend and Lover, The Nicest Guy in America, The Way Home, Awakening Mercy and Abiding Hope was pretty emotional for me. I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with the characters all over again. It was as though I was meeting with old friends after being separated for a long time. I know that must sound weird, but it's how I felt. It was especially gratifying to read the romances I'd written before I transitioned to writing Christian fiction. I was able to experience a little of the life journey that I was on at that time. I was able to see how my writing has changed over time in some ways, but how many of the elements in the stories I write today were present in my early works. Overall, getting those backlist titles ready for re-publishing was a very insightful experience.

BETTYE: I know what you mean, Angela, in terms of falling in love with stories you’d written ages ago. I had the same fond feeling come over me when I was preparing the document for my second book, A Love of Her Own, which remains one of the most poignant love stories I’ve ever written.

SHELIA: I'm in control of all aspects of the book (cover, content, publication date). I get 100% of the profits and get a true sense of how my books are selling. I also sometimes write outside of a normal genre, but there's still an audience out there for those books so as an indie publisher I can publish those books that don't fit the "norm."

CHICKI: I absolutely love the freedom to write what I want without having to follow the traditional rules. To give you an example of what I mean, when I first began submitting the manuscript for Have You Seen Her? I received several rejection letters from major romance publishers saying they couldn’t publish it because my character was involved with another man at the beginning of the book. What?? The story is about a woman that makes the decision to escape from an abusive marriage. The whole point of the story is that she’s bound to a hateful, violent man. Even though she doesn’t realize it at first, her heart is longing for true love, and she meets a man who offers her everything her heart has been longing for. I don’t want to give away the entire plot, but if that’s not a romance, what is?

Now I can write the stories in my head without fear that they might not fit the so-called rules.

What I dislike the most about being an indie author is the amount of time I have to spend marketing. Writing is creative, and it feeds my soul. Marketing is logical, and it drains me, but I realize it’s a necessary part of being a published author. What I need is to find a healthy, productive balance between the two tasks.

ANGELA:  Chicki, I have to agree with you about the marketing and promotion. I’d much rather spend the time writing. I’m not comfortable asking people to buy my books. I’m trying to be active on twitter and facebook, but they don’t feel natural to me. I’m much more comfortable blogging, so I’m trying to integrate that with twitter and facebook. I’ve also started a mailing list to keep in touch with readers who like my work. Wish me luck!
CHICKI: I'm just the opposite, Angela! LOL! I struggle when it comes to blogging and trying to come up with something fresh to write about. I really don't enjoy any of the promotion chores, except Facebook and Twitter, which have become my addictions. What I absolutely love about Twitter is how easy it is to get a "tribe" of people who will faithfully retweet for you. I need all the help I can get. The secret to Twitter is give and take. Follow other authors and retweet their messages a couple of times a week. Facebook is slower, but reaches a different audience. Hang in there, once you meet folks you enjoy chatting with, you just might end up in a Twitter 12-step program with me.
BETTYE: I also love the freedom to write what I want without restrictions. My upcoming eBook, Isn’t She Lovely? (which will be my 20th title!), features a hero who is involved with another woman at the start of the book and a heroine who is still involved with her ex-husband (although this is alluded to rather than shown) when he visits town. Both involvements stem from loneliness and vulnerability on the part of the hero and heroine, and I feel it’s important to include because this is how real people behave. I will never write a romance where either party goes without companionship for years because they only had one true love; this is simply not believable human behavior to me. I also love being able to check and track my sales numbers and getting paid within 60 days after the close of the month.

In terms of dislikes, I’ve always done my own promotion, so that’s no big deal. I initially had a hard time with formatting, but I now use the same template for all my eBooks. The Nook’s requirement for section breaks rather than page breaks can be a painstaking process, though, but I take the time to do it because it makes my product look better if there are clearly defined breaks between chapters.

QUESTION: Any predictions for the future of indie publishing?

ANGELA: I'm still figuring out the present so I haven't thought much about the future. That said, I do believe the eBook revolution really is a revolution. Anybody who wants to be a writer can see their work published. People can accomplish different goals with their writing. No longer does your book have to meet some publisher's sales goals; all you have to meet are your own goals. That's very liberating. I see more young people publishing. I see more older people who thought their time had passed publishing. And I really believe there is an audience out there for all of us. Finding them will be a chore, but I believe we're up to the task.

SHELIA: I think we will see more and more authors go the indie route. Writers now have more options than what we had, say, about ten years ago.

CHICKI: The publishing industry is changing so rapidly it makes my head spin. I honestly don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know this is the first time in modern history where authors are in charge and not editors and agents.

With so many changes and options available to today’s scribes, I believe it will become increasingly more important for the creators to be knowledgeable about their legal rights. For example, just recently Amazon introduced a new option, which has many authors questioning the value of such a radical idea as far as their literary and financial goals are concerned. Beyond that, I’ll leave the predictions to the “e-prophets.”

