Sunday, October 27, 2019

Another Authors Row

     I'm back from my third Author's Row in a six week period.  Let's face it. Unless you have a big New York publisher, if you are an indie or small press writer, you will be doing all of your own publicity and these Authors Rows are part of it. So many self-published writers now assail libraries for book signings, the librarians gather them all up and have one big event as do places like Barnes and Nobel, except the libraries don't take a 40% cut of your sales. Even our local book store is reluctant to have signings now unless the author can guarantee a turnout--or at least chip in for refreshments and advertising. But, there are Authors Rows and then Author Rows.
     The one I recently returned from did everything right. We were supposed to be in tents outside, but when chilly, wet weather was predicted, they moved us indoors, and not just to a far off meeting room, but in lines down both sides of the library. They held story times in  a room on one end and had speakers and even an Elvis impersonator on the other which kept the flow of people moving back and forth. Tables and chairs were provided. A lounge area set aside for authors contained fruit and cheese platters, pastry trays, granola bars, hot coffee and tea and other beverages and a place to sit and eat something. A jambalaya lunch was provided as well, but my favorite perk by far--a cadre of teens who helped lug my heavy box of books to and fro and even went back to make sure my I'd locked my car. I'd also asked to sit by a fellow author and friend. As we were asked to stay from eleven to four, our conversation passed the time.
      I drove two hours to this event, about the longest trip I am willing to do alone, but they made it worthwhile. How many books did I sell? My usual three. I handed out a lot of book cards with my information on the back in hopes of future sales and made conversation with many who may or may not look my books up later and get the e-books on Amazon or elsewhere. I also paused to speak to other authors whom I see at all these local events on my way back and forth to the bathroom. Oh, I must mention they did have folks to sit at your table while you did so and thus, you could go more than once if necessary. They didn't sell anything, but guarded your books and change sack.
     I also noted the newbies, mostly indie authors, who had piles of their books that no one wanted, usually inspiring stories of their lives or those of their mother's or a first book of fiction that no one will buy because they never heard of you. I watched the disappointment form on their faces as no one stopped at their tables (unless they'd invited relatives) and no sales were made. They pulled out early, probably realizing they'd have stacks of these books still in their closets when they die. Hey, not making fun here. You should see my storage area. An accountant said I should write the space off on my taxes. Heaven knows what my family will do with my backlog. I did leave an hour before closing, but mostly because of the long drive and the shortening of daylight.
     Of the two others I attended, one scattered us around the library and those in the meeting room got the added perk of having some authors doing readings, though that didn't seem to draw an audience. Spaces were first come, first serve which I think caused some resentment, again among new authors who didn't get there ridiculously early to claim a good space. We also had to haul our own tables and chairs, which seemed odd in a library that does lots of programming and craft classes. We were offered snacks and beverages in the lounge, a nice touch, but if it hadn't been nearby, I might not have gone. I am no longer able to haul furniture to further my career. This being close enough, my husband came along to do the setup, then retired to watch football at home until the closing. Number of books sold--none. Mostly people stepped around us as they perused the stacks and checked out free books.
     I had the most sales at the most grueling of the events, outdoors from nine to four, must tote your own tables, chairs, etc.  Bring a lunch or buy one from the food vendors.  The temperature soared to ninety-five degrees. A bottle of water, a Coke Zero, and a large snow cone kept me from dehydrating even though we were under trees. A person handed out homemade fans of the type once given away by funeral homes. We used them. It's a big arts and crafts fair that really brings people out. I made all four of my sales before noon. The crowd thinned as the temps soared, and I bailed at three when the heat was at its worst. My parting words-I'm getting to old for this. I'll probably be there next year.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Galapagos Survivor

