A Community of Writers

As tempting as it is to address the craziness of recent events and a certain writer’s lack of common sense, I will abstain from that. While what she did was selfish, uncalled for, and served no purpose other than burning all her bridges in the literary world, I don’t subscribe to the idea of name calling or finger pointing–be it in person or in cyber space.

What I would like to talk about today is professional courtesy and respect. When I first got involved in the romance publishing world, I was like most “virgins”–starry eyed and naive. I’ve never been good at making professional connections and having no one to guide me in this new world, I was pretty much a fish out of water–flopping around and gasping for air.

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Little by little, I learned the ropes, or at least enough to start getting some air into my lungs to survive. One of the things that hit me the most–in a positive way–was the camaraderie and professional interaction and support from other writers.

I have met amazing people both online and in person who have enriched my life not just as a writer but also as a human being, some of which  fill me with awe with their willingness to give. I hope one day to be able to return the favor, but for now all I can dish out is my half-baked advice, companionship, and support.

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It saddens me when things go awry, when authors turn against each other instead of talking it over. When authors become so deluded and full of themselves that they see nothing wrong with sabotaging other writers’ success. And most of all, it’s heartbreaking when a writer who has achieved a reasonable measure of success attack those who, unlike them, are still struggling to make ends meet in the publishing world.

Those of you who excel by respecting and supporting your fellow authors, I salute you. I would have been lost without you. You have taught me the ropes, supported me when I was drowning, and brightened my days with words of encouragement. That is what it should all be about.

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A Writer’s Nightmare

As most of you know, I’m a traditionally published author (small, awesome publishing house). Being the weirdo that I normally am, I wrote a sci-fi/dystopian romance in 2016 told in three POVs and holding two separate romances–one F/M and another M/M, never once stopping to wonder how difficult it would be to market such a book (do you market it to the F/M romance readers, or the M/M?). The first sign that I was in trouble was when friends or beta readers began complaining about different things–too much romance (the sci-fi readers), too much sci-fi (the romance readers), main characters are too sexual, main characters are not sexual enough, it’s too intense, it’s not intense enough… I had one reader that actually tried to change the whole thing including the way I write and erase my voice. Holy shit!

After I submitted it to my publisher, I was told what I already suspected–that I either changed the manuscript radically, which meant breaking it into two separate romances, or they couldn’t publish it because of the potential marketing nightmare. At that point I had to totally agree with them. I had poured my heart and soul into this manuscript (which at times was emotionally very difficult to write) and I wasn’t willing to change it at that time. I was not being arrogant, just overwhelmed with it all. For me that story was one and I couldn’t imagine breaking it into two. It would be like leaving a part of myself behind.

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The manuscript had already gone through one round of professional edits, but after I had unsuccessfully tried to modified it to better fit the marketing woes, I knew it was back to a mess. So I hired my usual editor for another round of edits with the growing idea (which terrified me) of self-publishing it in the future. Unfortunately, my editor  broke the trust I had in him by doing an extremely superficial edit and taking off with my money. I may be trusting but I also know when I’ve been had.

I had a couple more people read it for content feedback and I was again disappointed that no one was willing to read my manuscript to the end. Beta readers were giving up after a couple chapters. It didn’t bode well. I almost gave up on the idea of publishing it. But in the end I couldn’t give up on my characters and the world I created. I felt I owed it to them to stay the course.

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I contacted a book cover designer I have admired for a few years and asked them to design my cover. I was delighted with the results. That cover is amazing (cover reveal to come in the near-ish future).

I changed a few things according to suggestions and critiques from others, tightened up the writing (I have a tendency to be wordy), and hired another editor to do a final round. After the edits were done, I went over it again twice, tightening it even more, paranoid as I am now that my writing truly sucks. I went over it once more after a friend of mine had formatted it for publication (and amazing friend that she is, she was willing to do it again after subsequent changes).

