I’ve been sitting on this bonus content for quite awhile. However, in honor of Labor Day and not working, I thought it would be appropriate. After all, Eric and Lauren didn’t exactly work, either.
There’s a couple minor spoilers in here for those of you who haven’t read “Designed” yet. I don’t feel too badly about revealing that, yes, Lauren and Matthew get married in this book because that part was already pretty obvious at the end of Book Two. This leaves what I consider spoilers to be a.) Blake and Eric make a bit of a scene at the wedding (unbeknownst to either her brother or new sister-in-law), and b.) what Eric sees at the very end of this content.
That being said, enjoy!
This week I’m taking a departure from my usual self-publishing/social media/writing rants and I’m going to focus on something entirely different. Something totally self-indulgent, trivial and non-important. Why? Because I can.
And because my head is spinning trying to put three books into paperback all at once. (Whose bright idea was that? Oh yes, that was mine!) But more on that in another post.
I’ve mentioned previously that shortly after I took my new author picture I totally changed my look. The semi-shoulder length, blond highlights are gone. At first I went to an asymmetrical short haircut, but now I’ve settled down with a full on pixie cut. Said pixie cut gets magically blonder and blonder every seven weeks or so, to the point where I’m almost platinum up front and darkish brown in the back. I’ve also gotten a new piercing because now that I’m minus some hair, you can actually see it.
For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve been pretty experimental with my hair. I’ve been almost every naturally occurring hair color – blond, black, brown, red, you get my drift. Even gray, though not anywhere close to all over, but that’s because I’m getting old. For a few hot minutes I was also pumpkin orange, but it wasn’t on purpose. I’ve even had zebra striped hair (dark brown with huge chunks of blond – it was way more attractive than it sounds; my husband loved it).
For my formative years, my mother forbade me to cut my hair. So I wore it in the usual little girl style, long and nearly halfway down my back. Only problem was that my hair was and still is baby fine and super long isn’t the best look in that case. Couple that with the fact that my mom didn’t allow me to take daily showers, and by puberty it looked like a disaster by dinner time. Long and stringy isn’t a style; it’s a recipe for embarrassment.
One of the first things I did to rebel against my mother was cut my hair. My aunt served as a co-conspirator in this mission, sometimes paying for me to get my hair done when I went to visit her. My mom always had some snide remark when I returned home with considerably shorter, different colored locks. The one that stuck with me was how I’d “whacked” it all off, because it was ripe with mental imagery of a mob boss forcibly removing several inches of my hair, sending it down the river tied to cement blocks. I’ve always had an author’s mind.
Once I started messing with it, I found I couldn’t stop. I did attempt a grow out and was successful for a time during my zebra striped stage. That was my second favorite look, after all. But then I became bored and the scissors came back out, much to my husband’s chagrin. This ended with hand wringing and the promise of more growing out.
Until the cool thing became to have a pixie cut and celebrities right and left began cutting off their hair. The itch for short hair came back with a vengeance and my husband and I went through pictures and settled on a look. Even though he swears up and down that my hair never looks like what I’ve shown him. But that’s okay.
So now, I’m shorter than I’ve ever been and I absolutely love it. You know how you read about those haircuts that look perfect no matter what you do to them? I have one now. I can shower, comb it out and let it air dry and it looks exactly the same as if I take a blowdryer to it and use styling products. I can make it messy and spiky (and bird-like if you ask my sweetheart) or I can wear it smooth and classy.
I’ve also gotten more compliments on my hair than ever before. From both men and women. From women, though, it’s usually paired with something like “I wish I had the courage to do that”. Or “my husband/boyfriend/whatever likes long hair, but I would do that if I could”. Seems my mother isn’t the only one who holds fast to the little girl long hair stereotype.
For the record, my daughters aren’t ready to jump on the short hair bandwagon. My youngest recently told me that she saw a boy on YouTube with the same haircut as me. Whatever.
I don’t see myself as courageous. I’m truly a bit of a wimp. I’m nowhere near as brave as other people, but if I had to pick my personal moments of bravery, cutting my hair wouldn’t make the list. Self-publishing would. Completely natural childbirth would. Other things, too. But not hair, because it’s – well – hair. But it does get easier the more that you do it. I started out with baby steps, going to shoulder length – gasp! – and slowly progressing further north. Now that I’ve been everything in between, my hairdresser knows I’m not kidding when I walk in and tell her to cut it all off. Or make it black. Or blond.
