Saturday, April 8, 2017

Blogs, Bloggers, and Blog Tours

     When my first published book, Goals for a Sinner, came out way back in 2010, my publisher encouraged me write a blog about writing. Not too keen on the idea, I said in the very first one that I felt like I was speaking to myself in a dark closet. I rarely got a comment and still don't, but to my surprise 100-150 people do look at my blog each month--if they aren't foreign hackers just bouncing their stuff off my site. I've often wondered about that. I post only monthly, and for a few years also wrote monthly for romancingthejock.com which is now defunct. Blogging about sports or writing takes times and effort and often research. I much prefer my brief daily posts on Facebook under Carla Lynn Shurr Hostetter, where both fans and old friends can find me under either name to post a friend request.
     I've often been a guest blogger at various sites. If you plan to do so, be sure to have your press kit ready. A very basic press kit includes a fairly professional photo of your face, a brief biography, your books covers, and blurbs for said books. Often guests are given a long list of interview questions to  answer, or you are asked to write something fresh just for them. Their followers are urged to make a comment. I have to say I've rarely solicited a comment on these guest spots either. All in all, the blogger gets a break from their column, and you get some free publicity.  It does take work on your part and time away from whatever you are are writing at the moment. While I have meant and become friends with some lovely bloggers, I honestly don't think this effort has ever sold one of my books.
     Recently while sitting between two writers at an Author's Row, one of those multiple author book signings with sometimes up to fifty authors participating, all competing for the attention of a thin crowd, mostly the friends and families of specific people, we discussed blog tours for lack of anything better to do.  The lady to my right was eager to try one. Jaded as I am, I said with my experience simply guest blogging the whole idea of doing dozens of these in a row simply horrified me. I'd never seen any financial return, and the tour organizers expect to get paid, sometimes pretty much. Whenever I get such an offer from a company doing this for money, I just delete the message. If an individual asks me to do a free spot, I might, but my expectations won't be high.  I don't think they sell books.  If you've had big success with this, let me know and I might reconsider, but I doubt it.
     I've also sat on numerous Authors Rows that usually require some travel time and a lot of sit time. I believe places like Barnes and Nobel and libraries sponsor these to get the self-published and/or little known authors off their backs for a book signing. I place myself among the little known small press authors. Simply put,with the ease of printing a book nowadays, we are too many. While libraries provide a free spot, B & N charges 40% of anything you sell. It is possible to lose money if you only get a 35% discount on your print copies, but they benefit by having your friends and family walk to the back of the store full of temptations to reach your table. The best I do is usually two books sold to friends who came to support me. I do make new contacts among the authors and hand out lots of book cards. Sometimes, a sale on Amazon crops up later from a person who'd rather read the work on their Kindle and get it at a cheaper price.  That is perfectly fine with me.
     I've yet to discover a gimmick that really sells books, doesn't cost a fortune, or take up tons of time better spent writing the next book.  I am all ears if you know of one.
   

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Contest Answer

Not really a post, just the answer to win a copy of Ashy Affair in the Romance reviews big March blowout contest.  In Trashy Affair, the hero's occupation is pilot.  Go to http://theromancereviews.com/event.php to learn more. My question should appear on day three in March.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Favorite Books--and Why

