Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Pitfalls of Writing a Long, Long Series

      I love to write series.  My Sinners Sports Romances has now come to a conclusion after fifteen books spanning two generations on the lives and loves of a football dynasty. Sales for this series simply disappeared two years ago for no reason I could discover whether it was the TikTok scam to get free books or as one editor told me, my books were too old fashioned. Young people today want highly emotional one person narrators who spend most of the books trying to solve one problem rather than third person narratives that are often funny, i.e. my books.  Strange, when I first began writing I was told readers no longer wanted first person narratives, funny or not. The book I had offered at the time was Mardi Gras Madness. Eventually, it sold along with Courir de Mardi Gras with three POVS and Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball having one. They remain among my bestsellers and are easy to vend at authors' events but I haven't written anymore. Trends come and trends go, and one of those trends might kill a long running series.

      I wrote four books featuring bull riders that petered out after four books.  I had planned two more. They are still in the back of my mind, and some of the characters have done cameos in other books so they do live on.  Currently, I am working on a ten book series, The Longleigh Chronicles, Regency set historicals that are only now catching on as I finish up book nine. I found that as I worked on this ninth book, I'd forgotten some details as I went along. Fortunately, all of my books are stored on my desk top computer (and a data stick and a Toshiba external drive). I can go back into those files and verify some character's eye color or the name of a servant, etc. that I'd long forgotten. I also keep a list of characters in a paper file with their characteristics written down just in case of computer failure.  As the series expands, I need to keep track of the children born, age, and appearance. It takes a good memory and many backups to write a long series.

    Then there are the things I never considered important.  In Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball which takes place in the 1920s, the heroine buys several Picasso paintings that her bully of a husband hates. She loses everything to get a divorce and starts life over in another town. I forgot all about those Picassos until a reader asked me what happened to them. Gee, I don't know.  Her ex might have slashed them or given them to the maid to sell.  Perhaps they are still in the attic of the house on Prytania Street where Roz once lived.  Interesting question. Maybe they will turn up in another unrelated book some day.

     Once I finish the Longleigh Chronicles, I don't know what I will do.  Perhaps some single titles.  Maybe bring the Longleigh offspring into the Victorian era. I have no idea right now with the tenth book still to write. I am sure something will come to me as I cannot fathom giving up writing, successful or not.



Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Selling Books during an Eclipse

      I've sold my books in many, many places and all kinds of weather but never before during a eclipse. My home town sat right on the line for the October 14, 2023 eclipse.  It was also the day of our town's big arts and crafts fair and it's Gumbo Festival.  We were allowed to set up tables and tents the day before, a big help considering it would be hell to find parking the day of. Nothing like having to lug boxes of books and art, and all I need to survive the--a thermos of hot tea, a book to read, a lunch and snacks, water and cold drinks several blocks. So, we arrived at seven a.m. for an event that started at nine. Even then parking was starting fill up, but we got a good spot and started setting a shady space. I cannot do this without my husband's help anymore, and he was chomping at the bit to get me settled in order to put up his eclipse viewing telescope in Blue Dog plaza. I did take more stuff than usual as I didn't have him as a backup to fetch extra books or give me a lunch break. He did leave me with two sets of eclipse glasses as well. I would see the eclipse but not him until four p.m. when we had to pack up. 

     Maybe it was the special circumstances, but people came out in droves and moved between the fair and the gumbo tents all day. The eclipse, not a total one, began around ten-thirty and ended near two-thirty. Eclipses are very slow moving events. The light dimmed, but it did not get dark. In fact, many people didn't realize an eclipse was happening.. The moon blocked the sun to keep the temperature down. I made short trips to an open area and caught it at a crescent, at half, almost full, and then down to just a single bite out of the side before the sun returned. Trustingly, I lent my eclipse glasses to folks who had none-and one pair walked off never to return. After that I required their immediate return. I don't think anyone of those folks bought a book, but yowza, sales were good.  I sold four pieces of mini-art, and two other paintings, rare for me, plus lots of books. In fact, I did have to dash back to the car too get more of two titles, my ever popular Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball and Lady Flora's Rescue, the first title in  my Regency series. Gotta reorder both.