     If you put going to the Galapagos Islands on your bucket list, go when you are younger. Still, I signed up for this trip when a opportunity came along, and nope, my steadily dwindling royalties did not pay for it. Not that I wasn't warned by the repeated question, "Can you get on and off a boat?" Sure, I can. I was not deterred even by pictures of Zodiacs washing up on beaches and rocky shores. And so we embarked, landing first in the good-sized city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city with many parks and enlivened by its painted buildings, which I never knew existed. After a city tour, a visit to a cocoa plantation (very interesting), and buying some of their famous chocolate, we flew away to Baltra Island where the wind was so strong, it nearly blew me off my feet walking from the plane to the terminal, quite a trek. I should have known then this trip would be rugged. 
     A bus took us to our first experience with a panga, an inflatable boat like a Zodiac.  We received instructions on how to board,and I might add, the wind was still wild, which took us to our small but nice ship, our home for the next week. I managed the first boarding okay--step on the canvas side of the boat, step down one step, step down one immense step, and take a seat on the edge of the panga, which if you are lucky will have a handhold to grip for dear life. After a fairly long panga ride, or maybe it just seemed that way, we schooched down to the steps again, balanced on the rim, and were pulled aboard the water-washed steps into the ship by stalwart, muscular sailors. This routine would become common in days to come as it was the only way to get the various islands. There are no nice docks. A dry landing meant clambering over a pile of lava rocks while the guides held the panga more or less steady.  A wet landing consisted of sliding off the side of the boat like ill-trained Navy Seals into a foot of cold, moving water and squelching ashore in water shoes while carrying dry footwear. Actually, it was the easier of the two and I did several of these, but bowed out of the dry landings as I couldn't do the lava rock hikes anyhow.
     I won't go into all the wildlife we saw: dozens of unique birds in the process of nesting during the dry season, lots of sea life from sea lions to iguanas to turtles. I will only add one caveat: watch your step, lots of guano, and a fair amount of stink on some of those beaches. More often I chose the glass-bottomed boat experience despite having to roll from the panga onto the second small boat and then back again. I only fell once when I slid all the way down the side of the panga, but I couldn't get up--rescued again by our handsome, Hispanic guides, so there was some benefit. We observed rays, sea turtles, fish, but failed to find swimming iguanas. This was the dry season of winter. On land, the lizards just lay there in piles trying to stay warm. The sea lions liked to escort us. And we did see the little penguins and flightless cormorants on the rocky shore.
     As usual when I revealed I was a writer of romance, I took the common ribbing and answered a lot of questions. One of which I am always asked: Would they show up in my next book? Well, no. First, my current WIP uses what I learned in Australia. The Aussie Sinner should come out late next year.
Second, most of my characters are composites of many people, a trait here, a special smile there. So, they ask, how about a mystery based on our Galapagos trip where someone is killed by the fruit of the poison apple tree, about the only green bush on the islands this time of year. Most of the foliage looks dead or is cactus. My mind began working and came up with a title, Eden and the Poison Apple Tree, with an amateur sleuth named Eden. They deemed that too cheesy. Then, I thought, what are the exact symptoms of the poison apples? What is the motive to kill in such an isolated place? Not to mention that I'd need to do way more research on cruise ships. And this is why I don't write mysteries anymore. (See Mardi Gras Madness and Courir de Mardi Gras if you want to read my attempts.) So, I challenged them to write a first chapter which I would critique and not steal. Thus far, no takers.
      As the trip came to its end, I fell off lava rocks trying to put my shoes on, nearly wiped out my colleagues when the panga driver decided to pursue a whale, which we never saw, and I lost my grip and careened into the others, nearly pushing one into the sea. Pedro put his arm around me to hold me in place on the wild ride so the embarrassment might have been worth it. The sea was choppy, and I made my last and major fail trying to get back on the ship as both ship and panga bobbed wildly. I missed step number one, had to be hauled to number two where I fell again, and then was urged to make the leap to the ship's stairs as I froze trying to match both boats. I think I finally got aboard being pushed from behind and pulled from above when I finally got my feet to move. The ship's young, female doctor checked me out--bruised but not battered. Some said I was brave to go on this trip. I'd say fool hardy. Now I can imagine why someone might kill a person with poison apples--guides sick of hauling old ladies around in pangas. Heck, she was ancient anyhow. No great loss.
   