     I am not speaking of books that influenced me like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre in high school, Lord of the Rings in college, and Gone with the Wind one long, hot summer. Nope, talking about those I have written.  Though like all authors, I love each baby I have brought into the world, some do have a special place in my heart.  Doesn't mean that publishers or readers necessarily adored them, too.
     My first love was Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, a 1920's historical that required nine months to write because of all the research.  It grew out of one sentence in A Taste of Bayou Water when a person recalls the heroine's great-grandmother dancing on a table at the local speakeasy. Yes, Queen was turned down time and again, those good rejections that said it was a good story and well-written, but readers currently had no interest in that decade.  By the time it came out, my mother to whom the book was dedicated, had lost her vision to macular degeneration and never got to read it. While it doesn't sell well online, most of its reviews are five stars, and I find it easy to hand sell.
Rosamond was a flapper who had no wish to be queen of the ball, but rather an independent "new woman" who made her own way in the world.  She makes some mistakes along the way but triumphs in the end by having the job she wants and marrying the man she chooses. Within the book are some of my mother's childhood memories of that time.
     Queen fell into second place when Trashy Affair came along. Despite the title, this is a tale of recycling both garbage and people and of small town politics.  In it, I think I achieved the perfect balance of hero and heroine, an attraction of opposites.  She is feisty and refuses to believe a man like Merlin Tauzin, a little trashy himself, can help her restore recycling to the town. Oh, yes, he can do that and more.  This one has always sold well in both e-book and softcover and was optioned by Amazon for its Encore program, the only source for the e-book now where it still garners plenty of great reviews. That's why the failure of Ashy Affair, a companion book killed by defective e-book copies, really hurt. I felt Ashy was almost as good but never had a chance to prove itself.  It's my poor child who can't live up to its brother.
     My third favorite (last one, I promise) is Wish for the Sinner, the second in my popular Sinners sport romances.  More than just sex with athletes, these books are also a family saga that follows a quarterback, Joe Dean Billodeaux, from his days on the bench as a backup to his retirement as a franchise player and icon.  He starts out as a terrible womanizer, and some readers have a problem with that.  By mid-story, he has fathered an illegitimate child and found the woman he wants more than anyone else to help raise the boy. Joe and Nell's story in Wish goes on beyond their wedding to having their own children and adopting another. It was turned down as the sequel to Goals for a Sinner as not a romance since those are supposed to end with the marriage, evidently the place where romance goes to die, but another press did pick it up and published many more Sinners books as the family dynasty grew.  The Sinner's Legacy series follows the lives of Joe's children. The Sinners books now number seven with the eighth due out in March or April, my nineteenth to be published--and yet my closet is still full of manuscripts and my brain full of ideas for new books.
      Since I just received the cover of Sister of a Sinner today, I might as well share it now and hope you will give this one a chance.  Though there is a hunky football player between the covers, this is the story of Joe's adopted Mexican daughter, Xochi. Taking place during the off-season, it is an adventure tale as well as a romance with less football than usual. Xochi's backstory can be read in Kicks for a Sinner if you want to catch up with the Billodeauxs. Happy reading--and oh, Happy Valentine's Day.
   

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dedicated to the ...

     I'd been writing for five years and was working on my twelfth novel (all unsold) when The Wild Rose Press unexpectedly offered me a contract for Goals for a Sinner, the fifth in that pile of manuscripts. As you should all know by now, there is a great deal more to getting published than writing the book. The author fills out numerous forms to help with the creation of a cover, aid in PR efforts, and complete the details needed for the production like writing a brief biography--and indicating to whom you will dedicate your tome.  While I had some vague ideas about dedications for a few of my books, Goals stumped me.
     Being a football romance, who would want that dedication? I fell back on the obvious and dedicated it to my husband, a long suffering man who put up with my hours spent hogging the computer, late or slightly burnt dinners, and my despondency over many rejections.  In fact, he'd recently taken me out for Chinese after an especially devastating failure when I was considering giving up.  I actually got a fortune cookie saying, "Don't worry about losing. If is it right it happens.  So I continued to write.  And the next week got my first contract of twenty thus far. My husband never read the book, too afraid of being embarrassed by the sex scenes, but he did contribute by answering numerous questions about football.
      After that, I dedicated one to the daughter who reads romances and whose many escapades have made it into some of my books.  Then, the other daughter wanted to know where her dedication was. She reads mostly mysteries, and I did acknowledge that in one of my two mystery novels.  Can you believe my son wanted his dedication though he does not read my books--but highly recommends them to female friends.  His book contained a scene from his childhood, the only part he laid eyes on.  I'd always intended to dedicate Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball to my mother (that 12th book I was writing when Goals took off) because I'd used some stories from her childhood of growing up in the 1920's.  When it was finally published, I proudly gave her a copy, considering it one of my best books.  She did not read it. I received numerous excuses as to why: the print is too small (I sent her an enlarger bar), her glasses weren't working well (bugged my sister to take her to an eye exam).  In the end, we discovered she had advanced macular degeneration and could barely see at all. She'd been bluffing for some time. The book remained unread.
     I moved on to doing dedications to my sister and two editors, but finally ran out of ideas. I hesitated in dedicating A Trashy Affair, one of my favorite books, because of the title. It is really about recycling, but has quite the slightly trashy hero on the cover. I asked if any of my many librarian friends were game.  Two responded, and I mentioned both in the dedication. Unfortunately, one did not like the book, had some P.C. issues about it, and I never heard from the other. I did toss-ups to my Facebook friends on two more books.  First one to respond got the dedication.  I did warn that it was very sexy in advance. In the meantime, one of them got religion and never read it. Don't know about the other. In fact, I've dedicated books to four people without telling them.  None have mentioned this.  I assume they also did not read the books or didn't like the story and didn't want to say so.
     I do try to personalize my dedications. None of this to  R.G. and D.D. stuff for me, though I sometimes don't mention last names lest embarrassment occur. I attempt to tell a bit about them like "wonderful librarian" or "superior quilter" or "loves mysteries".  But all in all, dedications are quite tricky.  I've always thought it would be great to have a book dedicated to me--but what if I don't like the story?
   

