My Christmas Key soundtrack.

There’s almost nothing I do without music, except maybe sleep. I put Pandora on as soon as I start getting ready for work in the morning, I listen to music as I drive (preferably Sirius XM’s First Wave station), and I play it all day long in my classroom during the school year while my students are working. There’s more music while I work out at the gym in the evenings, and of course I listen to it non-stop as I write. A mellow Pandora station that fits the mood of my story and doesn’t distract usually works well, so for my Christmas Key books, a combination of Tropical Holidays and Caribbean Jazz are pretty much my go-to stations.

For me, music sets the mood and the tone of not just writing, but life. Certain songs can instantly transport you to a time and place (anything that came out in 1997–Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping, the New Radicals You Get What You GiveSarah Mclachlan’s Building a Mystery–are like a time machine to the fall of that year, a trip back to me driving around Miami as a 22-year-old newlywed in a beat-up car with no air-conditioning, trying to make it as a model on South Beach). Road trips are intimately tied to the music I listen to as I take in the small towns, the wide vistas, and the mottled skies, and I also find that songs are interwoven with the humans who recommended them to me, as one of my favorite students did this year when he made excellent suggestions for a handful of cool songs I’d never heard before. From this point on, those songs will always be the ones that Grayson gave me.

Music is such a big part of my life that it’s no surprise to me when I go back to revise and edit to find that I’ve name-checked several songs in every book. After finishing There’s Always a Catch and the forthcoming Wild Tropics, I had to go and buy the songs I didn’t already have in my iTunes library, and now I have a handy Christmas Key playlist to listen to whenever I need to get my head back into the game with drafting or revising. So without further ado, here are the songs mentioned in the first two books in the Christmas Key series. (I’m giving away two copies of my soundtrack on CD, so if you live in the U.S., leave a comment on this post and tell me which island on this beautiful planet is your favorite, and why–I’ll choose 2 winners on July 31st!)

  1. Let’s Stay Together–Al Green
  2. God Only Knows–The Beach Boys
  3. Trouble–Coldplay
  4. Hotel California (Live)–Eagles
  5. Brilliant Disguise–Bruce Springsteen
  6. Just Like Heaven–The Cure
  7. Jamming–Bob Marley
  8. Witchcraft–Frank Sinatra
  9. Thriller–Michael Jackson
  10. Somebody Else–The 1975
  11. Jingle Bell Rock–Bobby Helms
  12. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!–Ella Fitzgerald
  13. Santa Baby–Eartha Kitt

 

Christmas Key Book 2 cover reveal…

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s only June 28 and school’s been out for exactly 11 days, because I already feel like I’m behind with my summer writing (not to mention my reading)! In those 11 days, we’ve already traveled through six states, seen a slew of national parks and historic monuments, and I’ve been up early every morning, sitting in the hotel breakfast rooms working on my revisions and writing. I’ve even gotten past the car sickness that goes with reading while I ride shotgun so that I can make progress while we’re on the road!

Right now my beta readers have a draft in their hands to read (as time allows–no pressure, guys!), and Holly and I are working on our second book as we travel. I have covers done for both books, and I thought now would be a good time to reveal the cover for Wild Tropics, the second book in my Christmas Key series. With editing and the work I still have to do, I’m aiming for an early August release date, and I hope that Holly and I will publish the second book in our co-authored series before the end of the summer as well.

Wild Tropics picks up where There’s Always a Catch left off. Christmas Key’s intrepid mayor, Holly Baxter, is hosting a reality show on the island, and not everyone is a fan of the idea. What could be a successful way of boosting the island’s visibility is fast becoming a point of contention. Cap Duncan made no bones about his objections during the summer village council meeting, and now he’s taking Holly to task by challenging her for her seat as mayor. But worst of all, the producers of the reality show have invited Jake to participate as a competitor, and they’ve got plans to manufacture a made-for-TV romance between Holly’s ex and a buxom glamazon named Bridget. Now, with River’s return to the island for a Christmas-time visit, Holly’s mother demanding her stake in the island be bought out, and Cap’s annoying campaign slogans, Holly’s patience is growing thin. Will the islanders survive life under the spotlight, or will secrets and bad feelings push everyone to the brink?

