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We Are Family….

BurningTire_finalI’ve been watching a lot of movies about family lately, and some about family which don’t really seem to be about family, but really are. As in The Avengers, which is all about family.

What!—you say. But that’s an action movie! Yes, it is. However, at its heart, it’s all about family. My favorite kind of family, in fact—the kind that bickers, fights, argues, tears itself apart, but which bonds together against any outside threat. (That was also me and my brother when we were growing up, which is probably why I’m so fond of that kind of family.) Critics have already noted the dysfunctional side of The Avengers—and other Joss Whedon shows, which is why I love Joss. I relate to dysfunctional. That also makes for the best kinds of stories.

Family is an important part of Riding in on a Burning Tire, the second book in the Mackenzie Solomon Demons & Warders series–a big part of the book is Mackenzie’s family showing up (and they don’t know she’s a demon hunter), and the trouble her little brother has gotten into. She’s already lost one brother–and it looks like she may lose a second to the “Rapturists”, folks out to end this world (for a better one, they think, but Mackenzie knows better).

Family, in a novel, gives you some of the best conflict and story ever. When in doubt, bring in the family. Yes, there are a lot of “orphan” stories out there, but you’ll notice the orphan doesn’t stay on her own for long. Soon, the family of choice shows up. That’s the great thing about family—they don’t have to be tied to you by blood. They can be tied by preference, circumstance, or just because you happen to see the world from a similar outsider view.

Readers and writers are all family—we bicker, fight, tear at each other. But we’re also bonded. We love our books, our stories—we love talking about them, pushing the best ones onto each other, gasping when other readers don’t love our favorites with the same insane passion. We bond over books. We’re every bit as dysfunctional as The Avengers—well, maybe not quite that super-powered, but close (including the costumes hanging in the closets). That shared love is one of the great joys of life—and all writers are readers. Books bond us. We love words and stories and characters. We read because life would be flat and unbearable without that escape. Stories make sense of our lives. And that’s why we write—because we want to share even more and so we dive into the deep end on things.

So, readers, next time you’re about to savage a book with harsh criticism, remember, that’s your sister in words who wrote that, and your brother, so put in some humor and respect—okay, maybe you don’t use that with blood kin, either, but this is your ink kin we’re talking about. Go ahead and hit hard—then, like that great fight scene in The Avengers, or even in Riding in on a Burning Tire (and boy is that gutsy to put my book in there with Joss’ work), after knocking each other around, offer a hand up and know that while you may come to blows occasionally (just to test each other and prove who really can dish it out), we’re all a family of readers out here.  You may not like everyone in your family, but they understand you like no one else in this world.

RIDING IN ON A BURNING TIRE

A demon hunter about to lose her license…

Mackenzie Solomon is on the edge of going “dark” and losing her warder license if she gets any more evil on her. However, she’s also the only one who can stop an early Armageddon. And nothing has stopped the bad ideas… or the itch for action. That’s starting to cause a rift with her former charming partner, Josh. He’s been tainted by demon blood, so is he now one of the bad things she now needs to avoid? Because Josh may be responsible for the Endowment’s Magi going “Houdini” on everyone.

A charmer who can’t remember if he’s good or not…

With Josh going rogue to find out what he’s been charmed not to remember, Mackenzie is given a choice by the Endowment—bring him in and maybe the Magi will help them both. She’s not sure she trusts the offer—and she’s not sure she can trust Josh.

But it’s not demons or the undead that are her main worry. “Rapturists,” led by the charismatic and supernaturally seductive Isra Gilz, are out to take down the Endowment and kick-off the end of days. With tainted tats Isra has turned Mackenzie’s younger brother into his inside man on this plan—and Mackenzie may have to take them both out to stop Armageddon.

Redemption comes with a price…

Caught in her usual spot between good and evil, and needing to help her family or do her job, Mackenzie has tough choices to make. She just wants ones that don’t end with everyone dead—or herself forever damned. But saving the world is going to cost. She just has to make sure the price isn’t the life of the man who keeps her from the destructive darkness that’s always calling her name.

Guest Post “One for Kami”

Today we have Charlene Wilson, an author of paranormal tales that take you away to other dimensions.  She weaves magic, lasting love, and intrigue to immerse you into the lives of her characters. And she brings you her latest heroine, Kami…

Kami fumbled with the note in her hands and gazed around Shannon Donnelly’s Blog. The beautiful flowers nodded their bulbous blossoms as a soft breeze blew. Memories of long strolls on the floral-bordered river trail at home filled her with thoughts of Ian’s warmed smile, kind hazel gaze, and his head of black wavy hair that couldn’t seem to resist the wind. Her heart ached, as she knew she might never have those moments with him again.

Dropping her gaze to the folded message, she gnawed on her lower lip. Should she go through with her plan? He didn’t know of the sweetness of Valentine’s Day, how this dimension celebrated love. She could just stuff it the pocket of her cape and forget the whole thing.

