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The True Story Behind FALLING and the Girl With Broken Wings Series

April 30th, 2016 No comments

A.K.A., a Long-Ass Post on How I Wrote and Published My First Book

Girl With Broken Wings series

Worth all the tribulations? Definitely!

I am, right now, putting the finishing touches on FLYING, the fifth and final book in my paranormal series, Girl With Broken Wings. This is kind of a big deal for me. Not just finishing another book – which is awesome – but putting this series to bed. When I started writing the first book in the series, FALLING seven years ago, finishing it felt so hard. That was the beginning of my journey within the world of Girl With Broken Wings and my journey into publishing as well. As I gear up to complete the series, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about those early days. If you’ve ever been curious about how the GWBW series started or about evolution as a writer and self-published author…well, here are a lot of honest words about it.

FALLING into FALLING

I mostly wrote FALLING by accident. At the time – this was back yonder in 2009 — I was actually struggling to write another book. As a writer, I had floundered for years with trying to complete a full novel. Looking back on it now, my problem was really obvious. I would get inspired by a scene in my head, start writing, and then pray to the universe that the story would just somehow work. This is known as the “seat-of-the-pants” writing method. Some writers (pantsers) do well with this method and somehow manage to cobble together something worth reading. I am not one of them. Too often, my characters would just lurch blindly from one crisis to another or spend scenes just shooting the breeze with each other, because I couldn’t think of what to do with them. My plots would either run out of steam or just hit a wall and combust.

This is exactly what was happening with my novel. I was stuck. So was my plot, my characters, and basically everything related to the book. At the time, I was watching a lot of my favorite show, Supernatural. (The most supernatural thing about the show these days is that it is somehow still on.) One episode in particular captured my attention, and from the seed GWBW would eventually be born. The Supernatural episode that changed my life was Episode Four of Season Four (Metamorphosis). In the episode our hunky heroes Sam and Dean come across a man named Jack. Jack has kind of a big problem. He is a pretty decent normal guy…who (through no fault of his own) just happens to be turning into a Rugaru, a creature who is irresistibly drawn to feeding on human flesh.

Dean, at this point in the series, is the bad ass, straight-up killa’ of the pair. He’s all for blasting Jack’s brains out. Sensitive Sam sees Jack’s humanity and wants to try and find a way to save him. Seeing any similarities between this conundrum and another set of vigilante brothers who have to decide if a certain someone is too dangerous to live?  Yeah, that episode really got to me. I wondered what it would be like to be Jack; to try and fight against terrible urges to hurt others. I also liked the difficult choice Sam and Dean had to make. Could Jack be saved, or by sparing him, were they putting other innocent people at risk? Yummy, yummy tension!

Several months after watching that episode of Supernatural, I had one of those wonderful moments when a scene just flashes through my brain. I saw a girl in a hotel room trying desperately to control her urge to drain the life out of her trusting brother who was sleeping in the next bed. (Here’s another Supernatural influence — Sam and Dean travel the country fighting evil and end up sharing a lot of hotel rooms.) I was fixated on this scene, on the girl’s struggle and the brother’s slumbering innocence. Since I was getting absolutely nowhere with my work in progress, my fingers started typing, and what came out ended up being the prologue to FALLING.

FALLING is Born…and Then I Have to Edit A Lot

As soon as that first scene was down in pixels on my computer screen, I had to know how Maya got into that room. (Fun fact: Maya’s original name was Misha before my sister forced me to change it.)  How had she been turned into an energy-sucking creature? Writing FALLING became about answering that question. It was rocky. It was messy, but the words kept coming. The scenes piled up. Somehow, I managed to do something I had never done before – I made it to the end.

Because I was a pantser, the book’s plot had more holes than a colander, but I knew I had something special. How? Because I absolutely loved the characters of Maya, Gabe, and Tarren. Each of them felt real to me, and I cared deeply about their mission. Even as I was writing that first book, I started to understand Tarren’s deep internal struggles and Gabe’s desperate optimism. I began to fill out their backstories and discovered that Tarren had quite a few skeletons in his closet (some of which will finally come out in FLYING).

I had to work that book to the bone, scrubbing and scrubbing, to get it into decent shape. It took me over a year just to edit (compared to the roughly three or four months it takes me to edit a full novel now). Looking back on my files, I realize that I eventually went through ten separate drafts of the book! Compare that to the four drafts that will take me through FLYING (first draft, first edit, beta edits, grammar/final polish). This terribly long and arduous process along with the fear of repeating it all over again when I started on LANDING is what finally helped me shift from being a pantser to an outliner.

It’s ALLLLIVE…but Unloved

In 2010, I completed what I considered to be the final draft of FALLING. It was still early days for the Kindle and, more importantly, for Amazon allowing authors to self-publish their works. At the time, self-publishing had an incredibly bad reputation. It was considered by many, including myself, to be the last refuge of the author who wasn’t good enough to get an agent and a traditional publisher. In my view, self-publishing meant epic failure.