BETTYE: I wouldn’t warrant a guess, because I didn’t even see the current conditions coming. I just hope the freedom and ease of indie publishing is a lasting thing and not just a fad.

QUESTION: I suspect many of us will say the same things, but what tips would you give to those considering indie publishing, whether new writers or those who formerly wrote for trad publishers?

ANGELA: 1) Indie publishing is not a "get rich quick" scheme. It requires hard work, dedication and perseverance.

2) Cross-promoting with other authors is effective and can save you a lot of money.

3) I paid to scan and format my backlist titles, but I think authors can do this for themselves if they have the time. It's not hard but it is time-consuming. I don't recommend doing your covers yourself, though. If you're going to spend money, spend it on covers first.

BETTYE: I just tried the scan thing myself. I did find the original manuscript for A Love of Her Own on a 3.5 disk (remember those?) and managed to get that old 3.1 version of Word read in my current version of Word (thank heavens I saved my external 3.5 drive!). Aside from grammar corrections here and there, the editor at Arabesque changed just two words in that entire manuscript, so I felt pretty comfortable reading over my original draft and making improvements here and there. My other books required more changes, so I decided to have other titles scanned so I can work from the actual published book rather than from my manuscript. They did a good job, but it isn't 100%, so the manuscript will require a thorough going-over before I ask the public to shell out their hard-earned dollars on it!

SHELIA: 1) For those who wrote for trad publishers: Don't knock it unless you've tried it. As long as it's not violating any of your current contracts, I would encourage writers to test the waters.

2) For new writers: If you go the Indie route, realize that this is a business. Only go the indie route if you're prepared to be the CEO, CFO, Bill Collector, etc. :-)

BETTYE: Shelia, there are quite a few veteran writers out there currently without contracts, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s no picnic being dropped. But no one can stop a true writer from writing. I like to think that inactive, previously published authors aren't knocking indie publishing but rather prefer to have the support of a publisher. There can be a number of reasons for this: The ability to say they have a publisher, for one. So many people are putting out less-than-quality books, and even established authors have published backlist titles riddled with errors--probably using their original manuscripts rather than the edited versions--and the number of poor quality books creates a stigma that all indie published titles are bargain-bin crap. I do believe that a well-produced eBook will eliminate this, at least on an individual basis. Also, a lack of confidence, a need for validation, and what I suspect is probably the #1 reason, an unwillingness to take on the definitely daunting role of indie publisher. It can be bad and hideously ugly, but also very rewarding.

CHICKI: 1) Don’t put the very first book you’ve written up for sale. Put it away and begin working on book #2 while you’re learning the craft and the business. You will be amazed at how much your writing will have improved from that first book. Have You Seen Her? was the first book I published, but it was the fifth one I’d written.

2) Join a local or online critique group, so you’ll have other eyes looking at your work. We all think our writing is golden, but when you get impartial opinions on your work, you start to see what needs to be improved. There are loads of online critique groups. Just be sure to find out how critiquing is handled before you join.

3) Once you have a completed, critiqued project ready, have it professionally edited. I didn’t have the money to do this with my first three books, and believe me, I heard from readers about typos (even though the manuscripts had been read by five other people) Once the royalties started coming in, I was able to hire an editor for books four and five.

4) Figure out how and where you will market your book before it’s published. The average e-book author spends several hours every day marketing and promoting their work. Do you know how the world will even know your book is among the one million+ books on Kindle? A young aspiring author said to me recently that she planned to have her marketing done by Kindle. She had no clue that there is no such animal. Getting your book on book blogs, reader forums, e-book sites, social networks, etc. is the author’s responsibility, and it’s not an easy task. There are posting rules, and if they’re not followed, you will be banned from these sites.

BETTYE: Excellent advice, all. I did want to point out, even though I know Chicki is already doing this, that new and improved eBook files can always be uploaded as errors are identified, so new readers won’t see them. I’m always changing the excerpts in my titles to reflect new or coming soon eBooks, or just books I’d like to give a push to.

I discuss my experiences in indie publishing in more detail in my blog column of this past fall, Clawing My Way to the Middle: Lessons in Independent Publishing.

QUESTION: If you want to give a shout-out to anyone who helps you present the most polished product possible, here’s your chance! Aspiring indie authors are always looking for reputable cover designers, editors, formatters, etc.

BETTYE: My covers are designed by Sean Young of Young Creations. Kimberly Rowe-Van Allen (be sure to get rid of the underlines in the linked email address, which I had to add to deter spammers) does my edits. I hope to have an interview with her up on the blog soon. I do my own formatting, but I recently used Blue Leaf Book Scanning to scan print versions of my books. This allows me to work with my books as they went to press and revise from there rather than from my original manuscript.

CHICKI: I also do my own formatting, but I have to give props to Kimberly Matthews-Hooker, who created the cover for my upcoming release and to T.J. Walp for her excellent editing.

ANGELA: Cheri Paris Edwards of Purely Paris does my covers. I've used Nina Paules at eBook Prep and Pam Headrick at A Thirsty Mind for formatting. Both are great.

