Throwback Thursday – eBook Covers

I thought it would be fun to look at some old book covers, and play compare and contrast. We’ll start with my first four ebook covers for my first four indie-published books. I created these covers and was quite pleased with them, way back in 2011. I think I’ve learned a bit about covers since then…The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance II, an anthology of vampire romances including "Coven of Mercy" by Deborah Cooke

original ebook cover for Coven of Mercy, a vampire romance and short story by Deborah CookeFirst up, Coven of Mercy, my vampire romance and short story. This was first published in an anthology, the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance II (which was called Love Bites in the UK, a title I still love) in print only. The anthology cover is on the right. At left is the cover I created for it in 2011.

Coven of Mercy, a short story and vampire romance by Deborah CookeHmm. I knew I didn’t have it right, so had a new cover designed. Here’s the second cover on the right.

Coven of Mercy, a short story and vampire romance by Deborah CookeAt left is the current cover, which I love. This guy looks just as I envision Micah.

Every time I write about this story, I’m reminded that it was supposed to be the first in a series. Then I try to figure out when I’m going to write that series. I’ll let you know when I do solve that riddle!

In the meantime, Coven of Mercy is available at all e-retailers.
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link (Find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Amor Vincit Omnia is a short story, a medieval romance that was originally published in a digital anthology called the Seven Deadly Sins. This story isn’t available on its own anymore, but is included in my anthology, Beguiled, in both digital and print formats.

The Leaves, a short story by Deborah Cooke, in its original ebook editionI also got some extra mileage out of that image I licensed for Coven of Mercy and used it for the cover of The Leaves, a short story I’d written and never published before this ebook edition in 2011. This story is also available now in the anthology, Beguiled.

The interesting thing here is that, in 2011, we weren’t sure people would read long stories in digital editions. Popular thinking was that short stories would rule the format, which of course, hasn’t proven to be true at all – but that’s why I published short stories first.

Beguiled, a collection of short stories and novellas by Claire Delacroix and Deborah CookeWriting this post made me realize that Beguiled hadn’t been updated for a while and was no longer available at all retailers – I had to take it down when the Ballad of Rosamunde was in Kindle Unlimited – so I’ve fixed that this week. I also am in the process of republishing the print edition, which disappeared in my distribution transition from Createspace to Ingrams.

Buy Beguiled in ebook at:
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link (find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish time travel romance by Claire Delacroix (writing as Claire Cross), out of print mass market edition

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish time travel romance by Deborah Cooke, published under the pseudonym Claire Cross and republished as a Claire Delacroix titleOnce Upon a Kiss is a Scottish time travel romance that was published in 1998 by Berkley and was the first book I published under the name Claire Cross. Here’s my first ebook cover for it, at left.

Here’s the Berkley mass market edition at right.

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixAnd here’s its current cover at right, created by Kim Killion back in 2011 when I realized that my cover wasn’t getting the job done.

Of course, Once Upon a Kiss is currently available at all ebook retailers, with the pretty cover by Kim.

Buy eBook:
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook

KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link (Find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Original ebook cover for Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance by Deborah Cooke, first published under the pseudonym Claire Cross and now a Claire Delacroix title

Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance and romantic comedy by Claire Delacroix (writing as Claire Cross), out of print mass market edition

Love Potion #9 is a paranormal romance and romantic comedy, and was my fourth book published under the pseudonym Claire Cross. My first ebook cover is at left. The original mass market cover is at right. I always liked the cover art, which was painted by Judy York. It depicts a scene in the book, which is a rare and wonderful thing.

Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixLove Potion #9, a paranormal romance and romantic comedy by Claire DelacroixI subsequently licensed the cover art from Judy and she added type to it for me. (You can see with this title that we didn’t have fixed proportions for ebook covers for a while.)

Eventually, I had Kim make the type consistent with my other books, and this edition on the right is the one that’s available now.

Buy eBook
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link
(Find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Ten Things I Learned From Copy Editors

The other evening, I was reading a book, and a sentence stopped me cold.

“No!” she hissed.

I put the book down, wondering what had happened to all the copy editors.