Kami traced the red heart she had drawn on the upper left corner. No, I need to do this. He has to know.

Releasing an anxious breath, she looked over her shoulder to the garden gate. Where is Charlene? She’s late.

“I heard that thought, and I’m not late. You’re early.”

The gate swung open and Charlene winked at Kami as she entered. “I kind of thought you’d take to our holiday, Kami, you being the romantic that you are.”

“Ian would love it, too.” A weak grin tugged the edges of her lips upward, but her conviction burned strong with her decision. She held out the hand-written valentine. “You will give it to him won’t you?”

Taking it from her, Charlene smiled and her head leaned to the side. “Of course I will.”

“And tell him…” she wrung her fingers and her red gloves twisted, distorting the intricate knit patterns. “Please tell him how much I love him. Charlene, tell him I was an idiot.”

“Oh, I’m not going to say that.” Charlene tucked the valentine into her sweater pocket. “If you feel that strongly about this, why not have it displayed at Ravencraft Romance Realm’s Love Letters ‘n’ Lattes? You can proclaim your love for him on February 14th  for the whole World Wide Web to see.”

A spark of thrill flashed through Kami’s chest and jetted to her toes. “That would be perfect! Do you think they’d let me do that?”

“I’m certain of it. I happen to be one of the contributing romance authors there.”

Kami couldn’t hold back a wide smile. She spread her arms wide and inhaled the sweet aroma of the beautiful red flora around them. “He’s sure to know I mean it, then, if I proclaim it to the entire dimension.”

She grasped Charlene’s elbows and looked into her blue eyes. “You will show him won’t you. I know you can one way or another, being our author.”

“Oh, Kami. You bet I will.” Charlene patted her cheek and nodded toward the blog readers. “Now, let’s get this introduce of One for Kami going and invite everyone to join in the tour-wide giveaway. We have some great prizes and they need to know they can get all the details at Charlene Blogs.

Excitement bubbled in Kami’s heart and her brows rose with her exclamation. “That’s right! So many prizes to giveaway, all because my story was just released.”

She turned to the readers and she knew her countenance had to be glowing. “There will be four prize packages! A One for Kami SWAG package, a Juicy Fruit prize package…” she glance at Charlene, “honestly, there’s got to be a way for me to nab that one,” she snickered, then back to the crowd, “A $10 Amazon gift card…”

Charlene grabbed her hand and held it up for all to see. “And your red gloves! We can’t forget the best part. KnitWit’s Knits & Crochet is making a special pair for this tour and offering One for Kami fans a 20% discount if they order something from their Etsy Shop by using the coupon code One4Kami! How great is that?”

“I can’t wait to see my gloves with the Hearts on Her Sleeve pattern on them.”

“I ordered a pair for myself. That prize alone is a $20 value!”

Sighing, Kami relaxed and allowed her breath to speak her thoughts. “I love my story.”

Charlene leaned her head, pride shining in her eyes. “And so will everybody else, sweetie.”  She squeezed Kami’s hand. “I know they will.”

Thank you for having us here today, Shannon. It’s a real treat! Have your readers get those Kindles ready, because One for Kami is FREE to download at Amazon right now! (Feb 14th)! It’s a Sweet Sci-Fi Romance, the perfect “lunch-time” read.

One for Kami cover 5 1200x800 One for Kami

Can love be true if shared with more than one?  Kami doesn’t think so when she finds Ian is an elite and required to take three wives to eliminate the poverty-stricken population.  Why can’t he be poor the way she thought he was when she fell in love with him?

Determined to find a realm that doesn’t have such dictates, she travels to dimension Three-Two-Three to begin her search.  But is love truer in a place that only allows one spouse than it is in Ian’s heart?

What they’re saying

“Sweet, romantic, and heartfelt.  A great introduction to the author’s world.”—J.D. Brown Book Club

“One for Kami is a story that will have you willing to give up everything for your one true love.”—Annette, Gothic Mom’s Book Reviews

“[Wilson] spins a tale of true love spanning time and dimensions that will inspire the reader to sacrifice everything to find their soul mate.”—Debbie, Read2Review

Excerpt

Voices surged and Kami clung to the illegible sounds.  A low groan rode alongside them.  The vocals ebbed from her mind.  Mute gray light drifted before her eyes, a flash of white, and then a haze.  Darkness covered her vision.  A sour pang caused her to lurch and she heaved, the voices clambering from a distance.  The back of her skull thudded against a hard surface.  Words broke between melodic and static riffs.

“Kami, breathe.”

Another groan punctuated the din, so close she opened her eyes to find the source.  A woman’s profile came to view, a bright silver aura hazing the edges.  Her long arched nose and narrow chin set a shocking presentation to add to her crinkled eyes and white hair.  Her thin lips moved with a soft sound.  “Get that cleaned up before she sees it.”

