New Socks for Me

I finished a pair of socks this week. Not only are these for me, but I like them a lot.

Socks knit of Diamond Sock Yarn by Deborah Cooke

This is my usual pattern. The yarn is Diamond Luxury Collection Foot Loose, which I had in my stash from half a zillion years ago and discontinued. It’s in a red mix colourway. (This pic makes the socks look more pink than they are in real life.) The blend is 90% merino and 10% nylon, and is quite soft. When I was knitting, I thought it might be too soft and worried a bit about how the socks would wear, but they did some magic with the twist – now that the yarn is knitted up, it feels sturdy but yet still soft. It’s also superwash, but doesn’t have that superwash feel.

Here’s hoping they wear well!

Next week, I’ll show you some hats I’ve been knitting.

What’s on your needles right now?

 

Avoiding Writers’ Block

Today, we’re going to discuss some tips and tricks for ensuring that you always know what comes next when you sit down to write.

I don’t love the term “writers’ block”, partly because it sounds insurmountable. Like so many things, being “stuck” can be overcome with a little preparation and several little steps. You could think of these as good practices.

• Review what you wrote the day before
This is a tried and true strategy used by many writers I know. Job one of any new day of writing is to edit what was written the day before. This is a neat trick because you polish your work so that it’s clean behind you, and it also fills your mind with the story again. You might even see details or directions to explore which you missed the first time around.

• Leave a hook for the next scene
When you stop for the day, choose a deliberate point for stopping. I find that if I write everything I know about the story, the next day I might come up dry. I also find that I see two scenes very clearly and often a third one a bit less so. So, I write those two scenes, then hold back on the third. I’ll write the first sentence of that scene, to pull me back into the moment, but then let that scene stew in the back of my mind for the remainder of the day. Combined with the review suggested above, this is a surefire way to get me writing again each day.

• Retrace your steps
Most authors write a story in a linear sequence. This means that if the next scene isn’t clear to you, you’re stuck, as if you encountered a closed road on your map to the big finish. For me, this often indicates that I’ve taken a wrong turn or painted myself into a corner. The first thing I do in this situation is delete the hook on the end of the last scene I wrote. I then go make a fresh pot of tea, thinking about what else that hook could be. Often that sets me straight on the path again.

• Write out of sequence
Sometimes another scene than the one I know comes next is clear in my thoughts when I sit down to write. This might be the ending, which is a useful thing to write in advance of getting to the end of the book. Many authors find that writing the ending gives them a more clear sense of their destination and the feel of the end of the book, and that helps with the pages in between. You might feel compelled to write the big finish, or the dark moment, or a comparatively minor scene between secondary characters. As a general rule of thumb, if something is burning in your thoughts, write it down, whether it comes next in the story or not.

• Write a synopsis
The most obvious way to ensure that you know where the story is doing (and how it’s going to get there) is to write a synopsis. I’ve yet to meet a writer who loved creating a synopsis. It can be a painful process. But the fact is that once you have one, you have a map of your book. It’s very easy to put your finger on your location in the synopsis then read on to see where the story needs to go next.

• Stock your well
Julia Cameron talks about this in The Artist’s Way. It’s a strategy for ensuring that you always have new images and ideas to draw upon, so that your work continues to evolve and stay fresh. For me, this kind of creative thinking is completely opposite to the kind of planning I do as a publisher. Stocking my well is dreamy and irrational, meandering, and often seems like daydreaming or “wasting” time. The less free time I have, the more critical I am of the kind of play that stocks the well—but if I don’t do it, I get stuck.

I suspect that part of the reason I’ve been less productive creatively this year isn’t just a lack of time to write; it’s a failure to leave time to play and dream. I play with textiles and color to let my imagination wander off and explore the next part of the story I’m writing. I knit and quilt and bead and garden and cook, and this review has reminded me that I need to defend the time to do that, as well as the time to write.

So, the final tweak that comes out of this entire review is to protect the time I spend mucking about with creative endeavors. When I protect my writing time and my source of ideas, the routine of publishing must be pushed out to occur last in the day instead of first.

This is an intriguing idea and one I’ve already started to put into action. I’ve already seen an improvement in my productivity: in October, I wrote 54,000 words, which blasts me past my high count in May of 43,000. Now I just need to make these changes into habits. I’m curious to see if my word count increases in the next six months – I’m curious to see if it will help me succeed in NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words this month would be a victory!

Do you have any tips or practices that help you avoid writers’ block?