But I like this so much, I don’t see it changing for a while.
I’ve written about piracy before. I even came up with a catchy title for my first post on the subject, written shortly after I discovered that my first book was available for illegal download on a handful of websites. And those are the ones I know about. I won’t repeat myself, but if you’re curious, you can read my original thoughts here:
The fact that my book appears on these sites doesn’t keep me up at night. I view it as free publicity and move on. In retrospect, it’s not really any different than me offering my first book for free via coupon code to anyone who cares enough to download it, which I’ve already done on several occasions. It’s just a really extended promotion.
Even so, I’ve attempted to prevent the rest of my books from ending up on those same sites. As far as I can tell, I’ve been successful. How so? I’ve not offered them for free publicly. Those who have gotten free copies from me haven’t posted them on torrent sites. For what it’s worth, those that have paid for them haven’t posted them, either.
But if you search for my second and third book on Google and page far enough down in the results, you will find that they have been requested on torrent sites. By name. Sometimes with links to their Goodreads pages.
That’s kind of flattering.
And it got me thinking. If someone wants to read my books so badly that they specifically request them by name on a torrent site, isn’t that exactly the kind of person that I want reading them? Aren’t those the type of readers that could potentially be some of my biggest fans? The people that are searching out my book and posting about wanting a pirated copy would probably actually read it if they got a hold of one.
Now, my books aren’t expensive. I price them at $2.99. And though a voice in the back of my head tells me that if someone wanted to read them that much, they’d just plunk down three bucks to do it, I also realize that not everyone comes from the same background or lifestyle that I do. I’m lucky enough that I can pick up a new book without giving a second thought to the purchase. Not everyone is. Trust me, I’ve dealt with job loss before and know that it can be a struggle to come up with money for necessities, let alone funds for frivolous purchases like romance novels.
So that led me to this thought…
What if those people that posted on the torrent sites about wanting to read my second and third books had instead searched me out and contacted me?
I would have given them a coupon code and told them to have at it for free. Then asked nicely for an honest review when they were done. Then continued asking very nicely for them to tell everyone they knew about it, especially if they thought it was good. But even if they hated it (because any word of mouth is free publicity, and some people search out things that get bad reviews).
In this world of giveaways and contests, some people are so desensitized to getting things for free that they sometimes forget that they’ve won anything. Maybe they win so much that they can’t keep track of it all. Case in point: the last three book giveaways I’ve done, each time I’ve had at least one person not redeem their codes. I know this because I track them.
I’d much rather give something away to someone who genuinely wanted and appreciated it.
So here’s my open letter for those who, for whatever reason, feel that the only way they will ever read one of my books is if it’s available on a torrent site. Instead of asking strangers for an illegal copy, send me a quick message on Twitter, Facebook, or here. If you’re sincere (and as a mom, I have a pretty keen BS meter), you’ll likely get what you ask for.
I write fiction, but it’s fairly realistic. I tackle some pretty serious subject matters in between the snarkiness. My characters have gone through some deep stuff: death, disownment, financial crises, drug and alcohol abuse, legal issues, you get the idea. I can’t even openly discuss one of the major plot points in my new release without giving away a huge secret – or potentially crying - so we’ll just focus on something innocent and non-controversial.
Let’s talk about sex.
Specifically, the double standard that exists in regards to men and women even in a fictional setting. It’s perfectly okay for a guy to be a player, but when a lady does the same, she’s labeled something not so nice.
I’m a contemporary romance author. Sex plays a part in my books – I won’t lie. And while it’s not uncommon to have a heartbreaker type alpha male as the lead, a woman filling that role is a bit harder to find. So I wrote one.
Two of my main characters are brother and sister. Same upbringing, same swoon-worthy attractiveness. Same predilection for one-night stands or at least back-to-back revolving door relationships.
Not surprisingly, the readers have spoken and have deemed him “adorable” and “almost too perfect”. I agree with them on the adorable part, but I’m biased. And he’s nowhere close to perfect (on purpose). Mind you, this same guy went to jail for six months, had massive issues with drugs and alcohol and slept with 36 women before finding his true love.