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Worst Sellers--and Why

     Most authors love to brag about hitting a bestseller's list of any kind at all. I once made it to the top of the free-giveaways in romance on Amazon with Trashy Affair, not exactly a great triumph. Few of us want to talk about our failures though we analyze them endlessly and swear never to do that again! I will say that in every book I write I strive to create wonderful characters and interesting plots. I have never "phoned" one in as some well-know authors do knowing the public will buy anything they put out. I can't afford to disappoint, but sometimes despite my best efforts, I do.
     First, I have learned the hard way that covers with a single women on them don't sell nearly as well as those with studly guys. My books have sex scenes, but aren't particularly steamy so I prefer less explicit covers--but my worst sellers have lone women or discrete flowers on them. This applies to Will of her Own, Always Yellow Roses, A Wild Red Rose, and The Courville Rose. Might as well reveal my worst sellers now.
     Choice of characters also plays a part.  Few like the bad girl turned good because it takes a while for her to become likable, example Wild Red Rose. The kick-ass heroine is very in. Not many want to watch a naive young woman grow up and gain strength as in Will of her Own. Loosely based on my my college years and wanderings after that with a self-centered first husband who was not a rock musician like the one in the book, this is women's fiction, girl growing up if you want to call it that, not romance, and maybe a little too real. There is humor though of a dark variety and a happy ending, but that does not suffice. More than one reader has said they will stick to my Sinners football romances.
      Plot can also cause a crash and burn. Reincarnation doesn't seem to be popular right now.. In Courville Rose, a ghost condemned to haunt her ancestral home forever because she committed suicide when her fiance dies in the Civil War (she wasn't very stable to begin with), notices the souls of people she knew being returned to earth in modern times. She vows to seize a new body and drive the other soul out so that she can search for her lost love in hopes that he has come back, too. However, the only soul she deems weak enough to take over, turns out to be a fighter and refuses to leave. So, she must share the body of the child, grow up again, and try to convince her host to marry the man she wants, not the choice of the girl. Maybe it is the time spent in childhood that harms this book. It's only gotten two reviews, both favorable, so I don't know. Usually if someone hates my books they say straight out why, but few have purchased or read this one.
      My worst failure, ranked at 5,938,618 among Amazon's millions of titles as compared to Trashy Affair at 106,000 (if you don't think that is good, let me tell you it is) is Always Yellow Roses, a family saga that starts in Louisiana in the 1830's, goes up to the Civil War, then in the second half switches to the 1980's when a teenage girl meets a guy she is sure is her reincarnated lover from the past--and proves it, more or less. The book contains lots of strong and persistent women, but perhaps Noreen is too young when she comes into the tale as a teenager. She, too, grows to adulthood and gains her HEA, but I am thinking her youth and the reincarnation theme, and maybe even the Civil War killed this one. I don't know. Personally, I love it. Or it could be when the first of the Roses series came out (The Convent Rose), a short, light-hearted romance, it was immediately within hours of release attacked by a troll who couldn't even get the name of the hero right, garbled, and revealed the plot so that series never thrived. The ugly review is still there, the longest one of course, and despite the several good reviews, readers see this one first as it is the only negative one.
     Then, we come An Ashy Affair,which I talked about in Writing Disasters. It should have been a hit being a companion piece to Trashy Affair, having a sexy guy cover, a good and complex plot with a mystery subplot and well-developed adult characters, plus the HEA, but defective early reviews copies containing only 122 of the 364 page book drew so many ugly reviews about how incomplete and plotless it seemed, I don't know how to stop the flood. Evidently many Net Galley reviewers downloaded it and the ugly continues to flow. I contacted every one and informed they should ask for the complete book.Only one responded and raised the rating from two stars to four. Another said she knew it was defective but was just going to judge the entire book on the first 122 pages because that's what she has. Terrible review followed of course. With that attitude, no wonder. Destroys my faith in Net Galley for sure. Not their fault, but the publishers for sending out the bad copies, but what kind of reviewers do they attract? And to think I had to pay for their opinions!
     Well, enough crying in my wine. I wish I had some right now. The Sinners series still rules in my ratings, seven titles in all with the eighth, Sister of a Sinner, coming out in the spring. Another rule I've learned is just keep writing your most successful series. It is what your readers want no matter how much you want to spread your author's wings and fly in other directions.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Travels