International Buy Links

At the Novelists Inc conference, I attended several wonderful workshops taught by Joanna Penn. In one of them, she talked about English-language markets outside of the US, and means of making it simple for non-US readers to buy books. Part of that facilitation comes from distribution, and part of it comes from website links. Many of the portals redirect you based upon the location of your ISP (server), but Amazon does not. Amazon has twelve regional stores, each of which has specific links for products like books. I used to have four or five Amazon links (US, UK, AU, CA and DE) but I thought those links cluttered my website pages. Joanna pointed out, rightly so, that it should be easy for non-US readers to click and buy a book at their portal of choice. Since I’m in Canada, it was particularly embarrassing to realize that I wasn’t supporting this on my sites.

And so, there has been a change. 🙂 I’ve been adding some more links to the website, specifically to make it easier for those of you (us!) who live outside the US. In most cases, my books were already available at those portals, but I didn’t have a direct link to them on my websites. That’s all changed.

When you look at any of my book pages now, you’ll see a group of links like this list on the page for Addicted to Love:

buy links for Addicted to Love by Deborah Cooke
What’s new is that the Amazon link is now defined clearly as a link to Amazon.com. It always went to the US store, but now the link says so.

You’ll also see that there’s a new link called Books2Read Universal Link. This is a pretty cool service offered by Draft2Digital, one of the aggregators I use to distribute my books. If you click on this link for Addicted to Love, for example, it’ll take you a page that looks like this:

Addicted to Love, book #2 of the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke, at Books2Read

You can see that there are more buy links here than on my page and that they’re outside the US, but that’s not all. First, if you choose the Amazon Kindle link, you will be taken to the product page for Addicted to Love in your Amazon store based on the location of your server. Yes! It will redirect! If you live outside the US, this could be any of the twelve Amazon stores. You won’t have to fish around to change the link for Canada or Australia anymore: this interface will take you to the right store right away.

Secondly, if you create an account with Books2Read, it will remember what portal you prefer. So, the first time you click a portal on the page above, you’ll see this screen:

If you leave the box checked at the bottom, then every time you click a universal link, you’ll go straight to the product page on your portal of choice. That means that if you click on the Books2Read Universal link for In the Midnight Hour, right here on my website, after you’ve followed the link for Addicted to Love to Amazon.ca, then you will redirected immediately to the Amazon.ca page for that book. You won’t see that first page with all the little icons again. You can, of course, change your preference in your Books2Read account at any time.

How cool is that? I think this is really, really sexy. The other side of this is affiliate codes. Most authors use affiliate codes from the portals, which pay a teeny tiny bonus for sending a customer to their respective store. Amazon, of course, has specific affiliate codes for each individual regional store. (The other portals with affiliate codes use a single code for the entire planet.) This service through Books2Read also supports all of my various Amazon affiliate codes, so each time you use these links, you’re adding a teeny tiny bonus for me. It is literally pennies, but pennies add up.

The final bonus of this is that I get an author page at Books2Read (actually, I get two!) where you can browse my books by series. My Deborah Cooke author page is right here.

The Cooke books are done, and the Delacroix books, though I still have to sort out my dragons and angels at Books2Read. There also are some rogue titles on my book pages that aren’t appearing in their respective series (tsk tsk) but the good peeps at D2D will help me sort this out. It looks good already.

I’ve also signed up for another aggregator to offer my books in more territories and portals beyond the big choices, and will tell you about that soon. 🙂

Last Chance – Dragon Deals Promotion

Dragon Deals, multi-author dragon PNR promotion October 31 to November 2 2018

Dragon Deals is a multi-author PNR promotion featuring free reads with dragons. (How can this be a bad thing?) The books are all free, some at the online portals and some via BookFunnel. You’ll find Kiss of Fire and Wyvern’s Mate among the offerings.

This sale ends today, so don’t delay!

I hope you find something new and hot for your book hoard…

Visit the landing page.

What Do You DO All Day?

On Thursdays, we’re talking about publishing and writing here on the blog. Two weeks ago, we talked about Tracking Your Word Count as part of an ongoing discussion about tracking your progress and speed in creating new content. Knowing how quickly you write helps you to plan your publication schedule, because you know when books will be done.

The obvious goal once you know your daily word count is improving it: it seems a particularly fitting topic for today, the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

btw, if you participate in NaNo, you can find me here.

