That “Oh, no” moment

I got my proof copy of Riverbend from Amazon last week. I started to look through it, and —

Yes, you guessed it. I saw a typo. Then another.

To make matters worse, when I began reading it more carefully, I noticed places where I could have chosen a better word or phrase. Oh, the beauty of hindsight.

When I think about ordering a book online, I read the reviews. If readers complain of poor editing or too many typos, I usually pass.

I do not want that to happen to me!

So one more time, I went through it page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by … You get the idea.

I followed some advice I heard at a workshop and started at the last page and worked my way to the beginning. When sentences are taken out of context, it is much easier to see errors.

And now I see my back cover blurb doesn’t really tell what the story is about, so I need to work on that as well.

At this rate, I’ll never be ready to let go, but I have a firm publication date of May 1.

I remember reading about an author who  wasn’t satisfied with the ending of his book, so every time he was giving a reading or lecture in a new city he’d visit the library and cross out the last paragraphs and write in the new ending.

I don’t intend to go to that extreme. But I am going to make sure this book is as ready as it can be for its debut.

There are people, and I used to be one them, who think writing a book is easy. You just sit down and begin typing.

They don’t  know the whole story.

Pun intended.

 

 

A sneak peek

I thought you might enjoy a little preview of my  novel, Riverbend. It is scheduled for release May 1 from Amazon.  I hope you enjoy it, and–hopefully–are intrigued.

Chapter One

In spite of her shaking legs, Damaris Tilghman stood her ground as the High Sheriff approached. She longed to wipe her sweaty palms on her skirt, but dared not make any movement that he could interpret as fear—or guilt.

The sly smirk on his lips belied the coldness of his gaze as he tipped his hat. “Sale’s nearly over, Miss Tighlman. Sorry the auctioneer couldn’t manage to get a better price for Twin Oaks. It was a grand plantation in its time.” He didn’t sound at all sorry.

“Enough to cover my father’s debts, I hope.”

“Well, Miss, as to that I have to say it didn’t. He owed a great deal of money to a great many people.” The man shook his head in mock sympathy. “Gambling’s a terrible vice—”

“And suicide is a sin. Yet neither of my father’s faults seems to have kept people from coming here and gawking, poking through our possessions….” Her voice began to tremble and she stopped, her heart beating so loudly she was afraid he would hear it in the sudden silence.

“Possessions.” The amiable leer disappeared. “Seems some of your family’s possessions didn’t turn up as part of the sale. Would you know anything about that, Miss Tilghman?”

“I have no idea what you mean.” She jutted out her chin.

“I think you do.” He looked down at the small wooden trunk sitting at her feet. “Maybe I ought to take a look at what you packed to take with you.”

“How dare you suggest such a thing! I won’t have you pawing through my shifts and stockings!”

“I can get a woman to look. If you claim all you have are shifts and stockings, you won’t mind me making certain.” He turned as a boy ran up, calling in urgency. “Sheriff! They’s a fight behind the barn. You need to come quick—one of ’ems got a knife!”

Cursing under his breath, the sheriff lumbered after the boy.

Damaris’s shoulders sagged in relief. She had been given time to think of something—but what? She willed back tears of frustration. If anything, the past few years had taught her the futility of weeping.

She watched the buyers as they lugged their purchases to the line of wagons parked along the winding drive, horses and mules stomping in impatience to begin the journey home. Home! She no longer had a home. Because of her father’s weakness, her dream of marriage and children had shattered like a fine crystal goblet dropped on a tile floor. Her past was irrevocably gone and her future a mystery.

She jerked her thoughts back to her present dilemma. The fight would soon be over. She needed to get away before the sheriff returned.

One of the buyers, better dressed than most in a black suit and embroidered waistcoat, saw her and nodded politely. “Miss Tilghman.”

She recognized him as the man who had successfully bid on the last of her father’s wine cellar. A friend of her father’s—when he still had friends. What was his name? Price? Polk? No, Pope. “Mr. Pope.” She smiled and held out a hand. “Well met, sir. I wonder if you could do me a favor?”

