Sunday, March 30, 2014

The End Of An Era---Or A New Beginning?

I like to think of myself as a 'glass-half-full' kind of person. Now, before those of you who know me fall to the floor in uncontrollable laughter, I'd like to clarify. I'm a glass half-full girl only after the full-blown panic attack that seems to be my first reaction to any new situation. It doesn't take long after my initial response for me to strap on my big girl panties and get 'er done. Whatever 'er we're talking about.

About a year ago, I was approached, along with many others, by USA Today's Happy Ever After editor, to become a contributor to their New Release section. In exchange for my hard work, I'd get a mention in the column each time books I'd found made it into the section. After my initial panic when I wondered how I'd ever find the time, I settled in and got 'er done. My 'beat' was historical romances set in America from the Colonial period through the Civil War. Later on, my role expanded to include pirate books and wild and wanton updates of the classics. It became a routine. Every Saturday morning, I'd scour NetGalley along with half a dozen publisher sites to find new releases for the coming week that fit my given criteria. It was an excellent way for me to keep on top of the industry, and to find the other authors who think the era in which I like to set my stories is as fascinating as I do. Glass half-full.

So imagine my surprise when I got an email from the editor at the HEA column saying they were eliminating the New Release section from their web presence, since it didn't get a large number of hits. I realize USA Today needs to remain flexible and adjust to the changing winds of the publishing industry, but I was now out of a job! Whatever was I to do? Full-blown panic.

Then, the reality of the situation set in. I had two more hours in my weekend now, to do whatever I wanted. I could peruse NetGalley for new releases, but only if I wanted to. I could now gallop to the finish line on my next historical. I could maybe write a guest blog for someone. I could begin to write the contemporary that's been banging around in my head for four months now. See? Glass half-full girl, panties in place, at your service.

Is it the end of an era at USA Today? Perhaps, in its current format. But more emphasis is being placed on in-depth stories from the authors themselves. My takeaway from the shift in coverage is readers feel a need to connect, not only with the characters, but with the author. Human contact in an increasingly technological world. Makes sense to me.

I don't know about you but I'm going to embrace the change and call it a new beginning. Perhaps, one day, I'll be that featured author that readers want to get to know. And, I'll graciously answer all questions put to me. Right after I have a panic attack.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Other Side Of The Coin

Last week, on a guest blog, I wrote about why I am (for now, anyway) choosing to stay with a small press. So, to show my flexibility, I invited USA Today best-selling author Ava Miles to my blog today, to discuss why she chose to go the independent route. Her debut novel, Nora Roberts Land, hit the USA Today bestseller list, so she's obviously doing some things right, and I think we can all learn a thing or two. My chapter mates and I came up with a list of questions for Ava, and she was gracious enough to respond to them. So, without further ado, here's Ava! 

Hi all! I’m Ava Miles, a new contemporary romance writer who launched her debut novel, NORA ROBERTS LAND, last summer after receiving Nora Robert’s blessing to use her name in the premise and the title. Since then, I’ve released six books, four single titles, one novella, and one anthology. Whew! Even writing that is making me tired. Thanks to Becky for having me on today to talk about being an Indy publisher. I like that word so much better since my brother’s nickname for me is Indy from Indiana Jones since I used to travel to some pretty exotic places before quitting that career (also last summer) and going all in being my own CEO and full-time writer.

What path did you take to self-publication? Were you first with a traditional publisher and then branched out?
No, I started out straight Indy. I pursued the traditional route first. I had the most wonderful agent, Jennifer Schober from Spencerhill. Both she and I were convinced that NORA ROBERTS LAND would be well received. But New York didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Some passed outright, not liking the Nora angle, wondering if it would alienate non-Nora readers. Others said they loved my voice, but since they didn’t publish Nora… And Nora’s publisher thought it was a conflict of interest. And then there were still others who didn’t know what to do with it. I have a pretty big voice, and well, with the Nora angle, I didn’t fit into a category. So, right as Jenn and I were coming to realize that maybe we just needed to put this in the hands of readers since we believed they would love it, she up and left the business for personal reasons. Well, if that wasn’t confirmation, I don’t know what was. I had written the next two books in the series while waiting on submission, so decided to…ah, quit my old career of rebuilding warzones in places like The Congo and launch myself big-time. That means releasing the first three books in the Dare Valley series six weeks apart. It was intense.