Conversely, his sister single-handedly dealt with his incarceration, taking care of his house and personal affairs in his absence, driving him everywhere for years when his license was suspended (twice), all while earning a college degree and starting her own business. She has a one-night stand vice, however. Though her number isn’t revealed, she does state that 37 is “child’s play”, so it’s more. By quite a few. What have I heard about her? She’s “selfish”. Never mind that she’s still in love with the person to whom she gave her virginity (and he with her).
And this is from an audience who is largely female. My male readers haven’t chimed into the discussion yet. Maybe they’ll think she’s cool as hell.
By the end of the story, most everyone warms up to her. But by then, she’s turned her back on picking up people at bars and giving out fake names. It is a love story, after all.
I’m not surprised by the general consensus. Society has raised us to believe that men are attractive when they have notches on their bedpost. We like the bad boy, all while pretending we’re the good girls. Guys openly brag about their conquests, while some women feel ashamed if they’ve had previous relations before finding “the one”. But let’s think about it. If guys are running around conquesting all over the place, there has to be a female population participating.
I guess they’re just quiet about it.
So what are your thoughts? Are alpha females attractive, too? Or is there a stigma attached that can’t be overcome?
I don’t pretend to know everything about self-publishing. Lots of times I can string together sentences that sound impressive, but I’m still learning. As most of you know, my third novel was recently released and I experimented with this a bit. Being through two release days already, I had a general idea of what was good (almost nothing about how I released #1) and some things that I wanted to tweak.
So here goes - my list of what I learned this time, in no particular order:
1. Releasing on the same day that Kindle Unlimited goes live is a real buzz killer on Amazon if your book isn’t part of the program. Had Amazon consulted me prior to making the big announcement, I would have politely told them that July 18th was already spoken for. Since they didn’t, I was pretty much hosed by everyone trying out their shiny new subscription for 30 days free. I have yet to sell a single copy on Amazon.
2. Fortunately, iBooks stepped up for me in a big way. Since July 18th alone, I have sold over three times the number of books on iBooks as I did there for the entire year of 2013. Sales there have now bested what I’ve done on Amazon so far this year. This makes me very happy, and proves my point that I’ve made the right decision (for me) to be available through as many outlets as possible.
3. I’m not sold on the idea of a Friday release day. I did it once, just to see if I could gain traction by releasing on a day not chosen by traditionally pubbed authors. Even most self-pubbed authors still release on Tuesdays, just because it’s ingrained in our heads. Maybe it’s the trickle-down effect of KU as well, but my release day sales for Book 3 were much less than they were for Book 2. At this moment, I’m pretty much in the same boat sales wise as I was at the same point with copies of #2. Looks like Book 4 will be back to a Tuesday release day; I didn’t hurt anything by trying.
4. Preorders are still useful, even if no one did. With only three books out, I haven’t developed a rabid fan base yet. It will happen. But the value of having a set date for your novel to go live is priceless. That and having your links for everywhere else but Amazon well in advance to post on your website, send to bloggers, etc. No one noticed that my book was live on Amazon a full 10 days before release day so that I could prepare for the big event, but I was pretty coy about that fact.
5. When writing a series like mine, even if your book is technically able to be read as a stand alone, people appreciate it a whole lot more if they’ve read the others first. I never really doubted that. The majority of the reviews that I’ve gotten from people who’ve admittedly not read the first two are definitely not as glowing as the ones from those who’ve been along for the complete ride. Mind you, these stand alone reviews still aren’t bad. Even with a bit of quick recap, it’s impossible to make up for two hundred thousand plus words of character development. Especially when my characters’ lives are as intertwined as they are, and by design the next book in the series always picks up right where the previous one left off.
6. We’re trained to believe that reviews sell books. I agree that reviews are important and I’m working hard to get more for Book 3 than any other previous novel. However, I have reviews on Amazon and no sales. I have sales on iBooks and absolutely no reviews there for any of my three books. Yes, I’ve got Goodreads and B&N reviews as well, not to mention people posting them to their personal blogs, Facebook and Twitter. But either people on iBooks are buying blindly, or they’re reading the reviews elsewhere and then picking up a copy from Apple. I’m not sure.