“Of course. If I can be of any assistance…”

“The sheriff promised he will take me to the inn in Wadesborough where I can purchase a seat on the coach in the morning. I fear he will not leave here until the last nail is sold, and I really cannot abide watching this auction any longer.” It wasn’t hard to add a quaver to her voice. “To see my life dismantled, piece by piece….”

“I understand. I would be happy to take you, if you are not embarrassed at traveling without a chaperone.”

Chaperone! I need to get away from here now. She brushed away an imaginary tear and offered a tremulous smile. “I don’t think there would be any gossip. After all, you are a dear friend of Papa’s.”

An eyebrow raised at this, but he lifted her trunk without commenting on her claim. “My wagon is this way.”

He stowed the trunk in the back of his light wagon, assisted her to the seat, and then climbed aboard and sat beside her. He had just picked up the reins when a meaty hand grasped the edge of the wooden plank that served as a seat. “Miss Tilghman. I believe we have some unfinished business.”

Pope stared down, his hands tense on the reins. “Miss Tilghman is my care. What do you want with her?”

“I need to look at her trunk.” The sheriff winked as if they were conspirators. “Just in case.”

“In case of what?” Pope’s tone was as cold as his dark eyes.

The sheriff dropped his hand and stepped back. His voice was curt as he said, “I believe she may be holding on to some jewelry that should go in the sale.”

Damaris stiffened at the accusation. “All Mama’s jewels went to pay Papa’s gambling debts years ago.”

“So you say. I still—”

“Are you doubting the lady’s word?” There was something dangerous in Pope’s voice. He raised the whip. “How dare you, sir!”

“Now, Mr. Pope, no need to get all riled up. I believe her, yes, I do. Good day, Miss Tilghman and good fortune to you.” He tipped his hat fawningly.

Pope jerked the reins and the horse started down the dirt path that led to the road.

“Thank you,” Damaris managed to mumble through a dry throat.

“My pleasure.” Pope glanced sideways at her. “If you did get away with something out of the forced sale, I congratulate you.”

She answered quickly. “He made certain I didn’t. He even sold my personal slave, Pearlie, who’s been with me since I was a child. Everything I held dear is lost.”

If she expected sympathy, Pope failed to offer it. “What will you do now?” he asked briskly.

“I have been offered a position as a companion to a distant relative of my mother’s. She lives in New Bern.” The letter she had received from the lady had been neither courteous nor welcoming, but hinted strongly of duty and God’s will.

“Being at some old lady’s beck and call doesn’t sound like much of a life for a young girl.”

“I am not young, and I have no other choice. I wasn’t raised to earn my living. My parents fully expected me to marry well.” She took a deep breath.  “The problem is, no one has proposed marriage since I celebrated my seventeenth birthday. I should have accepted the offer then. Instead, I have spent the past six years nursing Mama until her death, and then trying to keep house for Papa while he.…”

“Gambled it from under your feet and then shot himself.”

“You put it quite succinctly.”

He shrugged and chirped to the horse, which pricked its ears and began to trot.

As they jolted along the rutted path, Damaris struggled to remember what she knew of Matthew Pope. He owned Riverbend, one of the biggest cotton plantations in North Carolina. He was reputed to be wealthy. No wonder the sheriff toadied to him. He wouldn’t want to offend one of the most powerful men in Anson County. But none of that answered the question of why he had played along with her pretense of acquaintance or took her part against the sheriff.

As she studied him under her lashes, she decided he was not bad looking if you liked dark hair and eyes. She noted a ridged scar over one eyebrow and a bump on the bridge of his nose where it had been broken, spoiling an otherwise perfect profile. His teeth were good for a man of middle years, very white and straight. Not a common asset among her acquaintances.

The horse stopped at a crossroad and she looked at him in question.

“Everyone has choices, Miss Tilghman,” he said as if minutes and miles hadn’t passed since her declaration. He pointed with his whip. “This road leads to Wadesborough and this one to Cheraw.”

“I am aware of that.”

“I am offering you a choice.” He shifted in his seat until he could meet her eyes. “I have a proposition.”