I’m stoked to get this out there and to keep writing and working on other projects. Happy summer!

Turning your e-book into a print copy.

The whole point of going digital and publishing a manuscript as an e-book is to keep up with the fast-paced world of indie publishing. Publishing your work as an e-book means you can jump back in, make changes, and re-upload it at any time. On the flip side of the coin, there’s quite a bit more involved in getting your book ready for print if you want to hold a paperback copy in your hands.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s cool to open the Kindle app and find your book there with its pretty cover and your name splashed across the front, but there’s still something missing (and there’s an empty spot on your bookshelf where that book would just look so good…) To remedy that, I decided to use Createspace (the print-on-demand service associated with Amazon) so that my books can be ordered as paperbacks instead of offered only via Kindle. All you have to do is click on Iris or There’s Always a Catch on Amazon, and you now have the choice to order them either way, which I think is pretty much the bee’s knees. Of course, it costs more to put a tangible book in your hands than it does for the book fairies to stitch together some pixels and send it zinging and pinging through outerspace, so the price is a tad higher, but I’m told some people still read physical books and don’t mind the inflated price, so…there you go! I have no expectation that I’ll sell tons of hard copies, but  am looking forward to having some on hand to give away (through Goodreads, in particular) and I’m going to use my hard copies on Instagram, which has a pretty active community of book lovers and bookstagrammers (yep–that’s a thing).

Speaking of giveaways, my printed copies are coming in the mail as we speak, and I’d love to share them. If you’ve read either Iris or There’s Always a Catch and you haven’t had a chance to leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, then I’d love it if you would! To say thanks, if you post a review and then shoot me an email at redbirdsandrabbits@gmail.com to let me know you did, I’ll put you in my drawing to win a free copy of either book. And, hey–if you’ve already read it, no big deal…you can just pass it on to someone else who might like it, because when it comes to books, chocolate, or wine, sharing is caring!

Advertising: money spent, lessons learned.

I’m playing hooky from work today because otherwise I might not make it to the end of the year so that I can work on the first draft of my next book. It’s going to be 85 and sunny today, and I’m on the deck pecking away, but I thought it might be a decent time to recap my first foray into advertising. I’m sure I’ve spent way more than I should have based on my ROI so far, but some things you just can’t learn without trying, so here’s what I’ve done lately on my latest book:

For There’s Always a Catch: Christmas Key Book One, I’ve run the following promos:

  • A BKnights Fiverr ad for $21 (the basic is just $5, but I went with the upgrades to see how that would work out)
  • Another Fiverr ad where the person promised to advertise in something like 80+ Facebook groups for readers. This was $5 (which is the premise of Fiverr, if you’ve never used it. Someone does a job for you for five bucks.)
  • On the same day the Fiverrs ran, one of my best friends, first readers, and all-around favorite people (Jaime!) wrote a post about the book on Facebook. Last year when Holly and I put out Iris together, her FB post gave us the best day ever in terms of downloads, so clearly she has some pull with her friends when she suggests things!
    • TOTALS FOR THOSE DAYS: 18 paid downloads. Since I was running the book at 99 cents, my take-home on those 18 purchases was a whopping $5.50 (give or take.)
  • I ran an Amazon giveaway that cost me $3.21 where people could click for the chance to win one of three copies of the books. The only caveat was that they had to follow my Amazon author page (which means that if I put out an announcement at some point, I’ll have a “fan base” to actually speak to via Amazon).
    • TOTAL FOR THOSE DAYS: I ran the promo for 10 days and gained 244 Amazon followers. I also sold a few books at $2.99 in that window of time, so I probably made $8.00.
  • The book was available for free on Amazon for 2 days (with really no promotion–I just wanted to see what would happen if I made it free for a weekend).
    • TOTALS FOR THOSE DAYS: 267 downloads (but still no reviews from those downloads, which is pretty much what you’re hoping for when you give a book away for free…gotta get those reviews!) Money made those days: $0
  • Another promo I’ve read a lot about is the E.B. Brown Facebook group. That one cost me $15 and is scheduled for May 1st, so I’ll have to wait to see if there’s an uptick in downloads after that.