But here’s the lesson I want everyone to take away from my journey: you voice is precious and has an audience. Don’t allow someone else to make you think otherwise, not even the “experts.” You have the power. You have choices. Thank God, we now live in an age where the stories from our hearts can reach readers despite what the gatekeepers say. That is powerful. You are powerful. Believe that. Believe in yourself. And nothing can stop you, not even the little dips in the road as you grow and learn your craft and your career.

Was Nora Roberts Land your first book?
I’d been writing since I was young and was learning my craft over time. I learn by doing. So, I had some unfinished manuscripts, but then I had a breakthrough and delved in big time. That’s when I completed a story and from then on, writing changed my life.

Did you have a reader base when you began?
No, I had zip. Zero. Nada. Because of the other career’s security issues, I wasn’t even on Facebook (I mean my parents were even on FB LOL). So, that was another reason the launch was so intense. All of the sudden, I was on FB, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. It was a steep learning curve, and I’m still learning and building.

What is one of the most important steps a self-published author must do?
I’ve learned you always need to have a strategy and point your compass there. I’m continuing to revise mine since my knowledge expands and well…the interfaces we work with change (all that algorithm stuff). I also think you need to have a lot of product ready to go and a way to keep feeding the systems. Right now, your rankings drop if you don’t upload something every 30 days on Amazon. Think of that! Every thirty days. I realized that even the big boys are playing the system when I saw James Patterson upload a sample of all of his first chapters. That’s James “freaking” Patterson, folks. So, you have to make some decisions about how to do that if you’re going to play. And if you can’t, you have to make peace with it. One of the first things I noticed among the top Indy authors was them saying it’s hard work (true) and that they were exhausted (I understand). I don’t believe that I have to work harder than a traditionally published author just starting out. She’s having to do her own PR the same as I am. I just happen to have more control than she does about when I go on sale or changing my key words on the major retailers. The other things you need to do, of course, are find an incredible editor, make sure you have a kick-butt cover, and that you’re getting enough reviews to make your product desirable to your intended audience.

And then act like your own CEO. You are NOT only a writer. You are an executive. It’s a huge difference. I know how to write books, I feel like now. Will my craft continue to improve with frequency? Sure. But I am still learning how to be a CEO. The good thing is that I managed a whole lot of people in my old career, set strategies, and created and executed budgets. I am learning how to transfer those skills to Ava Miles Inc. to support my publishing house. If you really want to succeed, I think that’s the special area we all need to continue to concentrate on.

No author is an island - this can be especially hard for indie authors -
who do you have on your 'team' to help you produce and promote your novels?
Well, as I mentioned, I’ve been experiencing with the types of employees that best suit my needs. I have the best editor in the world and a fantastic copy editor. They’ve worked with me from the beginning and know my voice. Continuity has been key. I’ve recently made a change with my eformatting. I don’t format my manuscripts myself. I think I would go bonkers. J I have an author assistant who manages anything from mailings to blog tours. And I’ve decided to bring my covers in-house since I have access to an excellent graphical artist and wanted more creative control. I’ve worked with publicists before and am not convinced they are worth the investment yet, but I continue to experiment. The important thing is to not get into a rut. Companies grow through innovation and trying new things. That’s why I keep experimenting. I plan to release a songbook that includes the songs that I wrote for my current release, COUNTRY HEAVEN, as a free book with an excerpt. Then I’ll see how it goes from there. Trying out different price points is essential since every reader has one.

What have you been able to 'tackle' yourself on this self-pub journey and what did you decide you needed outside expertise with?
Well, I feel pretty confident when it comes to social media now. I loved Twitter in the beginning and felt very comfortable there. But then I read Marie Force’s self-publishing survey. Her findings indicated readers are on Facebook and not Twitter (that could be changing, but I find it’s mostly true yet). So, I delved into Facebook and now spend most of my time there. Otherwise, I’ve talked a lot about the resources I’ve needed above.

