August 24, 2013

Chewing the Fat with...Reon Laudat

Author Reon Laudat has a new book out!  The Mommy Group was published earlier this week.  An established romance writer, this is Reon's first foray into mainstream women's fiction (in the subgenre of chick/mom lit).  Her voice has been missed, and her readers will be glad to know she's back on the literary scene.  Reon answered a few questions for me, playing catch-up, talking about life as an indie publisher and, of course, about her new offering.


Bettye:  From what I see on Amazon, your last book, It's In His Kiss, was published in 2009. Is that accurate?  If so, what have you been doing all these years?

Reon:  The 2009 version of It's In His Kiss was a reprint of an older book with a new cover. My last new release was actually the romance Wanna Get to Know Ya in 2005, so I had a long, dry spell. I was feeling burned out and disillusioned about the business and more excited to be a new mom so I planned to take a short break from writing/publishing. That "short" break stretched longer than anticipated, but all the while my writer's brain never shut down. I enjoyed chick lit, particularly mom lit, but I could not find many novels in the niche featuring African-American women. Light bulb moment!  I started plotting and writing with excitement again. And it felt great to be back.

After completing an early version of The Mommy Group in 2008, I sought to have it published traditionally with new representation for a fresh start with a brand new genre. I sent out sample chapters and received swift, enthusiastic requests for the full manuscript from four of my "wish list" agents. One offered representation the same day the full was received, so I really felt I was onto something. Everything was cranking along, but then the business was changing, the market tightening. You know the rest. The rejections started rolling in from editors--"Chick lit is dead," "Mommy lit is so yesterday," "The 'four friends' books are out." But then, after I'd almost given up hope...a yes from a Big Six publisher. It was an opportunity to get the story out there, but I wasn't thrilled about the offer, so I had to pass. No more offers after that one, but I did not give up on this manuscript. I kept working on it, rewriting, tweaking like a madwoman. I was obsessed, LOL! When indie publishing became a viable option, I was glad I'd hung onto it. I believe I made it a stronger novel.

Bettye:  Yes, I know a thing or two about rejection...What's The Mommy Group about?  Obviously, it's about motherhood, but a little more detail, please!

Reon:  The Mommy Group is about four women dealing with the complexities of friendship, finances, and new motherhood. But you don't have to be a mom to like the book. I reveled in the opportunity to write more flawed lead characters. I'll admit I'm a pop culture/reality show junkie ("Survivor," "Big Brother," "Shark Tank"), and I might have been a tad influenced by shows of the "Housewives" ilk. Ducking for cover now, LOL!

Bettye:  I'll confess that I have never had any interest in mom lit (not being a mom myself), but that cover is sooooo adorable, I can't wait to read this! The cover looks like it clearly came from a Big Six (I think it might be Big Five now) publisher, but you actually indie published this book. What do you think of the process?

Reon:  The freedom feels amazing. But it's a lot of work! I had help with various aspects (the cover, editing, and formatting, etc.) Dealing with other people's schedules can be frustrating.

Bettye:  Will readers have to wait another eight years for your next book?

Reon:  Absolutely not. LOL. The "baby" is in third grade now.

Bettye:  Did you happen to bring an excerpt with you?

Reon:  I sure did!  Here it is, from Chapter 1:

“Hey, y’all, focus!” Taryn tapped the table and took a bite of the sandwich Nicole had passed to her. “As I was saying, most rich people aren’t born that way.” A big wad of sausage and bread rolled around inside her mouth. “I need to stay on track. I know exactly where I want to be professionally and financially in the next ten years. My initial goal was to have a million saved up for retirement, not including home equity. I’m talking savings and checking accounts, certificates of deposit, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, and such. If Jon and I retire in our sixties, the plan is to have enough to stretch about thirty years.”

“Thirty years?” Nicole asked. “You think you’ll live well into your nineties?”

“The point is not worrying about running out of cash if I do,” Taryn said. “A million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to. I need to double or triple that…at a minimum. Shoot, even Oprah once hoarded $50 million in what she called her ‘bag lady fund’ in case the national talk show host gig didn’t pan out.”

“That makes me nervous,” Nicole said. “I ain’t trying to be no bag lady either.”

Courtney shuddered. How could she have been so shortsighted and self-indulgent? She’d slashed her family’s financial cushion in half after insisting on handling their savings/checking accounts and bill payments. Rob managed their pension/retirement investments and the baby’s college fund. Though both earned great salaries, their ballooning monthly expenditures far exceeded their net monthly income. Rob probably wouldn’t complain about her charitable donations, because of the tax write-off, but if he knew exactly how much she’d squandered on designer clothes, jewelry and soirees…She might have gone a tad over the top on Taryn’s recent spa bash baby shower with its numerous white-uniformed attendants treating the guests to mani-pedis and foot/neck rubs. Her colleagues at Dermatology Associates were still buzzing about the Christmas dinner she’d hosted for them and their families two years ago. Chateaubriand, costumed carolers, and a Santa with a red velvet suit, real beard, and pot belly. Courtney’s breath caught as she imagined Rob’s big hands wrapping around her neck and squeezing until her eyeballs popped out. Time for a change of subject, but Taryn was like one of those darn desktop printing calculators spewing a never-ending roll of paper tape stamped with numbers.

“And there’s college tuition to think about.” Taryn patted her middle swollen with her first child, due in twelve weeks. “I don’t want my kid graduating with a ton of student loan debt the way I did. I didn’t think I’d ever pay off that fifty grand. Then there are possible medical bills that come with advancing age. But I plan to be ready for it all!” She reached for her plastic cup of water, added lemon wedges swiped from Courtney’s and Nicole’s drinks, and sprinkled three packets of sugar on top. “Why pay $3 for a cup of lemonade when I can make my own for free.” She stirred and tasted, hammily smacking her lips until she had it just right. “Ahhhh.”