So, for over a year, I worked to get an agent. I sent out dozens of carefully crafted query letters and attended writing conferences. The first chapters of FALLING won top pick from an agent at one of the conferences. I got a cool certificate. That agent, along with two others showed a lot of interest in the book. Here’s the problem though, the pitching process is SLOOOOOOW. If an agent likes your query, you might hear back from her in a month or two requesting the first few chapters. Now, wait another two months or so, and she might request the full manuscript. Only a very small percentage of authors get this far. When/if you do, most agents request exclusive rights to consider your work, which means you don’t continue to query other agents. I got to this stage three times. In one instance, the agent declined. In another, the agent informed me that she had taken on as many new authors as she can handle. (I realize that this is basically the agent equivalent of the “I’ve decided that I’m not really ready to date anyone new right now and just want to work on myself,” classic dating rejection.) In one instance, I waited four months until the agent came back and told me she was leaving her job.

It was extremely frustrating and disheartening. Each time an agent requested my full manuscript for consideration, I felt like I was on the brink of achieving my one true dream in life, only to get that terrible NO and have to start all over again. In the year that this process was going on, I felt paralyzed. Should I start on the next book in the series? Maya, Tarren, and Gabe were chattering non-stop in my head wanting me to continue their story. But if no agent loved my book, then wouldn’t it be smarter to write something totally new that I could pitch?

Self-Publishing to the Rescue

At the same time I was bogged down in agent-pitching limbo, something curious was happening in Kindle World. Some of those loser self-published authors were actually selling a few books. Okay, not a few books. A lot of books. Amanda Hocking was one of the first self-published authors to sell a million copies of her books. This was also the time that a handful of brave traditionally published mid-list authors decided to experiment with self-publishing. A lot of authors were writing about their journey, and as I read more about their experiences, my mind began to change.

I realized something really important. I had put my writing on hold for an entire year waiting for an agent to tell me that FALLING was worth publishing. I had given them all of the power just because I was afraid that self-publishing was a cop-out. I asked myself one simple question: Do you believe FALLING is worth reading?

The answer was yes, and so the path forward was obvious. I wasn’t going to wait any longer for someone else’s approval. I was going to put FALLING into the world and let the readers decide if it was worthy. I doubt FALLING will ever top any best-selling lists, but since I published it in 2011, it has been downloaded over 10,000 times, reached the top ten ranking in Amazon’s New Adult book category several times, and generated some amazing and heartwarming fan mail. (Which I love getting and always respond to, by the way!)

The decision to self-publish also meant that I could write LANDING, RISING, LEAPING, and finally now FLYING. I could tell the story of Maya, Tarren, and Gabe.

I had that first epiphany of Maya struggling not to kill Gabe in the hotel room in early 2009. Now, seven years later, I am about to say goodbye to these characters for good. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve grown significantly as a storyteller, as a craftsman, and as a person. Thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. Don’t worry, this is only the beginning. Saying goodbye to Maya, Tarren, and Gabe will be hard, but there are many story paths yet to walk, and I hope you will walk them with me.

Difficult Choices – Why You Can Only Find Some Books On Amazon

April 10th, 2016 No comments
Unlocked handcuffs

Time to break my books out of Amazon exclusivity! Photo credit: Insulinde via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

As an author, I naturally want my ebooks to be available in as many places as possible. I want to put them on Amazon of course, but also in the Apple bookstore, Kobo, BarnesandNoble.com. Heck, if I could, I would dress up in a pink tutu and magically sprinkle print copies of my books onto every bookshelf in the world – The Book Fairy! (You know, if breaking into strangers’ houses wasn’t considered such a social faux paus).

Despite my personal preferences, you may have noticed in the past that only Falling, the first book in my Girl With Broken Wings series, was available on platforms outside of Amazon. The rest of the books were trapped, Rapunzel-like, exclusively on the giant retailer. Several readers have asked about this, so I’m going to lift the curtain of the publishing world and explain why authors face so much pressure to publish exclusively through Amazon…and why I’ve decided to buck the trend.

A Little Note About Amazon

Amazon is by far the largest book seller in the world; and not by a small margin. Barnes and Noble – one of the last remaining chain book sellers, is like a cute little smart car compared to Amazon’s growling monster truck.

Don’t think Amazon is a courteous, polite driver in that monster truck. No, it is all about rolling over the competition with its huge tires and selling power. Amazon knows that it benefits when books are only available on Amazon.com. It also knows it has a ton of leverage, because it can offer authors access to more readers than any other book selling platform.

Is Amazon – engines growling – going to use this leverage?

Uh, yeah.

KDP Select

Amazon wants exclusivity. Amazon has reader leverage to offer authors. What does it do?

Answer: It builds a program called KDP Select. In a nutshell, the job of KDP Select is to entice authors with all sorts of special privileges in order to convince them to publish exclusively on Amazon. Authors who sign on the dotted line (okay, it’s really just a super easy box that they click) agree to keep their books exclusively on Amazon in exchange for some pretty sweet perks.

What’s so awesome about KDP Select that so many authors would be willing to turn a cold shoulder to all their less cool publishing friends like Kobo, iTunes, and Nook? Lots of stuff, it turns out. KDP Select members can run special promotions on their books not available to other authors and set their books for free, which regular authors aren’t allowed to do on Amazon.