She blinked under the intensity of his gaze. “What is it?”

“Two propositions, actually. One, I need a housekeeper. From what you told me, I gather you have some experience.” He waited for her response.

“Yes,” she said guardedly. “And the other?”

“What? Oh. The other is, I need a wife.”

A touch of amusement lightened her countenance. “And am I to choose which of these delightful occupations I might wish to pursue?”

“I had thought them to be one and the same.”

Damaris intended to reply with the disdain he deserved, but then she thought again of spending the rest of her days caring for elderly invalids.

“I need an answer, Miss Tilghman.”

“Is it to be a marriage in name only? I mean, you mentioned housekeeper first, but I could not accept that, a spinster residing in an unmarried man’s home. But if we were married, gossip would be put at rest.”

“I suppose I should have mentioned the third thing. I am also in need of an heir.”

Her pale cheeks blazed scarlet. She blinked once, slowly.

He waited.

She shut her eyes and drew a breath. “I accept, Mr. Pope.”

He nodded and guided the horse on the road that led to South Carolina, where a marriage license could be obtained in one day. “I see you are very like your father, Miss Tilghman.”

“Why do you say that, Mr. Pope?”

“You are a gambler, too.”

 

Juggling the genres

Last week I was at the beach, enjoying sunny warm afternoons, splashing through the waves in my bare feet.

This week, I dug out my sweatshirts and warm coat, going outside only when necessary.

Yes, this is North Carolina weather. Rather than complaining, however, I used the time to hunker down at my computer. The stories were written, but  it was time for the next step.

The novel I polished at the beach during the writers retreat needed one last-minute check. Then I had to write the synopsis, which I just finished.

I wrote a synopsis before I started, as I may have noted before. This was my guide, my lifeline that made certain I didn’t stray too far afield. But it isn’t the same synopsis that one submits to a publisher. This time, I had to be more careful of my grammar and punctuation while still, hopefully, retaining my original enthusiasm for the project. This I will send off, fingers crossed.

My other novel? I decided to self-publish, so I spent some hours working on the cover design, then formatting the Word document. Luckily, by this time around I know the pitfalls and most of it went smoothly, with only a few corrections to be made. I’m fine-tuning it now, having looked at the first proof copy and deciding the margins were too wide and the indents too deep. Saved about 50 pages there, which allows me to lower the price.

They are wildly different books. One is a contemporary romance and the other is historical fiction with a bit of mystery and of course, a love interest because what is any story without some romance?

It’s kind of an experiment. Which will fare better? Should I stick with light stories, meant for a few hours’ entertainment, or should I continue to tackle the research a historical requires?

If you’ve been following my path, I’ve done women’s fiction, romance, paranormal, and now historical. That may not be the best way to build a firm platform, but I’m not trying to make a name or career for myself. I write what I love to write, and if the genre’s differ from one book to the next, it’s because it expresses my interests at the time.

If I were younger, it’d be different. I’d choose a genre and stay with it, book after (yawn) book. Most authors do well this way. We know what to expect from them and aren’t disappointed.

But I’m not young and so I give myself permission to write what I please. If the book sells, I’m delighted. If not, I write another. So far, the reviews have been positive, so I must be doing something right.

My contention is, if someone picks up one of my books they have only to turn it over and read the blurb to decide if they want to buy it (or borrow it from the library). Who knows, they may decide to try a new story, even if it wasn’t what they expected, and like it.

I love to read and at any one time I may have a stack of books consisting of a biography, a historical romance, an action drama, and a mystery.

So if I like reading different genres, it follows that I like writing them.

I’m not sure what comes next. I have a few ideas …

We’ll see where they lead me.

 

 

 

 

Claiming your title

I attended a library event last week and a woman came up to me and asked “Is your new book out? I can’t wait to read it.”

Pretty heady stuff! I’d like to say I ran home and finished the book, but alas, I am not one who can write 40,000 words in one day. Not even in a month with my 1,000 words a day schedule.