When I was traditionally published, one of the most dreaded phases of the editorial process for me was the copy edit. Copy editors are fierce, in my experience, and they are precise. They ensure that the author writes exactly what he or she means. The book that I put down the other night was written by a famous author and published by a big publishing house. There were many similar issues throughout the story, which prompted me to write this post. On this Author Resource Thursday, I’ll share ten things I learned from copy editors – or ten ways I learned to more accurately express what I mean.

1. Dialogue tags
A dialogue tag is the bit that comes after the dialogue in quotes.

“I’ll be there soon,” he said.

he said is the dialogue tag. A dialogue tag should define the speaker, and is separated from the dialogue with a comma. Some authors believe that “said” is the only acceptable dialogue tag, while others use more expressive verbs to convey emotion. That’s a style choice, but if you are going to use expressive verbs, a copy editor will flag some of them. Here are some reasons why:

First, the verb you choose must be a verb that allows for dialogue to be expressed.

“Bring me that cup,” she pointed across the room.

Pointed cannot be a dialogue tag. It isn’t a verb that includes speech. Two possible corrections are:

“Bring me that cup.” She pointed across the room.
or
“Bring me that cup,” she commanded, then pointed across the room.

Second, the verb you choose must allow for the dialogue you’ve written. Some dialogue tags are on the boundary between verbs that convey speech and those that don’t. They work best for very short utterances.

“No!” she moaned.
is fine but
“We have to catch the train at nine,” she moaned.
is silly.
“We have to catch the train at nine.” She moaned at the prospect.
is better.

“Oh! I never thought to have a house of my own!” Mary gasped.

Could Mary really gasp all of that? Probably not. This is better:

“Oh!” Mary gasped. “I never thought to have a house of my own!”

Third, the dialogue must match the implication of the chosen verb. You can only trill a line of dialogue that includes a lot of l’s. The example at the top of this post would have been flagged because you can only hiss words that include a sybillant or an “s” sound.

“Yes!” she hissed.
works perfectly. The first example would need to be changed, perhaps to:

“No!” She hissed her next words. “She’ll see us!”

Alternatively:
“No!” she said.

Fourth, dialogue tags that describe animal sounds (growl, purr, croak, etc.) carry an extra layer of implication. Not only should the dialogue match the expectation set by the verb in terms of sound (you purr things with a lot of r’s); not only should the dialogue tend to be short; but these tags are often used to indicate “animal desires”—or an appetite for food or sex. When they don’t, it seems odd or even funny.

“I’ll have you now,” he growled.
is infinitely more plausible than
“The lace ruffle on that petticoat is the perfect flourish,” he growled.

2. Simultaneous Action
In colloquial speech, we often use “and” to indicate consecutive events, even though, strictly speaking, “and” means that the events are concurrent.

Joe went to the store and bought milk.

We know that these events occurred in succession – obviously, he couldn’t buy milk until he got to the store – but technically (and copy editors are all about technicalities), this sentence says that the two events happened at the same time.

Joe went to the store to buy milk.
or
Joe went to the store, then bought milk.

3. Wandering Eyeballs
This is a pretty common error and one that occurs a lot in romances, where eye contact is an important part of courtship.

His eyes slid over her.
Her eyes were cold.
His eyes locked with mine.

These are examples of “wandering eyeballs”. If we use active verbs with “eyes”, then the eyes are literally on the move. Read those sentences again and think about it. (Ick.) What is meant here is “gaze”.

His gaze slid over her.
Her gaze was cold.
His gaze locked with mine.

4. Date of First Use
The first time I saw this notation, I had no idea what it meant. A word was circled in the manuscript (this was back in the old days when we edited on paper) then in the margin were the initials D.O. F.U. and a four-digit number. I had to call my editor (yes, on the phone) to ask what it meant.

When you write a book in an historical setting, the copy editor will flag words that were not in use at the time of the book’s setting. The notation on the circled word is the year of first use, and often there’s a notation as to which dictionary is the reference. (O.E.D. for Oxford English Dictionary or M.W. for Mirriam-Webster.) The concept is that a word can’t be used before the recorded date of first use, which is often a literary source.