7. I thought that price always moved books, but I’ve found preference does. I made it very clear through all of my channels that the first book in my series was free all July and book two was half price during that same period over at Smashwords. I didn’t expect to get any full priced sales on either one throughout July. But I did, because people bought from the vendor that they felt comfortable with. And that is what is beautiful about distributing everywhere – the freedom for your readers to choose who they give their money to.
8. I don’t want people to like my books because I give them trinkets. Sure, I’ll give out free copies of my new release – even before you can buy it – in order to hopefully draw some buzz. I’ll even give out the entire series for free so people will read it as intended. That’s been more successful for me, and possibly more appreciated – judging from some emails I’ve received - than my attempts at giving out Amazon gift cards. It also pisses off my husband a lot less. But I don’t think I’ll ever give out bookmarks, t-shirts, keychains or the like to advertise my stuff. I know lots of authors do, but I’m not convinced that buying someone’s affection really helps the bottom line. Writing an awesome book does. I can do that for free.
9. It’s time for me to consider putting my books in print for a very limited run. This was the first time anyone, ever, has asked me if I have a book signing planned soon. She lives in Indiana, so I think if I did, she might actually come to it. Our local library holds an author event every fall and I’m considering ordering a few paperbacks of each book and signing up for it. Then begging my Facebook fans who live close enough to me to come to it so I don’t look like a complete loser.
10. This writing thing is far more fun than I ever imagined. I always say that my next book will be the best one. Even though I’m very proud of what I’ve already accomplished, I’m not about to stop now.
Well, not really. But this isn’t exactly Fort Wayne, Indiana – now is it?
For the first time in 14 years, my husband and I actually went on a vacation (this time with our kids) that involved us taking off more than a day or two from work. We opted for Myrtle Beach, where neither one of us had ever been before. This photo was taken from the beach right outside our hotel. Our hotel room had a balcony that looked right out on this scene, so this is what I woke up to for three mornings in a row. Pretty cool, huh?
You probably noticed that I was relatively absent from social media that week. Then again, maybe not. I did tweet and post on Facebook a few times. But no blog post and no retweeting others that Monday. For that one week, I put my phone down for the most part and focused on the view. I took myself relatively off the grid.
Though I don’t regret doing that and intend to do it once a year now that the girls are older, I’m not sure if the timing of my absence was good or not. Why? Back in January when I was requesting time off at work, my husband and I figured that planning our vacation over my birthday would be a smart thing to do. That way, we could both easily remember what week to take off. And yes, I could spend number thirty-six on a beach. I won’t lie and say that wasn’t a factor.
That said and done, and over a hundred thousand words later, I also decided to officially release my third novel that week. From previous experience I knew I wanted to have my release day off from my 9-6. There’s just too much texting, tweeting and emailing going on to be anything close to productive at insurance stuff. So I scheduled it for that Friday, when I knew I’d already be back home. In theory, that was a good move. But I also missed out on promoting the book actively – not sure how much of that I would have done anyway. Then I got blindsided by the whole Kindle Unlimited thing (its launch date was the same as mine for Book 3) and watched as absolutely no movement happened on any of my stuff over on Amazon. That’s another blog post entirely, stay tuned.
So, we’ll sum up things by saying that I’m not planning a summer release next year. But we are already working on where we’re headed for vacation; looks like it’s Minnesota and Mall of America time. Highly recommended – I was there in 1999 and am excited to go back.
But right now, it’s great to be home.
Remember when I posted about ebook subscription services Oyster and Scribd? As recently as a few months ago, these services seemed odd to most of us. We sat around and contemplated just how that would work. A Netflix for books? Weird.
Seems like Amazon was listening as well. They’ve started their own service, Kindle Unlimited. It sounds a lot like the others in concept, but with one glaring difference: they require indie authors to be exclusive to Amazon in order to be included.
When I read that email, I shook my head and sighed. Yet again, Amazon discriminates against those indie authors who choose to be available at other retailers. Note that traditionally published authors don’t have to proclaim their loyalty to Amazon to be included in the program.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Amazon and the ability they provide me with to get my books seen by the general public. However, I think that they are making a big mistake by choosing not to at least pretend to play well with others. After all, my books still make them money when someone chooses to purchase them there. I’m not even mad about not getting the free promotion days (I just do those on Smashwords) or having the opportunity for my books to be borrowed by their Prime members (I had Prime for a year and NEVER borrowed a single book). But this exclusion stings a bit.