     Afraid my last set of eclipse glasses would vanish, I asked someone headed to the Gumbo Fest to pick up some more from my husband.  She returned to say he'd run out of them, giving away four-hundred. I was sending people to get a view through his sun safe telescope, and he was sending folks to view my art and books.  Not all the six hundred people who looked through his telescope visited me but some did. One woman, as I was starting to pack up, picked out the two titles above and wanted to use Vendmo. Sorry, I only take cash and checks which I grant you is very-old-fashioned. Bless her heart, she ran three blocks to an ATM and returned with the money. What a compliment! Never happened before. I am usually told they will go to the ATM and never see the customer again.

     After the eclipse passed, the temps went up to ninety, sales fell off, and people went home to their air-conditioned homes. As my exhausted husband took down the tent, he said he'd shown six-hundred viewers the eclipse. I told him I'd had my second best day at this event ever, and I'd been doing it for years. There seemed to something magical about the eclipse.  I wish I could arrange one every year on this date. Well, there will be one next April.  We are going to view it in Texas. And no, I will not be lugging my books along--or maybe I should.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Weather to Write

   I enjoy writing when it rains, the sound of it falling and that cozy feeling that no one will come to the front door and interrupt.  Unfortunately, we haven't had rain for seven weeks, a real oddity in Louisiana where we get sixty inches a year and big thunderstorms in summer.  Add on to that the week long temperatures over one hundred degrees. Our backyard weather station registered 109 last week.   Yeah, we're used to heat here but not prolonged heat like this.  One person I know remarked that it seemed to be the Covid seclusion all over again because no one was out on the streets, no dog walkers or early morning joggers. Sure, we have AC in our cars but even buckling a seat belt results in burned fingertips, and the car doesn't cool off much before getting to your destination.

     So what does this have to do with writing?  I should be hard at work on the latest Longleigh Chronicle, A Gentleman and a Scholar, but seem to have the same malaise that I suffered from during Covid.  No urge to be creative.  During Covid, I managed to complete only one painting and abandoned The Aussie Sinner half-written.  It wasn't writer's block.  I knew what I wanted to write but lost the will to do it.  Usually, I have a new title out in January, but that date came and went with no forward progress. If some of my worried fans hadn't asked me when the new book would be out, it might still be in limbo. For them, I got back to work, slowly at first and got it done.

     What did a long hot spell have in common with Covid?  Isolation.  I found I needed to be around people, my art group, book club, my fellow guides at Shadows on the Teche, etc. for sheer stimulation. Unlike some authors, I am not an introvert.  I love the meet and greet and being out in public When cut off from interaction, I fade and begin to doubt if I have any talent at all, so why bother.  I'm not sure if this is unique to me or if others suffer from this as well.

     Of course in Louisiana, we do have hurricanes that cut the power off for days. It is hard to write by candlelight even if you have a power backup on the computer--which will only last a few hours. My admiration goes to people in the distant past that wrote whole tomes using candles and quills or dip pens. I did write my first book by hand and then typed it on a Brothers Electric Typewriter. Let me tell you, using a computer is way easier once you get the hang of it.

      Then, there are other summer interruptions--vacations, two this year, one to a family reunion at Dollywood (which is lovely-you go Dolly Parton) and another to Hawaii. Maybe more on that later, but they do take chunks out of your writing time and interrupt your writing rhythm which for me is get on the computer in the early afternoon and keep butt in chair until I have written a thousand words or must go to make dinner, which ever comes first. Hard to get that back after lazing around in paradise for a while.

     Hopefully, the heat and drought will break. Social life will pick up again in September, and I will feel motivated to write.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Selling books in a Freezer

 It's been a while since I paid any attention to this blog which I am fairly sure few people read. I did have a busy spring with author events of various kinds nearly every other weekend while doing edits on number eight of the Longleigh Chronicles, The Earl's Ugly Mistress, to be out in July. Galley has been proofed so we are on schedule.

Now where did I leave off? Oh, yes, I was about to tackle selling books at a library event. I've said before no one sells much inside a library. People browse, take the freebies which I have given up providing, and maybe a book card and say they will read the library copy--and never leave a review. So, mostly I smooze with them and other authors that I see at so many of these events we've become friends. Knowing this and going mostly to see friends, I signed up for an author's row at a library where I've gone before knowing it would be very chilly inside and no food would be available.