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Four Book Year

     This year, I have four titles being released: Heart of a Sinner, Lady Flora's Rescue, Dream for a Sinner, and in November, The Perfect Daughter.  All are full length from seventy thousand to over a hundred thousand words. Wow, people say. You are so prolific. How do you do it? Purely by accident. When I first started to write I realized and was told an author needed to supply fresh material frequently, not simply write one book and be done, though I know writers who have done this when they discover that writing is a ton of work that really doesn't pay.  Anyhow, I figured on two books a year as what I could manage. I've been published for nine years and found I average three books a year, but last year had only one, Putty in her Hands.
     Putty was the last book I did with my long-term editor who retired shortly afterward. Assigned a new editor for Perfect Daughter, I found she was a terrible fit, and I admit I backed out of that contract before I finished first edits so demanding it became her book and not mine. Because most authors lack confidence, I entirely shelved my second book for 2018 and asking for a new editor, proceeded through a glacially long editorial process for Heart of a Sinner which I'd had difficulty finishing. It was at the half -written when I lost all confidence as a writer thanks to editor #2. I struggled to the end, and the book became 93,000 words, but good words. Still, it was put through three edits, line edits, and two pre-galleys, something I'd never heard of before, before getting the final galley. I swear, if there is a mistake in that book, I couldn't find it. Because this editing process ran from July to October. Heart was pushed into 2019 for publication. It came out in January to great reviews.
      In the meantime, I took out the prequel to The Perfect Daughter which had been gathering dust because no one wanted an 18th century historical, and it was too long at 106,000 words. I did a rewrite. It is still 106,000 words, but the book was accepted by another press and sigh of relief, given to an editor I enjoy working with since she edits with a light hand, not a closed fist. The edits went well and fast, but their publishing queue was long, so it appeared in February of 2019. Feeling better about Daughter, I also rewrote it, taking out some of the edits I hated and restoring it more to its original form.  The same press accepted it. I worked with the same editor. That book will finally be out in November.
     And what about the fourth book of 2019? I wrote Dream for a Sinner from scratch while still doing the lengthy editing process on Heart of a Sinner. It is short for me, 70,000 words, but okay, I was a little tired by now.  I submitted it to my regular publisher, expecting a long, slow process that would result in a 2020 release. It winged through all the hoops so quickly I was astounded and will be out on August fourteen, 2019. The Sinners series is my most popular,  and all are written from scratch. That takes time. Usually, I submit one a year. Dream was supposed to be my 2020 Sinners entry, but became my fourth book for this year.  Now, however, fans of the series will have to wait a long time for the next, The Aussie Sinner, which I've started but is going very slowly.
     So, how did I do four full-length books in one year: two rewrites of older books, two brand new books and a crazy publishing schedule. I must admit, I am no Nora Roberts and don't make her kind of money either. Please don't expect another four book year!
   

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Creating Small Towns

     Many of my books are set in small towns because I know them well having grown up in a tiny town, population 2,000, and now living in a vastly larger one with 37,000 people. In writing my very first book, Mardi Gras Madness, I needed to create a small town for my heroine to live in. She comes from a fictional town I've called Lost Spring, PA, based on my hometown area, and she moves to another deep in Louisiana, quite a different place in customs and history. I used the layout of a nearby town but fictionalized all the people and businesses. Some authors would make a map of the town before starting, but I dive right in and create the landmarks as I go as needed by the plot.
     Lovely Laura, the librarian, needs a place to stay in fictional Chapelle where options are very limited. She asks an old codger at the gas station (all towns need a gas station), and he directs her across the the street to a sandwich shop which has an apartment above the store. From there, she has a grand view of Main Street (most towns do have one of these) and the church on the village green. The church is vital to the story and is described in detail. Too much detail my editor said, but I convinced her that was necessary to the plot as was the feral kitten Laura finds living under the raised building for a mystery that slowly evolves.  She buys furniture at a thrift store down the street and clothes at Helen's Boutique, the only dress shop in town, and indulges in beignets and French bread from a local family run bakery. The library she has come to run is in an old house and very outdated. And so the town grows in my imagination. I had no great intention of using Chapelle again.
     My second book, Courir de Mardi Gras, took place in an even smaller town I dubbed Port Jefferson which had a stately home, a small library, one doctor's office, a not so good restaurant, a black neighborhood, and a bar where locals hang out. All figured into the plot when I still fancied myself a mystery writer. Deciding to try contemporary romance without a mystery plot, I found myself back in Chapelle which had grown since my last visit. It now had a B & B, a small paddle wheeler for tourists, some good restaurants, a real estate office, and an interior design studio. The old sandwich shop burnt down and is now a parking lot. Even I was astounded at how it had evolved just like the characters living there. Laura has managed to get a new library built in the intervening years and is now the best friend of Celine, the new heroine of A Taste of Bayou Water. Fortunately, Pommier's Bakery still makes hot beignets every morning.
     Then, a phrase from Taste about Celine'sgreat-grandmother dancing on a table at Broussard's Barn during the 1920's stuck in my imagination. It took me some time to tell Granny's Roz's story, Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, and I had to strip Chapelle of all its modernity. The church still stands, few stores line the street, and the B & B is a boarding house. The local hospital is housed in a donated mansion, and the library is located in one room of the Methodist church hall. Broussard's Barn where Laura marries on one mad night out stands of the city limits and is now a speakeasy as well as a dance hall.  But yes, Pommier's still cranks out hot beignets.
     After I completed the Mardi Gras series, I wrote several single titles: A Trashy Affair, An Ashy Affair, and Putty in her Hands. All take place in Chapelle which eventually gains a Subway shop, a coffee house, and a Chinese restaurant. The funeral home in Madness has changed hands. Characters from previous books pop up here and there in small cameos. Broussard's Barn is still a dive but changes with the times,.and Pommier's makes fancier pastry, but still has hot beignets. Sometimes I am surprised at how the town grows between books featured there. Now, even my head Sinner, Joe Dean Billodeaux,lives on a ranch on its outskirts, spilling over from my Sinners sport romances.
     Obviously, I love building this town book by book and do have a weakness for both libraries and beignets. However, beware when you create your own. All these details must be committed to memory in order to recall when they appeared. Your readers will point out any slip as they probably know the town better than the author. Since all my books are on the same drive, I often flash back and forth to do a word search in order to make sure I've got the setting right.  Yeah, I should write all this down, but would rather be working on my next book which might just take place in Chapelle.
   