This becomes problematic for books set in the medieval era, especially as we often write about the aristocracy. The English court spoke Norman French until the 15th century (and they kept records in it for longer than that). The work of Chaucer (1343 – 1400) is often the date of first use source for English words, because he was the first poet in England to write in the vernacular. Marie de France (ca. 1160 – 1215) lived in England but wrote in French for her courtly audience. Here’s a cool post on Wiki about English words with French origins. I think it’s fair to use any of them from medieval French in a book written in English with a medieval setting – even if your setting is too early for Chaucer to have used them (or their derivations) in an English work. The dictionary that provides date of first use in French is Le Robert.

The concept behind date of first use is that a modern word used in an historical setting can jar the reader out of the atmosphere of the book and this is a valid concern. The mister and I were watching an historical movie a while ago in which one character asked the other “Are you okay?” after a huge sword fight. We nearly fell off the couch laughing, because the phrase was so incongruous and the characters didn’t notice. A fun example with the same phrase is in the movie Gosford Park set in the early 1930’s in England: the director from California stops his car beside that of the countess (played by Maggie Smith) and asks “Are you okay?” She recoils and says “Am I what?”, responding to both his familiarity and his use of an American colloquialism. So, take a hard look at your modern words, colloquialisms and any slang in your book, and ensure it doesn’t ruin the mood.

5. Who Said That?
It’s tedious to read a book in which every line of dialogue has a dialogue tag. At the other end of the spectrum, if the author leaves out dialogue tags, it can be easy to lose track of who is saying what. Sometimes authors use stage directions to indicate who is speaking, and discard the dialogue tags. Another convention to add clarity is to put each character’s dialogue in a separate paragraph.

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it. “I’ll get the car.” He grabbed his keys, then went to the door. “Hurry!”

If this is all in one paragraph, you might be uncertain who said what, after the word said. Here are three options:

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it. “I’ll get the car.”
He grabbed his keys, then went to the door.
“Hurry!”
In this example, she says all the dialogue.

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it. “I’ll get the car.”
He grabbed his keys, then went to the door. “Hurry!”
In this example, he says only the last line.

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it.
“I’ll get the car.” He grabbed his keys, then went to the door. “Hurry!”
In this example, he has two lines.

6. Orient the reader
Using paragraph breaks in dialogue is one way of orienting the reader, so he or she can remain immersed in the story and not stop to think. Another place to orient the reader is after a scene break. A scene break occurs when an interval of time passes and/or the point of view character changes. I learned from copy editors to make it clear in the first sentence which of those things have changed.

The store was busier than expected.
As the opening line of a scene, this sentence tells us where we are, but not when or whose point of view we’re sharing.

Joe waited until the morning to go to the store. It was busier than he’d expected.
This potential opening, describing the same thing, ensures that the reader knows exactly where we are, whose perspective we’re sharing and how much time has passed.

(I also learned from copy editors to eliminate scene breaks when the point of view hadn’t changed or there wasn’t an interval of time passing.)

7. Unique and other Absolute Modifiers
Editors are usually the ones who comment on the author’s use of modifiers (adjectives and adverbs), particularly if the author in question has the dreaded Adverb Disease. Copy editors, however, will always flag modifiers on words like unique.

The word unique is an absolute modifier, which means that it accepts no modification. Something cannot be truly unique or very unique or utterly unique. It is unique or it is not. Period. Other absolute modifiers are perfect, final, total, and complete. Modifying these words is a colloquial use – a copy editor will probably let almost pass as a modifier, but otherwise, the modifiers should go.

8. Parallel Structure
Parallel structure (or parallelism) means that the words in a list are in the same format. The similarity of structure makes it easier for us to process the information being presented. We do this intuitively in its simplest form, but in more complex sentences, we might muck it up.

Her hobbies included crossword puzzles, hunting vintage patterns and growing prize petunias.
This is not parallel structure. There’s no verb in crossword puzzles as in the other two hobbies.

Her hobbies included solving crossword puzzles, hunting vintage patterns and growing prize petunias.