The important thing I took from this encounter was that someone recognized me as an author. When I first started writing, I didn’t admit to anyone that I was writing a book. I didn’t even talk about it with my family. Oh sure, my husband knew because I had to explain why I was huddled over the typewriter for hours at a time.

Yes, you read that right. Typewriter. Later on, a word processor, and finally a clunky takes-all-the-room-on-your-desk computer. But I still didn’t tell anyone. And when the book was published I announced the news to my family and close friends. I didn’t know a thing about marketing, blog tours, reviewers, or any of that. I did do a book signing at the local arts council and thought that was the height of public relations.

I got a little more aware of how things worked with my next book. But still, when asked what I did, I’d say “I’m retired” or “volunteer work.” I did not say,”I write books.”

When friends called and asked if I were busy, I’d answer “no” even though I was deep in edits. “Just puttering,” I’d say.

Why is it so many of us are hesitant to admit we are writers? How many of you say “I am an author” with confidence?

It was only this past summer that I had the courage to walk up to complete strangers and hand them a bookmark and say, “I’m a writer and I’d love you to take a look at my books.” Some looked a little taken aback, but all were friendly and a few promised to check out my website. I don’t know if it made me any new fans, but what it did was validate, at least in my own mind, that I am an author.

acac_08-12-12

Me at a book signing for my second published book. I still didn’t think of myself as an “author.”

I wish I had thought of myself as a professional from the minute I wrote “Chapter One.” Or after my first sale. But I didn’t. It took me a long time for my inner self to claim that title.

I think it comes from fear. Fear that the announcement will be met with looks of incredulity from our friends, snickers from our relatives, disbelief from acquaintances. Fear that when you mention your book title they’ll say, “How many books have you sold?” Or worse, “Never heard of it.”

I don’t think selling million books or having your name on the New York Times Best Sellers list is the benchmark. Does a baseball player get to say he’s a professional only after he’s made so many home runs? Or a lawyer after he’s won X number of cases?

I haven’t yet come to the point where I will let the phone ring when I am working. But when I’m asked if I am busy, I will say, “Hey, I’m writing right now and I’ll call you back.” Or, when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can answer, “Working on my book” without fearing ridicule.

It doesn’t sound like a big step, but to me it’s enormous.

If you have written a book–actually sat down and typed 80,000 or so words–you are an author. It doesn’t matter if it is published or not. From the moment you wrote “The End” you can claim your worth.

Yes, you need to have it edited, proofed, find a few beta readers to give you some feedback. This is because you are a professional.

You may never get it published. Or you may decide to self-publish. That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you wrote a book and you are an author.

 

 

 

 

 

What is your brand?

I have put a lot of miles on the Malibu this summer. Jim would be complaining about the mileage and wear and tear, but I think secretly he would be proud of me for getting out and not sitting home grieving.

I’ve been to Pennsylvania, Georgia, and most recently to Kentucky. I have to say Kentucky has a lot going for it: good roads, lovely scenery, and horse farms. Lots of horse farms.

In Louisville, there are horses everywhere. Not  real, live horses. The city boasts horse statues of every kind. Some are painted in bright colors. They really stand out on a sidewalk. (Click here to see some pictures of the painted horses.)

So from statues, billboards, signs, and even actual horses grazing peacefully in the countryside, you can’t forget for a minute that you are in horse country.

Kentucky knows how to brand herself.

I understand that is important for a writer as well. An author needs to create a brand that is instantly recognizable. What do you think when you see the names John Patterson, Mary Kay Andrews, Elin Hilderbrand?

If you answered fast-paced action mystery, humorous southern romance, and summer beach reads, you know what branding is.

Sounds easy, but it isn’t. Authors work hard to create a brand. Their books are aimed at a specific segment of the reading public. If Patterson suddenly published a sweet cozy mystery instead of his usual drama-packed story, readers would be as outraged as if they had opened a carton of rocky road ice cream and found a quart of strawberry swirl instead.

He might even lose a few fans.

I didn’t know this when I started writing. I wrote women’s fiction, and then switched to a kind of hybrid paranormal. I should have written the latter under a pen name, I suppose, but it seemed like too much effort to create a new Facebook author page and website. And, everyone knows that J.D. Robb is really Nora Roberts, so changing the name doesn’t fool anyone. Except that readers know what to expect when they open her books–under either pen name.