I’ve also tried a few free/low-cost things on Iris: The American Dream Series Book One and @Robertopancake, but nothing has panned out there that’s worth mentioning (though I did drop $25 for a BargainBooksy ad–which other authors swear by) and I got a total of 3 downloads, so…$6 in the bank. Definitely not a great investment, but worth trying.

So far, my big takeaway is that the little blips on your book sales page happen when your friends are kind enough to rave about and tell other people about your work. I have another friend from high school (Hi, Elaine!) who has done multiple posts about my book and was even kind enough to chat with me on the phone about There’s Always a Catch. That was really awesome. I loved hearing her excitement about the characters and what might happen next…and I even used one of her Facebook posts about the book as the photo for today’s blog. It feels really good to have people supporting my work (special “hi” to other friends and moms of friends who have bought, reviewed, and talked about it!) and it makes me want to keep going when I hear that other people are curious about the next book.

And to that end…I’m off to enjoy my work-free afternoon on the deck–I’ve got some writing to do!

So it’s out…and I’m jittery.

Somehow putting out a book that you write with your young daughter feels fun and not the least bit self-indulgent, but publishing something on your own is mildly terrifying. I just texted one of my BFFs to tell her my new book is out, and she said, “I’d be nervous too…not gonna lie!” But she also swears that it’s a good read, so I’m going to latch onto that as I gnaw the nails off of all ten fingers.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I started working on a book called “There’s Always a Catch” back in 2008 or 2009, and I loved everything about the characters and place so much (it’s set on a fictional island in the Florida Keys called “Christmas Key”) that I’ve taken it out and re-tooled it a number of times over the years. I finally got serious about it last year and re-wrote the whole thing so that it’s less of a standalone romance novel and more of a start to a women’s fiction series, then I sent it off to several people to read and give feedback. I ended up doing a mind-numbing five drafts over the next six months, and just finally finished editing last month.

I’m trying to keep myself busy by thinking more about promotion and advertising than I have in the past, and I’ll have plenty to say about all of that in my next post after I see the results of spending my spring break doing research and placing ads. For now, “There’s Always a Catch” is set at 99 cents on Amazon (it’s available only as an ebook, but you can easily read it on any device by downloading the Kindle app) so that it qualifies for some of the advertisements that I’ve chosen. I’m really hoping the bargain price will drive some sales so that I can (hopefully!) garner some of those golden reviews that all self-published authors live for.

If nothing else, I can honestly say that I’m really enjoying everything about the indie-author process after a full year of learning and working at it, and I’m excited for every new step of this writing adventure!

What I’m working on now.

Other than surviving the first month of school (which is a whole other story for a different time), I’m trying to finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress. About six years ago I wrote a traditional romance and shopped that around. At the time I got a decent response. There was some positive feedback, and lots of, “The centerpiece of the story needs to be the romance itself, but instead you incorporate a really interesting location and secondary characters, which makes it not just traditional ‘romance’…” And that was fine. Getting a personal letter back from Harlequin with an invitation to submit future works was pretty exciting, but I’ve never been hung up on just writing romance (as I don’t really read straight romance), so I took a moment to appreciate the feedback, and then I moved on.

I’ve re-visited this story a few times over the past six years, coming back again and again to the fact that I really liked the place and I wanted to explore the potential of the other characters more. The setting is a fictional island in the Florida Keys called Christmas Key, and the residents are mostly retirees with interesting backstories (think “The Golden Girls” meets “Cocoon”), but the mayor of the island is a thirty-year-old single woman whose grandparents bought the land and devoted the last years of their lives to developing it. I’ve got ideas for about five books in this series, and I’m closing in on the completion of book one’s first draft, and I’m getting ready to share it with my first readers for feedback and input. This is the time with any story where I get antsy and ready to put it out there so I can start thinking about changes and revisions. It’s also the point where I question whether anyone but me is going to enjoy what I’ve written!