SHELIA: I do my own ebook covers and format my manuscripts for the different ebook distribution sites. I would love to know about someone who formats for print, though, because some of my clients ask me and I don't know who to refer them to.

BETTYE: Shelia, formatting for print is pretty easy. There’s information out on the Net to guide you through this, telling people what margins to use, how to set the printer offset for binding, etc. I'd suggest the support boards at Create Space (I think a no-obligation registration is required for access). I did my own before I moved exclusively into eBooks. Thank heaven for the Internet; I also found instructions on how to take a manuscript written with the ancient Word 3.1 and open it with Word 2007.

QUESTION: Tell everyone not only about your new or upcoming projects, but why you decided to do that particular story, where the idea came from, etc. When is the scheduled or anticipated available sale date, and is it indie or trad?

ANGELA: My new project is my indie published backlist title, Telling Your Tale: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Fiction for Print and eBook. It’s only available for the Kindle for now. This book was originally published by Berkley Books as Telling the Tale: The African-American Fiction Writer's Guide. I've updated it since the original publication to reflect the eBook revolution and to broaden its appeal but the content is essentially the same.

Telling Your Tale is for the person who really wants to write a good book. It's not a marketing book; it's a writing book with exercises and activities that help the reader hone their writing skills. I'm also publishing a companion workbook with all the exercises and worksheets downloaded in a Word document.

CHICKI:  My January 2, 2012 Kindle/Nook release is an interracial, inspirational women’s fiction. Isn’t that a mouthful? The title is Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing (love those old school R&B song titles). It’s the story of a happily married couple who faces the ultimate betrayal in their marriage.

The Real Thing is the second book I ever wrote, and needless to say it took some major rewriting to get it into publishable condition. I decided to finally publish it, because this was the sequel to my first manuscript, which was a “book of my heart.”

BETTYE: Chicki, I admire you for giving a publication date ahead of time. I so wish that Amazon would allow indie writers to make our work available for preorder. I don’t see the big deal if we download a file (so they know the book is finished, which I see as the major obstacle to offering this) and give an on-sale date at least three weeks in the future. Personally, I’d be willing to postpone my on-sale date to build some interest and get preorders. By the way, I like R&B titles, too. I have a great one for my mainstream to be published later in 2012, but I’m not ready to reveal it yet...not even a hint, LOL.

My next project, Isn’t She Lovely? is a politically themed (appropriate for an election year) mainstream romance that is sure to tug at your heartstrings. The eight-year-old son of a struggling divorced mother is hit by a car driven by the troubled fifteen-year-old son of the Illinois Attorney General, who is running for governor. The lives of the divorcee and the widower begin to intertwine as their children forge a friendship, and both learn that there is much more to the other than what they originally believed. This is the most emotional story I’ve written. I expect it will be available around late January or early February of the new year. An excerpt is posted at my Bunderful Books website (Bunderful Books...because good writing is always in fashion).

SHELIA: UnAuthorized is a suspense novel I collaborated on it with another author, John A Wooden. I've always wanted to challenge myself and write a novel with another writer. The story idea originally started with my web series. John liked my storyline and we decided to create a full length novel based on my original concept. As one of the reviewers said, "UnAuthorized is an engaging read and a great ‘whodunit’ tale of love, deceit and murder." I like to write what I like to read. The book is indie and is currently available for Kindle, Nook and other ebook reading devices for $2.99. I'm excited about 2012 because I plan on writing more suspense novels.

BETTYE: You did a fabulous job with that cover, Shelia! I do think that indie writers have the best chance of success with suspense, thriller, and interracial romances.

ANGELA: Bettye, another author friend talks about the large audience for interracial romance e-books.  The response to her interracial romance was great, but it didn’t seem to spill over to her other books.  She’s now writing another interracial romance.

BETTYE: I was disappointed initially to see that I had no spillover, either. Even now, two months after I published A Kiss of a Different Color (which was selling before I even announced to the world that it was available for sale), only The Heat of Heat (a sexy story but not an interracial one) is listed on the "Customers who purchased this item also purchased..." list. Most of the titles on that list are other interracial titles. But while I'm enjoying AKOADC's success, I'm not going to make a career out of writing strictly interracial romances because of the earnings potential. I have no plans at the moment to even write another one. Personally, I can't imagine being that limited in either my reading or my writing. And while I like money as much as the next person, but for me it's not about the money, it's not about my ego (obviously, LOL), it's just about the story. Writing purely to make money takes the joy out of it, and if there's no joy, there's no point. But that's just me.

QUESTION: How do readers keep up with you?

ANGELA: The best place to start is my web page. I'm also on Facebook (angelabenson or angelabensonbooks) and twitter (eAngelaBenson).

CHICKI: I have a website and a blog. Twitter: Facebook:

BETTYE: Through this blog, my author website, my publisher website, and my personal and Bunderful Books Facebook pages.

SHELIA: Readers can find out more about me at I'm also on Facebook and Twitter. Both can be accessed via my website.

