So here's my writing plan for 2020.

I’m going to write romance. Most of the stuff I write already has a romantic element (because who doesn’t love love?), but I want to try my hand at your more traditional “will they or won’t they?” kind of love story. The type where you have what’s known in romance as the “black moment”–that second where the hero and heroine seem destined not to get together after all–but which resolves itself into the Happily Ever After that all romance readers crave.

I can’t say that this is a pursuit borne of a true passion for romance novels, but more of a challenge to myself to start writing some (hopefully marketable) new work. But more than that, just to start writing anything again. Last year–as I mentioned in a previous post–I read far more than I wrote, and I thought I’d start 2020 strong, so I came up with this new goal: 10 Romance Novels in 2020. I researched the most popular romance tropes (these would be things like: love triangles; forbidden love; and second chance love), and I read up on the most-loved sub-genres of romance: bikers; chick lit; adventure; comedy; and things like sports, rock and roll, or medical field romances. I tend to favor contemporary works and also realistic fiction, so I think it’s safe to say that none of my stories will be set on Mars in the future, or in a post-apocalyptic world, or the Old West, but I reserve the right to change my mind–who knows what will come out when I start writing!

I’ve got my first romance almost in the can here–a “fake relationship” trope under the subgenre “love in the workplace,” and I’m going to dive right into the next one as soon as I have this draft complete and sent out to my trusty first readers. I’m nowhere near the fervor that used to drive me to get up at 5 am on workdays and get 2,000 words in before anything else, but that’s okay–it has to be. I have no idea whether I’ll actually get ten books written this year, but now that I’ve said it out loud here, I’d guess better give it a shot!

Happy 2020!

I read more this year than I wrote…and that's okay!

Last year (2018), my Goodreads “Year in Review” wrap-up horrified me: I’d only read 18 books the entire year. EIGHTEEN. Sure, I’d written and published enough to make me happy, but if a writer isn’t feeding herself other people’s words, then she’s really missing out, and potentially living in a vacuum of her own words! Reading for pleasure has always been one of my biggest hobbies, and this year I swore I’d fix things. My goal was to read 50 books in 2019, and I’m happy to say that (with another week to go of Winter Break and a stack of unread books still to be conquered) I’m at 54 completed.

Plenty of people read more voraciously than me–54 books is slightly more than a book a week for the whole year–but I’m still proud of that number. My writing dropped drastically (I think this year I published one full-length book in my Christmas Key series as well as one novella, and I also finished a standalone work of fiction that I’ve been writing since 2013 that’s still unpublished) but I’ve had so many weekends and evenings where I’m completely lost in a book that I loved that it’s been worth it to take a little breather from the writing.

Some of my favorites this year have been: well…all of them! I loved the dark and twisty books I read about serial killers and FBI profiling; I adored the memoirs; I fell headlong into literary fiction, and I even sampled some mystery (probably my least favorite, to be honest.) I went on a reading jag with “beach books”–as in books that take place on beaches (specifically tropical places) and I found a series that I bought in one fell swoop because it reminded me a little of my own tropical beach series and it seemed like a good idea to read in my own genre! So it was a busy reading year, and I loved every minute of it.

As for writing…I think in 2020 I’ll aim to strike a balance. I need to start waking up early before work to get my writing time in again (totally dropped the ball on that) and then use my evenings for reading, as I’ve been doing. And now, I’m off to finish book #55 before New Year’s and to keep adding chapters to the first draft of the next book in my series, which I just officially started today!

Happy New Year and happy reading!

The series that I want to write forever.

I’ve officially been writing Christmas Key books now for ten years, and I find that it’s the easiest thing to just fall right into. I can take a break from writing about Holly and her neighbors, but the minute I open up a fresh document and start typing, I’m transported to an island paradise and I’m living amongst these people as if they’re real humans. I mean, to me, they truly are real humans!

I’ve detailed my journey with Christmas Key in the past, but I’m still amazed at how many years I spent turning that first book over in my mind and re-working it. I submitted it to Harlequin Romance in 2009 and got a request to read more, but ultimately they passed, saying that the book had less to do with a solid romance between the main characters, and more to do with the island and its inhabitants. Which is absolutely true, and definitely what I love most about the books!