(Note: You may have noticed that, as of this writing, both Falling and Employment Interview with a Vampire are free on Amazon. Yep, there’s a super sneaky, complicated way of making this happen. Let’s just say that I am an author ninja!)

Probably the biggest benefit of going steady with Amazon is that signing up for KDP Select allows an author to enroll their ebooks into the Kindle Unlimited Program. This is Amazon’s book subscription service that lets readers borrow an endless supply of participating books. Emphasis on the word participating. Things may be different for Lee Child or Stephen King, but for us smaller authors, the only way to get into the program is to agree to go exclusive with Amazon.

This is a hard choice for authors. The Kindle Unlimited program offers authors the opportunity to earn more money, oftentimes more than what we can earn on all the smaller book selling platforms combined.

On the other hand, we also want to offer our books to readers across the spectrum. We know that some readers only own Nooks and that others shop through the iTunes store or through Kobo. Seems kind of mean to cut them out or force them to download a Kindle app or purchase a more expensive print book off of Amazon.

Breaking Out

So, what choice did I make? Weren’t you reading the beginning of this blog post? I went for the money, of course! I signed up almost all of my books exclusively with Amazon for the better part of two years. I kept Falling out of KDP Select, because it was already free on Amazon. This led, inevitably, to readers finding Falling on different book selling platforms and then getting justifiably ticked off when all of the rest of the books in the series were on Amazon.

I was never comfortable keeping all of my books on Amazon, but the extra income was…how shall I say, too good to refuse. However, over time, scammers learned how to manipulate the way Amazon paid out royalties on books in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s this whole big, complicated story, but the bottom line is that legitimate authors started earning less and less. Amazon has promised to fix the system and filter out the spammers, but to me, this was as good a time as any to jump ship and go wide.

Yes, this means losing money, at least in the short term, but my hope is that with a little elbow grease and hard work, I can introduce my books to readers on all the different platforms. Regardless, it feels good to break my books out of the Amazon tower. To be clear, my books are all still for sale on Amazon, but they are no longer participating in the Amazon Unlimited Program.

And…drum roll….all of my books in my Girl With Broken Wings series and The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles are available on:

I’m sorry it took me so long!

Sad Endings Make Me Sad, and Other Profound Thoughts

March 31st, 2016 No comments
sad woman

This was pretty much me for the rest of the day after I read the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords. Photo via Visualhunt.com

I just finished reading a really good book series. As per my usual, I fell right into the story, heart and soul. So when one of the main characters died valiantly saving many innocents from a dire threat and another character was permanently maimed, it felt like I’d lost two dear friends in one fell swoop.

It actually hurt me in my soul.

I definitely had some bad flashbacks to previous reading-related trauma, like the Red Wedding scene in the Song of Ice and Fire series. My favorite character was treacherously murdered in that scene. I remember desperately trying to hold myself together after finishing that chapter and then tearing up as I drove home. (Note to self: Maybe stick to playing Candy Crush at the public car wash.)

That night after completing this latest book series, I lay in bed feeling the loss of those characters. I started thinking about books that end in tragedy and came to this profound conclusion:

Sad Endings Make Me Sad

Sad books don’t sit well with me. It feels like I’ve put in all this time and effort, invited characters into my life, and then the author sucker punches me and skips away laughing at the end.

Happy endings are so much more satisfying. Yep, I clearly see the double sexual meaning in that last sentence, but I can’t figure out a good way around it. Let’s ignore that and move on. I enjoy books that end on a good note, because even after I turn the last page, I can still imagine my favorite characters alive and well living in their new happy circumstances. It’s like knowing your best friend from high school is happily married with two adorable kids just like she always wanted. You two haven’t spoken in years, but it just feels good to know that she’s out in the world doing well.

Sad Endings Are More Powerful

As I lay in bed fretting over the loss of my favorite character instead of, you know, actually going to sleep, it made me realize that tragic endings are usually far more powerful than happy endings. It hurts the reader to lose a character, and it also hurts the other characters in the book as well as the fabric of the story’s universe. It’s like a festering wound that makes the story stick with me.

A happy ending lets me close the book (metaphorically since I read everything on a Kindle), sigh contentedly, and then move onto the next book.

Choosing an Ending

All of these considerations are more relevant than ever as I put the finishing touches on Flying, the last book in the Girl With Broken Wings series. My characters inhabit a very dangerous world that has become ever more perilous at the start of Flying.

When I was originally sketching out the book, I grappled with how I wanted it to end. I could see both an ending of supreme tragedy and an ending of unity and second chances. (Trying so hard not to create spoilers!) Even as I started writing, I wasn’t sure who was going to survive and who was not.

Regardless of the final outcome, Flying is a very dark story. Tarren, Maya, and Gabe each face dire challenges, and no one comes out of the book unscathed. Tragedy has a purpose. It is a sculpting force. It can break survivors, or it can make them stronger and fuel heroic acts.