I notice the lack of parallel structure often in book titles, too. When books are in a linked series, it’s easier to perceive the connection if the titles show a parallel structure. The Beauty Bride, The Rose Red Bride and The Snow White Bride, for example, are clearly a set. Beguiled, Addicted to Love and The Frost Maiden’s Kiss don’t appear to be a set. They aren’t 🙂 but if they were, I’d think about changing the titles to a parallel structure.

9. Misplaced Modifiers
In English, a modifier (like an adjective or adverb) usually modifies the closest candidate (noun or verb) in the sentence. For example, moving the word brown in this sentence changes the meaning because it changes what is being modified:

The brown horse ate the grass.
The horse ate the brown grass.

We intuitively get this right in simple sentences and with single word modifiers, but with modifying clauses, it can get more complicated:

Josie answered the door to find the police on the porch in her pyjamas.

Who is wearing Josie’s pyjamas? While it’s possible that the police have dressed for the moment, it’s more likely that this is a misplaced modifier.

In her pyjamas, Josie answered the door to find the police on the porch.
Josie, in her pyjamas, answered the door to find the police on the porch.

If the police really were on the porch in Josie’s pyjamas, I’d still move the modifier and use a stronger verb:
Josie answered the door and was astonished to find the police in her pyjamas on the porch.

10. Split infinitives
In English, the infinitive form of any verb is two words: to write. Putting another word in the middle is calling splitting the infinitive and is incorrect. Colloquially, though, we split infinitives all the time.

Jason wanted to just be alone.

I find that moving the offending word often changes the meaning of the sentence, so you may have to be more creative with choices in this situation.

Jason just wanted to be alone.
All Jason wanted was to be alone.

Splitting the infinitive is something I still do, because it is such a common colloquialism. (Consider: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” That example is hard to forget.) Like most colloquialisms, I think it’s fair to let a split infinitive stand in dialogue. It’s an accurate representation of how people actually speak and using colloquialisms in direct speech can make your characters more personable and realistic.

There’s a short list of things I’ve learned from copy editors.

In reviewing edits, by the way, the author has the right to accept or over-ride any suggested changes from the copy editor. When the author wants the suggested editorial change to be ignored, he or she writes STET beside it, which means “let it stand” or stick to the original version. So, it’s entirely possible that there was a copy editor on the book that prompted this post, and that the author put a stroke through the correction and wrote STET in the margin.

Happy writing!

A BookBub International Featured Deal

The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest trilogy of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

Original mass market edition

The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixEarlier this week, I had a BookBub Featured Deal for The Princess, book #1 of my Bride Quest series of medieval romances. The book is discounted to 99 cents. The Princess was my very first book to land on the USA Today list – it was #93 in its first week on sale, way back in 1998. In those days, of course, it was a mass market edition. That’s the original cover on the right.

This was the first time I had a featured deal for international markets only, and I was curious about its effectiveness. This week’s Indie Publishing post is about my results.

My previous BBFDs have been for all markets. At BookBub, this means US, UK, CA, AU and IN. An “international-only” deal means that BB will only email the deal to readers in the UK, CA, AU and IN, not those in the US. The book doesn’t have to be discounted in the US, but I discounted it there anyway – that discount was promoted only on my website, newsletter, and social media.

There are two variables here: the relative size of each market itself, and the number of BookBub subscribers in each market. My Claire Delacroix BookBub profile shows that I have 18,780 followers.

BookBub profile for Claire DelacroixWhen I sign in, BB tells me that 15,618 of those followers are in the US. That’s 3,162 non-US followers or 16%. I know that I have a lot of audience in outside of the US market so the BB follower list isn’t reflecting that. (Click that link above or the graphic to follow me on BookBub, regardless of where you are.)

(In contrast, and just for comparison, my Deborah Cooke BookBub profile has 87,884 followers, and 55,579 are in the US – which means 32,305 (or 36%) are international followers. That’s a break that fits better with my own perception of my audience and their location.)