Two weeks ago, I showed you how I tracked my monthly word count. My counts for each month this summer were lower than I’d like, though, so I had a closer look at my data. I tend to write 3,000 words in a writing session at my desk. My tracking results show that clearly. So, I can divide out one month’s word count and see that I’m only having one of those writing sessions about thirteen times a month. Since I’m in my office six days a week (at least) that means the publishing and production part of my job is eating a lot more time than I’d realized. I should be doing at least twenty sessions a month – 5 days a week for 4 weeks – which would net me 60,000 words a month. This isn’t wildly implausible – my word count for May was consistent with the other months but was only for two weeks. I worked every day for those two weeks, which was a push, but I could easily write five days a week.

Why don’t I? What else am I doing? I’m in my office, working. Are there any patterns that differentiate the days I don’t write from the days I do? Once I know what those distractions are, I should be able to manage them better.

The easiest way to discover what leads you astray  is to keep track of your day in a spreadsheet, then look for patterns. You could just scribble it down on a list as you change tasks, but a spreadsheet will help you find patterns in timing. Block it off in half hour intervals from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. When you do write, add a word count of what you accomplished in that block.

This is similar to keeping a list of exactly what you eat before starting a diet, to look for habits (like that mid-afternoon chocolate bar) that you could do without.

Just like that chocolate bar, you’ll probably notice quite quickly that there are some habits that affect your writing output. (One might start with “Face” and end with “Book”.) I find it very easy to get sucked into social media or the myriad little jobs of publishing—I might think it will “only take a minute” to update an item in my metadata, or respond to an email, or book an ad, but in reality, that task sends me off on a tangent that leads away from writing. It’s usually just the first breadcrumb in a line I follow, steadily moving away from writing my book. It might be hours before I work my way back to my work-in-progress again and I certainly will have lost my train of thought.

Most of the tasks that distract me from writing are legitimate ones that need to happen: the trick for me is managing when I do them. If I write first, then I don’t mind following those tangents. Managing my time means opening my email for the first time in the late morning (or even later). It means not checking social media until my word count is done. It means leaving the endless tasks and updates of publishing until the afternoon or evening. New content is what keeps my little publishing machine profitable, so I need to write first.

It’s easier said than done.

I find that making lists in the morning helps. If I make a note that something needs to be done, then I’m less likely to just do it, assuming it will be quick – and risking that I’ll fall down a rabbit hole for a couple of hours as one quick task leads (Inevitably) to another. It also helps if I write down the scenes I intend to add to my book in the morning. Then I can tick them off when they’ve been written, and also know the next one to write. I also need to manage my reading, although this makes sense when I think about it: if I read books about the nuts and bolts of publishing, I end up with a list of things to do that aren’t writing. The natural course is to do those things right away, so I only read those books after my daily word count is written.

If you write your best at night or in the afternoon, you’ll have a different daily rhythm than mine. The point is to figure out what works best for you in terms of getting words on the page, then make that your daily routine. On the flip side, you’ll also figure out the best time for doing a lot of other jobs so that you don’t waste your most creative periods on grunt work.

This brings us neatly to knowing what comes next in the book. Another thing that leads me away from my writing in addition to distraction is not knowing what to write. There’s nothing worse than having a block of time all scheduled, then staring at a blank screen (or sheet of paper). We’ll talk next week about avoiding writers’ block.

Until then, happy writing!

NaNoWriMo 2018

NaNoWriMo logoIt’s that time again. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) launches tomorrow. Participants aim to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Participation is free.

As usual, I’m participating, and (as usual!) I have more than one project to get done this month. If you want a writing buddy, you can friend me at NaNo right here.

If you want to learn more about NaNoWriMo, check out their website.

Print Copies of One Hot Summer Night

There’s really nothing like getting print copies of one of my books. The thrill never fades. Last week, the print copies of One Hot Summer Night arrived. Here are a few of them:

One Hot Summer Night, book #3 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke, in print

“ONE HOT SUMMER NIGHT is a story of second chances; a rekindling, of a sort, for two people whose lives went in opposite directions eventually finding one another when the time was right. The premise is heart breaking and emotional; the romance is passionate; the characters struggle to move on from the past. Deborah Cooke invites the reader into a spirited yet tender, revealing and sensual tale of family, loss, commitment, and love.” —The Reading Cafe

One Hot Summer Night, book #3 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke, in print

Buy One Hot Summer Night in ebook at:
Amazon
iBooks
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
buy directly from Deborah in her online store

Buy One Hot Summer Night in print:
• buy mass market paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indigo
buy signed mass market paperback from Deborah’s online store and get the ebook free

Review at the Reading Cafe

The Reading Cafe has posted reviews of all three books in the Secret Heart Ink series in a feature on their blog. Here are some excerpts from the reviews:

Snowbound, #1 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke“Secret Heart Ink is a tattoo shop, owned by the mysterious Chynna, located in Manhattan’s Flatiron Five. Along with her sidekick Tristan, during the full moon, Chynna creates one tattoo to set two hearts afire in the hopes of the recipient finding ever lasting love….

