Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas and a Joyous Yule!

Dear friends and family,

 The wheel of the seasons has turned again, and once again we look back fondly on the joys and accomplishments of 2013.  The highlight of the year was a chance for the whole family to get together in Borrego Springs, California in March. After a stop-off to pick up Thomas and Rachael in San Diego, we enjoyed several days of desert warmth at an “old Hollywood-style” resort, complete with an Olympic-sized tile pool, gorgeous palm trees, beautiful night skies, a variety of birds, odd long-tailed squirrels and a tiny frog with a startlingly loud croak that reverberated through the night.

Back home in real life, Thomas continued with his online graduate program at the University of Southern California. He started student teaching this fall, and after the challenges of a kindergarten class, is looking forward to working with older students. He will finish next March and he and Rachael will be married the following week on the spring equinox. Rachael was promoted at the San Diego car dealership where she has worked the past two years, which is good except now they consider her so indispensable, she has a hard time getting time off. Thankfully, they will manage to live without her the week of the wedding, as well as for the Cheyenne reception in May.

Pat continues with the mineral oil business, but also finds time to run several times a week with Aengus as well as exploring new fishing spots and revisiting old ones. In July, he and Mary took a Wyoming vacation to Buffalo and Sheridan, with a return trip through the Big Horn Mountains and a fishing stop in the Wind River Canyon.
Moira assists Pat in the office during the week, but on weekends can usually found in Denver with her boyfriend, or attending music shows around the West. She also experienced a different sort of adventure with a backpacking trip on the Olympic Pennisula with several girlfriends in August.

Mary continues writing, with a new romance out this summer, bringing her total ebooks to thirteen.  She also went hiking on the Olympic Pennisula this summer while visiting her sister Nancy. Her passion for garden continues, and she enjoyed a good growing summer with enough rain to make her roses happy.

This fall brought lots of rain, a lackluster Wyoming football season, but a busy harvest season for the business that helps fund everything else. As the year draws to a close, we are all fairly content and thankful for our health, each other and our beloved pets.

Sine Matu,

Pat, Mary, Moira, Thomas, Nikki, T-Cat, Benjamin, Aengus and Badger    

Friday, August 30, 2013

Editing Agony

It's been over seven months since I posted. (That's how much I suck at social media!) My last post was about why I had signed with a small press to publish my next book rather than publishing independently.  The book, Saint Sin, just came out yesterday, so it's far too soon to decide if it was a good economic decision. But I can report on some of the rest of it.

I thought working with a publisher would save me a lot of time... and it did, at least initially. They came up with the wonderful cover (above) and not having to search for stock art, decide on a design and work with a cover artist allowed me to keep writing steadily on another book, which I finished in April.

Before I sold Saint Sin, I did my usual revising and proofing process, but I didn’t go over it nearly as intently as I would have if I were sending it to a formatter. I figured having someone else proofread and copy edit would catch minor errors. My new editor (who didn't acquire the book, but was assigned to me) told me that my first edits would come in mid-June. Since the book was scheduled to come out August 21, I thought that would give us plenty of time. But I didn't get the first edits until almost the middle of July and she gave me only a week to work on them. The first edits were time-consuming. Some it was the formatting issues that in the past my formatter had dealt with. But the editor also pointed out some of my bad writing habits, my use of extra words and qualifiers. I know this helped tighten and improve the book but it took a lot of time.

Apparently, the first edits were the equivalent of copyediting. The second edits, which I didn’t get until August 11th and which she wanted back by the 16th (!!!), were the real edits. I was shocked when I saw she’d deleted a number of paragraphs in multiple places, either because she thought they were redundant or the quick viewpoint change amounted to head-hopping. The more I read, the more upset I got. She was taking out my characters’ thoughts, particularly the hero’s, during some crucial, emotionally-charged scenes, especially love scenes. 

I’ve had four editors previously, but admittedly, they didn’t do much more than copyedit. Worried that I was being unreasonable, I contacted a couple of my multi-published writer friends and asked for their opinion. They said they’d had editors ask them to add scenes and rewrite others, but they were usually given several weeks to do this and they’d never had an editor who just took things out. They also confirmed that changing viewpoints in a love scene was pretty standard these days and as long as you made it clear whose viewpoint you were in, it shouldn’t be an issue..