Since these four English language markets are much smaller than the US, the assumption is that resulting sales will be lower than for a full deal and the ad is priced accordingly. Here’s the pricing chart for BookBub ads – the prices listed are for full ads. If you scroll down to Historical Romance, the featured deal for a 99 cent book is priced at $692 US. If that ad only runs internationally and not in the US, as mine did, the price is $108. So, $584 is for the US market, which gives you an idea of comparative reach.

For $108, I decided to give the international deal a try. The deal ran on Monday, December 3.

So, what happened?

The Princess, #1 in medieval romance in the Amazon.ca store on December 4, 2018

At Amazon.ca on Tuesday morning, The Princess had a #1 bestseller ribbon for medieval romance.

The Princess, a number one bestseller at Amazon.ca in medieval romance on December 4, 2018It was also #52 paid in the Kindle store overall, which is pretty cool.

The Princess, a number one bestseller in historical romance in the Amazon.AU store on dEcember 4, 2018It also had an orange #1 bestseller ribbon for medieval romance in the Amazon Australia store.

The Princess at #1 in medieval romance in the Amazon Australia store on December 4, 2018

It was #119 paid overall in the Amazon Australia store on Tuesday, too.

In terms of raw units moved, the traffic was almost equally divided between CA, AU and UK, with slightly more units sold in the UK. There were a few in the US, too. The halo was strong in these territories: at 8AM on Tuesday, sales for the day for The Princess were already 1/3 of what they had been on the day of the feature. The Damsel, book #2 in the series, and The Heiress, book #3 in the series, began to sell at full price on the day of the ad.

At Kobo, which has a large customer base in the territories covered by the international deal, The Princess was listed as #2 in historical romance on its product page on Tuesday morning.

The Princess, #1 in historical romance at Kobo on December 4, 2018

But when I clicked through to the bestseller list, it was actually #1 🙂

The raw units at Kobo were less than at Amazon, of course, but almost half – and more than sold at Amazon.ca. This is a very good showing at Kobo for a BookBub ad and likely a result of the territories matching Kobo’s market footprint. (Although I have had some BBFDs show very strong results at Kobo this year.) Kobo customers do love their boxed sets and Kobo does display them on the series page (unlike other retailers), so the first products to move in the halo at Kobo were the two boxed sets: The Bride Quest I Boxed Set and The Bride Quest II Boxed Set.

At Apple, The Princess popped onto the First in Series Bestsellers list, but without the US market, there weren’t enough units moved to place it high on any of the charts. The halo there will only be from links in the books that were sold and probably won’t be that significant.

In terms of money, there were enough units sold of The Princess on the first day to cover the cost of the ad. And as noted above, there is a halo, both in sales of The Princess in those markets afterward where it had visibility thanks to its placement on the charts and in the linked books. (There are five more titles in the series.)

One of the interesting things was that the book’s appearance on the charts was stickier in those smaller markets: typically, in the Amazon US store, a BookBub feature makes the book spike for a day, hitting high on the charts, then it drops hard. If it remains on a list for three days, that’s cause for celebration. But in these smaller markets, probably because there are fewer units being moved, the book stayed on the list longer.

On Wednesday, The Princess was at #2 in Medieval and #215 overall in the Amazon.ca store.

The Princess at #2 in Medieval romance and #215 overall in the Amazon.ca store on December 5, 2018

Similarly, it was still #2 in medieval romance in the Australia store on Wednesday, though it had dropped to #508 overall paid in the store:

The Princess at #2 in medieval romance in the Amazon Australia store on December 5, 2018

This is a good thing. One of the benefits of running a promotion like this is the visibility that the book gets on the bestseller lists, and more visibility is better.

In conclusion, it wasn’t a failed experiment, but it wasn’t such a success that it left me dizzy with joy. I don’t think I’ll run a BookBub featured ad in the international markets in historical romance again.

By the way, the book is on sale until December 8, so you can still pick up a copy on sale.

Buy The Princess
Amazon.com
Apple
KOBO
Nook
Googleplay
Books2Read Universal Link
(Find international stores and other Amazon stores here!)