Deborah Cooke pulls the reader into a sexy and engaging story line with a stubborn and guarded heroine, and a determined hero. The premise is moving; the romance is provocative and fated; the characters are strong and edgy. A quick read, SNOWBOUND is an energetic, sensual and erotic read for all to enjoy.”—The Reading Cafe

“SPRING FEVER is a story of betrayal and loss; acceptance and denial; love and a happily ever after. The premise is engaging; the romance struggles in the face of Reyna’s emotional up and downs; the characters are colorful but damaged and lost.”—The Reading Cafe

One Hot Summer Night, #3 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke“ONE HOT SUMMER NIGHT is a story of second chances; a rekindling, of a sort, for two people whose lives went in opposite directions eventually finding one another when the time was right. The premise is heart breaking and emotional; the romance is passionate; the characters struggle to move on from the past. Deborah Cooke invites the reader into a spirited yet tender, revealing and sensual tale of family, loss, commitment, and love.”—The Reading Cafe

You can see the feature and complete reviews at The Reading Cafe right here.

Thank you for the wonderful reviews, Sandy!

Find out more about the Secret Heart Ink series: Snowbound, Spring Fever and One Hot Summer Night.

A New Quilt Top

I told you a few weeks ago about the Escher quilt pattern I’d bought, and mentioned that I needed to finish another quilt top before starting that one. Today you get to hear about the quilt in progress. It took me a bit longer than expected because I had to rip back the borders and redo them.

I saw a quilt made in this pattern during the summer (it was red and white) and I thought it was pretty, so I doodled down the pattern. I don’t know the name of the pattern, but here’s my version:

green quilt sewn by Deborah Cooke

It’s just half square blocks sewn into larger blocks. I chose to make the central diamonds in each block darker in the middle section, then also alternated florals and stripes all the way around. On the outside borders, that protocol doesn’t quite hold. 🙂 I sewed the outside blocks on and ran outside to get a picture before the sun was gone, so it still needs a good pressing. It’s a bit more green than it looks here, and it needs another outside border. I think I’ll use that dark blue/green batik that is in the last border before the outside blocks. It’s about 72″ on a side right now.

I like it, and that it ended up with a contrast between stripes and florals. As usual, I was more concerned with pattern than value, and I did let the pattern placement fall randomly, but I still am pleased with the result. Many of the fabrics are Kaffe Fassett fabrics – all of the stripes and many of the florals, too. Those mustard dots and the blue/green batik are rogue. 🙂 Once the borders are on, I’ll need to quilt it.

What do you think?

A Newsletter Takeaway from NINC

Newsletter Ninja by Tammi LaBrecqueAt the beginning of this month, I attended the Novelists Inc annual conference. It was held at St. Pete’s Beach, as usual – I shared some impressions when I got home, right here – and as usual, I had a huge To Do list as a result of the many excellent workshops.

I also had a couple of new books to read. The first (and the one I’m going to talk about today) is Newsletter Ninja by Tammi LaBrecque.

I really like this book. Not only do her strategies make sense, but implementing the suggested strategies shows quick results. What’s not to like about almost-instant gratification?

Here’s one thing I changed after reading this book and the difference it made. My newsletter list was already divided into three groups, separating readers by the sub-genre they prefer to read: Heroes & Bad Boys is for my Deborah Cooke contemporary romances; Dragons & Angels is for my Deborah Cooke paranormal romances; and Knights & Rogues is for my Claire Delacroix historical romances. There’s a sign-up form in each ebook, guiding readers to the appropriate group, and offering a free read in that sub-genre. There are also sign-ups on my various websites, guiding readers to the appropriate newsletter, and also on my Facebook pages. Before reading this book, my welcome message to my newsletter list was a single message. That all seemed very straightforward, but I’ve been mystified by one detail for a while.