It’s no secret that all three of my books are available on both Oyster and Scribd. I can’t speak for Oyster since I’ve never used it, but I love my Scribd account. I’ll even fully disclose that I don’t currently pay for my Scribd account, as a one year free subscription was part of the deal that Smashwords ironed out when they came on board. But will I continue the subscription when I have to cough up money for it next year? Based on the amount that I use it currently, yes. My last five reads have come from there. The app is a bit quirky at times, and you practically feel like you’re jailbreaking the Kindle Fire to install it, but it’s been worth it for me. I’ve read books that I normally wouldn’t have tried – from both traditionally and self-pubbed authors.
So I’m obviously down with the whole ebook subscription service thing. And I would partner with Amazon’s if they would let me. But I can’t, and there’s no way that I’m giving up my freedom to publish elsewhere to do it. There are just too many unknowns. For starters, the terms of payment on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited are vague at best. It reminds me of the KDP Select program, where you get a percentage of the money put in the pot each month depending on your downloads. This means that one month, you may get $2 per sale/borrow/read/whatever. Six months from now, you could potentially get 25 cents. Funny, Scribd and Oyster are able to tell me exactly how much I will make per read once a consumer gets past a certain percentage in my book. If Amazon would allow me to keep my books everywhere else and participate, I’d accept these terms and just consider whatever it was that came in extra income. But when they’re requiring me to pledge myself to them exclusively, don’t I deserve better than smoke and mirrors?
Realistically, I can see Amazon at some point demanding that all indie authors who publish with them do so exclusively. We’re not that far from that right now. At first, this scared me. Then I realized that I technically don’t need them. After all, my Kindle readers could always purchase my books on Smashwords and side-load them. I’ve done it with my own books – I don’t own Amazon versions of them. I could make a tutorial on how to side-load books, post it on my website and direct everyone to it. In fact, I make more money per sale on Smashwords than I do at every other retailer including Amazon. If I didn’t see the value in being at the big names, I’d already be directing my readers to buy only from Smashwords.
But I understand the power of choice. Why can’t Amazon?
This isn’t an Amazon bashing post. I’m not going to pull my books in outrage. I’m going to keep publishing with them until they tell me that I can’t. But I’m so glad that they aren’t my only outlet for sales.
As an aside, I’ve seen the power of choice work for me with my new release. iBooks, B&N and Smashwords have all outsold Amazon this past week. I’m talking paid sales, not the free copies of the first in my series that I’m giving away throughout July over at Smashwords. Not that I’m kicking ass in the sales department, but it proves my point that Amazon isn’t the only name in the game. They should stop acting like they are.
I enjoy free publicity. I’m sure most authors would agree with me on that aspect of things – that’s why we contact local media, insert book links on our email taglines, sign up for contests, participate in giveaways, etc. Every little bit helps, right?
In addition to the free stuff, I also dabble in the paid marketing. It’s no secret that I work with a tour company to promote my books upon release and to pimp them out to bloggers for reviews. They do legwork for me that I either don’t have the time, talent or courage to do on my own.
You’d think that free and paid would be opposites, sort of like the colors black and white. But more and more, I’m noticing that the lines are blurring and what starts off as free doesn’t always end up being no charge.
Case in point, there are several websites around that offer to promote self-published books and authors. Some of them are little more than directories of authors who all have the same dream: to get noticed. Some of them offer places to feature excerpts or a little insight into your novel; others provide a place for readers to post reviews and recommend your work to friends. In my formative years (read early 2013), I signed up for a couple of them, figuring it couldn’t hurt. It also didn’t help one bit, as I realized that readers aren’t the ones trolling those sites. Authors are, and we’re preaching to the choir.
A number of these sites are free. Or at least they were. But I’m noticing what I feel is an alarming trend: more and more of them are beginning to charge fees. Or sites that do offer free services are now touting upgrades for a monetary cost. And spamming my inbox with messages announcing the great results I can obtain if only I pay their low monthly/quarterly/annual fee. I won’t name names, because the point here is not to badmouth any specific group or site. But I’ve seen several, so you’ve likely run across some of the same ones.
Is it because they’ve upped their game, or because they think they’ve found a cash cow?