My book now has an ISBN and I have to choose a publication date in the next couple days. I’m already paralyzed by all I will have to do. Because I have a couple more books releasing this year, there is a very short window to publish this one so it doesn’t conflict with the others. Which means I have to do it within the next month or so.

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My nightmare is not over yet because after suffering so many setbacks and getting bad feedback for two years, I’m terrified of how the public is going to respond to it. I have now invested more money into this book than possibly all my other six together and, being my first self-pub, I’m sailing in uncharted waters from where I expect a monster to jump out at any moment.

Do you think I did the right thing sticking by my story or was I a total dunce and should have just scrapped it?

Happy Birthday, Desert Jewel

This time last year I was celebrating the release of my second book, Desert Jewel. This book is very important to me for different reasons.

One of the reasons is that I absolutely poured my heart out building the world of Desert Jewel and its characters. In a way, Desert Jewel is my humble homage to Africa and its people. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in different places in Africa and I wanted to somehow honor the magic of a world where the modern mixes with the ancient and science mingles with myths and superstition. Princess Milenda and her ex-slave, Jaali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently finished writing the second in the series and will be starting the third and last one very soon.

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The other reason–and likely the most important–is that the publishing of this book in particular saved me from a very dark place. I have struggled with bouts of mild depression off and on all my life, but last year I went through one of the worst ever. I had to literally drag myself out of bed every morning and couldn’t take pleasure in anything at all. In fact, the morning I received the email from my publisher offering me a contract for this book, I had done just that–dragged myself out of bed, already in tears for no apparent reason and sat down to look through my emails just for something to do. I was on vacation in the mountains with my husband, but my mood was so low I hadn’t been able to enjoy any of it.

That email changed my life that morning. I’ve never told this to anyone, not even my family, but the kind words in that message just brought joy back to my life, the life I was beginning to believe to be worthless. Which goes to show you never know when a kind word may make all the difference in someone’s life.

So today I celebrate the one year anniversary of Desert Jewel’s release and a professional relationship that has enriched my life and given me great joy (and a LOT of work, lol). So let’s hear it for Hot Tree Publishing (hoot and holler)!!!

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I’m running a celebratory giveaway in my Facebook page. Go check it out for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.

P.S.- Depression isolates. When you’re depressed you feel all alone, which in turn prevent those suffering from depression from seeking help. Keep an eye on those you love for signs of depression–withdrawing, frequent tears, lack of energy, indecision…my family thought I was just being difficult, couldn’t read the signs, an all too-common reaction. Don’t just assume they are being a pain. Dig deeper.

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New Markets

New Markets or How to Reach Readers Who Feel Left Out

We all know that the market is fickle and fluctuates all the time. For example, dystopian was huge just a couple of years ago but now agents will not touch it with a ten-foot pole. In the romance genre we are lucky because romance has been a steady market for as long as the genre has been around (don’t believe me? Shakespeare wrote romance and so did Austen and the Bronte sisters).

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It’s the sub-genres that fluctuate a lot. Right now it appears there is a huge market demand for cowboy romance (don’t look at me. The only thing I know about cowboys is that they herd cows, wear boots to bed, and you can never see their faces because of those damn Stetson hats), M/M romance (hot right now), and in the paranormal sub-genre, shifter romance (I’m not even sure I know what a shifter is. Will have to read on that).

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So what’s the real new markets out there? Something that has never before been explored because the publishers and agents were not interested? I was surprised and pleased all at once to find out that some of the big romance publishers are currently interested in later-life romance.

I sat through a panel hosted by Entangled, a small-going-big romance publisher, and was floored when they told us that the publishing house is opening a new imprint called August which will target romances for women who are anywhere between 30-50 years old.

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They want to see no stereotypes (divorcees looking for a husband) but strong women who have put off love in favor of careers, or for whatever other reasons, and stumble upon love late in life. They are asking for 45-60K word manuscripts and, according to the spokesperson, they are rather anxious to test the waters. Their reps at RT told us their market analysis shows there is a huge demand for these stories. So there you go. What are you waiting for? Get busy writing that story you’ve always wanted to write and prove that older women can still cut it in romantic pursuits.

