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!

So you want to write a book…

They say everyone has a book in them, and I think that’s probably true–at least based on how many people have asked me how to publish one! It’s flattering that anyone thinks I’m a solid enough source to approach for advice, and I’m happy to give a condensed version of what’s worked for me so far. I only published my first book in June of 2015, so I’m not exactly a seasoned vet here, but I’m seven books in, and I’ve essentially turned writing and the pursuit of information about this world into my full-time hobby and part-time job, so I’ve got a few things to share.

First of all, there is a ton of information out there. Books, websites, blogs, vlogs, web boards, Facebook groups, courses you can take for free, courses you can pay for…anything you can imagine that has to do with how to become a successful indie author is out there, so you just have to start researching. However (and this is a big “however”), none of it is guaranteed to make you a success, but much of it will give you insights that you can weave together to forge your own path through the jungle of this creative pursuit.

Here is my personal roadmap to the joy and moderate success that I’ve seen so far:

  1. Join Kboards. It’s the web board for Amazon authors and it’s like a rambling antique store full of valuable treasures just waiting to be unearthed. Any question you can think of has probably been asked and answered there, and if you use the search function, you can dig up threads upon threads of other authors sharing their wisdom. There are some rather successful and helpful indie authors on there (as in people pulling in a 7-figure annual income from their books alone), and you can easily fall down the rabbit hole and spend an afternoon reading about other people’s journeys. I check it every day.
  2. Buy some books. There are a gazillion out there, but I prefer the ones that include both technical how-to advice (how to run promotions, how to find visibility in the slushpile of self-pubbed books) and real stories of other indie authors who’ve hit the jackpot, so to speak. A little knowledge plus a little inspiration equals a book that makes me want to grab my laptop and start writing! My favorites:
    1. Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox
    2. Blue Collar to No Collar: From Trucker to Bestselling Novelist in Two Years by Wayne Stinnet
    3. Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should by David Gaughran
    4. On Writing by Stephen King
    5. Write. Publish. Repeat by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt
    6. Let’s Get Visible: How to Get Noticed and Sell More Books by David Gaughran
  3. Start reading blogs. Some of the authors who forged the initial paths through the Wild West of self-publishing have been kind enough to share the details on their blogs. Some of my favorites to follow:
    1. The Creative Penn
    2. Goins Writer
    3. JA Konrath
    4. David Gaughran
    5. Hugh Howie
  4. Write. A lot. You can use Word. You can use Pages. You can use a pen and paper. You can also use Scrivener to compile your chapters and then export to a Word doc if you prefer something fancy with a lot of bells and whistles. You can block distractions by buying an app to keep you from using the internet. I like Freedom because I occasionally end up distracting myself with nonsense instead of writing, and it works for me.
  5. Join some groups and form a support network with other writers. There’s always Kboards, which I mentioned above, but I’ve been a part of the Curiouser Author Network on Facebook for a long time, and you can share info, commiserate, find friends, and chat about writing in a group like this. Very handy.
  6. Research self-publishing versus traditional publishing to make sure you really, really want to do it. I’ve tried the trad pub route (which still entails sending out long, painful queries to agents who either send you a form rejection, ask to see more work and then sit on it for up to six months before rejecting you, or ignore you altogether–and this has only improved moderately with the advent of email. I spent a small fortune in the 90s mailing out 50 pages of my work to various agents who probably rolled their eyes and immediately recycled the whole thing…if it ever even got past their assistants.) After fully digesting what was going on in the publishing world in 2014, I realized that the freedoms and opportunities of self-publishing made it a much more exciting option for me. But you can decide that for yourself!
  7. Figure out how you’re going to make an amazing cover. Honestly–this is important. Some people create their own, but the sharpest-looking books are usually commissioned from someone professional. I use Natasha Snow and she’s amazing–nice, fun to work with, and talented. But there are lots of options, so look around, find out who other people use (Kboards is a good place for this), and if you have any graphic design talents, you can definitely give it a go yourself. Just keep in mind that your cover is the first thing people will see, and if it sucks, then you might lose them on the spot.
  8. Find a formatter if you don’t know how to format yourself (I found it cumbersome and annoying, and quickly decided it was something I’d rather pay for than waste time on). I’ve used Jesse Gordon from A Darned Good Book for all of my books, but I recently found Vellum, which is the most amazing thing I’ve discovered in a while. You can easily drop your Word doc into Vellum and get a file ready for any of the distributors, and it’s really simple to manipulate and make changes to your ebooks. I still use Jesse to format my print versions (something Vellum doesn’t do), but I did the ebook version of my latest and am really happy with the results.
  9. Decide whether you want to publish exclusively on Amazon (including signing up for Kindle Unlimited) or whether you want to go wide through the other distributors. Also, are you going to only publish an ebook, or will you offer print copies as well? I went exclusive with Amazon and I publish my print copies through Createspace, and then both options are available to customers for purchase in the same place on Amazon.
  10. Research the keywords and categories that you should use on Amazon (or other vendors) to make your book visible, create the best book blurb you possibly can (this is hard–almost everyone will tell you that writing a blurb is harder than writing a whole novel–and it’s as important as a good cover. Grab your readers. Make them want to buy your book. And do it quick.) Get it all uploaded to your chosen vendor(s), review it, approve it, set your prices, and then PUBLISH!
  11. Okay, your book is out there. If you do nothing, it’ll disappear fast. I’m no master of algorithms, but I know you’ve got a 30-60 day window before your book starts to sink to the bottom of the pond like a boulder. If you just tell family and friends about your book then you’ll sell a few copies, but if you want to make a bigger impact, you need to push that tome up the charts. This is where advertising kicks in. I’ve done sporadic ads here and there and had some success, but a series of stacked ads is better–set your book to free or .99 and run a ton of ads for a week or so to get some visibility on the charts. If you’re going to go with a freebie, then it’s better if you have more books in the series so that your customers will have something to buy after they’re done reading your free book. A free book with nothing to follow it up is a bit of a dead end (although I’ve done that, too). Some of the sites I’ve used for advertising:
    1. Robin Reads
    2. The Fussy Librarian
    3. Ereader News Today
    4. Buck Books
    5. Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy
    6. OHFB
    7. Book Hippo UK
  12. Write your next book immediately. Or, better yet, write two or three before you even release the first one so that you can capitalize on momentum–if I had it to do over, I’d definitely do that. Keep advertising, keep posting to your blog, your Facebook page, your author Instagram, your Pinterest or Twitter…whatever you use to keep interacting with fans and other authors. It’s a hobby, it’s a job, and for the lucky few, it’s a full-time career. But keep treating it like a business. Take it seriously and set up a separate bank account for your book royalties. Keep all your receipts and plan on paying taxes. I can’t stress this enough: this is a business.
  13. Have fun–keep having fun, no matter what. This has been one of the best things I’ve done in my life, and I plan on doing it for a long, long time.

