The magic of words.

We all know by now that I’m on this writing journey with my pre-teen daughter, and I can confirm to you all that it’s been one of the best things I’ve done in my life. My girl turns 13 this year, and we’ve just spent the summer together doing a variety of things (which, I’ll admit, includes a fair amount of time spent re-viewing Gilmore Girls on Netflix), but most importantly, we’ve sat together and finished our first draft of the second book in our American Dream series. It took us a year to get that done (those are the realities of working with a hormonal adolescent who would sometimes rather watch Barbie furniture building how-to videos on YouTube than read through a section of a manuscript again to get it just right), but last night, as we sat in her bed under the Christmas lights that she has draped around her room, we emailed the edited draft out to our beta-readers, and it felt AMAZING to say we’d completed this project.

And by “completed” I mean we’ve written it and taken turns reading the chapters out loud, making our changes and haggling over word choice and description (the final editing will be mine to do once we get feedback). But that’s the magic, really: the words. The ones we wrote together, the ones I listen to her read, and the ones we debate over. They’ve kept us working together, side-by-side, like glue. They’ve kept us from drifting into a land where she holes up alone in her room like a typical teen, keeping her words to herself or only sharing them with friends. Instead, she shares them with me. As we write, we talk about other “stuff”–boys, mean girls, fashion, music. I mean, we talk a lot anyway, but this gives us a safe place to make silly jokes and to apply the situations we write about to real life. This book we’ve just finished gives us the chance to talk about what mean girls are like in middle school in 2016, and lets us ponder what sort of messages we want each book to impart. (For the record, she talked it through as I listened, and we ultimately decided that this book is about believing in yourself and overcoming whatever obstacles or limitations life throws in your path.)

Writing also gave us something to talk about on our road trips this summer. We sat next to pools in Buffalo, Wyoming and talked about our next book: who will our main character be? Where should she be from? (Russia, we’ve decided.) What state will she move to in America? (While driving to an abandoned gold-mining town outside of Bozeman, Montana, we determined that she’d definitely be moving to a horse ranch in the “Treasure State”.) And as we power-walked through a pool in Spokane, Washington like a couple of middle-aged retirees on a water aerobics mission, we even got to daydream about a time when we had enough books published that we could go on an indie bookstore tour, setting up tables and autographing books for our rabid fans. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

I know there are a few more weeks of summer and I shouldn’t be mourning its end just yet, but teachers go back to work three weeks from today, so…the end is near. I have some final editing to do on my own book, and I’m hoping to have both of our books out in early September (it always takes longer than you think it will!) The covers are done, the drafts are written and in their final stages, and–as always–I’m eternally grateful for the magic of words.

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!

How I draft my novels.

Unlike Donald Trump’s nature-defying comb-over, writing becomes less and less mysterious as time goes on. At first there’s a mystique about the whole process of Writing A Book, but then you manage to bleed sixty or eighty-thousand words onto a page (or into a word doc), and you realize that, Hey, I can do this. It’s just words!

Only it’s not. It’s plot and character and setting and detail and…so much more. And it always feels as if, when you’re done, you’re missing one of the main ingredients. For me, writing has been a series of light bulb moments: aha! I think I understand how to make characters come alive with their actions and their words. I’ve got it: I know that I need to hit major plot points by moving my characters from point A to point B! But putting everything together into one story? That’s hard. And I haven’t mastered it yet.

The other part of my writing (aside from discovering each time I write something that there was some huge piece of the puzzle that I was previously missing) is the fun I have with my first drafts. I’m a pantser through and through, which means I write whatever comes out with no plan, and Draft One is always the part where I have the most fun. I usually start with a very basic idea (example: Christmas Key, an island off the coast of Florida where the locals tool around on golf carts and where the lights and tinsel stay up year-round.) Then I add a couple of characters whose eyes we get to see the setting through (Holly Baxter, 30-year-old mayor of the island. She inherited the island when her grandparents passed away, and she’s struggling to gain the approval of her mostly-retired neighbors as she plans for controlled progress.) I throw in some sort of key element, like romance (Holly has recently broken up with hunky Jake Zavaroni, the island’s only cop, and they’re trying to figure out how to live together on a tiny island without actually living together), and then I figure out how to make it interesting (a group of fishermen from Oregon books a trip to Christmas Key, and among them is former baseball player River O’Leary. He and Holly hit it off immediately. But will their island romance turn into something more? And how will Jake handle seeing his ex move on right under his nose?) It’s just basic stuff, really, but it’s like laying the foundation for a house.