That’s what branding does. The reader sees a familiar name on a book cover and instantly knows what kind of story lies within. Yes, the cover illustration and the blurb on the back help, but the author’s name gives instant recognition.

I haven’t reached that pinnacle where people recognize my name and realize at once what kind of stories I write. But I hope I am slowly, steadily, building my brand.

Book by book.

 

 

 

 

That “dirty” word

We all know about the late George Carlin’s famous list of seven dirty words that can’t be used in broadcasting. My mom would say they shouldn’t be used at all. I remember when she innocently asked me what MF meant.

A word I want added to the list is “promoting.” Not that it is a dirty word, but it’s a word that makes me cringe as much as the words on Carlin’s list.

Unfortunately, it’s a word writers hear a lot. Writing a book is a stroll up a gentle slope, with the scent of gardenias wafted on summery breezes and Disney-like rabbits and birds accompanying you. Promoting it is like climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard with no oxygen.

Some people love it and spend hours happily signing up for blog tours. I did that once and forgot the dates I was supposed to be blogging. Or they get their books on email lists or compose tweets or… Well, you get the picture. There are many ways to push your book, and to me, most of them are annoying.  I’d just as soon stand on a street corner and wave one of my books in the air and yell “Buy my book!”

Which is essentially what we are doing, only online.

But promotion is one of those necessary evils in the publishing world and if we want to be noticed, we have to do it. My businessman son tells me I need to look at ROI (return on investment). Early this year I ran an ad in InD’tale magazine. It wasn’t all that expensive, but it didn’t generate any sales either. However — and this is a big however — I also submitted the book for a review (which is free unless you want a thumbnail of your cover to go along with it), and the subsequent 4.5 star listing made me a finalist for the RONE award. So spending money doesn’t necessarily mean your book will get noticed. front cover

Like many other authors I am looking for that magic door that will lead to sales. I’m afraid there isn’t one, just hard work and patience.

All that said, I am willing to climb back on that horse and try again. All this week my first book, Angels Unaware, will be on sale at half price. It will also be the featured book on e-book Soda on Monday, August 15. It’s a site for free and bargain e-books, so it’s worth checking it out. I signed up for their newsletter because I love the words  “free” and “bargain.” Those words are on my A-list.

Anyway, we will see what my ROI is on this promotion. Maybe this time I will break even.

If you are a writer, how do you promote your book? What was your best ROI, if you don’t mind sharing? I think a lot of us would like to know.

Outside of course, having a fairy godmother wave her wand.

 

The next step

Believe it or not, there is something more difficult than sitting down and writing a book.

The writing is the fun part: creating characters, plots, and scenes in your head and translating them to paper a Word document.

No, the hard part is the query letter. This is the letter that MUST grab an agent/editor/publisher’s interest and prompt them to ask for a full ms. Just as the first paragraph in your book should grab the reader’s attention and get them to read on, the first paragraph of the query letter should state your heroine’s goal, how she means to attain it, and what stands in her way, and make them beg for more.

I’ve written query letters before. Some have gotten the desired results; others have done nada, no matter how much I tweak them. So I know how important this is. I probably struggle over this as much or more than I struggle over the opening paragraphs of my book.

Still, it is doable. What I really dread, even more than the query letter, is the synopsis. Some publishers or agents want a few paragraphs with a general idea of what the book is about. Others want as many as 5 or more pages of

Jim, me, and our three sons, taken before Jim passed away.

Jim, me, and our three sons, taken before Jim passed away.

detailed, chapter-by-chapter descriptions. I can’t blame them, they haven’t time to read the whole book. They just want to know if it is worth their time to ask for it.

I’m no novice at this game, but each time I go through the same agonies. I suppose that is natural. I  had three babies and the second and third deliveries were not easier than the first!

But the results were worth it. I have three fine sons and three grandchildren I love dearly.

So here goes the query letter. Wish me luck that the results are equally worth the effort!

 

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