 

 

So I changed my book covers.

I’ve been reading a lot about how important it is to always be aware of the market and to not be overly stubborn and precious about your work. I loved the retro feel of my old covers and I really thought they worked with the series, but they just weren’t selling the way I knew they could. So I went back to the cover artist and asked her to work with me on something that looks more like the other books in my “categories” (women’s fiction/contemporary romance/humorous chick lit) and we came up with the above. My daughter has deemed the first one “too much butt” and I’ll admit I felt a little hesitant about making such a big leap, but it’s been a great choice so far. The book is moving again, and at one point, I hit the top 2,500 on the Amazon Kindle charts, so…I think it was a solid decision.

I also put out the first novella in the series, which offers some backstory about Jake, Christmas Key’s only cop and Holly’s ex-boyfriend. It gives some perspective on how a guy like Jake ended up on a tropical island full of old timers and expats, and hopefully sheds some light on how he and Holly fell for one another. It’s a much shorter read (only 20k words), but I’m working on the third full-length novel in the series, so I thought it was a fun little in-between story.

I’ve also punched up my advertising big-time and gotten some good results. I can’t attribute the jump in the Kindle charts entirely to my new covers (though I think they helped), so after my promo run ends in a week or two, I’ll do an update on the results. It’s cost me a few bucks, but I think the returns are good.

In the meantime, Wild Tropics is in a multi-author Halloween promo through Monday night for just .99, so if you’re interested in checking that out (or finding some other great Halloween reads this weekend), click HERE to grab a book or two on the cheap. And if you do, don’t forget to help out my fellow indie authors by leaving a review! Happy reading!

And now we can officially call it a series.


Mai-f

It feels like it’s taken an eternity, but we finally hit ‘publish’ today on the second book of our middle grade series. I’ve gone into writing both the American Dream Series and the Christmas Key Series with the understanding that they would be multi-book ventures, and I’m constantly working on one or the other. But at a certain point, time starts to drag on and it feels like those who know me best are wondering whether I’ve just given up on publishing more. I have not.

The journey from idea to actual finished product is a long one, and the edits alone are enough to make a sane person crazy (how many times can you actually re-read the same scenes before you start dreaming about your characters like they’re real people? How many times can you tweak and re-tweak your dialogue and description? Doing it several times more probably wouldn’t hurt the final version, but it does start to hurt your brain!), however, the excitement of getting something completed and sending it out into the world never gets old.

And so we now present to you the story of Mai Nakahara, a Japanese girl who moves from Tokyo to Honolulu with her family. By the time Mai’s family moves to America to help run her aunt and uncle’s restaurant in Hawaii, she’s pretty much gotten used to living without the arm she lost to cancer. But life in Honolulu presents its own challenges: a giant ocean she’s too afraid to swim in, mean girls to ignore, and horrible sports to play in gym class. Fortunately, there are also some good things about Mai’s new home, and with the help of her cousin, her new friends, and a famous one-armed surfer named Chloe Hayes, Mai discovers that the only real obstacle to her own happiness is believing in herself.

You can check out Mai: The American Dream Series Book Two on Amazon.

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!