     I've said before that I write to travel.  Every penny I earn from royalties or selling at events goes into a fund for my next adventure.  If I have a good year, I go farther. If not, I stay close to home. I'm sure not getting rich as a writer, but I am feeding my soul.  I accumulated enough funds for a week long trip to Spain, reported I fear, ad nauseam, on Facebook. Although I went on and on about octopus tapas, great museums, gypsy beggars, and pickpockets, I didn't deal with what travel means to a writer--inspiration of course.
     This doesn't mean my next book will take place in Spain. Who knows? That gypsy beggar who hounded me for a block as she moaned about her children starving and needing milk might appear in another book in a totally different role. Understanding just enough Spanish to get what she said and not believing a word of it, I finally gave her a euro from my little coin purse to be rid of her. I did not flaunt my cash or its location for the very skillful pickpockets of Barcelona for whom she might have been shilling. Yes, one of our company was robbed and never felt a thing, not a single bump, another incident that could be used in any big city. That said, Barcelona is a city of great beauty, a worthy setting for any romance, from its lovely street tiles and lampposts along the Diagonal to the crooked, skinny lanes in the Old City that take one back to Medieval times, minus the stench and far worse beggars than that gypsy woman.
     Madrid was not so beautiful, another big, noisy city that doesn't shut down until three a.m. though they have preserved their neoclassical buildings along the Gran Via and have many nice squares full of, I swear, the same gypsy women beggars. It also has an extensive Old City where we ventured for a lecture on Flamenco at a club dedicated to that dance, had tapas and red wine, then a performance by three female and one male dancer (muy macho). I liked that one of the women was older and still had lots of fire. The dance is never the same twice as the dancer interprets a story being sung and accompanied by guitar. The rest of the company supplies a rhythmic clapping, the men a steady beat, the women faster and more complicated. The fellow sitting next to me whispered that a novel about a flamenco troupe would make a great book.  It would!  But, I'd have to be a lot more knowledgeable before I took that on.
      More likely, people I meet will show up in a book like the ninety-two year old WWII nurse who kept up with us just fine or the plumber who for some reason never got the meal he ordered.  They can be inserted anywhere, in any story.  I collect characters like I do plots I gather from overhearing conversations.  Yes, the threat that you might show up in one of my novels is real, but you probably won't recognize your fictionalized self.  At least, I hope not! Anyhow, I always announce at the introductions that I write romance novels, so they have been warned.
     Just a caution--you cannot write off your travels as research trips on your taxes unless you are a real travel writer who is not being reimbursed. Wouldn't it be divine if you could? On my list--Australia and Italy, Scotland and Iceland. I'd better get busy writing and rebuilding my modest travel fund. Too bad Ashy Affair got off to such a bad start with the defective e-books. I hoped it would be a nice moneymaker like its companion, Trashy Affair, which got me to Alaska. Actually, a trip to Spain costs less than Alaska as did my stay in Costa Rica. This coming year, I might have to drive somewhere.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Publishing Disasters