Distraught, I contacted the editor who’d acquired the book and asked if I had any say in the editing process. She defended the editor but assured me it was my book and everything could be worked out. I didn’t hear anything for several days (which meant it was impossible to meet the deadline of the 16th). Finally, with obvious reluctance, the editor agreed we should try and compromise.

I went through everything she’d cut and seriously weighed whether it was important to the story. In the end, I accepted four of her cuts, changed things in several other places to satisfy her concerns, but still ended up with four places I didn’t want to cut. I sent the manuscript to the editor and waited… and waited. Six days later, I received word that the book was in production. The end result was that the book didn’t come out until the 28th, which meant that the promo on the USA Today romance blog on the 20th I'd arranged was virtually useless. Anyone who read it and was interested in the book wouldn’t have been able to buy it.

Although it seems like these editing issues should have been no more than a minor inconvenience, in fact, it was pretty traumatic. Up until this winter, I hadn’t sold a book in over ten years. Maybe there was a reason. Maybe I was a terrible writer. Or my writing style was so out-dated that it annoyed readers. Was all this agonizing and struggle going to be worth it? After the new release surge, most of my self-published ebooks make a pittance. By publishing through this publisher, I will get half or less the amount in royalties. Was I ever going to make enough money to justify going through this editing hell?

My moods are intense but fleeting, so by now I’ve arisen from the abyss and have a little more perspective. I have a finished Regency historical very similar to Saint Sin that I could offer to the publisher. If having a publishing house’s support makes a significant difference in my sales on this one, then I would consider selling them another, although I would ask for a different editor. Probably this editor wouldn’t want one of my books anyway, as all through this process she never said one positive thing about my story and it’s obvious she doesn’t like my writing style.

So, the verdict is still undecided on whether going “dependent” and selling to a publisher was worth it. I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


            A few months ago I was giddily posting about the joys of being an “indie” publisher and the thrill of having some of my backlist, as well several new titles, finally available for readers. In this post I announce I’ve returned to the yoke of traditional publishing. I recently signed a contract to sell one of my historical romances to a small press. I won’t get an advance, but only make royalties on sales. And those royalties will be half or less what I make on books I publish myself. So, why did I do it? What soured me on being an “indie” so quickly?

Having control over my own work was fabulous. But as I discovered, it came at a pretty high price. With control comes responsibility…enormous and time consuming responsibility. I had to proof, edit and oversee formatting and cover art for my books, as well as market them once they were published. During the year it took me to release ten ebooks, and two print editions, I found I had no time to write anything new. None.

Since being an indie publisher meant I was spending all my time doing things I don’t enjoy (and in some cases hate), I felt I needed to rethink things. I began to explore the option of selling to a small press, and after some research found one that seemed like a good fit. Soul Mate Publishing publishes quite a number of historical romances, has a decent website and Facebook page and designs nice covers for their books. After communicating with a couple of their authors, who seemed pretty satisfied, I sent them a query. They requested a full manuscript, and within a few weeks, made me an offer.

Several aspects of their contract enticed me. They would initially own the rights to the book for six years, at which point we could renegotiate payment arrangements. They would not require any option on my future works, which means I can sell anything else I write anywhere else I want without offering it to them first. They would edit, format and, with my input, produce the cover for the book. Once it was released, they would sell it through their website, distribute it to other ebook outlets and market it through Facebook and blog. In return for giving up about half of my potential profits, I would escape the majority of the self-publishing tasks that I find most time-consuming and onerous.  

I will still have to market my book. Any author nowadays has to maintain a website, Facebook page, do blog tours, etc. But that’s something I already have to do for my self-published books. But the other time intensive aspects of publishing are now at least partially someone else’s responsibility. Having made this decision, I started working on a new project (or, actually an old one: I wrote a proposal for this book over ten years ago). I’m now over halfway through the first draft, and would be even farther if I hadn’t gotten the flu over the holidays. If I were still going the “indie” route on the one I sold, I would have only three chapters finished of this new book.
There are so many publishing choices nowadays, and every author has to decide what is right for them, and right for each book. I recently "dusted off" another manuscript and plan to enter it in a contest with the goal of getting it in front of an editor from a New York house. Even if that doesn't work, I intend to start submitting it, first to larger houses and then smaller ones. I could publish this book myself, but at least for now, I've decided to spend what little free time I have after my on-going marketing chores are done writing rather than publishing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting the cover right

           One of my co-workers posted a review on Amazon for my latest romance, The Dragon Bard. (Bless her heart; it’s the only review the print book has.) She mentions in her review that she wasn’t thrilled with the “skinny, not sexy” guy on the cover. She has the print version, so the cover was staring her in the face every time she picked up the book, but it really got me thinking about the covers for my ebooks.