Not every character will make it to the end of Flying, and the ones who do will bear new scars. Tragedy is hard on characters and readers, but it also gives a story a profound edge, maybe makes us a little more appreciative of the light.

As for whether the book ends in tragedy or joy…you’re just going to have to find out for yourself. (You knew I was going to say that, right?)

Why Every Indie Author Wants You to Sign Up for Their Mailing List

September 14th, 2015 No comments

When you finish reading any of my books or short stories, you will always be confronted with the same request on the final page. I ask you to sign up for my email list.

Eye roll.

I know. Who wants to get stuck on another email list? Exactly no one.

So why do so many authors ask/beg/plead/bribe their readers to join their email lists? You’ve noticed this haven’t you? If you’ve read any amount of books written by indie authors, you’ve fielded dozens, possibly hundreds of email list requests.

The truth is that we authors love you…but we don’t exactly trust you to come back. It’s not that we think you’re flakey by any means. We just know that you’re busy being a superstar in your own life. When you are confronted with a commotion of new TV shows (anyone else excited about Jessica Jones on Netflix?), work, and an ocean of other books to choose from, can you blame us for being a little nervous that you might, well, forget about us?

The next time we launch a new book, will you notice and rush to grab your copy? Will you stay excited even if ahem hypothetically it takes us a year to craft another book?

Sure, we can Tweet. We can update our Goodreads threads, and our Facebook page, but we can’t know if you’ll even see these posts. And so, we authors like to play it old school – through email. Building an email list of our enthusiastic and die-hard fans is something that we can own and control. Most importantly, it is a way in which we can reach you directly.

We know that you don’t like your inbox stuffed with a never-ending stream of emails – we totally don’t either – which is why most of us try to only send you interesting and useful stuff. We let you know when we’ve posted new blogs, when we’re giving away books, and when we release new works so you can dive right in.

I send out quarterly emails to let my readers know I haven’t croaked over my writing desk and am still hard at work on my next project (currently FLYING, the final book in the Girl With Broken Wings series!), and I always let readers know when I’ve published something new so they don’t miss it. That’s it. No obnoxious daily or weekly newsletters swamping your inbox. Just a few howdys, hellos, and guten tags every once in a while.

Again, I know joining email lists isn’t as awesome as rescuing a kitten from a house fire, getting a promotion at work, or finding that favorite pair of underwear you thought was lost stuck inside the leg of your jeans. But it means a lot to us authors, and if you want to get fun updates from your favorite authors and be in the know when they launch something new, joining their email list is the way to do it.

And if any author abuses your trust by spamming you with vapid quotes or their million and one vacation photos, that’s what the “unsubscribe” button is for.

Oh, and just in case this blog has given you a hankering to join an email list, jump aboard mine. (I know, sneaky, sneaky). Click on the box in the top right corner to sign up.

Categories: Marketing, Writing Tags: ,

My Recipe For Not-So-Instant Novel

June 30th, 2015 No comments
Keyboard

Go on, start typing. You know you want to.

You have a bucket list. Don’t deny it. Even if you haven’t written it down or saved it on your phone’s note app, you’ve got a secret list beating away inside of your heart of accomplishments you want to hit before the coffin closes. And, since we’ve already gone this far, you might as well admit that writing a novel is on that list.

A perennial bucket list favorite, writing a novel is a secret dream for a huge portion of our population. Why? Simple. We all have a story to tell. We’ve watched a less than impressive movie or read a mediocre book and thought, I could do so much better! Some of us dream of amazing fantasy tales or a detective novel with a plot so twisty that even the greatest minds won’t see the ending coming. Others of us have experienced incredible events in our own lives or reached a new understanding of life after many knockdowns, and we want to share our unique story with the world.

So, if writing a novel is on your bucket list, then why is that box still unchecked? Why is it clanging around in your head, all sad and haunty, like Marley’s ghost?

You can write your novel.

It’s easy, I swear!

Here is my famous recipe for not-so-instant novel:

Step One: Go to bed one hour earlier each night.

Step Two: Wake up one hour earlier in the morning.

Step Three: Spend that extra hour in the morning planning/writing/editing.

Step Four: Repeat until book is complete.

There, novel in a box. You’re welcome.

The truth is that writing a novel is no different than any other major undertaking. Generally if you set aside a certain amount of time, even just one hour a day, to focus solely on the project, you’ll eventually get it done. Writing a novel isn’t sexy. It’s about creating a habit and putting your butt in the chair over and over again.

In other words, just write. You will never, ever, ever write your novel if you only talk about it.

Here are a few more tips that will help you along your novel-writing way:

  • Outline your novel first so you know where you are going.
  • Take time to develop your characters so you have a good feel for them. That may mean interviewing them, writing a day in their life, or finding a celebrity who they look like. None of this will make it into your novel, but understanding your character will help them come alive.
  • Write your first draft with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Don’t overthink it. Just write, write, write.
  • Edit the hell out of your book. Unless you’re working on your 30th novel, your first draft will probably be utter crap. That’s fine. If you even created a first draft, you’re amazing. Now, go back and clean it up. Fill in plot holes. Tighten every chapter, paragraph, and sentence. Make sure your characters are consistent. Cut out all the extra stuff your novel doesn’t need.
  • Find other writers to critique your book. You may be able to find a writer’s group in your area. You can certainly find them online. Writer’s Café, Goodreads, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all great places to start looking for critique partners.