     I've been writing for ten years and been published for six, not all that long a time, yet I have experienced my share of publishing disasters. The worst came this week. An Ashy Affair, a companion piece to Trashy Affair, came out last Friday. Pre-sales were good. While an author doesn't always know how a book will be received, this was my sure thing, a funny, sexy book with a happy ending and a little mystery and pathos thrown in. As usual, I awaited my first review--which said the book was terrible with an awful ending. Huh? It ends with an HEA wedding. I thought the person must be a troll as she gave no details about the story and reported the abuse to Amazon.
      Next review, not as bad, good characters, etc. but made no sense, went nowhere, abrupt ending. Now, I am totally perplexed. Finally, a loyal reader contacted me personally to say she didn't understand why I ended the very short book of 122 pages so strangely during a lunch between two sisters. Ah-ha! The book has 342 pages and 29 chapters. Readers and worse, reviewers, were getting less than half of the book. I reported this immediately to my publisher, their fault, a computer glitch, but the damage has been done, I am afraid. Who is going to look at those comments and want to buy the book? Some good reviews are filtering in, but it may take months to repair this damage. Often people buy and store books on their readers and might not get to the defective copy for a long time--and then there will be more bad reviews. Of course they can trade it in for a good one, but will they bother? Worse, Ashy Affair was sent to NetGalley, a review source from which came some of the worse remarks. I did notify those reviewers that their copies had been faulty, but so far none have changed their opinions.  Yes, I shed some tears over this.  Ashy will never be the book it was intended to be.
     I've talked about being orphaned when a publisher shuts down. This happened to me about nine books into my career.  The day that small e-press shut down, six of my titles disappeared. The authors hadn't received royalties for half a year, a sure sign of upcoming trouble. In my circumstances, the publisher did everything she could to make things right for her authors. She returned rights immediately, tried to place her writers with other presses by making wonderful recommendations, and saw that we all got part of the remaining assets to make up for lost royalties. Still, though all my titles were picked up fairly rapidly (most of the Sinners series), two book, one newly under contract and one lacking only its cover were in limbo for over a year. First, I had to have all the others re-edited and re-covered by the new press. This is akin to putting out six new books in one year and was exhausting before the two new ones could come out.  So, reset my writing career back a year. Believe me, I was lucky.  Some orphans never receive the royalties owed and don't get their rights back without a struggle so that they can move on. They are left in the cold and dark searching for a new publisher.
     I might have mentioned before to always personally correct your galley copy and send in those changes. This is the last time you see a book before it goes to print. No one will do this for you. It gets published flaws and all if you don't do the work of rereading every word in a book that you might be thoroughly tired of by now after several edits. Usually, I find an average of twenty-seven errors, and my books run long. Some are tiny and probably wouldn't have been noticed by the readers, a comma here or there. Some are huge like half the book having quotation marks turned backwards as happened in Wish for a Sinner, a novel of 103,000 words. I noted every time this happened, and the corrections were done, but how stupid would the book have looked if this hadn't been caught. In both this case and above, these were computer errors, one of the chances you take with e-publishing.
      If a cover is wrong, do speak up.  Twice, my light-hearted books received creepy covers.  Once the title was misspelled. Another time, my blond, Nordic clean-shaven hero appeared swarthy with a black goatee. You aren't supposed to fuss about your covers.  No, they can't get a model who looks exactly like your hero or heroine, but they can conjure up the right mood and get the spelling correct. One author I met admitted she had a cover with woman who had three arms.  It's still out there, but she had made a conversation piece of it.
     I have experienced all these horrors, but not, thank heaven, having my pen name taken away permanently by a publisher and having to start all over with a new identity and no name recognition. Nor have I had to sue for long overdue back royalties which the publisher continued to receive but never distributed.  These things could lie ahead, but I certainly hope not.
     If you are an author who has experienced a publishing disaster, please feel free to vent here with your comments.  If you are an author who has never had a printing disaster, I envy you.