Simplify

I’ve probably mentioned to you before that I belong to a little local group of authors. It’s not an official organization and we don’t have any program—we just meet most months, have lunch, and talk. Sometimes we talk about writing, sometimes about publishing, sometimes about other topics. It’s interesting and it’s fun. We have some things in common: we are all actively writing and publishing; we all write romance in some sub-genre (although some write in other genres, too); we all have other responsibilities to juggle along with the writing and promotion associated with it. What’s interesting is that we all make different choices, and sometimes we talk about that. Some authors in the group are traditionally published; others are with digital-first presses; others are indie all the way; still others have a blend of publishing styles, depending upon the project, sub-genre and opportunity. I represent the old guard in this group 🙂 as everyone else has entered the publishing biz in the last five years or so.

One of the things that most interests me is how each author balances her time. (Yes, we’re all women.) The choices of one author in particular intrigue me, because she and I share a desire to just write. The difference is that she let that desire shape her choices. She has a blog which acts as her website. She has a Goodreads account. But that’s it. She does no social media. She’s not on Facebook. Her author profile and bio is a single sentence with no photograph. She doesn’t have a newsletter. I was skeptical of this plan when she started out, because it’s very much the “right answer” for authors to do all of these things. The reason I do them is that my publishers have insisted upon it. Her blog posts are all business, too, of the “here’s the link for my new release” variety. She says she doesn’t have time to do anything else, which is fair – she has published the equivalent of four full length books in the past year and a half, in addition to her full time job. The thing is that she’s doing very well. Her blog gets lots of traffic and comments, plus she consistently sells a lot of books. Granted, she writes in a popular sub-genre (erotica and erotic romance) but I’m thinking I could learn a few tricks from her.

Spring is a time when I take a hard look at my choices. In all facets of my life, I try to organize and sort what’s worth keeping, and re-distribute what isn’t. This is when I simplify. Over the past month, I’ve taken a look at my promotional obligations, in contrast to those of my friend. I’m not going to stop doing all that I do (because habits are hard to change) but I’m going to do less. For example, the Wild West Thursday posts here on the blog take me a lot of time to compose. They don’t generate a lot of traffic, so my friend says they’re work for nothing. I suspect she’s right, so no more Wild West Thursday posts. In fact, I’m going to take my blog to her model, and post only when I have book news for you (plus the monthly contests, of course.) I’ve already cut back on Facebook time and that’s helped me to write more. And if you want to see my knitting, you’ll need to check on Ravelry. I don’t think the changes will be that painful to any of you, and the bonus is that you’ll have more books from me sooner.

We have a new plan, and I have writing to do!

Updated Publication Schedule

As those of you who follow my blog know, I had a lot of stuff going on this winter. As well as being ambitious in my scheduling, we’ve had some interruptions from real life which have kept me from writing as much as usual. As a result, I’m running about 6 weeks behind schedule.

I saw my editor this past weekend and we talked about my schedule. She wasn’t afraid to give me The Look and suggest we talk about “realistic publishing schedules”. Ahem. So, I’ve dutifully faced some facts this week and here’s an update on my publication schedule.

The Highlander's Curse by NYT Bestselling author Claire Delacroix, #2 in her True Love Brides series of medieval romances.

The Highlander’s Curse will be a June release.

Kiss of Destiny, a Dragon Legion Novella by Deborah Cooke

Kiss of Destiny will be a June release.

The Dragon Legion Collection will also be a June release.

And my goal going forward will be to ensure that when I give you a publication date, I make it. (No more renovations, ice storms, reformatting and re-uploading, illness or death allowed, okay?)

Late, Late, Late

Some of you have emailed me about the availability of KISS OF DARKNESS, and you’re right, it’s not published yet. You’re also right that I’m late. We had an unpleasant surprise this month when my father-in-law suddenly became very ill, and subsequently passed away. I wasn’t getting any writing done then, which isn’t a surprise at all, but now am getting back into my rhythm.

Kiss of Darkness by Deborah Cooke, #9B in her Dragonfire series of paranormal romances

Damien’s story needs two more scenes and good read-through. The beta-reader, the editor and I will read all simultaneously to pick up some time, and the formatter is ready to jump on the file as soon as she has it in hand.

Which means I’m still hoping to publish it before the end of the month. Thanks for your patience, and my apologies. 🙂

Update on Tupperman

As many of you know, I was planning to publish Tupperman’s story last fall. For those of you who don’t know, this is a novella that grew into a shorter book telling the story of one of the continuing characters in my Prometheus Project who never got his happy ending. When I wrote the series initially, I didn’t know the end of Tupperman’s story so he had to wait for inspiration to strike.