BETTYE: Thanks, everybody, for your participation! I wish all of you a happy, healthy, prosperous, and productive 2012!
December 19, 2011

It's not copycatting; it's imagination at work

About two weeks ago I watched a charming made for TV movie on the Hallmark Channel called Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas. (Have you noticed the trend of including the author's name in movie titles lately, which makes any title longer than two words an unwieldy mouthful, i.e., Ann Rule's Everything She Ever Wanted, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married, etc.? But I digress...)

The movie was about a woman in her 40s who lives in the Pacific Northwest impulsively arranging to surprise her daughter, a college student in Boston by flying to spend Christmas with her. The daughter had made plans with her boyfriend and didn't tell her mother about it until the last minute, when it was too late to change plans, because her mother had arranged to exchange houses with a writer from Boston, a real bah-humbug type of dude for whom Christmas represents nothing more than a chance to finish his latest manuscript.

Well, the mother goes to Boston and promptly accidentally triggers the alarm on the house, prompting a visit from the police as well as the writer's brother. Meanwhile, out in Washington State, the writer is called on by the mother's best friend, who'd been out of town and wasn't aware that her friend had taken off for the East Coast. Sparks fly, and romance ensues for both.

The storyline, obviously based on a book by Debbie Macomber (that title is a dead giveaway), reminded me of the 2006 holiday movie The Holiday that starred Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz as two broken-hearted women on either side of the Atlantic (actually, Cameron's character lived in L.A.) who impulsively agreed to trade houses over Christmas while they tried to heal. This is one of my favorite movies, with wonderful character development that made it run longer than the average romantic comedy. Not only are both stories built around the theme of trading houses over the holidays, but two of the leads are siblings (Ms. Winslet's brother, a sexy book editor who withheld some important facts about himself from his love interest, Ms. Diaz, was played by Jude Law). I found myself wondering if Ms. Macomber had seen this movie and been inspired to write her book.

Then my writer's mind went "Hmm." I recalled that the prolific Debbie Macomber has been putting out a Christmas story every year for as long as I can remember, and it occurred to me that I might have been wrong to assume that she had been inspired by The Holiday when it actually might have been the other way around (or just a coincidence, since great minds do think alike). I did a little research to see which had actually come first, Ms. Macomber's novel or the similarly-themed Hollywood movie.

It turned out that the book upon which this movie was based, When Christmas Comes, was published in 2004. The Holiday wasn't released until two years later. bad.

Just as authors are often inspired by real-life news stories, it's not so unusual for the same basic idea to be developed by two different writers. Some things are to be expected--there are two network dramas being filmed to air in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic next spring--while others come out a few years apart but have similarities.  I found both of these stories to be highly entertaining, with a hint of similarity but the definite feeling of two different storylines.  I own The Holiday on DVD, and I'll be recording Trading Christmas when it airs again...tonight, as a matter of fact.

Happy Holidays!
December 11, 2011

Soundtrack to A Kiss of a Different Color

As I write, I often envision my books as movies unfolding, and while I don't have the skills to compose a score (often the same refrain arranged differently to fit the mood of the particular scene), I do imagine existing music playing in the background. I'd like to share with you some of the music I heard as I wrote certain key scenes from my latest novel, A Kiss of a Different Color:  I hope you enjoy them!

In the scene where Jon shows Miranda his family's dance studio and puts on a song they waltz to, this is the song (Cassandra Wilson's cover of the classic standard Polka Dots and Moonbeams):

In the romantic scene where Jon and Miranda kiss in front of the fireplace in the shadow of his mother's Christmas tree, this dreamy original Christmas composition by jazz artist Michael Franks, My Present:

And finally, the movie performance Jon and Miranda adapt for their own performance in the dance school competition, from the movie The Band Wagon, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse Dancing in the Dark.

December 6, 2011

What this writer is reading

I've been diligently working on my WIP, Isn't She Lovely? (a poignant story of second chances that is sure to tug at your heartstrings), and not doing a whole lot of reading, but keeping up with my favorite blogs. Naturally, I read J.A. Konrath's blog, an absolute must read for any indie writer. Eventually I will list these on my Blogroll, but haven't had time yet). I thought I'd share some of the columns that caught my attention:

Over at Writer Unboxed, Juliet Marillier explains why NaNoWriMo didn't work for her. It's the same reason it didn't work for me. I'm too vested in quality to just churn out words, and I don't do first and second drafts. Instead, when I (finally) finish, I'm ready to polish and publish.

Also at Writer Unboxed is an interview with romance author Barbara Freethy, one of my she-roes. This established romance author published her considerable backlist with great success, and it sounds as if she is putting out some new material, as well as continuing to publish traditionally.

Ray Rhamey talks about the most efficient way to include dialogue tags in your writing, again at Writer Unboxed (lots of tips to be found on this blog).

I loved Dean Wesley Smith's blog about finally hearing from a publisher he'd queried...two years ago! Check out Dean's Think Like A Publisher series as well; lots of good information there.