Prepared, I wore long sleeves and packed a lunch and snacks as we had to be there from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. I'd asked to be seated near two of my author friends to have someone to talk to during the long lulls when everyone avoids your table. Eight of us were placed in a small meeting room off a long hallway. Others were in the center of the library and some out in the hall. Since every year sprouts more new authors, mostly self-published inspirational books or books about their moms or family, I can tell you those others were lucky. 

Our small room was the temperature of a meat locker which often happens when the thermostat is set to cool a large area. My author friends who had not brought a sweater took periodic breaks outside to warm up and later went to a nearby McDonald's to bring back a lunch. I said I'd watch their tables. No worries as not one person took a look at our wares all morning due to something I'd never encountered before in all my years of doing these things.

One of the authors in our room had proudly published a textbook on teaching phonics--and asked her church group to come and support her effort. One by one a dozen elderly women wandered in and found a chair. The library staff had to bring in more seats and lined them up in a long row.. Her support group then sat down and placed a copy of the book in their laps and sat there for close to three hours, not even talking. The author took single pictures of each one right in front of the door to the room. Who wants to enter when they might mess up someone's photo? Other people peeked in and probably thought a meeting was in progress.

On a bathroom and warmup break, I did ask one lady why they were there. To support our author friend, she said. I had to admire their stamina. Elderly as they were, they could have caught pneumonia in there. I told her as nicely as I could that usually support meant buying a book, talking to the author for a short time, and moving on. No need to sit there all day. She didn't take my advice but between noon and one, they began to get hungry and left--only to be replaced by more supporters in the afternoon. No one sold anything except the phonics lady who had clogged the room with her friends.

A half hour before closing, the aunt of one of my friends arrived and bought one of her books and another from the friend sitting next to her. Only half joking, I said, "Why not one of mine?" The reply, "Oh, I promised the woman across from you I'd buy her T-shirt, and I only have ten dollars left for that." And she ran away. I am not usually so needy as I know how it goes. What amazed me was she came back clutching twelve dollars in cash damp with sweat from being outdoors and did buy one of my books. She explained she'd had to go to an ATM for more cash, bless her heart. 

After my one sale, I figured that was it. Time to pack up, but as I was doing that. another woman entered the room and hastily went down the line buying one book from each author in the meat locker, but not the phonics lady. Her arms were filled with books. I gave her a nice canvas bag to hold them all as I have many of these from conferences and and it is a good way to repurpose them. She was grateful but scurried off. I still don't know her motivation as she barely looked at the titles, but hey, a sale is a sale. Having made my usual quota of two sales at these library events, I finished packing, loaded up, and didn't turn on the A/C in the car, though it was a hot day, until I thawed out. 

What I really got out of this event was a good story to tell.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Caterpillars in my Hair-or the Joys of Selling Books Outdoors

      I see I skipped my blog for March, and no wonder. In the space of four weeks, I had three authors events to prepare for and attend with two more to come, and of course, Easter to celebrate in there somewhere.  Two of the events were arts and crafts fairs and one a literary festival, all outdoors. Two I had done before and knew the layout, how far tables and chairs, and boxes of books had to be lugged from parking, when I could set up and when I could leave. The third was a new arts and crafts fair held at a historic home with a huge oak grove. Spaces were marked out but not assigned and the earliest we could get in was seven-thirty for a ten o'clock start. The places was about a ten mile drive from home.  We arrived at eight-thirty to find many of the spaces gone but still got a good enough place along the walkway between the parking lot and the house. Best of all, we could park at our space making setup so much easier, especially for my husband who has to do all the hauling of the heavy stuff and put up a tent advertised at being easy to do--but isn't.  For one, I am not tall enough to raise the tent to its proper level and the other, just not good at tent pitching. Usually, I sit in the chair we've brought along and listen to him cuss as he gets the canopy up. You can, of course, skip a tent, but I learned my lesson the first time it rained and I had to hustle all my paperback books into boxes and beg the person in the adjoining tent for temporary shelter. Just an aside, also pack your books in plastic boxes that keep the weather out.

