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.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jealousy

     I have to admit it.  I am often jealous of fellow authors, the ones who post they are number one on some list or another on Amazon or a bestseller somewhere.  The only time I've gained the top of a list was when A Trashy Affair was given away free for one week, 11,000 downloads--and barely sold a copy after that since everyone who wanted it now had the book.  Amazon did take note, however, and bought the e-rights for their Encore program with a fair advance I've yet to earn back as it is now given away for free or sold for ninety cents.  Still, many people are reading it, and I hope it leads them to An Ashy Affair which was released yesterday and is also one of my best books.  That is about my only bragging right.
     When a fellow writer announced her fantasy book sold 250 copies in the U.K. and had been chosen for a book club, yes, I felt those pangs again.  Why not me?  I have readers in Australia, Canada, France most recently, and the U.K. She on the other hand is envious of the number of books I have in print, nineteen as of today.  What to do about these feelings? Tamp them down and say congratulations. Try to be happy for those who have succeeded.  Being at the top of a list is a very brief pleasure.  Then, it is gone, and you have to get back to work and try to attain it again. Writing is often cruel business.  Don't let jealousy consume you.
     Except for being prolific, I can't imagine anyone being jealous of me, though I know it has happened.  A person once posted a very ugly review on a book that had otherwise been well received (Paradise for a Sinner).  She linked it to her web site--and I did not go there to read it in full. I noted she had the same last name as a popular writer who also does sports romances, so perhaps a relative trying to boost another author's work by tearing mine down. Believe me, it wasn't necessary. That author far excels me in sales and fans already.  I am no threat to anyone. In fact, I owe that author a thanks as Amazon often pairs my books with hers.  There is plenty of room in the genre for all of us.  We don't need to knock each other down.
     I once had an art teacher who said, "Never compare yourself to others."  Do the best work you can, enjoy learning a new technique or selling a painting,  Don't say I'll never be as good as Renoir or Van Gogh or Rembrandt or the naturally talented person working at the next easel.  The same applies to writing.  Let go of jealousy, the urge to say something snarky about the other person's book instead of congratulations, and celebrate you own small triumphs without boasting or rubbing it in someone else's face.
      I do hope An Ashy Affair will reach the top of some list or other.  It isn't likely.  But, I know I've written a good, entertaining book that will make you laugh and cry.  My best hope is that you will enjoy reading it (and post good, not snarky, reviews).
   

Friday, August 26, 2016

Between Books

     Technically, I am on hiatus.  I finished writing Sister of a Sinner, did the rewrite, synopsis, blurb, and sent it off to my editor--who sent it to readers unfamiliar with the Sinners series, and they remarked, "Who are all these people?"  Even the list of in the front of the book didn't help them nor the quick sketches of each person as they entered the story. I swear I've explained what a traiteur is a dozen times and always put it in italics as a foreign word, but one reader kept calling my heroine a traitor until she finally caught on. For those who don't know, a traiteur is a traditional healer who uses prayer, herbal cures, and other folk remedies to heal in Cajun country where many of my books take place.  The trouble with long running series is they gather characters like a snowball rolling downhill, and I keep thinking fans of the series want to know what they are doing along with the main characters.  Yes, I know this is a failing of mine. I try hard to snuff some of them out, but don't succeed.  Most likely Sister will be rejected or have agonizing edits. Not looking forward to that.  I try not to think I've wasted three or four months writing a book that will never be published.  It has happened before.
      What am I doing between books? Maintenance.  I updated my web site, www.lynnshurr.com.  I forced myself to send a query and sample chapters of one of my Regency books to a high-powered agency recommended by a dear friend.  Eight books sitting in the closet waiting to be discovered. I don't have high hopes. Query letters are not my forte, though I've read numerous articles on how to do them well and attended workshops on the same. Bracing for rejection--again.  Might end up being a two bogie month. Got to put on my alligator hide.
      But, I did design and order promotional postcards for An Ashy Affair to be released on September 28th and up for pre-sale on Amazon now.  It's a really good one with a great cover, and I do think it will sell well. There's a plus to offset the minuses.
      I caught up with some reading, my favorites, Norah Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and looking forward to the new Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I read about six books a month, all I can handle and still write my own. This usually includes one for my book club, this month the tender love story, Eleanor and Park, a YA title banned, I guess, for bad language by people who really think teens don't use those words.  On my car's CD player, I am listening to the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, a eloquent story of the abolitionist Grimke sisters and their family's slaves. Yes, I wish I wrote that well. Just finished Cavalier by Lucy Worsley, nonfiction. Who knows when I might want to write about the 17th century conflict between the Roundheads and the bewigged Cavaliers? Also worked in Sweet Tomorrows by Debbie Macomber. It is sweet.  When I was laid up with pneumonia earlier this year a person suggested if I read more, I might improve my own writing. Sorry, I don't think I could read more and still produce two or three books of my own each year.
      Then, I started research on Never a Sinner about Teddy, the Billodeaux's handicapped son. Trying to figure out wheelchair sex led me to many porn sites, but also some very useful blogs by people actually in this situation.  I was touched by their stories and advice to others. I planned to take a month's break, but once I began the research, I couldn't help but start writing the story, not pushing, going slowly because after all, I am on hiatus. Maybe I should write one called Never on Hiatus.  Two weeks away from the computer seems to be all I can mange. Of course, if Sister is not accepted, that will break the series--and then what?  A topic for another time.