When you complete your first book, congratulate yourself. You did the thing that 99% of the population secretly wants to do but never will. Now, throw it in a drawer, forget about it, and start on your next book.

What? Don’t publish? After all that blood, sweat, and tears? Yep, my fingers didn’t stutter on the keyboard. For all but a few writers, their first book is utter swill. Yours probably will be too. That’s because writing is a craft, and getting good at a craft takes a lot of practice. The Mona Lisa wasn’t Leonardo Di Vinci’s first painting.

Trust me, this advice is for your own good. My first book was so terrible, I think it would have melted any Kindle unfortunate enough to download it. It will never see the light of day.

So, please don’t stare wistfully out the window at work and think, if I had more time, I’d write a novel. (Or insert other secret wish). You do have enough time. Anyone can find at least one hour a day. No excuses. Your bucket list is waiting.

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags:

The Challenge of Finding New Voices

May 7th, 2015 No comments
Name Tag

Meeting new characters can be awkward…
Credit: Enokson, Flickr

I started writing Falling, the first book in my Girl With Broken Wings series in 2010. For five years, Maya, Gabe, and Tarren have been a constant presence in my life. They drop by on a regular basis to tell me about their lives, to give me suggestions for the latest novel, and to let me know quite sternly when I’m not listening to them as I write. In other words, we’re kind of besties.

I recently embarked on a new writing project with new characters, and we are definitely not besties yet. In fact, I feel like all of us are at an awkward networking event with our names scrawled out on dopey nametags. I hate these kind of events, so naturally my hand is shaking as I tightly grasp a glass of wine and attempt a winning smile at the stranger in front of me.

When I write in the voices of these new characters, it doesn’t feel right yet. Their words are clunky and unenthusiastic. I wonder if this is normal. I think back to 2010, to that first terrible draft of Falling and try to remember if Maya’s voice came naturally to me. Was Gabe was already 100% Gabe in my mind?

I also wonder about the authors who pump out six books a year. How do they find and become besties with their characters so easily? Are they the rare extrovert who can work a room full of strangers, turning everyone into a treasured friend overnight?

I started writing my new project too soon. My bond with my characters was weak, and I hoped that we would become comfortable as we started this journey together. Instead, I found myself staring blankly at my computer, trying to peck out a story that didn’t want to move. The characters weren’t showing up. They weren’t speaking.

I realized that it was unfair of me to just throw them into the story without really getting to know them first. So now I’m pulling back, tying the story to the dock so it won’t float away while I spend more time with my characters. I am sitting down with each of them now, asking questions, exploring their lives, finding their voice.

It is adding more time to this project, but it is time well spent. Now my new characters and I are starting to chat and laugh. New friendships are blooming. It will be a while until I can share these characters and their story with you, but I hope you’ll have some new literary besties in the future!

Categories: Writing Tags:

New Covers, New Impressions

March 29th, 2015 No comments
Old and new covers for the girl with broken wings series

The Girl With Broken Wings covers got a makeover.

Readers, you may not realize exactly how much we authors think about you. We think about you a lot. Creepy, right? But it’s only because we want you to notice us, read us, love us, and – of course – post a review about our books when you’re done. Feel flattered that we often spend hours, days, or even weeks sweating and struggling to write a book summary that will stop you in your tracks and hook you. That we fight to get into the genre categories you frequent. That we always wonder what you think about our covers.

Covers. Sigh. Perhaps nothing about publishing a book is so tricky as getting the cover right. A bad cover can break even the best book. A cover has a lot of responsibilities. It must capture a reader’s attention in a split second and whisper promises of the story within. It must be strong, powerful, clean, well-balanced, and intriguing.

But here’s the thing…authors aren’t cover designers. A few are, but most of us, including yours truly, haven’t progressed in our artistic integrity beyond stick figures. That means that we often have to hire cover designers for our books and guide them on what we want while restraining ourselves from breathing down their neck so they can do their magic.

Weird how a cover – so influential in the buying process – is so divorced from the actual creation of the book and story itself. Few cover designers read the books they create covers for. Has it ever driven you crazy that a character on the cover looks nothing like the protagonist in the book? Now you know why.

Readers, here’s a little insight into life as an author – most of us are neurotic freaks when it comes to our covers. In our writer’s groups, we constantly ask each other, “What do you think of my cover?” We send each other endless drafts from our designers, trying to tweak shadowing, fonts, the tagline, everything, all for you.

Recently, I decided to update the covers in my Girl With Broken Wings series. I really liked my previous covers. I thought they were artsy, unique, and invocative, but it was time for a change. After studying the other covers in the paranormal genre, I decided that I wanted something darker, edgier. I worked with a new cover designer for three months to re-do all of the covers in my series, and I am thrilled with the results. Every new cover that my designer sent me was like a Christmas present come early.

The result is the banner at the top of this blog, which showcases my old covers and my new covers.