Over at Marketing Tips, a site that hasn't been updated in quite some time, Dan McGirt gives valuable tips on marketing your novel the second time around (in eBook form).

Bob Mayer, at his blog Write It Forward, advises uncertain writers on What to Write.

Every Saturday (sometimes Monday), my buddy Patricia Woodside shares writer tidbits at her blog, Readin' and Writin'.

As odd as it sounds, there's much more to being a novelist than simply, well, writing. There's a wealth of information out there to assist us...take advantage of it!
November 27, 2011

A peek at my next project

I'm happy to say that my new eBook is coming along nicely. My countdown calendar gives me 7 weeks and 20 hours for my desired completion (prior to my editor tearing it up, LOL). This is an unlikely love story I'm tentatively calling Isn't She Lovely? and is shaping up to be the most layered, complex romance I've ever written, really more of a mainstream storyline, since I break several romance rules. One of the many good things about being an independent publisher is that I'm in charge, and there are no rules!

I started writing this story with one man and one woman who had well-defined backgrounds, each struggling to cope with the circumstances of their respective lives, he with the loss of his wife in a fiery car crash he and his son witnessed; she a divorced mother of two trying to make ends meet as she takes baby steps toward getting a college degree. To this I added one inciting incident that made their paths cross, in which his troubled teenage son through reckless behavior causes an injury to her young son. After that, the story pretty much plotted itself...the characters' personalities and those of the people close to them dictated the action.

I happen to think it's an exciting, fast-paced story that readers will be able to identify with (but of course, I'm biased). Today's reader tastes being what they are, though, I'm sure that some will complain that it takes too long for the hero and heroine to burn up the sheets. Given the circumstances of the hero and heroine's initial meeting, bringing sex into the equation too early would turn my project into some silly fairy tale. I mean, what kind of woman would look at the father of the boy who caused her son a grievous injury and want to jump his bones? Can you even imagine anyone behaving in such a manner? This heroine hasn't much use for either the father, whom she feels is a ruthlessly ambitious politician who is sacrificing his troubled son, or his son, whom she feels is being neglected by his surviving parent, but also feels he is more than a little spoiled.

I will probably use a disclaimer in my marketing efforts warning potential readers that this is more of a mainstream romantic novel than a single title romance with instant attraction between the hero and heroine (and trust me, there will still be people who miss it, just as people continue to ask me why they haven't seen my latest books on store shelves).

Yes, I've written books where the air has been thick with sexual tension from the very first meeting of the hero and both The Heat of Heat (one of the main character's dress gets caught in a man's zipper while waiting for an elevator) and A Kiss of a Different Color (an unexpected dance dip inadvertently pulls down the neckline of the heroine's blouse, captivating the hero), and even in the tamer Save The Best For Last when the heroine experiences the equivalent of a taste bud orgasm and is embarrassed when the hero reminds her he's there. But I'm all about the individual story rather than writing the same kind of story, and in this story, at least the beginning, this type of action is inappropriate.

What's your opinion? I'd love to know. 
November 24, 2011

Black Friday Sale!

It’s technically still Thursday night here in Wisconsin, but it’s after midnight on the East Coast.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. While you're sitting in your armchair getting those Black Friday bargains on the Internet (or after you get home from duking it out in person), download some good reading courtesy of sale prices of my Bunderful Books eBooks: For today only, four eBook titles are on sale at Smashwords!

eBooks regularly priced from $2.99 to $3.79 are just $1.50 to $2.99.

To order, visit my author page at Smashwords , select your eBooks in the format for your particular device (Kindle, Nook, Sony, etc.) and enter the following codes at checkout to get the sale prices:

A Love of Her Own, normally $2.99, sale price $.99 with code PR77D
Save The Best For Last, normally $3.29, sale price $1.99 with code VC76W
The Heat of Heat, normally $3.49, sale price $1.99 with code ZE72Z
A Kiss of a Different Color, normally $3.79, sale price $2.99 with code QV68Z

Remember...the sale is only for today and only at As always, I wish you good reading!
November 17, 2011

Off to Florida

Going down to see the littlest Underwood, born November 15th.  Isn't he precious?  This makes two grandchildren for my husband, one granddaughter and one grandson.  Grandma Bettye can't be more proud!

November 13, 2011

Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to the following winners of my eBook Giveaway:

Paula Cadwell
Margaret Faria
Earline Bentley
Cynthia Medley
Adrienne Dortche

I will be contacting the winners to arrange for eBook prize distribution.  Thank you to everyone who entered.  I wish you good reading!
November 12, 2011

I guess if you build it they really will come...

The deals of Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) have been a part of American life for many years now, with some people camping out all night in the cold to be among the first to grab special early morning deals.  In recent years there have been reports of violence erupting, which I suspect that in these tough economic times might continue as cash-strapped customers desperate to provide a nice holiday for their children go to extremes.