I’m currently seven full-length books into the series and I’m working on the third novella (after writing short “how did they get to Christmas Key” background novellas on both Jake and Coco, I’m now working on one about Bonnie. It’s been fun to choose a timeframe in each character’s past and to look at their lives more closely, and this one is no exception! I’m writing about what brought Bonnie to the island, about when she arrives and starts to get to know everyone, and about her budding friendship with a seventeen-year-old Holly, who will ultimately grow up to be mayor and the main character of the series.

Novellas are fast and fun to write, so I’m hoping to get this done and released in the next month or so, and then I’m on to other projects (including Book 8 of the Christmas Key series!) I hope summer finds you well and that you’re reading all kinds of interesting things!

Putting out two books in one month (and what it’s really like to work as a mother-daughter team).

May was a busy month. I released Book 7 in the “Christmas Key” series–Polish the Stars–as well as Elizavetta, the third book in the “American Dream” series that I write with my daughter. That would actually be more impressive than it really is, except that it took us two years to put out our co-authored book. Yes, two years. We started that book in 2017 and worked on it in fits and starts between the time my baby girl was thirteen and still wearing braces, until now, as she nears the end of her drivers’ education course and the finish of her freshman year of high school.

Why did it take so long, you ask? WELL, let me tell you a few things about mothers and teenage daughters, the most important thing being that we don’t always get along. Nor do we always feel like doing the same thing at the same time. What started as a blissful project back in 2014 with Iris turned into a bit of a battle as we worked our way through Book 3. When we first wrote together, it was always sitting side-by-side, her head on my shoulder as we talked and typed out our ideas. Over the years, we’ve had times when we didn’t totally agree on the way things were going in a story and so it would bring us to a standstill, but we’ve also had times when we each found the other nearly impossible to work with.

Months have gone by where she would ask me to write and I’d be tired or just not in the right frame of mind, or I’d ask her and she’d say “I’m busy now–maybe later,” which roughly translates to “I’m watching some crappy show on Netflix and I’m enjoying it too much to shut it off and be creative.” And that’s fine–of course it’s fine! We both have to be in the right mood to work on a story, and when we’re not, we’re just not. We have the right to be individual humans.

I’ve also accused her of not wanting to write with me anymore (melodramatic Mom Moments where I’m like, “But you used to love to write with me! Maybe you just don’t want to be my writing partner anymore!”), and she’s accused me of enjoying my other series more than ours (“You’d rather work on your Christmas Key stories than on ours!”) It’s difficult to write with someone else–I’ll admit that freely–but the rewards are amazing. I’ve done it now with two different writing partners, and to be fair, the same thing happened both times: sometimes one of us wants to write, and sometimes the other person does. But not both at the same time. And that’s okay! When the magic happens, it really happens. And that’s worth waiting for.

But ultimately, the beauty of writing with my teenage daughter is knowing that–even when she doesn’t feel like talking to me about other things–if the stars align just so, she might still put her head on my shoulder and disappear into a fictional world for a while where we make all the rules. She might want to talk about the characters we’ve created together, and we might finish a project and get that same feeling of satisfaction we’ve gotten before, just knowing that we did something special together. And–if I’m really lucky–we might get to do it again. Possibly even this summer, which is mere weeks away.

So maybe two books in a month is impressive after all, given that one of them flowed freely from my fingertips from first words to publication in three months, and the other took faith, cajoling, patience, and partnership over the course of two years to finish. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll check them out!

Happy reading!

New Year’s resolutions for 2019 (and how much I made from my books in 2018).

My only resolutions this year have to do with writing. (That’s a lie–I also want to lose ten pounds, read fifty books, sleep enough, and be amazing at everything. But the need to focus is forcing me to be a bit more realistic!)

I want to treat this like a business and not a hobby. It won’t take away the fun of writing, because that’s an escape that will always bring me joy, but it will force me to learn the dreaded part of being an indie author: marketing and sales. Sure, there are stories about people who write, release their books, and become best sellers, but for most of us, there’s a whole other side of the process that we’re not so good at, and that’s crunching numbers, learning algorithms, and promoting ourselves. I need to embrace that stuff far more than I do.