I hit a snag last fall with the publication of this story – actually, there were several snags. First, it became much longer than I’d anticipated, essentially doubling in length. Secondly, writing more meant that the writing took longer, which pushed my schedule off. Thirdly, the beta reader asked a couple of really good questions, which I couldn’t immediately answer. I explained all of this to you last fall when I confessed that the story wouldn’t be published in 2012.

All of those are reasons enough, but there was another big one. I received a royalty statement from TOR for the three Prometheus Project books and discovered – to my amazement – that the conditions under which I could request a reversion of rights had been met. Because this book contract – like so many others – bases the possibility of reversion on the number of units of each book sold, I held off on publishing Tupperman’s story. Publishing a sequel might increase sales of the first books, which could ensure that they didn’t revert to me. And really, I’d much rather have the rights to my books back in my own hands.

FALLEN, GUARDIAN and REBEL have now reverted to me. This is such a good thing. It means that I can republish the books myself. It means that I can correct a couple of continuity errors that were missed and generally give the books one more editorial scrub.

The only sad thing is that I don’t have the right to use the covers that TOR commissioned from Larry Rostant. I love those covers but I’ll have to get new ones done. There’s a ton of prep work to be done for this republication, and also it would be wise to leave a little gap of time for TOR to get their digital editions down from all the portals. I want to publish Tupperman’s story at the same time as the new editions of the three books. I’m also changing Tupperman’s cover – so it will match the new trio of covers – and changing the title of his story.

I’ll update you as more details are resolved. Look for the whole suite of them – a company of angels! – in fall 2013.

Coven of Mercy News

A couple of years ago, I wrote my first vampire romance, a short story called Coven of Mercy. It was included in the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance II (Love Bites is the UK edition.) I subsequently published a digital-only edition of my story alone.

I really liked this story and the questions it raised for me, also the characters it introduced. I always planned to go back to that world and explore it more, and (ta da!) that’s what I’m doing this year. So, right now, the digital-only edition is in the process of being unpublished. That story will remain available in the anthology, but will be revised to become part of the new bigger story.

Stay tuned for more news about Coven of Mercy: The Complete Story.

 

The Coxwells and the Way Forward

(You get two Wild West Thursday posts this week, because I’m thinking out loud – or at least, thinking with my fingers on the keyboard. Here we go.)

One of the really nifty things about indie publishing is that we authors can give stories a second chance.

In traditional publishing, the vast majority of books get one kick at the can. A book gets one cover, one publication date, and one edition. It’s assumed that most of the sales for that book will be made in the first 14 days that it’s available. This is what I call the blockbuster model of bookselling. It can work really well for books from very well-established and famous authors, or books that are anxiously awaited by the reading public, because of promotion, popularity, movie tie-ins or whatever. Under this model, the house cultivates pre-orders of the book, so the first day it’s available sees a huge spike in sales. That spike propels the book onto bestseller lists in an ideal world, which do self-perpetuate to a certain extent.

It’s a model that works less well for books with more modest sales projects – that would be the vast majority of books that are published even by traditional publishers. This focus on the “next new thing” is why physical books are stripped and culled from bricks and mortar bookstores after four weeks or even two – room must be made for the new books coming out.

So, if a book has a cover that doesn’t really portray its contents accurately, or if the cover looks too much like another book recently released, or if something happens to distract book buyers from shopping for that book (or any book) in that two week period immediately after the launch (disasters and wars tend to interrupt shopping patterns. Go figure.), the book has had its shot and that’s that. Traditional publishing moves on to the next title.

Authors, as you might imagine, would often like to give their books another shot at finding their audience – particularly if it seems that the book has been shortchanged of its shot at fame. Indie publishing is providing that opportunity to us, both for new books published independently (the cover or copy can be changed out if they aren’t working, for example) and for backlist titles that never really had a chance to shine. In my case, one very sweet surprise has been the success of my republished Coxwell Series.

As much as I love these books, the odds were stacked against them in their initial foray into the marketplace. The market was very tough and had just shrunk by at least 40% overall. Also, they were perceived to be chick-lit but not. The mix of humor and emotion (which I didn’t think was that special, but evidently is) meant that the house didn’t know how to package them. They initially bought the first two books, which had dreamy covers on the mass market editions. Those books “didn’t perform” as the saying goes, and I think it was because the package didn’t send any kind of clear message. They could have been children’s books.

When those two books were repackaged in trade paperback some years later, the house decided that cartoony covers were the best way to portray the humor in the books. This seemed reasonable but these books also have serious tones. Portraying them as outright comedy struck me as misleading the reader. We had many discussions, but there were no other better ideas, so cartoon it was. The artist was a very popular one at the time and the covers were pretty. The house was sufficiently encouraged by the sales for THIRD TIME LUCKY in its new edition that they bought the other two books in the series.