Overdrive and Blackstone

I’m in the midst of changing my Overdrive distribution. (le sigh) Overdrive is a portal that specializes in selling (or licensing) ebook and audio content to libraries. I’ve uploaded my content directly to Overdrive since 2012, although I’ve never loved their interface. Now, there are many other options available for getting content delivered there, all of which are easier to use. I’ve been on the fence about this, but have finally jumped off. 🙂

Since I use Draft2Digital to deliver to other library systems (Biblioteca and Baker & Taylor) I’ll be delivering my ebooks to Overdrive from there, too. There may be a short period of time during which they aren’t available at Overdrive, but all should be well by the end of the year. Transitions take time. It’s also possible that any reviews on Overdrive may not be transported to the new editions.

My audiobooks are also changing their distribution, as well. They’ll continue to be distributed to Apple, Amazon and Audible from Audible, but my contract with Blackstone will terminate on December 31. After that, my audiobooks will get to all other portals via Findaway Voices. So, the link at Kobo will probably disappear briefly then reappear with a new link. The content will be identical.

Once these transitions are completed, new ebook and audio titles will made available at all the subsidiary portals much more quickly. I’m hoping that the transitions will also fix some metadata errors, so fingers crossed.

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. 🙂

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!

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. 🙂

 

Tracking Word Count

I’ll be doing my Thursday posts about writing and publishing again, although they’ll be less about changes at the portals now and more about resources and strategies for indie authors. They’ll now be tagged Author Resources instead of Wild West Thursday. We’re in the midst of a fabulous time for writers, filled with both opportunity and challenge. I find it exciting, but sometimes overwhelming, too. So, on Thursdays, we’ll talk a bit more about that.

There’s a new tab on the menu bar called Author Resources. I’ve added two tutorials there, as of now: one explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet for tracking book sales by month, year, etc., and the other explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet to track the results of a shorter promotion. Of course, there are other ways to track both of these items: I’m just sharing my method (mostly because writers in my local group asked me to do so.) You need Excel or another spreadsheet program to set up either or both, and a little bit of time.

Of course, there are more things to track, and one of them is daily word count. How long does it take you to write a book? This is a particularly important piece of information to have when planning a publication schedule. I’m in the middle of planning the next few years of work, since I’m finishing up a lot of series.

Earlier this year, I recognized that my idea of how quickly I write was formed when I was writing for traditional publishers, which meant I didn’t have all the extra jobs of being my own publisher, too. These days, I can spend an entire week updating files or metadata or websites – especially when republishing a backlist series – and not write one word of new content. That happened with the republication of the eight Dragonfire novels and the three Dragon Diaries books. Even on a daily basis, there are publishing crises to solve and jobs to get done, all tasks that distract from the business of creating new stories.

It was clear that I needed to recalibrate my expectations. How fast do I write, in this new situation?

The easiest way to do this is to – surprise! – keep track of daily word count in a spreadsheet, then total the word count of the month. Since there will be variations over time – as I attend conferences or have other obligations outside my office – it’s best to track over a number of months, then average out the results to get a more accurate picture of what’s happening.

I started to keep track in the middle of May, and am pretty tough about counting only net word gain. If I chuck 4K words and write 5K, my count for the day is only 1K.

My results look like this:
May – 37,000 (a half-month)
June – 33,000
July – 43,000
August – 40,000
September – 37,000

That gives me an average word count per month of 38,000 words, and I’ll use that as a working number, even though May was only a half-month. I used to write closer 50,000 words a month – plus I spent a lot less time in my office – so that’s a big difference.

There are two things that shake out of having this number. Let’s talk about the first one today.

1. Now, that I have a number and it looks pretty consistent, I can use it to plan my production and publishing schedule for the year(s) ahead. 38K words a month is about 450K words per year. That’s five 90K novels or nine 50K novels – or eighteen 25K novellas. You get the idea. I can look at my book plan and decide how many titles I can realistically write per year.

I also can balance out my content. I know, for example, that you all prefer my longer books. I know this because they sell better and have better reviews. And the truth is that I’d rather write a short story of 5K to 10K or a book at 90K to 100K, and not mess with the lengths in between. This market is skewed to more frequent publication, so there’s a balance to be struck. If I write five 90K novels and nothing else, will I lose visibility (especially if they’re divided between author brands)? How can I do a fast-release launch of a new series with this productivity level? I’ll have to stockpile books until I have a few completed. Hmm. Can I balance long and short stories in the same fictional world?