You are one fish in a very large ocean of indie authors. What do you think accounts for your success?
I have to admit, I am still surprised when people call me “successful.” I have other writer friends who tell me that, but I also know what my goals are. I have met some, including making USA Today. That was an awesome moment! Others are still outstanding, and I’m pursuing them. I’ll tell you what I’ve been told frequently makes me successful since I’m a pretty humble gal: having a great title for my first book in the series (the journey to receive Nora’s blessing was special) and being professional. I’ve been told by a lot of readers and writers that they don’t know I’m Indy published. It doesn’t even cross their mind until they go into a bookstore and can’t find my book. That to me is the greatest compliment EVER.

What has been the best part of this self-pub journey? What has been the most challenging?
The best part has been the writing, of course, and the ability to put out books when I have them finished. I don’t know what I would do if I was told I could only write two books a year. Or that I had to wait 18-24 months for it to be published. I guess I could go to Bali or something.

I LOVE to write. It makes me deliriously happy, and doing it full-time…well, it’s bliss.

Now, the most challenging part has been learning the “system,” which I am still doing big-time. The algorithm, metadata, rankings stuff. That’s the part that has made me want to beat my head against the door. It’s critical to our success, it changes often, and it’s complex. But the good news for me is that I rebuilt complex systems overseas, so on days when I doubt myself (I have them like we all do), I remind myself that I can do this too.

You released a number of novels in a very short time frame, was that part of your marketing strategy? Did you have a strategy before you began?
I think I covered this point above. I LOVE strategy, and yes, it’s critical to success. I think you might be able to wing it with one or two books, but again, what CEO doesn’t have a strategy?

For a limited time, Nora Roberts Land is on sale for $2.99. Here's a bit about Ava's debut novel:
Journalist Meredith Hale's ex-husband claimed her Nora Roberts addiction gave her unrealistic expectations about marriage, and she believed him. All dreams of happily ever after--or Nora Roberts Land as her mother calls it--went up in smoke. But when her family asks her to temporarily help their Dare Valley, Colorado newspaper, she decides it's time to change her life and prove her ex wrong. She's determined to find her own small-town Nora Roberts hero, prove that true love exists, and publish a story about her quest.

War correspondent Tanner McBride has just returned stateside to work for a major newspaper, and the last thing he expects is blackmail. Yet, before he can even unpack, he's headed to Colorado. His assignment? Make his boss's ex-wife fall for him and then break her heart. Her article about discovering love à la Nora might air dirty laundry about her marriage to the media mogul, threatening his senate run. The mogul wants Meredith stopped, and he makes sure Tanner has no choice in the matter.

When the two meet, the sparks between them are undeniable. Meredith, who vowed never to date another journalist, begins to succumb. Could Tanner be her Nora Roberts hero? As they work together to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death, the depth of their feelings unfolds and both realize they've kept their secrets for far too long. But before the truth can be revealed, their investigation takes a deadly turn, one that might make Meredith's personal Nora Roberts Land go up in flames.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: USA Today Bestselling Author Ava Miles burst onto the contemporary romance scene after receiving Nora Roberts' blessing for her use of Ms. Roberts' name in her debut novel, the #1 National Bestseller NORA ROBERTS LAND, which kicked off her small town series, Dare Valley. Ava has also released a connected series called Dare River, set outside the country music capital of Nashville. She's fast becoming a favorite author in light contemporary romance (Tome Tender).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Introducing Angela Christina Archer, historical romance writer

I'm pleased to introduce you to Angela Archer, a historical romance author, whose debut novel, The
Woman On The Painted Horse, will be released on March 17, through Soul Mate Publishing. I asked a few questions of her, so we can get to know her better. Her books sound exciting and right up my alley.