      I had my thirty-five books set up in their vertical racks and some art work on a trellis ready to go by opening. Let me tell you, ten to three is a looong day when you are alone behind those tables. My husband usually goes home after the setup and returns a half hour before closing. Sometimes, he'll show up to give me a lunch break and chance to walk around and use the bathroom without my having to ask the neighbors to watch my stuff. I always pack a lunch as I don't really have time to stand in line for food and often there is no food at all. In this case, there was also a gumbo cookoff and the vendors were given a free ticket to get a cup. It went well with my sandwich and apple and Coke Zero. Lots of other food booths sold soul food, barbecue, and boiled crawfish, but that can get messy around books. I used to give out cookies until I learned that small children will take a chocolate chip, then smear it all over any books that that attract them. No more cookies and chocolate freebies in my booth, just book cards anyone can take. The kids like the ones with the fireman and the football kicker on the cover. Oh, and always bring a rag to wipe down any besmirched books.

     I also strive to find a place with some shade. Here in Louisiana, you can take a tan or a sunburn even under a tent. In March which I consider arts and crafts season, the temperatures can go up to eighty by three o'clock. I'd got a space under a tall water oak and was quite content until I found a caterpillar in my hair. I was under a tarp and couldn't image how it got there. But over time, I plucked two more from my head. They were small striped ones, not the black stinging variety that I sometimes encountered at another fair, and thank heaven for that! I am not squeamish or vindictive, and so plucked them from my hair gently and put them on the ground where they met other little friends and had a party on my book boxes which were well sealed. I gave up trying to relocate them as they appeared to just return. I ended up amusing myself during the slow hours by watching them tangle and repel down the sides of the boxes only to climb up again. Cheap fun.

     As I said, it was a new event and the crowd was light. It did earn back the forty dollar fee for the space and forty more in sales. People who preferred e-books picked up my cards to check them out on Amazon which might mean future sales. I always try to get a browser to take a card with all my titles on the back and a blurb for my newest at the top. Since I provide bags recycled from other places like  the WW II Museum, Graceland, and our local pie restaurant which are greatly appreciated and cost me nothing, I always put my latest book cards in there with their purchases. You just never know if that will result in another sale. Anyhow, I did okay other than insulting a person who wanted me to come down on a price for a painting of a magnolia in a gold frame marked $50. I had to remind her this was original art and the frame cost thirty dollars, not a garage sale. She huffed off, but sorry, twenty dollars didn't even cover the cost of the canvas and paint. 

     Around two, disappointed vendors started leaving. Most had Easter crafts or were selling soaps and witty plaques. There hadn't been many buyers. I think the folks who put it on did their best, but I don't know if they will do it again next year. It was worth it for me. I'd go another time, but check the space for caterpillars first.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Saying Goodbye to a Series

      With the greatest of regrets, I am ending my long running Sinners sport romances after fifteen years with characters I've come to love.  This isn't the first time I've ended a series. Some were only intended for three books like my Mardi Gras books which are still popular. I've had requests for more of these, but ended them long ago and have no really good ideas for more.  Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, Mardi Gras Madness, and Courir de Mardi Gras have aged well.

     In another series dilemma a while back, I'd written four books, but the last was turned down by my primary publisher because they didn't want my ghost character to have committed a gentle suicide which is why she was condemned to haunt her family home forever. Without this plot device, the book wouldn't work. After the rejection, I took it to my secondary publisher who was glad to put it into print, but both contracts had clauses that claimed rights to further books in the series. Not wanting to get into legal issues, I retired that series even though I'd planned two more titles.

     Which brings me back to the Sinners. I got my first break in publishing with the first title, Goals for a Sinner, a short, light football romance and the sixth book I'd written. Very taken with the quarterback secondary character, I wrote another book about him and his womanizing ways in Wish for A Sinner.. Since then, not a year has gone by without a new Sinners book. This was my bread and butter series which always sold no matter what else I published.   People discovered one of the titles and went on to read all of them.