I get it, really I do. People see an opportunity to make money and they grab it and run. If authors are flocking to your site when things are free, perhaps a good portion of them will pay if you ask them to. I don’t blame anybody because I’d like to turn a profit as a result of this endeavor, too. And these sites may offer legitimate services to authors that may work. But because I’m not yet independently wealthy, I have to decide where to spend my money. I’ve been burnt before, and I am less apt to believe glowing reviews (even from people who I’m familiar with). I need to feel that there’s going to be a good chance of me personally getting results. If it doesn’t feel like a worthwhile expenditure, no amount of hype will get me to change my mind.
Of course, even the big names aren’t exempt. We extoll the virtues of being on Twitter, having a Facebook fan page, or being a Goodreads author. The free aspect of social media works great for most of us, but you can spend money here, too. I won’t go into things like buying 15,000 followers for $35; I’m talking about sanctioned spending where the money goes straight to one of the three entities. In fact, during the creation of my Facebook fan page I felt like someone at their corporate office was reaching through my laptop screen, trying to convince me to pay for likes or promoting posts. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I thought about it, and even checked into the pricing. I still haven’t completely ruled it out.
For every cautious author like myself, there’s probably one or more that will throw money at these outfits like change into a wishing well. This makes me sad, the feeling that there are those of us out there who want this dream so badly they lose sight of the work involved. There’s more to becoming known, respected and successful than simply writing a check or draining your Paypal account.
There’s a disadvantage to working as far ahead as I do. It’s no big secret that I’ve pretty much got Book Four in my series mapped out and I’m starting to create scenes for Book Five. This of course, doesn’t factor in the stand alone novels I’ve already got concepts for, as well as working titles.
One might think that it’s a gift to have a wellspring of creativity to draw upon. In most cases it is, and the majority of my brain is not complaining. But in my usual fashion, I always get more excited for what’s way around the corner than I do for what’s right in front of my face.
This leaves me at a loss when it comes to marketing. I’m supposed to be getting people super excited for my new release when it already feels like old news to me. Trust me; I am excited and all tingly for the middle of this month, but I’d rather talk about my work in progress which likely won’t come out until next year. I’d have to write really fast to squeak out another book by December and I just don’t think I have it in me.
When I do put on my marketing hat, I speak about the release date, preorders and teasers for Book Three. I’m also still trying to drum up readers for Book One, since in a perfect world, people would start there and read them in order. So all of my efforts are focused on those two books, leaving Book Two in the corner, playing the role of middle child.
Let’s get it straight: Book Two is a fully functioning, quality read. I spent long, hard hours working on it and it’s just as good as the others. But it’s a companion to Book One. You’d miss a lot if you came in there, unlike starting at Book Three and going backwards. So it’s forever destined to sit in the shadows. The novelty has worn off now – it’s not the new release anymore, so marketing it in and of itself is not the option it used to be. The best marketing tactic for Book Two will always be hooking people with Number One.
I didn’t mean for it to happen, just like I’m assuming parents with three children don’t mean to make the middle child feel left out. I wouldn’t know; I stopped at two kids myself. My husband and I both only have one sibling, so I’ve no real world experience to draw upon. Only this and how I feel kind of bad, like Book Two is somehow a living, breathing thing.
I’ve often read that readers like series, but they also want to have the installments feel like stand alone novels. That’s understandable, and much easier to adhere to if you’re writing a mystery series as opposed to a romance where the heroine of the books is the same. Relationships are tricky and they build upon prior experiences, as they do in reality. So I’ve compromised and met people in the middle. My series has three heroines; you’ll be able to start at Book One, Three or Four.
I’ve also met a number of people who will wait until the entire series is released, then they’ll binge read all of the books. I’ve done that myself, finishing thousands of pages in a matter of days because I have to know how things end. Right now. This totally backs up the phenomenon that many authors say happens: once you have between three to five books published, your sales seem to increase dramatically. Provided, of course, that the novels themselves are good. But that’s a given, right?
So I keep plugging away, promising Book Two that it will eventually reclaim its popularity like in the good old days when the spotlight was focused upon it. I covered its ears when my beta reader told me that she really liked Book One, but might have enjoyed Book Three a little more.
After all, there are some things that middle children just don’t need to hear.