Only 67-70% of new subscribers opened that welcome email message, which meant that roughly 30% of them never got the free book. Since this was supposedly the reason they signed up, I thought that was weird. Also, you can see that a lot of people who opened the message didn’t click to take the free book:

Deborah Cooke's newsletter onboarding open rates before Newsletter Ninja

So, there are two obvious questions here:
1. Why sign up for the newsletter to get a free book and not open the welcome message?
2. Why open the welcome message and not click on the link for the free book?

The answer to the first question might simply be that the email was in the spam folder and the recipient didn’t see it. I already had a note asking the subscriber to add my domain email to their email address book, which should white-list it. (That’s the email that sends the newsletter and white-listing it should keep messages from that address out of the recipient’s spam or Promotions folder.) But it still looked as if a significant percentage of people either weren’t receiving or weren’t finding that first message. I followed the advice of Newsletter Ninja and added steps to the welcome message, which should add verification to my email address and validate my sending to each recipient. I also asked two more times for them to white-list the address. It felt like nagging to me, but you’ll see that it worked.

All or Nothing, book #4 of the Coxwell series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeThe answer to the second book is more interesting to me. What if the reader didn’t want the free book? For Heroes & Bad Boys, I offer another contemporary romance, All or Nothing, as a free read. But after reading Newsletter Ninja, it occurred to me that a subscriber who had read one of the Flatiron Five books might not be interested in reading one of the Coxwell books. That’s two different series and while I think there are similarities, I’m definitely asking readers to invest in another world of characters with this offering – and if they’re subscribing to the newsletter after reading Simply Irresistible, book one in the series and a free read, then they want more F5, not something else.

Clearly, I should be tracking which book or series each new subscriber was reading when he or she clicked the newsletter link, and I should be offering bonus content that the reader will already find interesting.

This is a HUGE takeaway for me.

I implemented a whole bunch of changes simultaneously. In fact, in the screenshot above, I’d already made one – below, I’ll talk about the new sequence I created for readers of Simply Irresistible, but in the screenshot above, I’d already tagged the readers signing up everywhere else as “Organic”. Right now, I don’t have any other promotions running to build my contemporary romance subscriber list. All subscribers are organic i.e. they’re following newsletter sign-up links in my ebooks, on my websites or from my Facebook pages. Having them tagged that way is a great suggestion, as organic subscribers tend to be the most enthusiastic – I’ll be able to sort subscribers based on source in future.

Simply Irresistible, a contemporary romance by Deborah Cooke and first in the Flatiron Five series.Now, on to my experiment. As my test, I created a new onboarding sequence that was only for Simply Irresistible, my free first-in-series title and the funnel for new readers to find my books.

The sign-up link exists only in the book interior of Simply Irresistible. It offers a different free read, chosen specifically for the readers of that book. (In that story, the heroine, Amy, writes a book. There are excerpts from “her” book in the story, but they’re taken from an actual book, written by another author. We had this brilliant joint promotion plan, which didn’t work. :-/ She has since left publishing, so has graciously agreed to let me offer her book to my readers as a bonus read.) This sign-up feeds into a different group and a different (longer) onboarding sequence, as suggested in Newsletter Ninja.

Fear not – if you’re already signed up for my Heroes & Bad Boys newsletter, you’ll have the chance to download this content free in November. Existing subscribers won’t be missing a thing!

I was very excited to see immediate results – these are from the new onboarding sequence on its first day in action:

Deborah Cooke's newsletter open rate on new onboarding sequence, thanks to Newsletter NinjaReaders opened! They clicked! There is nothing to click on in the first email, so that 0% is to be expected. The link for the free read is in the second email, and we can see that everyone opened, then most people clicked. I used BookFunnel to deliver the free read – I created a unique link for people on this onboarding sequence – and saw there that 8 people had downloaded the book file when this screenshot was taken.

Triumph! There aren’t very many people in this stream yet, but I’m very encouraged by results from the first day of these changes being in place. Who doesn’t like instant gratification?

I’m going to create more new onboarding sequences, keyed to my free reads and funnel books first, then divide my lists again into smaller groups to offer something custom to readers of each series. This strategy probably means creating new bonus content, but I’ll offer it to my existing readers, too.

And then, there are changes to be made to the newsletters themselves…I have a lot of work to do, but am excited about it. With the results coming this quickly, I know that doing the work will vastly improve my open rates and my interaction with my readers over the next year.

I’ll post an update on using these strategies in six months. April 25. Be here.

I think Newsletter Ninja is a terrific book. If you run a newsletter and haven’t read it, maybe you should. 🙂