This year the stores themselves can be accused of going to extremes.  Some stores, like Kmart and Toys R Us, have been open on Thanksgiving Day in recent years during morning and afternoon hour, offering bargains to lure shoppers in.  This year more stores than ever are moving up their store openings to midnight on Black Friday:  Target, Macy's, Best Buy, and Kohl's among them.  Walmart, not to be beaten, is opening stores as early as 10PM Thanksgiving night.

I personally don't think this is a good idea.  Not only does it rob the store employees of the opportunity to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with their families and friends, but it also cuts into consumer family life, with people excusing themselves after that apple pie a la mode to go to bed until it's time to get up to go shopping.  So much for after-dinner conversation.  I did all my shopping online last year after Thanksgiving and got wonderful bargains and free shipping to my local store...and I didn't even have to get dressed to do it.

There's a thin line between a desire to be first and a fanatical drive to do so.  I mean, isn't 4 and 5AM early enough?  Must stores really feel it necessary to cut into the actual Thanksgiving holiday?

Of course, if no one showed up the stores would have no reason to open so early.  As Thanksgiving weekend approaches, I find myself thinking, wouldn't it be a victory for home and hearth if the stores opened at 10PM and midnight and no one showed up until 5AM?

I know, I know.  Fat chance of that happening.  But I find it a lovely thought nonetheless...

Will you be shopping in the stores on Black Friday?
November 10, 2011
The Interesting Buying Habits of Readers of Interracial Romance

One of the nice things about books on Amazon is the feature that shows what other books readers are buying when they buy a particular book. This is handy for both readers and writers. I've found it interesting that until I started Bunderful Books to publish my stories, there was virtually no crossover of sales between my mainstream and romance novels; people apparently bought either one genre or the other.

It's been just a few weeks since I released my latest independent title through Bunderful Books, A Kiss of A Different Color, and I've noticed something else: There seems to be no crossover between this, an interracial romance, and my other contemporary romances. Out of 30+ pages of other products people who have purchased AKOADC  have bought, none of my other titles are listed. Instead, the great majority of other titles are also interracial love stories.

Shucks!  And I was thinking that this book's success would spur sales of other titles.
November 7, 2011

Scrivener for Windows now available

This is a happy day.  The Scrivener writing software is finally available for download, after months of constantly updating the new betas the creators made as they ironed out bugs.  I absolutely love this has everything a writer needs to go from concept to final draft, and an easy corkboard view that tells you at a glance the status of each.  I've already downloaded and registered my copy.  This is definitely $40 well spent.

I am one happy writer.
October 31, 2011

It's NaNoWriMo time...but not for me

To all you East Coast writers gearing up for the official Start of NaNoWriMo at midnight on November 1st, I wish you a productive 30 days of writing. I won't be joining you this year. I just finished the tax return, just put out a new eBook, had an outpatient surgical procedure this morning, and am gearing up for a phone call about a new grandbaby, at which time we will jump in the car and head to Florida. I think I've had enough stress...
October 30, 2011

A Few Words About Marketing

From time to time aspiring writers contact me and ask for any advice I might have about independent publishing.  I always refer them to the Indie Publishing and Writing categories of my blog, but someone recently told me that she’s already had her manuscript professionally edited and asked for the name of my cover designer (Sean D. Young of Young Creations, whether she should consider eBook, print, or both, and also for any tips on how she, about to put out her debut novel, could develop a readership.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter much whether you publish traditionally or independently, unless you are the next Kathryn Sockett, marketing is going to be your responsibility.  Publishers only get behind established superstars or those they feel they can build up into superstars.

In terms of format, I would advise that you consider skipping the print option altogether. You can always have a print book made at a later time if your sales warrant it.  eBooks are increasing in popularity, and they also cost less to important factor when a writer is on a budget. 

As a formerly traditionally published writer, I was fortunate to have already had a readership when I started indie publishing, but of course I wanted to expand on existing readers.  Some of the things I did were to widely circulate my book trailers prior to release to help build interest and to cross-market my eBook excerpts with other authors who write similar genres to get more readers after publication.

Because published authors are busy people who aren’t going to have time to read your book to determine if they want to include it in with theirs, only the book trailer option is going to be available to those previously unpublished.  A book trailer doesn’t have to be a Spielberg production, but make it as good as you can (no typos in the text, please!)

Get on Facebook and befriend book clubs and reading groups who are open to the genre of what you’ve written and ask if you can post your trailer on their wall.  Join genre Facebook groups (romance, mystery, thriller, etc.) and ask if you can post your trailer on their wall (or, if you see other members are doing this, go ahead and post).

Your website (and you definitely should have a website) should have an excerpt to the book plus links to purchase sites (plural).

Also, consider writing a brief prequel to your story and offering it as a free download, and make sure it includes an eLink to the purchase page for your book in the corresponding format (a link to a Kindle eBook won’t be of any benefit to someone with a Nook).  You'll want your prequel to have an air of completeness about it, though (no cliffhangers, please). It’s not fair to leave the reader hanging, with their only option for resolution to buy the book. You want readers to want to buy your book, not trick them into feeling the have to (you want readers, not enemies). And yes, I know that some published authors have put out books that don’t have defined endings, but I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone do this.