It will be interesting moving forward to see if these covers influence readers or impact my sales. All I can say is that I love their artistry and grittiness, and I think they promise an exciting story within. I hope readers will agree!

Ten Reasons Why Writing and Self-Publishing a Novel is the Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Done

February 22nd, 2015 No comments
young child drawing

My first novel

Like many authors, I knew that I wanted to be a writer from a young age. I wrote “novels” with crayons on big pads of paper and then in dark ink on “secret” notebooks. I even pecked a few shaky stories out on a typewriter as I was growing up. I always had this vision of myself as a writer, even if I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to happen or how shy little me would ever gather up the courage to put my words out in the world.

Fast forward a decade. I’d spent two years tapping away on my laptop and ended up with a stack of paper filled with my words. This was Falling, the first novel that I felt was actually good.  I spent another year getting close, but not close enough to snagging an agent. At the end of that year with nothing to show for a hundred query letters sent, I was done waiting for validation from someone else. Despite the fact that my heart wanted to jump out of my chest and go running for the hills, I self-published my book and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Here’s why:

1. I am an author!

Writing makes you a writer. Publishing your work and allowing the world to see it makes you an author. When I finally gathered the courage to self-publish, I wondered if I was a “real” author since an agent or a publisher didn’t give my book approval. Over time I’ve realized that validation comes from my readers not agents who only take on a handful of new clients a year in genres they think have the greatest market potential. I write, publish, and sell books. I am an author. Awesome-sauce!

 2. My choice, my way

The beauty of self-publishing is that I get to make every major decision related to my book. I guide my cover artist, I decide which platforms I want to publish on, and I decide how to price my book. Last year after publishing the third book in my new adult paranormal series, Girl With Broken Wings, I decided to make the first book in the series, Falling, free. This is the same book I spent two years writing and another year pitching to half-interested agents. A publisher would never let me give this book away for free, but I love its zero price tag. I am giving a readers a risk-free chance to try my writing style and fall in love with my characters. Thousands of readers have downloaded Falling, so I think it’s working.

 3. I had to face my fears

For a long time I didn’t think my book was good enough unless an agent or publisher ultimately decided to represent it. Several agents showed a lot of interest in Falling, but in the end they passed on it. It felt like they were passing on me as an author. After a year of wasted time when I could have and should have been working on the next book in the series, I realized this was my moment of truth. Was I going to keep waiting for someone else to tell me my writing was good enough, or would I listen to my heart? Self-publishing was scary for me. I was putting my words – a little piece of my soul – out for the universe to judge. What if readers hated my book? What if they laughed at me, skewered my writing, or worse…ignored it completely?

Publishing felt like a big leap, but it was also very freeing. After I published that first novel, I was hooked, and I never looked back.

 4. I made some new besties

Writing is not a solitary endeavor as many people believe it is. Over the last few years, I have built a great team of wonderful people around me. At first they were critique partners, beta readers, fellow authors asking questions on forums, and members of my author group. Over time, they became friends. I entrust them with my newborn novels and listen carefully to their feedback. I care about their progress and celebrate their writing success as if it were my own.

5. I got in shape

Sometimes the things you learn as you write change your life. When I first started working on my novel Falling, I needed my vigilante characters to be in fantastic shape. I did a lot of research on the most effective fighting methods and fitness routines and decided my characters trained in Krav Maga for fighting prowess and did CrossFit for overall fitness. At the time, I was plateauing in my own gym routine. After a lifetime of being an athlete, I was losing my edge. I did a search and found a local CrossFit “box” near me. It was love at first nauseatingly difficult workout. I’ve been doing CrossFit for over four years now, and I’ve never been in better shape.

 6. I’m actually making money!

The first month Amazon deposited a royalty payment in my business checking account was one of the most amazing and coolest moments of my life. It didn’t matter that the amount was about $50. I was making money…from writing books. It was a dream come true! What was even more amazing is that the small payments kept coming month after month, which meant that people who were not my family members and friends were paying money to read my book. I still don’t make enough to be a full time writer yet, but my royalties are growing, and I feel so proud that I am earning money for my writing and that readers are voting for my skill as an author with their dollars. Readers have millions of books to choose from, as well as endless movies, television shows and video games. Every download I get and every dollar I make is a personal victory.

7. My friends think it’s pretty awesome that I’m an author

Your real friends, the ones who truly want you to be happy and succeed in life, will think it’s really, really cool that you have written books. They will beg to read them and generously write reviews. They will call you up and want to talk about the characters and chide you for making them cry. In essence, they will understand how much writing means to you and they will celebrate you for completing each novel and publishing. It’s the same way you will support your friends as they train for a marathon, start a new relationship, or decide to throw caution to the wind and start their own business. You recognize how much this new goal means to them and you feel excited for them as they get closer and closer to realizing their dreams. It is an amazing feeling knowing your friends support your endeavors and that they think you are awesome for writing and publishing books even if you never become the next Stephen King.