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Roving Characters

     I believe most writers are loathe to leave their beloved characters when they finish a book. Even bad ones can be used again if you don't kill them off. Since I write mostly series, I am able to hang on to the main creations for a long time though they may fade into the background somewhat. My former editor always chastised me for wanting to bring too many old characters back to life and sometimes made me take them out despite my argument that my readers wanted to know what the former characters were doing now. Yes, like real people they continue their imaginary lives, have children, take new jobs, retire, have grandchildren.
     I have several single title books that I simply call my Chapelle novels as they all take place in that imaginary town. Trashy Affair deals with a devoted environmentalist who falls for wounded warrior, Merlin Tauzin, who owns with a big ass truck. The funnier episodes were based on my own garbage collection problems. It's one of my personal favorites, but Merlin and Jane were left behind when the book ended. Still, people kept asking about him. I wrote Ashy Affair next, which takes place in the same town, but again I put aside the hunky fireman at the end of the story. Then, along came Putty in her Hands, and I was able to update fans about both the Merlin and the fireman since they all live in the same small town and would know each other. As  Julia attempts to save an old hotel from demolition, she goes before the Parish Council, and we learn Merlin now serves as a councilman who decides to help. Jane, always the conservationist, is on her side too, and so is another escapee from another single title, A Taste of Bayou Water, Jonathan Hartz, billionaire, and his Cajun wife, Celine. At one point, the fireman, now the chief, saves the hotel from burning down.
     Sometimes, my single title characters even intrude in my series titles. Recently, Jon Hartz, has employed Trinity Billodeaux as coder in his company and acts as his mentor. That book, Dream for a Sinner, one of the Sinners series, is in line edits right now. But in the same title, a retired bull rider, Bodey Landrum, makes a break from The Roses series and shows up at a charity rodeo given by the Billodeauxs along with three other Roses characters. Well, why not? Wouldn't Bodey take off from his famous bull riding school to help out in a good cause? And he'd absolutely take the geeky Trinity out to a honky-tonk and help him out in a bar room brawl. No pub date on this one yet, but probably winter sometime.
     Often, people ask me what became of secondary series characters who aren't really suited for a book of their own. A friend recently wondered about the scheming Ilsa and the outrageous Prince Dobbs.  I was happy to tell her I gave them a paragraph in the epilogue of The Heart of a Sinner. While not there in person, others gossip about them. Yes, Ilsa is still trying to get Prince to marry her.
     If there are any characters you are curious about, let me know. I assure you they are all living full and interesting lives in my imagination. Who knows when they will show up again in my writing?
     