     But last year, 2022, my sales tanked. Royalties dropped to one-hundred dollars for the entire year even with a new title being released. Getting reviews has become impossible with all the Amazon restrictions. I know one person who wanted to post a review but was told she had to spend fifty dollars with them before she could post. She hasn't tired since. Of course, there is always the possibility that no one is reading the books or don't like them so they won't review them to spare my feelings. Some of this might be due to the TikTok scam where people bought books and returned them in seven days thus robbing authors of royalties for their work and not hurting Amazon one bit, but I have no sure way of knowing that.

     So, I am crafting The Last of the Sinners to bring my characters to an end.  It's like losing old friends.  In my mind, they live on, winning games, finding love, having children. If anyone wants to know what they are doing after the final chapter, I could tell them.

     I will still be writing my Longleigh Chronicles, a Regency series with ten children to marry off.  Three more to go in these. With all the research required, they will keep me busy for some time. Expect The Earl's Ugly Mistress to be out next year. But I will still be missing my Sinners.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Christmas, writing, and other disasters

      As I said last year, publishers close down in December, one of mine for a month, the other for two weeks. I have a new book coming out at the end of January, Edie's Sinner,, so not much to do between now and then. I am grateful that the new Sinners book will not be out until January 30th as it will be safe from the TicToc scam that robbed me of nearly all of my royalties for 2022. Really, I should spend months creating a new book for some TicTocer to read while sipping a Starbucks coffee that costs more than my e-books, only to have them send it back in the seven day period for a refund that cancels my modest royalty. Evidently, they hated my Sinners series so much they read and returned them all, and I got not a cent. In the spirit of Christmas, I am trying to forgive them for being so naive they thought they were  harming Amazon.instead of thousands of authors who only get a $1.68 a book from each book read. I doubt Amazon and big name authors noticed while those with a small following were crushed. On to other disasters.

     With planning for a family visit, getting all the decorations up, and gifts purchased, I had scant time to write, which happens every year, but I did get an unexpected incentive from an unwelcome incident, a tornado strike a block from my house. As I removed cookies from the oven, the TV weatherman said, "A tornado is headed for downtown New Iberia"--and then the lights went out. Downtown is two miles away and full of historic houses, the museum and library, the courthouses, and many small local businesses. I said a little prayer for them and got out my storm radio, candles, flashlights, etc. that we keep on hand for hurricanes. I did not hear the train a comin' at the end of street where three houses were severely damaged after the tornado finished blowing out the windows of the hospital across the bayou and moved on to destroy a dentist's office and a Dollar Store across the street. I did not know what had happened until my husband, who was out running errands, called and said he could not get home because the main street was blocked off by emergency vehicles and police. I'd heard the sirens but they seemed to be moving away from our area. Eventually, the police turned the massive traffic jam around. He got home a half hour later from a one mile trip to the grocery for milk by going miles out of the way.

     The power returned at four p.m. after being out about five hours in time for a hot dinner.  However, though the phones worked, both land line and cell, television and computer service did not--for two days. I could fire up my desktop and write all day, but not much else. At least, friends and family who saw the destruction on the news were able to get in touch to ease their worries. Some messages came from as far away as Pennsylvania, my native state. It was comforting that so many thought about us. So, I did write, missed the finale of Ghosts, but watched Broken Wood and Brother Cadfael DVDs, and counted my blessings that our house still stood strong and undamaged, only some sugar cane debris from a nearby field dotting our yard. Very sorry for our neighbors who will be months or years rebuilding.

     Leaving the neighborhood was difficult as the exit street remained closed with a police car blocking the road at either end. I managed to get out by skirting the road and cutting across the convenience story parking lot to reach my water exercise class the long way around, but on coming home wet and ready for a hot shower, was stopped by the cops and asked for ID to enter the neighborhood. I rarely take my license to the pool, was sure I had it on my phone, only found my Covid ID card, no good as it had no address on it, was pawing in the glove compartment for my car registration all the while saying, "I live right there just behind you." Finally, the officer got tired of waiting, and told me to just go home. I guess I didn't look like looter or lookie-loo. Next day, same routine going in and out as the power company set the utility poles upright again with massive machines, but I kept my license out on the dashboard. Absolutely grateful they were looking out for the neighborhood and aiding in getting those poles back up, but what a hassle.

     And so I come to the end of my disasters to wish all of us free of hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes, and  forest fires in the New Year and gain readers that appreciate a good book enough to pay for it.