I knew the guy I chose for this cover wasn’t ideal. He’s not nearly handsome enough to be Bridei and he is too skinny. But after searching through stock photos for hours, he was the best I could do. My cover artist uses a stock photo website for her images and even though the site has thousands of photos, it’s a serious challenge to find one where the model looks somewhat like my character and yet doesn’t have modern clothing or something else that throws it out of the time period of my book. I’m sure with a book set in the contemporary era, it’s a little easier.

I considered putting the heroine on the cover instead, since I thought it might be easier to find an appropriate image of a beautiful woman with long auburn hair. But the book is called The Dragon Bard. Since it’s about the hero, I really thought he should be on the cover. I also considered not featuring either character. The cover background has a misty, forest-surrounded lake with a harp on one side and a cat at the bottom. It’s pretty and mystical looking, but has no real focal point. In a thumbnail online, it would just blur together. (BTW, even the cat model is wrong. There were no wildcats in Ireland. The cat that plays a small but important role in the book is just a larger-than-ordinary housecat. But finding such a cat the right color that was posed right was a struggle, so I gave up and used the bobcat-like image my cover artist came up with.)

  After reading the review, I got to worrying that maybe the “skinny guy” on The Dragon Bard was holding back my sales. But then I considered the cover of my poorest selling book, The Dragon Prince, is a studly looking model I’ve seen on several other book covers. Even though women readers obviously think he’s attractive, it doesn’t cause them to buy my book. And then there’s my ebooks that do sell well. This month my re-released Viking book is my best seller. Since I couldn’t find a decent Viking model, I used a close shot of a couple kissing, cropped so you can’t see their modern swimsuits. There’s a tiny Viking ship in the background, but the only thing obvious about the cover is that it’s a romance. My other best-selling books feature pretty, nude women shown from the back. They convey that the books are sexy romances, and that’s probably what attracts readers.

The lesson in all of this (other than the one it’s easier to find female models that are universally attractive than it is male ones), may be that all an ebook cover needs to do is convey genre and have one strong element that stands out in a tiny thumbnail. Still as an author/publisher, it’s hard not to agonize. I know on the ebook loop I’m on, several authors have put up four or five cover variations and asked the loop members which one they like best. In most cases, they are designing the covers themselves so doing several versions only costs them time. If I did this, I’m sure my cover artist would have to charge me for all the variations. Then I would be incurring more costs that I’d have to recoup before the book started making money.

I have to say I almost miss the old days, when my publisher designed the covers. I didn’t hate any of them (although one had an anachronistic element that made me crazy) and some I really liked. I didn’t have to find the photos and come up with the basic design, or pay for it either. And I had a sense that the art department knew what they were doing. They were putting out dozens of romance covers every year and could really gauge what sells.
With independence comes freedom, but also a lot of responsibility. Here I am, stressing about covers when I should just be writing the next book!   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Secret to E-Publishing Success

            It’s been almost a year since I published my first ebook, and I can say that I finally figured out the secret to success in e-publishing.  The secret is…  (insert drum roll) … you have to publish the right book.

I currently have ten ebooks available, not counting a box set of my series. Six of them are ebook versions of backlist titles and four are new. Many of them I sell only a handful a month, while two of them sell a couple hundred.  What’s the difference? Genre. My Regency romances are the ones that sell. My two Viking books do OK, while sales of my dark age romances and my Roman Britain historical fantasy are pretty pathetic.

If your ebook is in a less than popular genre, you may have trouble even giving them away. Indeed, I did three free promotions this last year. My dark age romance had over 500 downloads, my Viking book, 1100 and my Regency 11,000! 