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Pricing

     It's no secret that authors, especially the self-published and e-published, are making less and less money for their writing efforts. E-publishers are feeling the pinch, too, and several have gone out of business recently. The amount of effort that goes into writing, perfecting, and publishing a book is vast, and after a while, no longer seems worth the effort. The day of putting a book out there for ninety-nine cents and expecting to make a fortune by selling millions is past, though I do know people who only buy books prices under a dollar and simply delete them one after another when they are found unsatisfactory. Every once in a while, they get a good one and, I guess, are satisfied with that. They also scoop up freebies, the idea being to give away the first book in the series and they will buy others. I can tell you from personal experience, that rarely works either.
     So, what is a fair price for an e-book that is well-written and edited and provides a good story? One of the presses I write for started off selling all their books for $4.99, the best price they thought they could get. The authors' royalty came to a dollar a copy. Then, the publisher decided lowering the price of all their books, whether 100,000 or 70,000 words or 40,000 words to $3.99 would bump sales. Nope, but now the author got eight-five centers for sale. Surrendering finally to Amazon which now pays by the pages read or gives the books away to their top members, I found my royalty for a 90,000 word book is now forty-seven cents per copy, scant reward for all that work and in my case hours spent on research.
     Fortunately, my primary e-press is still holding the line with shorter books priced at $4.99 and longer ones at $5.99. Their brief foray into turning all their new titles over to KDP for a short time resulted in lots and lots of unhappy authors, and eventually they backed out of that deal. I think these prices are fair for good reads well-edited and of some length. Of course, my royalties are not what they once were in the heyday of e-publishing. So many cheap books have glutted the market, it is hard to meet even the $25 required for them to cut a check in the case of the publisher mentioned in the above paragraph. I still get a quarterly check from my primary publisher whom I once asked what happened to my sales?  She replied, "You are doing better than most just to get a check each time." They, too, don't pay out if you earn less than $25 a quarter. At the end of the year, even the smallest pittance is paid out to balance the books. I know some of my fellow authors asked where their final check had gone.  The answer, they hadn't sold any books in a year's time. Some are getting out of the business altogether as there is no profit in it.
      Let's not forget about pirated books and sales of used copies. The author gets zilch from these sales, many of which seem to be set up for money laundering. For a few days, one of my used books was listed for sale at over $1,000, and it quickly vanished, deal complete, I guess. At the moment two used copies of Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball and Son of a Sinner are offered for $36.33 and $69.72 for a supposed mass market edition--which doesn't exist. All my books are Print on Demand rather than mass market which puts thousands of copies out at one time. Wouldn't that be nice, I've often thought. All of my books are still available in print and e-copies. I'll send anyone in the U.S. an autographed copy for $20, and that includes the postage. Sadly, they are hardly collectibles. Wish they were. Somewhere money changes hands for my books. I just don't get any of it.
     As for me, I keep writing because I enjoy it, have tales to tell, and time to put into a project that takes a year to complete from writing the first word to getting it out in print for such small rewards. The irony is that I know my current books are better than those that sold so well when I started out as experience counts. I do hope a few people out there enjoy them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

TRR March, 2019 Contest Answer

     It's that time of the year again for a contest. On March 19th, I'll be giving away an autographed copy of my latest Sinners book, The Heart of a Sinner, in The Romance Reviews spring contest. Here is the answer: D Matt's Sister-in-law. Good luck in the drawing. This book has been getting excellent reviews. http://theromancereviews.com to enter.
     Speaking of reviews, I mentioned last month trying a new review service similar to NetGalley but cheaper.  Buzz Marketing promised ten impartial reviews within a month for $125 or my money back.  The reviews did not come in as a deluge but one by one slowly, then picking up speed and still coming in. They are generally well written and more than a few words, mostly four and five stars for the above title which I feel it merits, but then, I am the author. Of course there was one sort of puzzling review, not bad exactly, but the only person to give it three stars, though she mentioned it should be 3.5. I couldn't figure out what she didn't like about the story except that it was complicated and she hated a character she was meant to hate. Anyhow, I appreciate that she wrote a review. I learned years ago that my books will not be to everyone's taste. Though I did get some NetGalley reviews, this seems the better bargain financially.
      My new historical title, Lady Flora's Rescue, will be up for grabs on NetGalley in March, just for a week, which I do not know. Please keep an eye out for your chance to get a free read. I might also submit to Buzz Marketing again. Sad that trying to get reviews costs more more than I make on my books. However, I did see a small uptick in sales that I believe are the consequences of these reviews as I reached new readers, a good result.