I’m also toying with the idea of entering this book in the Kindle Scout publishing program, which is essentially a crowdsourced form of publishing. My impression is that it’s a fairly new option, but the gist of it is that you submit a complete work with a cover, and then people can vote on books that they’d like to see in print. If your book is selected (through the most votes/support), you get a deal of sorts with Amazon, and while the royalty rate is a bit lower than when you do it totally solo, you get the opportunity for more visibility via Amazon’s advertising and promotion. I don’t really see the downside at this point (unless it was going to become a breakaway hit that would net me millions on my own), as the rights revert to the author under certain circumstances, and you retain the rights to various publishing options. Anyway, I’m still exploring that and reading up on it, so get ready for me to implore you to vote for my book if I decide to go that route. Honestly, I still view writing and being able to get my words out there as a pretty freaking awesome and fun thing, so really, at this point it’s all gravy!

I am looking for some first readers who would be willing to give honest, constructive feedback, so if you’re into that sort of thing and you think that women’s fiction set on a tropical island sounds like a fun read, shoot me an email–I’d love your help! redbirdsandrabbits@gmail.com

Now I need to go and plan what I’m doing with my juniors and seniors in English class this week, because…errr…I still have a day job!

So. Much. Joy.

When I started writing with Holly, I knew people would go relatively easy on us. As a self-published author you understand that it’s mostly family and friends who are going to read your work first (in fact that they might be your only audience!), and that their reviews will be gentle. In addition, I knew that people would be extra-kind given that our work is co-written by an 11-year-old. Which is lovely–I definitely don’t want her to get her feelings bruised by bad reviews, and I’m more than grateful for any and all support and feedback!

But when you write something–particularly in the over-saturated YA genre–there’s always the chance that you’ll get slammed for missing your mark. Because I published my first YA work under a pen name (as explained in a previous post), I have far fewer friends and family reading it. I desperately wanted to see how it went over with my target audience, and I was thrilled when Cherry from Read Forevermore decided to review @Robertopancake on her blog. I saw her post today and slowly, slooowwwly, scrolled down, unsure what it would say. And I have to add here. for those who are non-writers, getting a review on Amazon, or someone’s blog, or on Goodreads, can be like Christmas morning: you unwrap it cautiously, waiting to see if it’s a pair of socks, or a $100 Sephora gift card. Well, this review was like a $500 Sephora gift card, because she loved the book!

To find that someone got exactly what I wanted them to from my writing left me stunned. You always hope that they will, but then there are moments where you ask yourself if you’re the most mad human being to ever live, going out there and self-publishing things like anyone cares. After reading the review, I think I sat there in a quiet room for like fifteen minutes, not blinking. I was like, So wait–an actual teenage-type reader liked my book? And laughed? And almost cried? Whaaaaa? In all the years I’ve been writing (a lot) it’s been the book that I’ve gotten the most and best feedback from agents on, but even getting as close as I did to having someone take me on based on that work, it still never quite came together. But none of that even matters now, because to read the praise of a complete stranger over something you made is…so magical. And while I know there is an equal and opposite reaction that comes with negative reviews (which I haven’t yet encountered, but am certain to), I’m so grateful that I got to experience this feeling first.

If you feel inclined to read Cherry’s review on her blog, you can find it here. And if you decide to read @Robertopancake after reading her honest, unbiased review, it’s available on Amazon here.

Now I need to go and bask in this glow as I prep for the first day of school on Wednesday, because I have other teenage-type people who will expect a teacher whose head isn’t stuck in the clouds!

A minnow in an ocean of whales.

And now the flatline begins. We had a solid first few days after publishing our book, and every time we looked at our sales on Amazon we high-fived each other with excitement. But now…we’re floating out there in the murky world of ebooks, tangled in the flotsam and jetsam of this deep sea (about a million new fish are born into this ocean each year). With luck, we’ll get caught in the net of a bottom trawler and find ourselves on the menu somewhere fancy. But the truth is, this is where the real work begins–the swimming upstream, so to speak.