I want to write more consistently. A couple of years ago I started waking up during the 5 o’clock hour on work days just by my own internal clock. I’m back at it again this year, and when I get up, get the coffee going, and put my fingers to the keyboard, I can easily get 2,000 words written before work. I don’t get writer’s block, I’m never in-between projects and stuck without ideas, and I can fall into writing and lose myself anytime and anyplace, much like people who can fall asleep on airplanes or in cars (lucky bastards!) So it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it consistently. Every single day.

I have several things in the works for this year, and I’d like to surpass my own goals. Up next for release is Book 3 in the American Dream series I write with my daughter (there needs to be a whole other post on why THAT book has taken so long, but we’re close!); a standalone title that I’m working on with my other writing partner, Omar; another novella and another full-length title in the Christmas Key series (novella #3 and book #7!), and whatever else I decide to work on.

I want it to be a productive and prolific year. I’ve been immersing myself in writing-related podcasts in the car and at the gym, and I’m going to absorb the lingo and the ideas to the point that I understand it all and know what needs to be done. Last year with just a little advertising I made $18,000 from my books. I know that qualifies pretty firmly as a part-time side hustle, but I think with a bit more know-how, I can double that and start coming closer to what I consider a “wow–impressive!” amount of money. So here’s to 2019 and all the opportunities it will bring. And here’s to thousands and thousands of new words and lots of joyful writing time!

Happy New Year!

Living the dream…halfway.

I’ve been working on writing and self-publishing now for about four years, and I want to be the first person to tell you that it’s not as easy as it seems. The writing part is easy–that’s the fun stuff. But the editing, the advertising, the nuts and bolts of it…that takes work. I started by looking up as much information as I could, reading message boards (I still do), buying books about self-publishing, and searching for other people’s success stories. So now whenever someone tells me they want to publish a book and asks if I can just “give them the basics,” I take a deep breath and sigh. The basics are: write, dive into the indie author world, research, and go for it. 

All I ever wanted to do when I was a kid was be a writer. Well, that’s not entirely true–my mom used to ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my first response was always “happy.” But my second answer was “a writer.” And now that I’ve published my 10th full-length novel, I think I can officially say that I’m a writer. Some people love what I write (thank you, wonderful people!), and some people hate it, but that’s okay. That’s what it means to be a writer or to create anything, really. For every person who gives me a review that feels way too personal (“I hope she’s not really a teacher–her grammar is horrible!” or “This feels like a middle-schooler wrote it. It’s trash!”), there are a handful of other people who ask when the next book is coming out, follow me on social media and say nice things, and buy whatever I put out. And this is thrilling! What an amazing feeling to have humans I’ve never met enjoying the things that I make up in my brain! And they’re so supportive and friendly…it’s wonderful. It makes it all worthwhile.

So now I can officially say I’m a writer, and I love that. But I feel like I’m only living the dream halfway, because I’m not doing it full-time. That’s the next goal, and it’s a “someday” goal. I deeply love my day job (in spite of the people who think my writing is so bad that I shouldn’t be a teacher! *insert a million laughing/crying emoji here so you can see what I think of that*) and I don’t want to quit that to write all day long yet, but…it’s in the future. I can see it: sitting in coffee shops with my laptop and the characters in my head; working in my writing room in the backyard with my storyboards and handwritten notes; books and books and books to my name. That’s when I’ll be living the dream all the way. 

But for now–this is incredible and totally satisfying. I just released Book Six in the Christmas Key series this week–Baby, It’s Warm Outside-and that felt like an incredible accomplishment. To think that I’ve somehow taken a story that started in my head ten years ago and turned it into nearly half a million words over the span of six novels and two novellas is…wild. To anyone who has read my books or just cheered me on–thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means everything to me to be living my dream even halfway, and it means even more that people care enough to be supportive! Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

The novel I wrote with a former student.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: some of the best humans on the planet walk through the door of my classroom and into my life. I’m blessed to know them all, but every so often you have students who become friends, and that’s a truly magical thing.

About a year ago, my friend Omar and his twin brother were about to graduate, and we’d been talking for a while about the things I’d written and about how the boys are interested in writing and directing screenplays. Omar said, “Hey, we should write a book!” To which I said (of course–because I never turn down a good writing project), “Yeah, we totally should!” And from there, the idea for a young adult time travel novel was born.