Bettye:  What online retailers carry this book?

Reon:  I'm doing KDP Select for this one, so it's just on Amazon for now.

Bettye:  Sorry, Nooksters...I have a Sony eReader myself, and while I love it, I've decided to ask Santa to bring me an inexpensive tablet that I can load the Kindle app on and get Kindle-only eBooks and deals. Thanks for stopping by, Reon!

Reon:  Thanks for featuring me on your blog, Bettye!

Bettye:  You're very welcome...and welcome back to publishing!

Readers, download your copy of The Mommy Group today from Amazon!
August 18, 2013

New Beta Software from the folks who brought you Scrivener

Literature and Latte are now offering a Windows version of their latest product, Scapple, a brainstorming software to help writers draft their projects and gather ideas.  It's a series of notes that can be spread out or stacked, or even arranged in columns if you like to have a story arc for each character or aspect of your book.

The beta version will work through September 15th and will be selling for the price of $14.99.  I already used it to map out a prequel...

Learn more about it here.
August 16, 2013

What I learned from the RWA Conference (which I didn't attend)

I purchased a couple of MP3 files from last month's RWA Conference.  I have not been a member of RWA in years, but in case you haven't heard, after years of ignoring indie publishing, or as it seems to be called more frequently these days, self-publishing, RWA has rather belatedly embraced it, with multiple workshops devoted to this very subject at this year's conference.  The slow pace of acceptance doesn't particularly endear them to me, so I doubt I'll ever rejoin...but that doesn't mean I'm not open to hearing what was discussed at the conference as it pertains to self-publishing.

While listening isn't the same as being there (for instance, with audio-only you can't see the PowerPoint presentations the speakers are referring to, making for a disadvantage), I nonetheless learned a few things I felt were worth repeating.  Author Vickie Taylor, talking about formatting, said that using combination keystrokes to create ellipses and M-dashes will prevent eReaders from doing a line break mid-ellipsis and mid-dash.  To create an unbreakable ellipsis, use Ctrl-Alt-period.  To create an unbreakable M-dash, use Ctrl-Alt-hyphen (the hyphen on the numeric keypad, not on the regular keyboard).

Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre, talking about author branding, agree that even if no one has heard of you, to put your name in big print on the cover.  Freethy also recommends using the same font for your name on all your books (something my cover designer has done for me since the beginning).  My own feelings are that a name in large print will work best for a shorter name (Andre's name is ideal, just 10 letters), or else it's going to take up a disproportionate amount of space on the cover.

Freethy also recommends adding any legitimate benefits to your cover, i.e., quotes from bestselling authors, contests wins or placements, bestselling status, etc., anything that might give your book an edge.  There have been debates about what actually constitutes a bestselling status, and I've decided to leave that one alone.    

Some of what was said was just plain common sense, but worth pointing out, becomes sometimes the obvious doesn't register to hardworking writers.  Andre said that for branding of her Sullivan series she went with the same cover concept...a kissing couple on the top half, a landscape scene on the bottom half.  I did something similar with my Love series, consisting so far of Lost That Lovin' Feeling and Love Will Follow:

Although I've done very little work on the manuscript for Love Will Grow, the last book in the series (it's on my 2014 publication schedule), I've already purchased the cover art for it:

So what if the sand is different shade in each of the three pictures?  They are all sand and water, and that's enough to make the reader see a connection.  Besides, when you've seen one picture of sand and water, you've seen them all.  The thing is to go for a similar look, not an identical one.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about covers in recent months, and I moved the tinkering I want to do to the head of my To Do list.  I hope to have a cover redone for one of my titles, and another one slightly revised, by the end of the year.  I'll be showing before and after photos after they're done.

If you're interested to know what else they talked about in the various RWA workshops, you can peruse and purchase MP3 files for immediate download here.

August 15, 2013

Anatomy of an eBook:  Secrets & Sins

Somewhere along the line while furiously writing (usually while giving my brain a well-needed rest), my thoughts turn to cover art.

I had long abandoned the idea of using people on this cover...while it is essentially the story of a mother and two daughters (a title I briefly considered before deciding it had no oomph), I couldn't find an appropriate picture.  I also thought of using a picture of a body rolled up in a rug wearing Argyle socks and wing-tip shoes (one of the sinful secrets referred to in the title), but then decided that would suggest it was a murder mystery.  I'm no marketing guru, but I do feel that authors have to give readers a clear picture of what type of story they're getting.  So I decided to go for symbolism.

I entered the word secrets on the search page of a stock photo site and got a lot of locked boxes, keys, and dark alleys.  When I entered the word sin I got a lot of apples and pictures of the Las Vegas strip.  I decided to go with a combination of two results, the key and the apple, and when I entered both keywords I got...well, some nice photos, which I forwarded to my cover designer for her thoughts.

Stay tuned...

August 9, 2013

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the blogosphere...

There are some blogs out there with some pretty nifty information this week.  I thought I'd share a few.

Author Theresa Ragan has created a sales ranking chart, to get a quick general idea of how many book sales your rankings correlate with.  She bases it on her own sales, and I agree that my experiences are about the same.  You can see it here.

Bestselling author Marie Force has announced the results of her survey to readers about their buying habits:  where, why, how much, and more!  Take in the results here.

I can't remember where I picked this up, but it explores different ways indie publishers can experiment for better sales results.

Yet another list of tips for maximum productivity.  I suspect there are tons of people out there who can never seem to get a book finished, so I believe these lists have merit.

Happy writing!