Should I write in fewer fictional worlds? This is the inevitable question, but I like writing all the things. I think it keeps me fresh creatively to move between sub-genres, so you can see that there are other considerations as well as raw word count. Planning a publication schedule is not for the faint of heart, but when you know how quickly you write, it’s a lot easier to make a plan you can keep.

The other obvious thing to talk about is how to improve current productivity. I’m going to save that for a separate post, since this one is pretty long already. Next week, I’m going to tell you about an exciting book I’ve just read, so we’ll talk about improving word count in two weeks. Happy writing!

Novelists Inc 2018

©Deborah A. CookeLast week, I attended the Novelists’ Inc conference, which is held each year. This year (as in many recent years) it was in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida. This conference brings together a lot of incredible people and is a terrific gathering of ideas and energy—plus it’s at the beach.

These beachy pix are from recent years. This year, I didn’t take more because they would have been similar, but also there was a red tide. This is an algae bloom which is detrimental to fish near the beach and I believe it had begun after hurricane Florence. At this particular point on the beach, there weren’t so many dead fish—they do clean them up every day—but a lot of dead crabs. While it was intriguing to see how many kinds of crabs there are in the gulf, it was sad to see them when they were dead. There were also a lot fewer birds, probably because the death of the fish meant there was less (or nothing) for them to eat. I love seeing the pelicans and they were a bit scarce. I didn’t see any dolphins this year either, but that might have been timing – in previous years, I saw them in the afternoon or early evening. I walked first thing in the morning, and the smell from the red tide wasn’t too bad. Mr. Math suggested that the algae needs the sunshine and warmth of the day to bloom, which would explain why people had troubles later in the day with eye and throat irritations.

©Deborah A. CookeAnd then there was the conference itself. As always, NINC brings together an amazing group of workshop presenters, but this year it was particularly hard to choose between sessions. There were four tracks and it seemed that I wanted to attend two workshops in every time slot. I learned a tremendous amount and made a huge To Do list (this is typical). Highlights for me included David Gaughran‘s workshops – because no matter how often I go to his workshops, I always learn more. (Plus he has a wonderful Irish accent 🙂 that would be easy to listen to forever). He taught about BookBub ads and more about Amazon’s algorithms. Joanna Penn taught two fantastic workshops, one about content-based marketing and the other highlighting global English-language markets for books and strategies for reaching them. I learned a lot in Mark Dawson‘s session on strategies for AMS ads. A surprise hit for me was Dr. Jennifer Barnes and her workshops about the psychology of fiction and of titles. Representatives were also in attendance from almost all of the portals, and all of them had interesting information to share. It’s a fantastic conference to discover new opportunities and strategies.

Jewels of Historical Romance at the Novelists Inc conference September 2018The truly fabulous thing about this conference, though, was that this was the first time I attended as one of the Jewels of Historical Romance. This fantastic group of historical romance writers invited me to join them last spring, and I was thrilled to do so. Although I knew most of them from online, I hadn’t met many of them in person – and there was going to be a big confab of Jewels at this conference, so I went. Here are nine of us at the gazebo in the hotel courtyard. From the back left, that’s me (not smiling. LOL) then Erica Ridley, Lucinda Brant (who came from Australia), and Cheryl Bolen. In the front from the left, Lauren Royal, Darcy Burke, Tanya Anne Crosby, Glynnis Campbell and Cynthia Wright. Brenda Hiatt was also at the conf, but isn’t in this picture. Kimberly Cates and Jill Barnett were the only two Jewels not in attendance this year – there are plans for all of us to make this conf in 2020. Meeting these women in person and having the chance to not only get to know them better but to plan some joint promotion for the future was certainly the highlight of the conference for me.

And then there was karaoke night… This is the second year that Draft2Digital has hosted this event, and it wrapped up the conference this year. It was such a success that I suspect they’re going to need to do it every year.

I suspect I need to go to NINC every year, too.