8I’ve received fan mail

Nothing can describe the feeling of receiving a note from a complete stranger that says, “I loved your book! When is the next one coming out?” No matter how much I told myself that I thought my book was well-written and worth publishing…. No matter how much my critique partners and beta readers told me it was ready….I don’t think I truly believed I had written something good until I heard from my first fan. Every single interaction with a happy reader is a treasure to me. Like I’ve mentioned, the royalties of my books don’t pay my mortgage yet, but every time I get a fan letter, I feel renewed. My purpose and my motivation to keep writing spikes to the moon. I keep every fan letter. They are my inspiration and my remedy for my worst moments of doubt.

9. I found the best office mate in the world

Black bunny with white nose

Avalon

In my novel, Falling, one of my characters, Gabe, adopts a pet bunny he names Sir Hopsalot. When I first wrote this scene, I had to spend a few hours researching rabbits as pets. I found out that they could be litter box trained and that many owners allowed their bunnies to roam free around the house.

Personally, I come from a long line of crazy cat people. One night a few years ago, I felt that genetic stirring in my soul to get a pet. Unfortunately, at the time my roommate was allergic to cats and our small apartment wasn’t a good environment for a dog.

That’s when it hit me – a bunny! I quickly logged onto the local Humane Society’s website, and there I found a picture of an adorable black bunny with a white star on his nose named Avalon. It was love at first sight.

Sure, Avalon occasionally eats my shoes…while they’re on my feet, and he hasn’t figured out that digging in the carpet won’t accomplish anything, but he is an amazing and wonderful office mate. I love that he is a fun and frolicking part of my life…all thanks to my character Gabe and his fictional pet, Sir Hopsalot.

10. I get to do it all over again

I have to admit that after I self-published for the first time, I got a little addicted. I realized that publishing a novel wouldn’t kill me. In fact, it made me stronger and more confident. I was on my right path, and I felt that deep in my bones. My mind is always buzzing with stories, and I feel an incredible rush when I write tight and exciting scenes that challenge my characters physically and emotionally. Since I published Falling, I’ve written two more books and two novellas in the Girl with Broken Wings series. I’ve also just completed the first draft of the fourth novel in the series. I’ve also published a compilation of short, humorous vampire stories in a series called, The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles. I love writing. It nourishes my soul. Thanks to self-publishing, I don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval. I can just keep writing, keep publishing, and keep loving every day I get to be an author.

Losing It – A Writer’s Computer Crash Nightmare

January 13th, 2015 No comments
Laptop

A reenactment of Lancelot’s final day. (Credit: David King, Flickr)

On Saturday 12/20/14, I achieved one of my big goals for the year – I finished the first draft of the fourth novel in my Girl With Broken Wings Series, Leaping. It was messy, pitted with problems, and filled with enough plot holes to give Swiss cheese a run for its money.

In other words, it was a beautiful, healthy, perfect first draft. Full of promise and potential. I had plans for that draft. I would carefully guide and sculpt it until it finally matured into a strong, confident novel and that could go out into the world and make an impression.

You’d think that the very first thing I would do after this ecstatic moment would be to back up my computer or immediately throw my baby onto the cloud so she’d never be lost.

I didn’t.

Sometimes I’m a moron.

Instead, I hopped in my car, picked my sister up from the airport, and bragged about my new little baby all the way back home. Little did I know that the gods of hubris were waiting and watching. I imagine a good cop, bad cop scenario here. The mean God of Hubris was probably throwing handfuls of popcorn in his mouth, and chuckling, “I bet her eyes bug out and she starts crying.”

The good God of Hubris would sigh and say, “She still has time to back up. Why doesn’t she just back up?”

***

The meltdown happened on the morning of Christmas Eve. The day before, my curmudgeonly laptop Lancelot was grumbling along as usual, almost daring anyone to mock his missing question mark key. The next morning he was gone. Just like that. I pressed his start button, and all I got was a Toshiba screen that never transitioned into my desktop.

“Come on Lancelot, speak to me!” I cried, gripping his edges. “Come back to me Lance. Please, just open your writing file!”

But it was not to be. Lancelot’s hard drive had given out during the night. I suppose it was a peaceful death, but still a shock to me. Lancelot and I had shared so much together…including my completed first draft of Leaping.

It now hung in the balance. Did Lancelot take it to his grave, or could it be saved?

The timing was really bad. I spent Christmas Eve trying uselessly to fix Lancelot while fulfilling my family obligations to show up for dinner and take pictures, and chauffeur my sister around town. By the time it really dawned on me that Lancelot wasn’t coming back, all the tech stores were closed…and would stay close the next day, Christmas.

***

That night, I lay in bed and let the panic wash over me. Children all over the world were waiting to hear footsteps on their roof or the jingle of a sleigh bell, and all I could think was – Can I really rewrite this book from scratch?

A book is more than the sum of its words and pages. A writer puts a piece of their heart into every book. Hours of writing aren’t just time. They’re creative energy. Each word is just perfect in that moment even if it will be changed or scrubbed later.

I could never get those exact words back. That unique, magical combination of spirit. Even the thought of starting over again exhausted me to my core.

I could do it, I thought. I must do it. My readers deserved a completed series, and I deserved it to. I’ve spent five years writing The Girl With Broken Wings Series, and the thought of never finishing was simply not an option.