And this is when it got tricky again. I’d initially expected ONE MORE TIME to be a more humorous book than it ultimately was, but it dug deeper and demanded more. I love that book and my editor did, too. The problem was that we talked about the cover and the art was commissioned before I even started to write the book. So, there we were 180 days to the on sale date when she sent me the final cover art. It was a lovely cartoony cover that made this book – of all books! – look like the story inside was a laugh a minute. Uh, no. I expressed concern and my editor agreed with me. Then she said “and chick-lit is totally over, along with the cartoony covers. They’re just not performing at all.” I thought that we’d then talk about a new cover, but she told me the budget was spent and the book would go out with this one. (You can see the original trade paperback cover on the excerpt page for OMT on my site.)

I was shocked. Six months before the book even went on sale, and the house was washing their hands of it. This was one of the very lowest points in my relationships with traditional publishers. It didn’t really surprise anyone that the book “didn’t perform”. The ripple from that condemned ALL OR NOTHING to indifferent publication – there is an old saying that if you aren’t published with enthusiasm, it’s better to not be published at all. I lived the truth of that! In traditional publishing, sales numbers for past titles determine the possibilities for future titles. I had another book in the work at the time, one that I’d been thinking would be my option book, but the house didn’t want to see anything more from me. Claire Cross was done and so was my writing contemporary romances. I could have started over with another author brand, but I was too discouraged, and many editors believed that my mix of humor and emotion just wasn’t commercial.

And yet – and yet! – the republished editions of the Coxwell Series are selling very well. Of them all, ONE MORE TIME is selling the best, which pleases me so much. I love the covers that Kim Killion did for the series, as it seems to me that they communicate the blend and genre well. It’s so exciting to see the good reviews!

This has also encouraged me to dig out the book manuscript that no one would even look at and have a good look at it. It’s a story about two women friends, who seem to be opposites but have a tremendous bond. They drift apart but are drawn together in crisis, probably because they understand each other better than anyone else. There’s an honesty between them that they don’t share with anyone else in their respective lives – yet, they both have secrets from each other. I still really like this story. It still makes me laugh and the ending still makes me cry. Right now, it’s more of a women’s fiction book with romantic elements, but I might switch that up to focus on one protagonist over the other. The working title is THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE and once I get through this winter’s heavy writing schedule, I’m going to dig in and see what I can make of it.

Isn’t it wonderful how indie-pubbing can give writers the opportunity to tell the stories we most want to tell? I’m so excited about this!

RWA National Conference

Yesterday, the virtual doors were flung open for registration for Romance Writers of America’s annual conference. This year, the RWA National conf will be in Atlanta, from July 17 to 20.

I’ve booked everything to go, so will be there!

There’s a booksigning at the conference to raise money for literacy programs, and that signing is open to the public. It will be on Wednesday July 17, beginning at 5:30 PM at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta. More info about the signing is right here – I see that they’ll add a list of participating authors in May.

I hope to see some of you in Atlanta, either at the conference or the booksigning!

Time for Chaos

I told you a while back that we’d be having renovations done at the house this year, and they’ve started today. This means noise and dust, at least in the short term. It means worker guys in the house, too, and the Queen Bee getting miffed about them coming in and out without ringing the doorbell. She’s set them straight a couple of times already today as to how we do things around here. This morning, she and I stayed in my office with the stereo on, but as the demolition got rolling, we chose to take refuge in the kitchen. Since she’s snoring, I’ll guess she’s not policing entrances and exits for the afternoon. I can smell plaster dust, because they’re ripping out the plaster and lathe. I’m just glad to not be doing that job myself. Mr. Math is changing out the bag on his ShopVac and is determined to go after the dust tonight and every night. All of this works for me.

I’m busy writing! Despite the disruption, Alexander’s story is coming along well. It’s kind of fun to write about reunited lovers instead of couples meeting for the first time – Alexander, as you might remember, was forced to leave his wife to do his duty and serve with the force that became known as the Dragon’s Teeth Warriors. Many things have changed, but not the power of the love these two have for each other. As usual, I’m wondering whether I’ll manage to bring in the story at novella length of 25,000 to 30,000 words. I’m determined to do it, though, because I don’t want to be late on this one.

Also, the newsletter is ready to go out on Thursday, so if you haven’t signed up, you might want to do that. (There’s a link at the top left.) There will be two new excerpts posted for subscribers to read – one from THE HIGHLANDER’S CURSE and one from KISS OF DANGER.

I’ve also seen the newly formatted file for the Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set and it looks wonderful. That was the first file that the formatter worked on, and I’ll update you when each new edition gets uploaded and published on the various portals. I’m excited that my books will have such pretty new digital editions.

In terms of my knitting, I’ve just survived the tedious job of unwinding all of the remaining yarn in the ball to find out exactly how much is left. I’m finishing a shawl and want to make sure that I don’t run out before the hem is finished. Maybe I’ll get that project done this week, as well.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled renovation chaos.