The senior turned to her, and Kami’s focus zeroed in on her pale blue eyes.  Eerie yet kind, they held her attention.  Folds on the woman’s face deepened with her smile.  “Well, you made it.  You had us worried there.”

Kami blinked hard and swallowed, acid burning the back of her throat.  “What happened?”

“You were a little nervous during the transport, that’s all.”  The woman nodded to someone off to the side and Kami rolled her head to the side to see who it was.  The silver-blue aura stretched to the edge of a circular platform and she realized she lay on Ober’s transport base.

“Let’s get you sitting up.  It’ll clear your mind and help you focus.”  The escort slid her hand behind Kami’s neck.

As she pushed herself up, heat pulsed in her lower abs, spasms rushing through her core.  Her breath hitched and she leaned forward, pressing her arm along her hips until the sensations dulled.  A heavy sigh rushed from her lungs, causing the ache in her breasts to intensify.  She brushed her palm along her chest to relieve the sensitivity, but it sent chills down her spine.  A shutter clenched her stomach and the process started all over again.

God, this is awkward.  I need privacy here.

A chuckle rumbled to her left and she glanced at the man beyond the hazy stage.  His blond hair curled around his forehead and tapered to a band of shaved hair along the back of his head.  His white lab coat hung loose around his lanky shoulders.  A wide smile bloomed on his lips as he knelt beside her and held out a bottle of water.

His brown eyes sparkled with humor.  “You’ll be mighty sensitive in those regions for a while with the level of panic you emitted.  But that side effect will let up.”

She accepted the drink, a question on the tip of her tongue she didn’t want to voice.

“All of this affected your nerves,” he motioned to her private parts as if he had every right, “and those there are the most sensitive parts of a body.  I’d take you as my third right now just to enjoy the fallout.  Yes, sir, close the quota with a redheaded elite.”

Kami leaned away from him and his offensive comment.  That is wrong on so many levels.  How rude could one person get?

The woman pursed her lips into a little grin.  “This is Conrad.  I’m Coral.  We’ll show you around the city and get you acquainted with things before we let you roam on your own.  We can show you key areas to envision so you can sync and not have to deal with the vehicles they use here.  Horrid contraptions if you ask me.  Just remember to be hidden when you do so nobody sees you disappear.  Of course, we’ll be around should you need us during your stay.”  She motioned with her nod.  “Now, let’s get you off this Ober base and steady on your feet.”

Kami glanced at the platform.  “Sure glad this fog isn’t a lingering effect.”

Conrad’s cheery chuckle burst into laughter and he held out his hand to help her up.  She grumbled under her breath and with a glower accepted the offer.  His fingers slowly wrapped around hers and his thumb brushed along the top of her palm with light caresses.  The sensual touch sent a charge to her nipples and spasms to her core.  Her breath hitched, fire burning her cheeks and ears as she flush.

Her gaze snapped to the glint in his eye.  The idiot did that on purpose!  She snatched her hand from his grasp.  “I think I’ll let Coral help me up.”

Another burst of mirth spit from Conrad and his hand flew to his mouth, stifling it into a sloppy snort.  He peeked at her through gleeful lids and turned his palm to her in an apologetic gesture.

Kami looked at Coral to find the woman’s lips pinched between her teeth, the corners fighting to keep a serious regard.

I have to deal with these people for a week?  She swore under her breath and slid from the platform, abandoning the bottled water.  Pushing herself to a stand, she steadied her feet and tugged at her blouse to regain any dignity she had left.

Coral’s head tilted to the side and her white waves brushed her cheek.  “Oh, Kami, I’m sorry, dear.”  She pulled her into a hug.  “Things will settle down.”

Conrad sniffled and folded his arms across his chest, nodding with agreement as he calmed.

Her pale blue gaze sought Kami’s as she held her at arm’s length.  Brows pulling together, she whispered.  “You are still a Vella, correct?”

Kami hesitated, studying the lady’s demeanor.  What does being a maiden have to do with anything?  “Yes.”

“Then I suggest you keep a little distance between you and fellows while you’re here.  They’ll flock to you with that beautiful hair and those sweet blue eyes.  And you’ll find them hard to resist in your current state.”  She winked.  “Gotta save yourself for marriage, you know.”

Riotous cackles exploded and Conrad doubled over, staggering to catch his balance.

Kami’s mouth dropped open.  “God, give me a break!”  Shrugging out of Coral’s touch, she marched along the cobbled path toward the exit.  “I’ll find my own way around.”

As she gripped the doorknob, realization caused her to pause.  She glanced at her snickering guides.  “Um…  Is my new boss a man or a woman?”

Conrad’s mirth rose to a new level and filled the arboretum.  She huffed and marched out the door, his snorts and cries following her until he choked on his own breath.