We started it on May 15, 2017 with just a few ideas about how the story would go. Omar graduated in June, and we’ve spent the past year collaborating in all the ways that modern technology allows. Last summer we spent countless hours working on the book via FaceTime from different time zones while I visited my ailing father in the U.K.; even more hours working on the story in a shared Google doc while I soaked up the sun on my back deck; and we’ve made many, many trips to our favorite Barnes & Noble over the past year to collaborate face-to-face as we created characters and hammered out scenes. In fact, we’ve been to that particular bookstore so many times to work on the story that not only do the café workers know us, but we have our own favorite table by the window.

This book has been a real labor of love for both of us, and it’s gone off in different directions than we’d originally planned. I never plot anything too intricately when I write, so that took some getting used to on Omar’s part. I like to just see where the story takes me, and he was kind enough to go along for the ride. Sometimes we agreed on details, sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes I understood the crazy loops we were making with time travel in our story, and sometimes he had to draw exasperating diagrams for me that left me more confused than when we’d started.

But in the end, we have a finished product. A book that started with him not knowing how to put in his two cents politely with his former teacher, and ended with us debating plot twists and being creative equals. We got to take a trip to the 80s with this book and incorporate some of the bands we both love (The Smiths, The Psychedelic Furs), and–most importantly–we got to be friends. Real friends.

Just like his twin brother and their two older sisters before them, Omar is one of my favorite people to ever walk through my classroom door. He’s smart and funny and kind, and he’s taught me way more than I ever taught him.

So even if we sell zero copies of this book, writing it is something I’ll always cherish. But hey–if we sell a million copies and become time travel gurus and world-famous authors, then that’s okay, too. We’d be honored if you’d check out our novel and support us, and if you felt like leaving us a good review, that would be even better! It’s available here on Amazon right now, and in the next couple of days it’ll be available in both print and through every other major bookseller as an ebook!

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How I made $6,635.12 by daydreaming about a tropical island…

Okay, now that I got you to look, I’ll admit right off the top that my “daydreams” had to flow from my brain and onto the computer screen in order for me to get paid, but that’s essentially all it was. I started writing my Christmas Key series simply because I liked the concept and enjoyed the way I got lost in my own stories, but when I finally self-published the first book in March 2016, I definitely had visions of making money from my writing.

In the two years since then, I’ve published four full-length novels in the series and two novellas, and I’ve paid for countless advertisements. But–like most other indie authors–I was holding out for the Big One…for the advertising opportunity that we all dream about because of its massive return on investment: I was hoping for a Bookbub. And on Halloween, I finally got one.

Bookbub ads are notoriously hard to land, and there’s a lot of information floating around out there about how to score one. Some people claim it’s pure luck, but I feel like the key for me was taking my books out of Kindle Unlimited and making them available on every site possible. When I finally got a Bookbub in October, I’d already applied for a Featured Deal six different times. But it wasn’t until this last submission when my books were already available everywhere that it finally happened.

And that’s where the $6,635.12 comes in. I set the first book in my series to “free” on all channels (There’s Always a Catch: Christmas Key Book One) and watched as the downloads started to roll in. After the first four or five days, I’d successfully given away over 23,000 copies of my first book. Now, not every single person who downloads your book is going to a) read it, b) like it, or c) buy the next books in the series, but when you give away that many free copies, you bank on a good chunk of them hopefully doing all 3 of those things.

I’ve tracked my returns starting November 1, 2017, and I have them through January 31, 2018. So for those three months, based on my initial investment of $149 to give my book away to a portion of the 1.2 million readers who’ve signed up for Bookbub’s Chick Lit deals, I made over six thousand dollars just watching people buy the next books in my series. Of course sales will taper off in the coming months until I put out the next book and find a new way to advertise (hopefully a Bookbub ad again in the near future!), but for the time being, I’m ridiculously happy that my hobby has finally yielded a return that makes me feel like I’m not just writing for an audience of one!

When it starts to feel like a real series.

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Putting out the fourth book in my Christmas Key series feels amazing. It was a long time coming, as this year got away from me with travel and work and life, but when I hit “publish” the other day,  I realized that I’ve actually got a four book, two novella series on my hands. With more to come.