Since I’ve been e-publishing, a lot of writers have been interested in my experiences. They’re wondering if they should take the leap. My advice would be, if you have a book in a genre that’s popular, then you could do very well. If the book has been rejected by editors of agents because it’s a tough sell, then you may not experience much success epublishing it. The gatekeeping process has changed, but it’s still functioning.

There are over half a million ebook fiction titles on Amazon. The only way readers are going to find your book is to search for it. And unless your name is Nora Roberts or Stephen King, they’re probably going to search for it by genre or sub-genre. But even that doesn’t help much. For example, there are almost 14,000 historical romance ebooks on Amazon. I still face pretty stiff competition. Next readers are going to search using key words.  I’ve tried to use keywords that might spark interest, but there’s a limit to how creative you can be and remain true to what the book is about.

Which brings me to a related reality:  Sex sells.

My Regencies are fairly sexy, and my next best-selling book is a Viking romance that opens with the heroine trying to seduce the hero. It sells much better than my Viking book where it takes a lot longer for the hero and heroine to get “down and dirty”.

Of course, if you’re writing mysteries or urban fantasy, or action adventure novels, sex might not be such a big factor. But the overall popularity of your genre or sub-genre is still going to be a huge predictor of how well your ebook does.

Independent e-publishing has been hailed by many frustrated writers as a wonderful, empowering opportunity. And it is. It’s a chance to get your “baby” to readers, get the story-of-your-heart out there. But you have to be realistic. Most e-published writers don’t sell thousands of ebooks. The ones that do are writing something that lots of people want to read.

But not every writer can or should write to the masses (at least not all the time). My Regency romances, while fun to write, were definitely not “books of the heart”. The books that mean the most to me, that I put my heart and soul into, are experiencing underwhelming sales. But that’s not to say I regret writing them. These are books I am very proud of, that I gave me great emotional and creative satisfaction.  They are my literary legacy. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s more important than money.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Top Ten Reasons I Suck At Promotion

In the last year and a half, I’ve e-published nine novels. I should feel gratified and excited, right? And I do, except for one nagging, discouraging thought: Now I have to promote them. The authors who’ve been really successful at selling ebooks are either already successful or are whizzes at promotion, while I, quite frankly, suck at it. When I was published in print, I wasn’t good at promotion either, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I’d known a number of authors who spent lots of money and time on promotion who weren’t cracking the bestseller lists either. My observation was that most people who made those lists mostly did so because they wrote the right book at the right time. (Or “God smiled,” as one editor I know explains it.)

But for ebook publishing, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The success stories are mostly authors who are as skilled at promotion as they are at writing. I decided to analyze exactly why I’m so bad at promotion. Not that this will help, but it will allow me to procrastinate a little longer rather than forcing myself to actually do some promotion. 

1.                      I don’t have time. With a 32-hour a week paid job and doing basic secretarial and bookkeeping for my husband’s business, I’m left with about twenty-five hours a week when I’m capable of intellectually demanding tasks.  If I spend that discretionary time writing, or doing self-publishing tasks, that leaves me no time for promotion.

2.                      I’m an introvert. It’s awkward for me to “put myself out there”. Really awkward. That’s partly why I’m a writer. I’m more comfortable and happy in my inner imaginary world than I will ever be in the real one.

3.                      I was raised in a culture (female, small-town) where it was considered bad form to boast, or even to admit to having any sort of special talents or accomplishments. Extreme self-deprecation was the norm. I can’t get over the feeling that in doing self-promotion I’m being arrogant, or even downright rude.

4.                      I’m a digital immigrant and I haven’t assimilated very well.  When I grew up, there were no computers, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter. I’ve kept up with technology, barely, because I’ve been forced to by my job. But it doesn’t come naturally. I just got my first “smart” phone. We’ve had a “stupid” phone for several years, but I’d never texted or taken pictures or used it as other than a phone. My new phone sat in the box on the counter for a week until my son came to visit and could help me learn to use it. Even though I use computers all day and already had an Ipad, I was scared of this tiny, fabulously complex entity, with its apps and glowing touch-screen and myriad mysterious buttons.

5.                      I’m basically shy, and when I socialize, I do best on a one-to-one basis, or at least in a small group. With electronic media, you’re putting yourself out there to the whole world.