Get your copy of One for Kami at Amazon: http://bit.ly/OneforKami FREE February 14th! If you miss that, leave a comment for a free book given away on March 1.

One for Kami book tour banner 3

Charlene Wilson Author Links

Creating worlds where dreams become reality.

char mtn 2Author site:  http://CharleneAWilson.com
Blog:  http://bit.ly/CharBlogs
Facebook:  http://bit.ly/CharleneAWilsonFan
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/AuthorCAWilson
Goodreads:  http://bit.ly/CharleneAWilsonGR
Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/charleneawilson/

Best Advice from RWA National: The Promise To Your Readers

It was an upbeat conference this year. Editors didn’t look so hunted. Those writers not yet published didn’t look so desperate—probably because the decision to be published is now in their own hands. And the self publishing panels weren’t just about how to format an ebook, but actually had a lot of great info.

My favorite workshop was held by Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, and Tina Folsom—three ladies who’ve done very well for themselves and who have shown that self published does not mean bad books or terrible sales. The best advice I heard came from Bella Andre who talked about the contract a writer has with a reader—a contract to deliver not just a good read but a certain level of sensuality in the books. She’s established as a secondary identity for a different type of book (and no, I’m not going to tell you the name—you’ll have to hunt it up yourself). But she did the new name because the books offer a different level of sex in the books—it’s a different “type” of book.

Now, I’d been looking at genre for “different”—and thinking that of course that’s why you needed a pen name. But this hit home—of course it’s not genre. It’s more about the feel of the book—what type of book is it. And that got me looking at my own bookshelves again.

I read sexy books—love the good ones. But it’s not my primary read. And that got me thinking.

Paths of Desire is a book I did to break out to a larger book and a more sweeping historical. I amped up the sex in the book—probably too much so. It’s a good book—or I think so. But I got to thinking about my readers. I’d had one reader post a one star review—and I think she’s right. It’s not the book for her, but she’s my reader. And it’s a brave new world.

This lead me to do an edit and I’m bringing out Paths of Desire: The Sweet Regency Edition. It’s more like my other Regencies—not exactly the door shutting on the sex (it’s a romance, and these folks become lovers, and that’s a vital part of the plot), but making it more about the emotion and less about the body parts. A new cover and a new ISBN denotes the new version of the book. And now readers can choose which version they like better.

I’m also going to be looking closer at my urban fantasy books, too—maybe I’ll bring out the hot version and the plot version and let readers pick which they prefer. Or maybe I’ll just bring them into the “Shannon Donnelly” version so that no pen name is needed—it’ll be a change of genre, but not a change of tone.

Either way should be interesting.

So what do you think—hot or not? Or is it best to have a choice that you the reader can make in which edition you like best?

Digital Discoverability

It’s been a year since the article “Digital…Eventually” came out (Novelists INC newsletter) and the digital world is a lot like the dog world—time is compressed. It’s not exactly a seven-to-one ratio, but a lot has happened. This year, the buzz word is “discoverability” as in how does anyone find you, given all the hoopla and noise? The noise has been big stuff, too.

Barnes & Noble began publishing more than just classics, and Amazon became a publisher, which has shaken up New York publishers. Amazon also launched the Select program for lending books, to additional flurry. Amanda Hocking became the 2011 poster girl for digital success. We’ve had existing publishers announcing their digital plans, ranging from Berkley/NAL bringing back Signet Regency romances as e-books under the InterMix imprint to HarperCollins publishing work from their Authornomy writers’ site. Apple launched a new program for textbooks that has a whole lot of fine print. (But NY is still not talking about raising e-book royalty rates.)

You can follow the rest of what’s going on at DigitalBookWorld.com, on Bob Mayer’s Write it Forward blog, and at Publishers Weekly. But that’s all big picture stuff. I’m here to talk about my year in the trenches. It may help with your own digital discoveries.

THE NUMBERS

Let’s start with what everyone wants to know—the numbers. I’ve sold more than 90,000 books this year. Yes, that’s right, more than 90K. These are U.S.-only sales; the number doesn’t include giveaways. Last year, I didn’t pay much attention to international sales from Amazon; this year the numbers are growing fast, so I’ll be watching that. My bestsellers last year were A Proper Mistress and A Dangerous Compromise (one also sold great in print, the other did not, so go figure).

I’ve given away just over 15,000 copies of my Regency novella, Cat’s Cradle, so total e-books out there for me is more than 100,000. That’s respectable—not huge numbers, but not bad. It’s also the first year I’ve made enough to say that I’m supporting myself with my writing—and not starving while doing so. Always a plus.

With this in mind, I brought out my first self-published book, a Regency Historical romance, Paths of Desire. Last year, my sales did not start moving upward until after June/July—just after I brought out all eight of my Regency romances, so having a quantity of work out there does seem to make a difference. Sales really took off in September/October, when I dropped the price from $2.99 to $.99. I’ve pretty much left the prices there. Before we dig further into pricing and promotion, let’s step back a bit and talk some basics.