I also made the decision (after always being exclusive with Amazon) to go wide with my books, so now I begin the slow process of taking them all out of KDP Select. To non-indie authors, this means that rather than being tied to Amazon and reaping the (sometimes decent) rewards of that arrangement, my book will now be available everywhere: Kobo, Nook, Google Play, iBooks, etc. The timing happened to be right for the first book in the series, There’s Always a Catch, so I quickly yanked it out of KDP and got it set up to go wide. At this point, my plan is to follow the time-honored tradition of making the first book in a series free so that new readers might give it a chance and–ideally–get into the series and want to read on. It should be available for free everywhere within the next week.

I’m not sure why Fall feels like such a productive time for me (one might think that summer would be a super-productive writing time for a teacher, but…travel and relaxation always seem to edge out massive progress, and this summer I took on an added writing project with a former student of mine, so that’s been an entirely different writing adventure!) but here we are at the end of September and I’m up early, cranking out story-related stuff, ready to put my fingers to the keyboard any time I can!

Anyhow, More Than This is out now on every sales channel imaginable (it’s my first time seeing my work at B&N.com or on iBooks!), and I love the feeling that I’m slowly building this story and these characters. Time to start thinking about Book Five!

Lose plot. Ramble a bit. Find plot again.

After putting out the third book in my Christmas Key series, The Edge of Paradise, on January 31st this year, I got stuck in a loop where I wasn’t sure what to write next. I started a book that would have probably qualified as a romantic political thriller (?), got 20,000 words into it, and then realized there were way too many things happening and I had no idea how to tie it all together. It may come out of my iCloud file at some point and get a re-read, but ultimately I put it aside and started pondering my next move.

It’s a common refrain in indie-author world that once you have three books out in a series it’ll take off (if it’s ever going to), so my thought was to put out Book Three, diversify a bit, and start a new series so that I would have a few things going on at once. I planned a free run for early February for Book One of the series, There’s Always a Catch, paid for a ton of advertising, and stacked it up for a single week. The downloads came in like gangbusters, and I gave away almost 8,000 copies of the first book. There’s all sorts of conventional wisdom about what percentage of free book downloaders will go on and read the rest of the series, but I felt hopeful. It’s been a pretty slow burn so far. I’ll have days where a single person buys the next book in the series, or the third book, or a novella, and then a random day happens where ten or fifteen people will move on to the next books. There’s Always a Catch got a handful of new reviews (some positive, which is–of course–what you want, and others less wonderful, but hey–you can’t win ’em all), and it’ll most likely just keep moving in that direction until something falls into place or until I do exactly the right thing at the right time and start making my own magic.

As for the next writing project, when I decided the political romantic thriller thing wasn’t going where I wanted it to, I started a cozy mystery that was actually pretty fun to write. But I got about 20,000 words into that and had a minor panic attack: why wasn’t I working on Book #4 in the Christmas Key series?! What was I thinking wasting my time like that when I only have an hour or two a day to write? By the time I finished one of these new books, I’d have squandered any momentum I’d built up so far! So I put that aside and started the next book about Mayor Holly Baxter and the other islanders, which I’m almost halfway done drafting now. I also put out a second novella in the Christmas Key series, which gives the reader insight into Coco, Holly’s mom, and fills in some of the blanks about how she got to be the way she is. Writing the novellas is lots of fun–the pace is faster, the details easier to keep track of, and the ability to focus entirely on one character’s journey frees me up to really explore their minds rather than just seeing things through Holly’s perspective.

So it’s been a busy Spring so far, with lots of writing–some of which might never see the light of day. But that’s okay. Never one for detailed graphs, data-tracking, or set-in-stone outlines and plans, I’m trying to let the ideas flow and make getting up at 5:00 in the morning to write before work a fun thing, not a pressured “must get this done immediately!” grind.

June will be my two-year anniversary of being an indie author and I’ve hit some great milestones–some things I never envisioned or dreamed could happen. Wonderful people–total strangers! Not my mom!–have reviewed my books and given me kind words; my whole life has been enriched by disappearing into the stories inside my head and giving them life; and there have been months where I’ve made a thousand dollars or more from my books, which totally blows my mind. I’ve learned a ton about everything self-publishing related, and the as-yet untitled Christmas Key Book Four will be published by the beginning of summer. It may have taken a couple months of stumbling around during my dark, quiet, early morning writing sessions, but I’ve definitely found the plot again!