Contact book review sites and ask if you can send them a complimentary copy (Smashwords coupons come in handy here; you can make a 100% off coupon and provide the reviewer with the code) in exchange for a review. The caveat is that they might not like your book, which means you won’t like their review, but that’s the chance all writers take with the public at large.

I don’t much care for marketing one’s book as “in the tradition of (insert name of Bestselling Author here)…” but the fact is that you do want to approach readers who enjoy stories in a similar vein to yours about your new book. Sites like Goodreads are good for this purpose; you can see who’s read and enjoyed which books. Message them and tell them about your book; invite them to download your free prequel and read your excerpt (provide links to both). All they can do is ignore you.

Run a contest on Facebook, your blog (you definitely should have a blog) or both to win a free download (again, Smashwords is a good choice for this, because of the coupon and the availability in all formats—although I have to wonder how good the formatting really is).  Consider an eBook giveaway on reader sites like Goodreads. Their traditional Giveaways site is for print books only, but they do have a special eBook giveaway group.

If you can locate any blogs that feature new author interviews, ask to be interviewed.  Also look for blogs that allow guest posts.  You can always mention your new book plus links to your excerpt and free prequel in your two-sentence Bio.

Those are the tips that come to my mind right away (I’m writing this between answering the door to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters). Finally—and this one is really important—after you publish, devote most of your time to working on your next project instead of tracking your sales numbers!
October 29, 2011

A tale of two reviews

My newest eBook, A Kiss of a Different Color, received two reviews this week, one on the Barnes & Noble site, one on the Amazon site.

The Nook reader entitled her review "Wonderful" and gave it 5 stars. The Kindle reader entitled her review "DNF" (I don't know what that means, but since she gave it just 1 star, it can't be anything good--my guess is "did not finish?").

It just goes to show, two people are not going to get the same thing out of the same story. The Nook reader said it was a "really good story." The Kindle reader said she "just could not continue" beyond the first third of the story. The Nook reader said she really liked the way I showed how the main characters got through the racial issues and work issues and enjoyed a "very passionate romance." The Kindle reader said that while racial references are fine, it became too much, and that the main characters "lacked chemistry."

I find the differing opinions fascinating. One says the hero and heroine were passionate, the other says they lacked chemistry. Wow. Can two interpretations possibly be any different? But I have always maintained that people will get different things out of a story, and this is a perfect demonstration of that.

The Kindle reader states that by a third of the way through the story the main characters should at least have some kind of dating relationship established. I believe I'd established pretty well why the heroine was skittish about that (I even mention it in the summary), but I have to consider that this may be part of the problem. Romances usually are written according to a formula, but since I'm publishing my own work and don't have to answer to a publisher, I let the story unfold naturally with the characters acting within the personalities I created for them. But the bottom line is that the Kindle reader (who has written a favorable review of at least one of my other titles), simply didn't like this book. And that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Every writer hopes that readers will like their book, but I think most writers know that it's not possible to please everyone. The writer who expects universal praise of their book is a first cousin of the attorney who represents himself in court (and you know what they say about him). Who among us hasn't looked forward to a book, only to find ourselves totally indifferent to and/or unmoved by the storyline? (This is one reason why the reader in me doesn't find novel sequels particularly appealing. Like movie sequels--the one exception that comes to mind being The Godfather, Part II--I usually don't feel the sequel is as good as the original.) Why should I expect a book I've written be idolized? Because I wrote it? That takes an imperialistic outlook I just don't have (thank God).

Yes, myself and other authors put our blood and sweat into creating characters and storylines we hope will be memorable. But that's no guarantee that readers will gobble up the words we've written and want seconds. We're asking readers invest their time and money in our work. Some readers will wish they hadn't made the investment. It's not someone out to "get" me. It's not a case of the person writing the review being somehow jealous of me. There's no vendetta involved, only an honest reader opinion. And while it is one person's opinion (a very frequently heard author refrain used to dismiss negative reviews), so are the positive reviews we receive. The fact is that majority of people who read our books are not going to take the time to write a review, whether they loved it or hated it.

What it really is? A crapshoot, just like most other factors about publishing. We as authors have to get over it.

Now, back to my work-in-progress. I'm loving this story...

October 29, 2011

eBook Giveaway!

In honor of my mother's 93rd birthday today (that's her in the tiara at the celebration her fellow workout folks gave for her at the "Y," where she still works out three times a week), I am having an eBook giveaway!

Save The Best For Last...The Heat of Heat...A Love of Her Own...A Kiss of a Different Color

There will be five winners, each of whom can choose one of the above titles as their prize. This contest is being run through Smashwords, so each winner will be able to choose the format for their particular eReader device, including text for those who don't have eReaders!

To enter, simply send an email to with the heading eBook Contest between October 29th and November 12th (which would have been the 62nd birthday of my late brother Gordon). Winners will be chosen at random, and the winner names will be announced on Sunday, November 13th, by 6PM Central Time, both here and on my Bunderful Books Facebook page.