Portals and Publishing Plans

It’s a new year and a whole new challenge in the Wild West of indie-publishing. Algorithms are on the move and have been changing over the past month in particular, which means that we indie-authors need to try some new marketing strategies.

First off, FREE is working less well at all portals. This makes a lot of sense. Free books take server space and display space on the site, without generating any revenue for the author or the portal. This is fine in the short term and it’s particularly good if it leads readers to try a new author or a new series of books – which they then purchase. But what happened in 2012 is that many readers – particularly on Amazon – became accustomed to reading only free books. Free began to work less well in the fall, even on Amazon, and the Amazon algorithm has been steadily changing over the past few months to give free books less visibility and less power to lift an author’s sales. An author cannot make a book free directly on Amazon without using the KDP Select exclusive content plan – Amazon must choose to match a free price posted elsewhere – and I believe that they will cease to do that very soon. I think that KDP Select will be the only way to make books free on Amazon very shortly.

Secondly, the battle for digital customers outside the US is on. The primary players appear to be Apple, Amazon and KOBO. Each company is vying for market share, particularly in the UK, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, and the English book market in Germany. These international markets – and others – are the ones that will see the most aggressive price matching and promotion in 2013. Remember that Amazon encouraged free reads in the US in order to drive sales of Kindle. Now that the US market is considered to be reaching maturity, all players will be less aggressive with marketing efforts in the US and turn their attention to new horizons. This also feeds the impulse to focus on paid content. I am noticing that Amazon is price-matching free on my digital books in the UK and not the US, for example. This is probably happening because I have good sales on Apple and KOBO in the UK.

What does all of this mean for you?

• First off, DOUBLE TROUBLE and THE BEAUTY BRIDE will not be remaining free reads. They’ve both had a good run of it and lots of you have tried them out. They are already not free (or not consistently free) on Amazon.com for US customers. Because they are still driving some sales for me at Apple, KOBO and B&N, I will leave them free at those portals until the end of the month. Amazon’s Terms of Service require that the price set on their portal be equal or lower to all others, so it is possible that they will take exception to this strategy of mine – particularly if they stop matching the free price in any territory. If that occurs before the end of the month, I will unpublish those titles at Amazon until the end of January.

In February, I will have no free titles, so grab your copies now.

I’m still thinking about KDP Select and the ramifications of the 90 days of exclusivity required by that program. My experience with KDP is that it’s very hard to fulfill the exclusivity requirement once a book has been published and distributed. It’s hard to call it back from some of the portals serviced by Smashwords, and Amazon does police the exclusivity. (Rightly so. It’s the terms of the deal.) So, it’s easier to put a brand new title in KDP Select. The issue is that I don’t have any more backlist titles to publish. Now that I have quite good sales at B&N and KOBO and Apple, I’m not fussed about holding back new content from those of you who shop at those portals. OTOH, it’s entirely possible that Amazon will sweeten the KDP Select terms to entice more authors to sign up.

January tends to bring changes in the new Wild West, so I’ll just wait and see what opportunities arise.

• In terms of those non-US markets becoming the new focus of 2013, I’ve updated the links on my sites to include links to some of the other Amazon portals, as well as other portals overall. There are nine Amazon portals now – US, UK, DE (Germany). FR (France), IT (Italy), ES (Spain), JP (Japan), BR (Brazil), and CA (Canada) – but I’ve provided links to the ones where I sell best. That’s US, UK, DE and CA. Similarly, Apple now has 80 portals. I’ve only provided the link to their US site. The list of buy links is getting long (and unwieldy) so I’ll have to think twice about adding anymore.

• I am still trying to update my content on B&N, as their server has been uncooperative for the past month. I need to get those new covers and new editions up there, and am hoping that once everyone gets back from the holidays, that things will get sorted out there.

• I did upload a batch of new content to Overdrive’s Content Reserve in December, which is being processed, checked and made available by them now. Overdrive is a portal that services libraries, but also feeds digital content to consumer portals like Waterstones in the UK and Books-A-Million in the US. The new covers and new editions (with more links) should appear shortly on those portals, as well as new titles. The Coxwell Series, THE RENEGADE’S HEART and THE COUNTESS were my six new titles sent to Overdrive.

• My big task for January – other than writing! – is to publish my titles directly to the Apple iTunes store. Currently, they are distributed to Apple from Smashwords and that can be a long transition. In order to have more control over the titles and maybe more promotional opportunities, I’ll publish directly. My sales at KOBO have increased dramatically since I began to publish directly through their portal, so I’m hoping the same magic works at Apple. The transition should be invisible to those of you who shop at that portal, but we’ll see. Whether you buy the edition distributed through Smashwords or the one I publish directly, I’ll still get paid. 🙂

So, that’s my plan for this month! Back to writing now!