I had a wonderful phone conversation with Shayla of Curiouser Editing, and she talked a lot about how to connect with readers. It was invigorating to get the perspective of someone with more (and different) experience, and we came to some really good conclusions. Essentially every author has a brand that they’re promoting, and I really think that ours is clean, contemporary fiction for all ages. To take that a step further, it’s family-centered fiction, written by a mother and daughter. If I were to put that into a soundbite, it would look more like: Clean, Contemporary Family Fiction. In fact, the series I’m working on by myself falls into that category as well, so I think I’ve sort of naturally found my niche without really trying. Shayla’s ideas for how to promote our work and find people who are looking for what we have to offer were really insightful, and she offers tons of services to help authors. If you’re looking for editing, guidance, marketing, or connections with other publishing professionals, check her out!

As for what’s next…we need reviews. Reviews equal visibility and an audience, and the algorithms on Amazon are such that the more reviews you have, the more your book will be visible by human browsers. Our first two reviews were from friends and family, but we really need to beef that up. Unbeknownst to me, there is a world of willing book reviewers out there who are happy to read and give feedback on books in their preferred genres, and I stumbled into a website (here) where you can read what looks like personal ads, but what are really potential reviewers offering their free services. I found six or seven people who are willing to read Iris and give us an honest review, so now we just wait (with our fingers crossed that they’re good!) for those to be posted.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for Clean, Contemporary Family Fiction, feel free to check out Iris and let us know what you think. I have a coupon through Smashwords (that link takes you right to our book) that will allow you to download it for free through July 31. Just put the book in your cart, and at checkout, use this code: KY82R

If you’d be willing to read it and leave us a review on Smashwords, Amazon, or Goodreads, we’d be pleased as punch!

Self-publishing: red-headed stepchild, or golden opportunity?

The idea of publishing work sans any sort of professional assistance is alternately thrilling and horrifying. I recently got deeply immersed in researching and learning more about the world of self-publishing, and without further ado, I found myself deep in a state of flow. For those not acquainted with this New-Agey, term, “flow” is defined as a state of productivity also known as zone. It’s the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. (I stole that definition from Wikipedia.) But it boils down to being so lost in something that you’re trying to understand or master, that time passes almost unnoticed.

I’ve written, queried, gotten rejections/requests for partials/final rejections over and over for the past 15 years, and have always looked at self-publishing as a last resort. But with the access we all have to the internet, ebook publishing tools, and platforms like this little blog I’ve got going here, we have the power to make our own destiny as authors. I’m fully aware that it takes more than just writing a solid book (oh, believe me, the things I’ve read in the past few weeks have made it crystal clear that luck, professionalism, talent, and hard work are all equal parts of this equation!), but with some self-awareness, patience, and gumption, the possibilities are endless. There are some great resources if you’re interested in finding out more about people who’ve done it successfully (J.A. Konrath’s blog; David Gaughran’s blog as well as his excellent book for newbies: Let’s Get Digital), and lots of opinion and how-to info from others who’ve gone the self-pub route themselves.

In an effort to understand how to turn a word processing doc into ebook material, I compiled four of my own short stories that I’m fond of, and then I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I commissioned a cover that I liked from goonwrite.com (I’m a sucker for tropical colors and flowers), and attempted to put together a mini-ebook. I did it this way first because A) I had no idea what I was doing and a short book seemed like a good way to figure it all out, and B) I was hoping that by the time Holly and I were ready to publish our story together, I’d actually have it all figured out. (I’m sure I won’t have it all figured out, but hey–a girl can dream. And I’m lightyears ahead of where I started.)

After a full day of caffeine, confusion, and confounded frustration, I got my first book of short stories up in the Kindle store. I messed around with a bit, had some people download it, and then realized that I don’t love having it linked to the author page that I have with my daughter. I think I learned enough from the experience to make paying for a cover worth it, but I want to get our first collaboration up there and available, so I really need to focus on that!