  1. What is your current project about? I'm actually switching sub genres for my third novel into a paranormal romance set during the Salem Witch trials in 1692.
  2. What’s next for your readers? My second novel, In the Land of Gold is set during the Klondike gold rush in 1897 and is in contract with Soul Mate Publishing. I don't have a release date, but I expect it to be either the end of 2014 or early 2015.
  3. What’s your favorite part about writing? Least favorite? My favorite part is that moment where, even though the story is mine and comes from my head, I become completely wrapped up in the novel. It's usually during the last editing draft after my editor has polished it and I'm just reading through it. My least favorite is hitting those brick walls that leave me pounding my head against the table or wanting to throw my computer across the room.
  4. Who influenced you professionally? About a year into writing The Woman on the Painted Horse, I had the fortunate pleasure of meeting author William Bernhardt. After meeting him, he invited a friend and me to one of his seminars. That seminar was the turning point for my writing and the novel, and quite honestly, I don't think the novel would have become what it is today without his advice. He helped me so much, and I will be forever grateful.
  5. Why do you write in the genre you do? I love, love, love history. One of the best parts about writing historical fiction/romance is each of the time periods I choose to plot my story in is a period I really want to learn about. The research can become overwhelming at times, but it's a lot of fun too.
  6. If you have an entire day to devote to your writing career, how do you divvy up the hours? An entire day of writing? What's that? Having two small kids in the house, plus laundry, dishes, cleaning, and cooking, I probably would spend a few of those hours sitting at a table in shock over the fact that I had an entire day to myself. I think, at this point, since I'm trying to get the first draft done of the paranormal romance, I would spend as much of the time on that. With The Woman on the Painted Horse released, though, I've been spending a lot of time on marketing and promotion.
  7. What advice can you give writers who are getting started? Search your area for writer groups, conferences, and seminars. Join critique groups, and write every day.
  8. If you could choose two people to have dinner with, from any time period, real or fictional, who would you want at the table? Lucille Ball and (this is going to be completely out of left field, but....) any member of the band, Def Leppard. I'm a huge fan.
  9. Would you rather vacation at the beach or the mountains? The mountains.
  10. Sun or fog? That's a tough choice. I love the sun. The sun means I can ride my horse, work in the garden, and play outside all day. But, I love the fog, too. I don't know what it is, but there is just something about a crisp, foggy morning, either sitting on my back porch with a cup of coffee or going for a morning jog.

Alexandra Monroe is a slave smuggler, smuggling slaves north to Tennessee where they can live as free people. Her crime is sedition and her punishment, if caught, is death. The daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Montgomery, Alexandra lives a life not by her own accord, but a life she willingly accepts for her secret quest to save the lives of slaves. Her ultimate sacrifice is to marry the town's most eligible bachelor, Thomas Ludlow.
One afternoon, Alexandra comes face to face with handsome William Graysden. He captivates her, and her thoughts confuse her. Born a Creek Indian, not only is William forbidden because of his race, but also because Alexandra is a closely betrothed young woman. William and Alexandra fascinate one another, finding in each other a bond they don't wish to ignore. After a series of events; however, William is forced to face the choice to continue the dangerous pursuit of Alexandra's affections or forget about her.
As a sweet, level one heat level, romance novel, THE WOMAN ON THE PAINTED HORSE weaves through the social disparity in Deep South 1861—a time where blackmail, money, and greed could be more powerful than love.
Facebook: Angela Christina Archer
Twitter: AuthorACArcher

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wagons East--Part Deux

I'm back from my hasty trip out west, and it was as awe-inspiring as I'd hoped it would be. I hooked up with my sister in Salt Lake City and the next morning we took a couple side jogs. Salt Lake is the place Jedediah Smith (my hero!) called his home away from home. He owned a house in St. Louis, but was rarely seen in such a civilized town. He preferred the solitude of Salt Lake and Antelope Island. Of course, there was no causeway in Jed's day, so he had to row the seven miles. Here are some of pictures I took on Antelope Island. The water has so much salt in it, it looks white. A person swimming in the lake bobs like a cork, with 25% of his body above the water.

A herd of bison roams free on Antelope Island. Starting with a herd of only twelve, the number of bison now is close to 600. I got out of the car for this picture, but was afraid to get any closer. Especially since I've been reading about buffalo stampedes...

From Antelope Island, we took another side trip once we got into Wyoming to pay homage to Jed Smith, who discovered the South Pass. Actually, he re-discovered it. It was first written about in a journal in 1812, but not until Jedediah Smith found it was it used by settlers coming over the mountains. The temperature was about 13 degrees, and the wind was blowing about 50 mph, so I just got one quick picture and jumped back in the car. We were going to head on to South Pass City, but as soon as we left South Pass, we ran headlong into a blizzard with white-out conditions. So, heeding Jed Smith's immortal words "Sometimes to get where you're going, you must turn around," we headed back the seventy miles we had come to get to a lesser elevation.