Then, to frame out this metaphorical house, I have to figure out how many rooms (books) I want–in this case, I’m thinking at least five in this series. I have ideas for the romance element as well as the growth of the island, the obstacles to both, and how to intertwine other islanders’ stories as well. Now, as a pantser, I have no idea how or when that will all play out, but I can picture some of it in my head (hints: reality show; murder-mystery weekend; a challenger for the office of mayor) so I know it’s possible to wring several books out of these ideas. And then I just write it. All of it. Whatever comes out. I build the rooms during this first draft, and throw in a few windows and doors. It’s hard not to go back and edit yourself as you go, but I resist it as much as possible.

After the first draft is complete (and I know it’s complete when I hit a point that feels like an ending–exact science, this stuff!), then I go back and decorate my rooms. I add color and texture, use all of my senses, try to create a picture that my imaginary readers will see in their heads, and then I basically second-guess things, make changes, tweak, delete, add, and mold until it feels…done. Voila. A book. Granted, one that still needs lots of editing, reading by other eyes, and probably more changes, but a book nonetheless! As we speak, I’m about ten thousand words away from finishing draft one of the second book in my series–so here’s to a 3-day weekend and the chance to get it done!

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!

Finding your niche.

To write to market, or to write for pleasure? It’s the question that all indies have to ask themselves at some point–particularly if full-time authorship is a goal. I’ve toyed with writing to market, and to be perfectly honest, I just can’t. I hate sci-fi and fantasy, and anything with werewolves, vampires, or the undead just puts me off completely. Zero interest. So genre-wise, I’m in the position of writing what I know I’d like to read myself. People have widely varying opinions on this subject, but I think what you write rings more true if you enjoy the process and if you’d read the product yourself, so I’m not even considering dipping my toes into a genre that bores me.

I’ve had one story in particular that I’ve written and re-written a number of times since I started it back in 2009, and its current incarnation barely resembles the original draft, save for the location and genre. The characters’ names have changed, the idea of it being a single title romance has faded–I’ve even gone back-and-forth with present or past tense (and settled on present tense, which feels more immediate to me.)

What I have now is the first book in what I hope will be a long series, as I get lost in the place and the people every time I open my laptop and start to write. It’s set on a fictional island off the coast of Florida (a holiday-themed island called Christmas Key) and is populated with eccentric retirees, a young, handsome cop named Jake, and Holly Baxter, the island’s thirty-year-old mayor. Holly’s late grandparents bought the island when it was nothing but an untamed jungle floating in the middle of the sea, and over the years it’s developed into a rustic community with plans for expansion and tourism. The only real fly in the ointment is Holly’s mother, Coco, who handed her baby over to her own parents to raise when she was a teenager so that she could sow her wild oats. Coco doesn’t have the emotional ties to the island that Holly does, and now she’s got plans of her own to sell the island and turn it into a massive commercial resort–something that the full-time islanders are completely opposed to.

With my final edit still to do and another week or so in the hands of my formatter, I’m trying to be realistic and imagine publishing by April 15th. But in the meantime, I started drafting Book 2 the other day where Book 1 left off, and I’ve never been more happy to be writing the kind of contemporary women’s fiction that I personally enjoy reading. I’d love to hear from other writers–do you ever step outside your own reading area to write what you know will sell, or do you strictly write for the pleasure of turning out work that could stand up next to your favorite authors in your favorite genres?

The hero’s journey.

We’ve started a movie unit in my English classes that’s based on the idea that the hero’s journey is at the heart of every good story. We’ve got the 7 steps of the journey committed to memory, we’ve watched Big Hero 6 and talked about its important messages, and we’ll soon be watching some of the greatest movies of the 80s (Breakfast Club; Ferris Bueller’s Day off; Stand By Me; Goonies) so that I can feel like I actually brought something of substance to these young people’s lives when they leave my class in June.

But now that we’ve turned the theory of the hero’s journey inside out, I’m left wondering how I’ve been missing something so big for so long: my current WIP needs a stronger, more defined hero’s journey. I mean, I like it, it’s okay, I love the setting, the characters are nice enough, but…duh. I’m on the fourth draft, and I just hit the spot where I realized that this is my main character’s “call to adventure,” and it’s not very much of a call at all. She sort of stumbles through this story without ever completing a discernible hero’s journey, and that has to happen. Whether we know it consciously or not, we don’t invest in a story where no one grows and changes. We aren’t interested in a main character who (however flawed) isn’t even the hero of her own life story. So even though I have the cover done and had hoped to publish this one by February 1st (which clearly did not happen), there’s still more work to do. Before I can call it a wrap, my main character needs to slay a dragon or two and return home with an elixir. Her romantic interests and the other people in her life need to clearly be allies or enemies, and there need to be more tests and obstacles.