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Marketing Vs. Selling-The Non-Identical Twins

Marketing Vs. Selling-The Non-Identical Twins

One of the best panels I attended was led by Tara Lain and Poppy Dennison, “You Only Think You’re Marketing”. These two bestselling romance writers and marketing experts led an over-flowing room (several people were asked to leave by the fire marshal) in an eye-opening session where they debunked some very prevalent myths about marketing. I cannot possible do it credit (even though I took notes) but I would like to highlight some of the most important things I learned in this session.

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  • Even though marketing and selling go hand in hand, they are NOT identical twins. In fact they are pretty different.  In the words of these two amazing ladies, marketing is all the steps to get a product to the market. Marketing is the bow and selling is the arrow. Marketing is an overtime process while selling is immediate.
  • An author MUST determine her/his market before considering how to market herself/himself. For romance writers like me the audience is a very wide range of people: mostly (but not exclusively) female, aged between eighteen and sixty-five, voracious readers who will read at an average of three to four books a week.

Things to consider in marketing yourself to such an audience: pricing (if a reader goes through that many books weekly she/he won’t be able to afford to pay too much for the books), availability of e-books (cheaper both for writer and reader), speed to the market (how fast can you get your book in the hands of your readers?) and (this is a huge plus) there is no competition. Romance readers go through books so fast there is room enough for every author.

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  •   In such a fast market a writer must consider the product design. What will the book look like because, let’s face it, how many of us have bought books because you like the title or the cover? Guilty as charged 🙂 But it goes beyond that. The choices a writer (if you do have a choice) makes in the design of her books can help (or destroy) her branding and ultimately sales.

Titles are very important. You must be careful not to start with a “The” or an “A” because those will make it harder for a reader to search and find your book. Also avoid “funny” characters.

Cover design must reflect the content of the book. One of my books has been criticized for having an amazing cover that unfortunately (for me in terms of sales) that doesn’t hint at romance at all (I still love it, lol).

The type font you use for your name on each cover should be uniform across all books so that readers will recognize it immediately.

I also learned (after this panel) that a good blurb can make or kill a sale.

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  • Build your platform (how many times have you heard this one?) by interacting, not only with potential readers but also with authors that write similar romances (especially with those authors who are doing well in the charts).
  • Build a newsletter email list. This one is a tough one for me because not only I lose subscribers weekly but because the large majority of the ones I have haven’t even read my books. So why stick with the newsletter? Because even if there is only a handful of readers that follow you, that is worth its weight in gold. Those readers will talk about your books to their friends or help promote your books online (this is true. I have a couple of very faithful, amazing followers). So nurture that list no matter how useless it seems to be.

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  • Branding yourself. Tough one. If you like high heels, apparently is a big thing in romance writing. Just kidding. Sort of. I’m always jealous of writers who seem to have it all together. I’ve been trying to brand myself but I’m too over the place, I think.  I will come back to this one in a future blog since Lain and Dennison suggested a few interesting things on how to find your thing, the one thing readers will identify you with (other than your books).
  • Finally–and apparently a big surprise to some writers–you have to read. Writers are readers. I heard a young writer claim he didn’t read at all because he always took on the tone or the style of writing of the author he was reading. Come on! Really? I wish I could do that actually. Who wouldn’t want to write like Jane Austen or J.K. Rowlings? I don’t have much time to read due to a full time day job and writing afterwards, but I make a conscious effort to do it at least a few times a week, even if it’s only a few pages at a time. I love reading just as I love writing. The two are like two peas in a pod. Besides when you write those reviews for other authors, you’re making friends and gaining allies in the field of publishing.

And there you have it in a nutshell. I hope this can help you a little. I know it helped me. If nothing else it made some things a lot clearer, less of a mystery. After all, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who have a mentor, writing and publishing are pretty much a learn-as-you-go experience.

Good luck to you all and comment with suggestions and/or questions you may have. Until next time.

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