6.                      I’m a word person, and electronic media is very graphically-oriented, with photos and YouTube clips, etc. When I’m reading news online and there’s a link to a video, I always scroll down to see if there’s an actual article below. I don’t want learn something from a 30-second video. I’d rather read a few paragraphs of text. But promotion nowadays is very oriented toward visuals.

7.                      I’m verbose. To me, electronic media seem to provide such superficial information. I want more. More than the 130-characters Twitter allows you.  All these little bits of information floating around just frustrate and overwhelm me, and I don’t know how to communicate that way. I write 100,000-plus word books. I’m really not good at writing short.

8.                      What makes me good at writing fiction doesn’t work for promotion. Fiction is about becoming your character, feeling what they feel, thinking what they think. In promotion, I’m stuck with myself. I have to be me, or at least an author version of myself. And I’m not really good at that.

9.                      Promoting books seems trivial. We’re destroying our planet and wiping out our fellow species. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and energy trying to affect something in the larger world, shouldn’t I be crusading for environmental causes rather than promoting some stupid book I wrote? Maybe if I really believed it would work and I would make tons of money that I could invest in environmental causes, I would be more motivated. I guess I should try to cultivate that mindset.

10.                   I hate having to plan and organize. The idea of setting up a business plan for something writing-related just makes me crazy. Writing is my sacred thing, where I get to be who I am. I don’t write from outlines. I don’t plot. I write “into the mist”.  I wish promotion was more like that.
I tried to think of some way that I could approach promotion on a free-form, intuitive level. I finally came up with the idea that I would tell myself I had to do one promotion-related activity a day. Maybe it would be researching a website that promotes ebooks, or putting a post on Facebook. Or writing a blog on promotion. I need to make myself do just that one thing that day.  Sounds manageable and doable, right?

 I’ll let you know how it worked in a few months.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It Takes A Village, or Prepare For A Lot of Namedropping

In my last post I shared my excitement at the prospect of having my much-revised and edited historical fantasy novel The Silver Wheel available for readers. As I was describing the book’s journey to publication, I thought about the many people who helped me reach this place.  A few of these people aren’t writers:  my patient formatters, A Thirsty Mind and Formatting4U, the brilliant cover artist Rae Monet, the agents and edited who gave me input and helped make it a better book (even as they rejected it).  But most of the people who contributed to making this book happen were writers—a whole passel, posse, brigade, army, or whatever term you want to use, of writers.   

I’d only been writing a year when I joined my first critique group (thanks Ed Turner and Ann Erdman) and they began to gently advise me of my bad writing habits while at the same time encouraging me to keep going. They also referred me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and I ended up joining the historical romance critique group that met at the Village Inn on Colorado Blvd. For over a year, I drove the 100 miles once a month to have my chapters torn apart and picked over. That’s how I met my dear friends, Jessica Wulf, Denee Cody and Margaret Aunon. We ended up starting a new critique group together, where I learned even more about how to polish my writing.

When I began writing the first incarnation of The Silver Wheel, the first person to read the story was the talented Anne Holmberg. Soon after that, I started taking chapters to my new Cheyenne critique group, Liz Roadifer, Jeana Byrne and Michael Shay, as well as Elizabeth Durbin (R.I.P.) and they helped me get it that much closer to a solid book. For several years no one saw it except agents and editors as I revised and tweaked. When I decided it was time to self-publish the book and I needed fast, accurate proofreaders, I was blessed to have generous writer friends.  Thanks Amanda Cabot, Joanne Kennedy and once again, Jeana Byrne, for your critical eyes and fast proofreading. And finally, my cover flat design was the work of Karen Duvall, who is a graphic artist as well as a wonderful writer.

Along with these individuals, there are many writers who spoke at workshops and programs over the years who taught me the craft of writing and inspired me to keep going even when my career fell apart and things got grim. Many of the workshops were presented at Colorado Gold conferences. In addition to these workshops, the camaraderie and support I’ve found through Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has been absolutely invaluable. Writing can be a lonely occupation and having contact with other writers who understand and sympathize with your struggle is so important.
There are many other people I'd like to thank by name, but like Oscar acceptance speeches, blog posts are best kept short. So thank you to all those writer friends and acquaintances who shared the journey and helped me reach this place!