FORMATS

This one’s still a must for any e-book; I see books from the NY publishers that have the same formatting issues. It’s a tricky thing to get an e-book to look as it should, particularly across all the various platforms.

Last year, bringing out my backlist meant getting a very clean Microsoft Word file, setting up a simple style sheet, and then letting PubIt, Amazon, and Smashwords do the formatting to e-book. This year it’s a different story.

A few programs have helped with additional format clean-up, so the books look better. I’ve learned to take my Word files and save them—once they’re in clean, simple style sheets—as “Web Page, Filtered.” This HTML file gets cleaned up with a simple HTML editor; I love Coffee Cup for this.

NOTE: If you don’t know HTML, I recommend learning some basics over at W3school. com–they have some great tutorials.

Once the HTML looks good, I import the file into Mobipocket Creator. Like Coffee Cup, this is a free program. While Mobi has its quirks, it’s pretty easy to use. With Mobi, I add the cover, metadata, book description, ISBN, and suggested pricing, and convert the file into e-book format. I then look at the e-book file in Calibri, a free e-book manager that lets me make sure the formatting is correct. Seeing how the book will look in an e-reader helps me, and I can add additional tags and information to make the book highly searchable.

NOTE: I’d recommend that when you buy your ISBNs from Bowkers, make sure you upload a CSV file, which you can create in Excel, with keywords so searches can more easily find your books. Keywords or tags should include your name, the book title, and any special characteristics or genre information about the book.

In Calibri, I look for odd paragraphs and font formats, weird spacing, and symbols that don’t belong in the text. If I find such things, I go back to the Word or HTML file to sort it out (it’s almost always an issue with the style sheet). I’ve slowly been moving my other books into this new formatting process to give the e-books a cleaner design. I’ve also been correcting typos as I go, and adding promotional information into the back of the e-books, because this year it’s all about how readers find the books.

A NOTE ON STYLE SHEETS

It’s a Technical Thing. Word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, provide several ways to format text. You can apply formatting—italics, bold, different fonts, etc.—to individual words, sentences, or paragraphs but in an e-book document, this introduces extra formatting code that can cause issues later. Instead, set up universal formatting using a “style sheet.”

You can work from preset template styles (Word has the option to “change styles,” allowing you to select a template of styles) or modify existing styles by right-clicking on them. For instance, you can redefine “Normal” text to suit you (e.g., 12 pt TNR, first paragraph indented .5 inch, singlespaced, no spaces before or after the paragraph), highlight the paragraphs you want to be “Normal,” and apply the “Normal” style.

Follow similar steps to format styles for chapter headings, scene-break marks, title, and other special text. You can format individual words as needed, but if you have an entire paragraph of italics, it’s worth setting up a style. With your style sheet in place, the file can be converted cleanly to HTML and ebook formats. For more information on setting up style sheets in Word, go to the post on Twelve Steps to a Digital Format on my website.

PROMOTION

“Discoverability” was the word batted around at the NINC conference this past October—how does a reader find your books? I was fortunate enough to get my books onto the top-selling list at Amazon—A Proper Mistress was in the Top 10 overall sellers (not Regency category, not Romance, but overall). So, success does breed success. Sometimes it is just an issue of luck or timing. Other than this, I didn’t do much for promotion. However, I am online.

I blog regularly at sd-writer.com, I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and I do promote my work, but I don’t have huge reach. My Klout score hovers in the high 30s (and if you don’t know what Klout is, it may be time for you to improve your Social Media awareness). I’ve tried a couple of online ads, but haven’t noticed any impact from them. Same with reviews; I’m not sure they do much for a book, but I figure they’ll help with awareness.

I believe awareness is the key.

To help with reader awareness, I put Cat’s Cradle up as a free novella. It’s been on the Amazon Top 100 free e-books list, but I can’t say that the free novella has really helped the other books to sell more. I do think free works best when it’s the first book in a series—I’ve gotten hooked on Bob Mayer’s Atlantis series that way. With the free book promotion, I’m selling steadily, but not at the peak numbers. I’ve left the novella out there for promotion, but it may get a price tag put onto it at some point. Which brings us to the issue of pricing.

PRICING

My sales took off at the $.99 price point. I know publishers complain about this number; in fact, I think they turn pale when this number comes up as a price point for any book. Others think it’s undervaluing your work (and folks seem to forget that paperbacks started off as cheap dime novels). For me, the $.99 price made sense for two reasons.

First, my backlist has already made money. These are books that were done and finished and sold, so it’s all gravy from here. Second, aren’t we all watching the budget these days? The economy is bad, and my book buying budget no longer includes any book that’s over ten bucks. In fact, I really like books that sell for a buck or two. (I can go three or four at a stretch, and that’s about it.) I love the low-cost books because I still read a lot, so what’s easy on my pocketbook is an easy sale. The way I figure it, I’m not the only one looking for a bargain.