It’s kind of frustrating when you realize how much more there is to do, but it’s also a relief to discover what’s missing. Bring on the 5th draft!

 

 

New Year’s writing resolution: tie up all loose ends.

  1. A 75,000 word (currently) 3rd draft of the story I’ve been working on about a fictional island in the Florida Keys. The cover has been commissioned, my first draft readers (thank you, Jaime and Lyndsey!) have given me solid feedback, and my goal is to have it re-read, edited, and self-published by January 31st. (*Note to self: in the future, decide whether past or present tense is more desirable during the first draft. Combing through the third draft and changing everything to present tense is painstaking and horrible.)
  2. Draft one of the “American Dream” book Holly and I have been working on since summer. We’re halfway done. We can do this. The cover is made, we know what’s supposed to happen, but our engines stall when she decides that she REALLY needs to play Barbies today instead of writing with Mom–just this ONE. TIME. (The mom in me says, “Let her enjoy the Barbie-playing; it won’t last much longer…”)
  3. 30,000 words of a romance novel that I started in 2009 about a television producer who works on a reality dating show called Trial by Fire. Every time I re-read it, I pick it back up and peck away a little bit more. I really like it, but for some reason it hasn’t written its own ending yet. Huh. Go figure.
  4. Arguably the manuscript I’ve done the most research for, a 40,000 word work-in-progress called Year of the Rabbit. Set in early 80s Miami Beach, a pregnant teenager moves in with her uncle and his boyfriend, who is a drug dealer. I love this one…it WILL be completed!
  5. Book 2 in my Florida Key series. Book 3 in the series Holly and I write together. Intense self-marketing and promotion. Complete understanding of self-publishing. Eventual world domination. Naturally.

I love the start of a new year: it’s filled with days, and weeks, and months–so many blank, unwritten days on the calendar! I just talked to my students today about the difference between goals and resolutions, so I do understand that most of the above actually fall under the category of “goals” (given how much life gets in the way as the year evaporates before my eyes), but I want so badly to make 2016 a year that I look back on as a turning-point with my writing.

Last year I spent a lot of time reading and figuring out the nuts and bolts of self-publishing, and I also put a lot of energy into networking and finding people to do the things I couldn’t do, so this year I feel like my energy needs to go into the actual writing and promoting. So do I get up at 5am to write before work, or do I teach my kid to make dinner and drive herself to swim practice at night so I can spend my evenings writing? Decisions, decisions…Happy New Year, everyone!

The catch-22 of snaring book reviews.

It’s just like finding a job, really: it’s easier to get one when you’ve already got one. But who will give you that first break? And so it’s a catch-22, of sorts. I’ve had the most luck by going to sites where you can email potential reviewers directly, find out what their reading interests are, and then send them a PDF or MOBI (Kindle ready) copy of your book in exchange for an honest review. But I do enjoy using Goodreads, so I thought I’d join a few groups (for both our Middle Grade book and my own YA novel) and see if I could use their review network to gather some feedback for our Amazon pages and our Goodreads links.

I signed up in mid-September for a popular group that caters to YA readers, and while it’s a super-organized affair (so far as I can tell), it also appears to be quite popular with authors looking for reviews, as I got wait-listed for a mid-October post. I waited and waited, so sure that I’d get at least a handful of readers on either or both books, but when my dates finally rolled around and my books got posted, I got…nothing. For days. Finally, after about a week of each book being available (and other books on the list getting 10+ readers right off the bat, with some posts getting hit with upwards of 80 comments and requests), I got one request on each book. One. For all that waiting. Now, I don’t want to be ungrateful, as I do enjoy the human interaction of communicating with people whose paths I would otherwise never cross (and both of these ladies were wonderfully kind and seemed eager to read and review the books), but I feel like I’m crawling up a rocky hill on my bare hands and knees, making about an inch of progress when my effort makes me feel like I should be covering miles!

As always, I’m cognizant of the fact that finding book visibility is HARD, and that I’m not alone in my frustration, but it still makes it feel like I’m shouting into an abyss. But I’ll keep shouting–because I still think it’s an amazingly gratifying hobby–and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that my two new readers give good reviews!