Good luck, and Happy Birthday to my mom!
October 25, 2011

Release Day!

My latest eBook, A Kiss of a Different Color, is now available for Kindle, Nook, and any other type of eReader via Smashwords.  Order your copy today!

As always, I wish you good reading!
October 17, 2011

The book is done, now what?

One of the best feelings in a writer's life occurs when the current work is completed.  There's a rush of adrenaline as your brain processes the fact that the project that has played such a dominant role in your life is done, baby done! 

This was especially happy news for me, because the completed work--my soon-to-be-published eBook A Kiss of a Different Color--was started way back in 2006, five long years ago.  I knew the basic premise of the story, but I didn't have a strong conflict.  As every reader and writer knows, with no conflict there is no story.  I put it aside to work on contracted projects and came back to it periodically to try to work it out, but it wasn't until earlier this year that a strong plotline finally came to me.  This story had germinated for so long that my editor asked me to clarify the time setting because she was confused.  An exchange early in the story has the heroine stating she's not familiar with pomegranate, and my editor pointed out that in recent years, this fruit has been featured in many bottled fruit juices, which made that piece of dialogue seem more like 2006 than 2011.

So now that the book is done, what happens next? For me, it's a cinch:  I get myself organized for the next my case the next several books.

In the weeks while I am working on the next-to-last set of edits, I traditionally create quite a bit of new text for my follow-up projects, because editing isn't really writing and usually gives me a frenzied desire to create something new.  I end up with half-organized snippets of text in a dozen or so files.  My latest preferred method is to dictate into my handheld recorder that comes with a special version of Dragon software, which I then plug into my computer and it transcribes what I've dictated.  I save each file by date and bring my handheld with me everywhere, whether driving or out walking.  I remain grateful to my friend and fellow author Roslyn Carrington (AKA "Simona Taylor") for introducing me to Dragon, which I also have installed on my laptop for direct dictation that is transcribed as I speak).

I am, rather ambitiously, working on actual narrative and dialogue for a contemporary romance and a women's fiction, a re-write of my 2006 novel One on One, plus plotting out a follow-up to a plot thread I started in The Heat of Heat that readers have been asking me for.  Somewhere in there I will also work on another release of a previous title in eBook of the more recent ones that I won't have to tinker with (One on One has changed so much that I'll have to file for a new copyright).

My first step is to organize all those scattered documents into one file by dates within each project, with page breaks between each project.  I did that yesterday.  Then I cut and paste the text into the existing MS Word document (I used to start my projects in MS Word), and then cut and paste by chapter into Scrivener, my new preferred software for writing a book.  Scrivener is especially friendly toward my sometimes haphazard way of writing, as I don't write sequentially and often have gaps in my story.  From there I mark the status of each chapter as being a first draft, revised draft, or to be written as I fill in notes about what should happen in missing areas.  I'm in the process of doing this now.

Somewhere in there I am able to get a word count for each project, and I was thrilled to see that I have over 62K words for my contemporary romance WIP, which I actually finished outlining several years ago.  I am eager to publish this story (working title Isn't She Lovely?) because it has a political theme at its core, and with the presidential election coming up in a year it will be particularly relevant.  I'm feeling pretty good about being two-thirds done with this, to the point where I feel that it might be ready in the late winter rather than mid-spring.

I have yet to determine the word counts for my women's fiction project, but I do know that a little bit of writing at a time adds up to a lot of text.  Just as some writers prefer not to edit as they go along, I prefer not to check my word counts in the beginning.

So that's my process.  I've got to drive down to Gurnee, Illinois this morning, so I'll be taking the back roads rather than the highway and will be dictating all the way!  There is no rest for weary writers...
October 15, 2011

The Week in Review

Ah, politics!  Chris Christie, after removing himself from consideration, stated he was not ready to endorse anyone.  Two days later, he endorsed Mitt Romney.  There were a few news stories about the endorsement, but Romney's numbers went nowhere.  Instead, there's a new guy on top of the totem pole.

The latest catchphrase: 9/9/9.  Herman Cain has made it to the top of the GOP field with his oft-proclaimed solution for our country's economic woes.  I predict that this severely flawed plan (which includes a 9% federal sales tax on top of all the local taxes being paid for gas, clothing, and other merchandise, and to even include groceries) will never go anywhere, but it just goes to show, if you're the only one offering a plan, people will listen.  Cain's rivals for the nominations have nothing except criticism for President Obama, and that will only carry a person so far.

MSNBC's Chris Mathews asks "Is Cain able?" My answer is, not with that current plan, he's not.  But stay tuned for the next segment of The Great GOP Hope...

On the publishing front, I completed A Kiss of a Different Color and expect to publish within two weeks.  Now I'm organizing my notes that I've been working on recently so I can get started working on my next two projects (yes, two projects; I'll be working on them simultaneously...and that doesn't include my next re-release).  A blank page terrifies me; I'm a big believer in always having something on paper to build on.  I'll be blogging about this in a day or two.

Enjoy your weekend!