This notion showed up, too, at the last NINC conference in the data presented by Carolyn Pittis of HarperCollins. Over the past year, the bestsellers at Amazon have been priced either low ($.99) or high, but not in the middle. I don’t have a household name (or a huge marketing budget) that will make that high price point work for me—and Regency romances aren’t big blockbuster books. This same statistic about pricepoint sensitivity also showed up in a recent Publisher’s Weekly article. So, at the lower price point, I make a better profit in quantity.

Last November, I tried out a price increase back to $2.99, but this impacted sales numbers, so now all my books are priced around $.99 to $1.99. However, I’ve brought my new book out at $3.99, so I can discount it and do specials (it’s on sale for .99 through the end of March 2012).

I’m also still trying to make sense of all the data from the last year. Why does one book sell better at $1.99 than it did at $.99? Is it the cover? The cover copy? The timing of its release? The lunar cycle? Why does a book that did not-so-well in print do great online? What’s the difference? Do the monthly trends mean anything, or is this market in such flux that there are no trends, just an ever-changing tide? Sometimes my head hurts from trying to make sense of everything, so I go back to writing; this marketing stuff is not for sissies.

Which brings us to the next big issue for being discoverable.

EXPERIMENTATION

For me, 2012 is all about experimental promotion. I’ve sent Paths of Desire out for reviews (if you want a free copy and will post a review at Amazon or BN.com, email me). I’m trying cross-promotion with other authors on their blog sites. For additional exposure, I’ve posted my backlist to Backlist Ebooks. I also regularly give workshops. I’ll be speaking at the 2012 RWA conference, and I’ve brought out one of my workshop books as an e-book: Story Showing; Story Telling. I want to experiment more with cover designs, and with bundling some of my books, which should work great given that some of the books are connected.

Most of all, I want to get more books out there.

I’ve had readers asking for Diana’s story, a character from Lady Scandal whose story I’ve always wanted to write, and Jane’s, from A Dangerous Compromise. I’d also love to put out two other Regency romances sitting around that need editing. So, much more writing must be done because I can’t sell a book I haven’t finished. Then it’s time to edit, format, and get the word out there.

But, really, the truth is that no one knows what works.

Some books just sell better than others. Some authors sell better than others. And some books sell better on Amazon than on Barnes & Noble. (I include these two big outlets because, for me, Smashwords does not produce great sales, and I’ve left the prices higher there because the numbers do not justify a price drop.) I haven’t figured out why BN.com is lower for me, but Liz Scheier of Barnes & Noble was at the 2011 Novelists INC conference and was made aware of how many authors (besides me) found their books to be lagging at BN.com but doing great at Amazon. I have seen performance improve at BN.com since last October, so maybe Liz is having an impact. I know Amazon has a lot of great promotion tools, and it’s really hard not to give Amazon the focus when they’re producing the profit.

I’ve put two books into the Amazon Select program. The downside is that the books must be exclusive to Amazon to be in the program. The upside is that Amazon will pay for every book borrowed. This payment may not be enough to offset the loss of sales from other sites, but I do like the idea of book-lending—I got my reading start at a library, so I’m a supporter of book-lending.

Which brings us to…

PIRACY

For me, this is still a non-issue. If you have a huge brand, maybe this is something you need to look at. But Digital Rights Management (DRM) still sucks, and even Amazon has started moving away from it, with their changes to allowing authors to set DRM in 2010 (see the article on Amazon’s change for DRM management), and with their Amazon Select program to lend books. As noted in a recent article in Publisher’s Weekly, calling for publishers to become sane about the DRM issue: “…a study last year by Rice University and Duke University contends that removing DRM can actually decrease piracy.”

Fighting piracy has just about killed the record industry. I have neither their resources nor their interest in this battle. I still maintain that if you post your work for sale at a price buyers consider reasonable and it’s easy to buy, most folks will opt to purchase it.

RESULTS

When I wrote the article last year, I’d started down the digital path in November 2010 and wrote the article in mid-December, when I was putting my third book online. At that point, the three titles (Under the Kissing Bough, Proper Conduct, and A Proper Mistress) had netted $201.96 from Amazon, $147.70 from PubIt, and $57.09 from Smashwords.

In other words, this time last year (in 2011), I’d made about $400 for the previous year. My total budget for covers, ISBNs, and some online promotion was $5,000. At that time, I’d noted:

  • Sales of Kindle and Nook are anticipated to explode (they did)
  • Digital media consumption is on the rise (it still is)

In fact, the Kindle Fire is reported to have sold over six million units. BN’s Nook sales are up 70% this year over the previous year, but are still behind Kindle sales. All of this means that while you may not see your book hit the bestseller lists, your sales numbers could still go up (a larger market means more sales are needed to hit the tops of the lists).