The next day found us in Cheyenne, Wyoming. This building was erected in 1832 in downtown Cheyenne, and captures the essence of the town.Just imagine horses and buggies instead of the cars. It was cold and icy on the streets and sidewalks.

Nebraska was a lot of fun. As we rode into town, I spotted the Red Door Cafe, so we decided to have dinner there. The cafe was part of the museum, so we spent a few minutes looking at artifacts, and acting silly. Here I am in one of my fantasy moments. I always wanted to be a bar wench...

When I discovered there were bison burgers available in the saloon, we were set for dinner. The saloon was attached to the museum and was decorated like an old-time saloon from the movies, complete with a piano player. There were four men sitting at a table playing cards, resplendent in  cowboy hats, boots and big buckles holding up their jeans. It was such an iconic moment, I moseyed on over and asked if I could take their picture. I explained that I wrote romances about the old west. One of the guys replied that he wasn't a romantic hero, but he was horny! This picture made the whole trip worthwhile.

In North Platte, NE, I finally caught sight of the Platte River. This river played a significant part in the settling of the west, as the wagon trains followed it for hundreds of miles, and the wagons had to cross the river numerous times as the terrain changed. Many livestock and human lives were sacrificed on these banks. Even though it was very cold, I braved the elements to get my picture, thinking about what a small price I had to pay for the view compared to those who were part of the wagon trains.

And finally, in the small town of Gothenburg, NE, we took a quick jog into town off the interstate and I caught a picture of one of the original pony express stations. For those of you who aren't familiar with this part of America's history, I'll provide a quick history lesson. From 1860 until 1861, the Pony Express operated from St. Louis, MO to Sacramento, CA. Riders were charged with getting the mail from one point to the other in ten days' time. In order to do so, riders galloped across plains, mountains, in all kinds of weather, braving the elements and the arrows of Indians. They would change horses every ten to fifteen miles and only be able to hand over the mail to another rider at the big stations, which were roughly 170 miles apart. At these stations, they were able to rest, eat some grub and get some sleep until the rider came from the other direction with his load of mail. This picture is one of the large stations, and is now the highlight of Gothenburg's town square.

We hurried through the rest of the trip--Iowa, Illiniois, Indiana and Ohio--trying to beat the snow. Besides, back in the 1850s, those states were considered civilized, and there really wasn't much to see. Glad to be back home for awhile, but eager to get back to those cowboys in Nebraska!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Romance Review's Third Anniversary Blog Hop


The best week of the year (so far, anyway) is upon us! On March 3, Blinded By Grace, the fifth book in the Cotillion Ball Series, will be released. On March 4 and continuing until March 11, the first book in the series, The Reluctant Debutante, will be offered at 99 cents. And then, on March 5, my question will appear on TRR's website. Talk about March Madness!

Available for purchase now

The answer can be found in the following blurb:

In 1858 New York City, Halwyn Fitzpatrick thinks he's off the hook for attendance at the annual Cotillion Ball. He has no sister to shepherd down the grand staircase this year and no real desire to go through the rituals of courtship and betrothal himself. Besides, he'll know the right girl when he sees her, especially now that he has new spectacles. But his mother has other plans for him. At 27 years of age, her son is in dire need of a wife.

Grace Wagner needs a husband by July, in order to inherit the trust her father has left for her. Her stepfather, though, has plans for the money that don’t include Grace, and the last thing he wants is for her to find a husband before she turns 21, thereby fulfilling the terms of the trust. She's been in love with Halwyn since she was thirteen, but he hasn't noticed her at any of the balls they've attended over the years. With the aid of his new eyeglasses, he spies Grace from across the room and they share a dance. Grace decides to present him with a business proposition that will satisfy them both. But, can a clueless knight in shining armor and a desperate damsel in distress find a way to turn a marriage of convenience into something more?

Have fun hopping around the TRR blog hop participating sites, and good luck. Remember, you must register at The Romance Review and be logged in before you can play!