But I knew that I would need to take a break before I could rebuild. Maybe start a new series from one of the many ideas constantly clanging in my head for attention. I needed to forget my previous words so that when I started on Leaping again I could write it fresh, instead of trying to capture an echo.

That Christmas, I spent the whole day with my family. It was joyful and uplifting, and I took the time to recognize how lucky I was to be supported and loved…but I didn’t unwrap the thing I really wanted.

***

I did get Leaping back, along with almost all of my other files. It wasn’t Santa Clause or even the Geek Squad guy who made this post-Christmas miracle happen. (In fact, Geek Squad guy basically rammed a router through my gut by telling me the prognosis for rescuing anything off the hard drive was poor…and super expensive.) It was my kind-hearted, techie friend Ben who rescued Leaping and a lot of other really important files from computer file purgatory.

Ben isn’t a guy who will paint his face in camo and go jumping out of a helicopter to rescue hostages, but he’s definitely a hero to me. He saved something that I would have never been able to remake the same way.

This incident has not only taught me the value of backing up and why it’s important to surround yourself with smart, loyal people. The real possibility of losing my manuscript showed me how intangible writing is. I never really appreciated how valuable and magical words can be until I almost lost them.

And did I mention backing up? I am back-up queen now.

Why I Wrote A Series About A Cranky, Old, Unattractive Vampire — Behind The Scenes With The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles

September 17th, 2014 No comments
Nathaniel, The Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Not so sparkly, but I love Nathaniel anyway.

I am getting ready to compile all the short stories in my The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles series into a single collection, and I thought readers might be interested to learn where the idea for this series came from. I’ll ruin the surprise – it was Twilight. But here’s the full story…

Vampires had it good for a couple of centuries. They inspired fear, pants wetting, and lots of running around and screaming like a boob. They were cruel, deliciously vicious, and powerful…and then Twilight came along.

With this single book, vampires left the realm of nightmares and became squarely lodged into the stuff of tween girl daydreams. CW’s Vampire Diaries has only thrown gasoline onto the tragic fire of hunky, sensitive, and people-eating free vampire mythology.

My sister and I email each other back and forth every day, because apparently email is our crack. About two years ago, my sister headlined an email with this complaint: “I hate that vampires are all total wusses now!”

My response was, “If you were over 100 years old, why in the world would you want to spend your immortal afterlife in high school?”

How could a 100+ year-old vampire not get bored out of his mind and fed up with all the stupid dramatics of high school? There are obvious physical reasons why a vampire might be attracted to a high school girl, but what could they possibly talk about? [Insert joke about how talking isn’t necessary for certain activities].

“And how would a vampire even be able to keep up with the times? I just learned how to use Siri, and I was born in the last century,” I wrote to my sister. “How could someone who grew up with steam engines and telegraphs understand iTunes, texting, and the resurgence of Weird Al Yankovic?”

Thus an idea was born…an idea to write about a vampire who was not handsome, not sparkly, not fascinated by the vacant minds of high school girls, and who definitely could not flawlessly keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation.

For the next couple of days, I started each email to my sister with an ongoing story of a luckless college grad who finds herself out of a job and lacking in useful job skills. When she goes to an employment agency for help, she is sent on an interview for a housekeeping position at a haunted mansion where her perspective boss…isn’t exactly a vegetarian.

Deidre and Nathaniel were born. That first story was completely random, a little bit of cheek that stemmed from my desire to write a different type of vampire. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the story fulfilled another need I have always wanted to explore as a writer – writing a different type of protagonist.

Deidre is so far from the wispy, damsel-in-distress Bella, that she might as well live on a totally different planet. Deidre is overweight, self-conscious, funny, loyal, and pragmatic. She sees the world with a wry sense of humor and a certain stoic acceptance of her messy and chaotic existence.

That first story was such fun to write that I kept the narrative going into a second chapter, which would eventually become The Vampire Hunter Comes to Call. About the time I finished up the third installment (eventually Duel with the Werefrog), I realized that I really liked Nathaniel, Deidre, Dex, and Sloppy Joe (who was originally named High Man until my sister pointed out the similarity between his name and a certain part of the female anatomy).

The stories needed a lot of polish from their original email serial form, but with a little elbow grease, Deidre’s world started to come to life (or afterlife). I loved writing the first six stories in this series. With each story, Deidre’s world got a little bigger and more complex. Over the course of the series, Drew has turned into a reoccurring character, as have Nathaniel’s bingo buddies.  I’m excited to introduce a very intriguing character – Hunter Gulliver Graves – in the novella that completes the first volume of this series. (Apprenticeship With A Vampire is now available!) I love all the silly and improbable situations Deidre finds herself in and all the jokes the ghosts play on her. However, I believe each story also contains a little bit of Deidre wisdom tucked beneath the top layer of humor. I hope readers get this and enjoy a story that can be both silly and a tiny bit serious at the same time.

The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles, Volume One will launch on October 1st, so if you haven’t tried the series yet, get ready for this very non-Twilight vampire series.