So what’s ahead for this year in the trenches?

For me, more books, more experiments. The noise is going to be noisier this year. By next year, I’ll let you know how the self-publishing is going. And I hope to have a couple of more books out and available. Would I say no to a NY deal? Maybe. Or maybe not. But the NY deals are no longer the only path, and a lot of times, they’re not a great deal, either; not with lower advances and royalties than you can get from doing the work yourself. The world has changed in the last year. It’ll change even more—that’s one prediction you can bet on. And it’s no longer digital eventually…it’s become digital inevitably.

This article was originally published in the NINC newsletter as a follow up to the “Digital…Eventually” article. For more information, see also the post on “Setting up for Digital.”

Free Books at Amazon — What’s All the Fuss?

Amazon’s launched their “Select” program — meaning that Amazon Prime members can read enrolled books for free. These books have to be exclusive to Amazon for now. Authors decided if they want to opt in or not, and are compensated from a pool of funds that all participating authors share in based on total number of books read through the program. And you would think from all the fuss that the sky is falling yet again. (It used to be falling about every couple of years, but technology has accelerated this so that it’s falling at least once a month now.)

Personally, I think it’s an author’s decision what to do with his or her own writing. Give it away, sell it to the highest bidder, sign a contract with a publisher (a good one, or a even one that’s going to make your life hell)…it’s a personal choice and we all get to make ‘em.

For Amazon’s program, I did sign up. I’ve two books enrolled, and I’m about to bring out a new book and put it in the program. It’s an experiment, but isn’t everything right now in this ever shifting market. However, what really got me excited about the program is that fact that it works like a digital library.

As a kid, I got my reading start in the local library. I still remember the pleasure of getting my very own first library card so I could check out my own books (instead of checking them out under my mum’s card). Free books at the library made me into a life-long reader. So free books online–a way for folks to access books and read more. That’s fantastic.

I don’t expect to get rich or famous from the program — I’m one of many authors. I do hope I’ll get additional exposure and perhaps sales of other books will go up — I know if I like a book, I don’t just want a copy from a library, I want a copy at hand. I don’t really think of this as “losing sales” — a sale isn’t a sale until money has exchanged hands, so I think folks looking for free books are folks looking for free books.

As to what anyone thinks of the program, I recommend taking a deep breath and going and reading the actual terms. There’s a lot of not quite true facts being batted around, and a whole lot more about how this is going to put other folks out of business, and given the number of books that are out there I think this is more than unlikely. There are tons of books out there, and exclusive distributions have been around for a long time in a lot of different outlets.The sky is not falling, publishing is not dead, books are still going to be around, and that means we’ll have booksellers, too.

It’s up to each author to decide for yourself if it’s right for you or not. Make the call that you can live with. If you don’t like the terms, don’t opt in. If you do, try it out. It’s that simple. No one is an idiot or a fool for making a choice here. And that’s the real joy of being an author right now–there are choices. Lots of them. And if you just want to post your books for free on your site, go for it. We all write for different reasons, and it’s about time we started to celebrate that diversity of choice.

Christmas Stories

It’s Dicken’s fault–he started the trend. Now, maybe there were Christmas stories around before A Christmas Carol (favorite film version being the one with Alistair Sim), but Dicken’s became the one trotted out every year with the trees and holly and mistletoe. And why fight success. But I actually never set out to write a Christmas story.

Under the Kissing BoughUnder the Kissing Bough started life as a short story. It was supposed to be about 100 pages, and I actually didn’t start out with a time of year, but I did want to see if I could do a novella. I’d been writing a lot of novels and hadn’t done any shorter fiction in a long time, and I actually really, really like the shorter format. It’s a challenge to work in, but can be rewarding. I forgot one thing–you cannot do a short story with lots of characters. Not and do all the characters any kind of justice.

You see, I love to give every character a ‘star turn.’ I think of them all as actors, and every actor–even ones with bit parts–loves to have that great screen moment with wonderful dialogue that moves the story (and the audience). All this mean that with large families (heroine has two sisters, and her parents; hero has father, two brothers, and a former love interest who is now married), I knew that by page seventy, no way was this story ever going to fit into 100 pages. So I put it aside.

And then my then editor at Kensington asked if I’d like to do a holiday book–a Christmas story. “Sure” is always the immediate answer I provide in such situations. And then I had to figure out what I could do for Christmas. Because I can’t just stick on some holy and call it holiday. To me, if an element is not important in the story–and to the characters–it’s got no business being stuck in.

This mean research–as in I needed to dig into English Christmas customs (not difficult since I had a grandmother from Yorkshire and a lot of handed-down family traditions). And I dug out my short story to take another look.

The December setting suited my characters very well–I’d already set up a ‘marriage of convenience’ story (always a wonderful plot to use for historical fiction). Now I could weave in the holiday customs, make them part of the plot and the story (because, in England, you really, really need a very good reason to get married in the cold of winter). There were a few things I couldn’t quite fit into the story due to the limitations of page counts (from the days when that mattered so very much in print)–as in it would have been fun to do more with Twelfth Night celebrations. But I did get other things in there that I loved adding.

And I ended up with a Christmas story.

I’m toying this year with rereading it. I don’t often reread my own work. When you’ve spent a long time writing and revising, another read seems more of a burden than a treat. But it would be fun to do another holiday story. Mmmm…maybe Guy Fawkes day.

Cat’s Cradle – Behind the Story

Cat's Cradle There’s a story behind every story–this one is about Cat’s Cradle, which is now available at Amazon for Kindle, BN.com for Nook, and at Smashwords. And I have to start this off by saying I’m partial to this story–ridiculously so, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is this is the first Regency novella that I wrote. That’s not to say this is the first short fiction I’d written. I’d actually cut my writing teeth on shorter works before I went after novels–in fact, I wasn’t sure I could write anything longer than fifty pages or so until I’d written a longer work. But I’m a believer that structure is structure. Meaning if you can structure a story, you can structure a story. The nice thing about starting off working in shorter form is that there’s no room for wandering. In a novel, you can put in side bits, you can mess around a bit, you can basically add fluff. You can get lost. In a novella or short story, every word counts, so they all have to be right. You have to keep your focus. And I love working within the restrictions that applied.

The second reason this story holds a special place in my heart is that when I was asked if I’d like to do a kitten story, I knew I wanted the cats/kittens to be integral to the plot–they could not be stuck in there for window dressing (I hate that kind of story). With that in mind, I applied my theory of idea hunting–I went mining my past.

Now, I’ve heard it said that some writer write about their own lives and some steal other people’s lives for their source. I’m not sure which group I fit into–I’ve done both. But I do find that mining my own past tends to make for stronger stories. And I’d had this cat.

Stripey showed up one summer day when my brother and I were eating lunch on the back patio. She was–as she was named–a grey-striped cat with white patches. She was also hungry. And I was not about to eat the baloney in my sandwich. (I have never liked baloney and still do not eat the stuff.) Stripey was happy to help out with the sandwich, and since she hung around for more handouts, she became my cat. (I seem to recall there was also shameless begging on my part, but the end result is that Stripey stayed long enough to give us three litters of kittens.)

Most of time Stripey was the most timid of cats. She was the cat other cats chased–the weakling into whose face all felines kicked metaphorical sand. Until she had kittens. Then she became Stripey the Tiger, capital GRR. No one messed with her kittens–or her when she had kittens to look after. She also had one other habit. Her idea of the proper place to raise the kittens was in the garage.

We had an old dresser in the garage and my dad stored his tools and bits and pieces there. Stripey also insisted on having her kittens in the bottom drawer, which wouldn’t close. No matter what kind of beautiful kitten basket we made her, the kittens came into the world in that dresser. We’d try putting the kittens into the basket for her. Soon, she’d be trotting back to the garage, one kitten at a time dangling from the hold she had on the scruff of their necks. Eventually, we gave way to her demand that the kittens spend their first few weeks in the garage–as I said, she was more than decisive with kittens in her charge.

Stripey’s story became the story of “Bea” who insists on having her kittens in one place, even if that place proves inconvenient for her owner. And that became the catalyst (sorry about the pun) for the romance in the story.

Of course, a cat alone a romance does not make. Meaning I needed a hero and heroine to go with the cat. Obviously, such a protective mother as Stripey needed an owner with the same inclination–like cat, like owner. And so the hero would have to pose a threat to my heroine’s offspring (but the husband would have to be out of the scene). Thankfully, my muse presented me with two very good candidates–Ash and Evelyn. This also gave me a chance to do a fresh take on the “proper spinster” (the heroine’s not actually a spinster), and the bad boy (Ash isn’t that bad, either, but he does have a past that’s not all that savory).

One thing I’ve found with short stories or novellas–you have to limit the characters. Too many characters and you either cannot do justice to everyone or the story expands into a novel (that’s a tale for another day about Under the Kissing Bough and how that came to be written). But Evelyn needed boys–two youngsters, because it raised the stakes for her to have kids to look after. And Ash needed someone, too, because it’s no fun having the hero talk to himself or spend all his time brooding and thinking–besides, long-time servants are as good as family and families always cause the best additions of conflicts for characters. So that rounded out the cast to about six (including Bea, the cat–the kittens are a little too young to be more than “spear carrying” kittens). And there’s a couple of walk-ons, but a novella could handle that.

And so Cat’s Cradle was written. It’s one of those blessing stories–it flowed from start to finish, and I loved writing every bit of it. I got to have fun, and to put in those little bits I love in a story. I don’t know that it’s one of my best works, but it’ll always be a special story for me. I’m more than delighted that it’s available again, now as an e-book.