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Posts tagged with: taking risks

Ruby Release: Finding Her Rhythm by Dani Wade

One of the joys of my Indie-publishing endeavors is being able to write a book how it wants to be written– let the characters lead me and follow them without restraints (or into restraints, if that’s where they want to go). My editors have led my Harlequin books in great directions, strengthening them and my skills. But there are just certain things Harlequin books don’t do. So Indie publishing lets me explore different aspects of my creativity.

In this case, I was able to follow the leading of my hero – my rock star hero.

Danielle_FindingHer

When I first envisionsed Michael Korvello, little voices nagged at me. There’s a long-held rumor that editors don’t want Rock Stars. They aren’t popular enough. But still he hung around – that bad boy, brooding rocker attracted to the anti-thesis of his high profile lifestyle, his nanny.

I just couldn’t get him out of my mind, and before long, despite the push and pull of my first print release and new proposals, I had the full-blown story of a man who was lonely but afraid of revealing his true nature. And a woman so battered by life that trust had been all but obliterated – especially for a first rate performer.

So I chose to follow my characters and discovered a world beneath a world. The performer who wants to be seen and loved as a real man. A family who misses him. A woman who learns to trust him to protect her. A brother who teases and torments him, but who always has his back – on and off the road.

They took me on a journey and I enjoyed every minute! (Well, until I reached revisions.) A journey of a family trying to find each other again, and a man hell bent on using his sexual talents to teach a woman everything that she’s capable of, and everything they can be together.

So let’s celebrate those fun journeys we get to take when we follow wherever our characters lead! Share the last “fun” discovery you made about your book/characters while writing!

One commenter will win a giftie! An Amazon or B&N giftcard for a new journey of discovery.

Dani

To Tell or Not to Tell

When I first joined RWA, I read time and again: when people ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. Own it and be proud of yourself. I do and I am. It’s a lot easier when I can follow up with “and my first book will be on the shelves in August 2013,” but I’ve become very comfortable talking with others about my writing. Readers and non-readers.

But I recently ran into a situation that made me think twice.

From the time I started writing, I’ve had to work up the courage to tell people I was an author. I still vividly remember the nervous churning in my stomach when I told my husband I wanted to write my first book. I’m a lucky woman. He was supportive of me as so many people have been along the way. Being outed as a romance writer at a church women’s retreat broke me of a lot of worry, since having 40 people take turns asking, “What do you write?” creates a bit of a thick skin.

But I’ve now found myself actively deciding to keep my authordom a secret. Only in one place – my new day job. I work in an office with six women, but only 2 of them know I write. Why keep it a secret? An upper management boss who only proves more and more how much of a problem this would be with her. She’s extremely conservative and holds to an old-school level of professionalism. She finds something to criticize, no matter how small. That shirt’s a little too low in the front. Those shoes aren’t professional enough. That subject is too personal for the office. While I wouldn’t lie if asked directly, I’m not going out of my way to “share”.

As more time passes, I realize how much of my true self I’m hiding each day. I’m living a double life and not very happy about it. So much of myself is tied up in my writing. I find it very hard not to share my writing triumphs with my fellow workers. To not mention when my characters are giving me a hard time while everyone talks about their rough days. I even have to keep mum about my plans for the weekends, since “writing, writing, and more writing” might raise some eyebrows. But I draw the line at hiding my writing on my lunch break. I usually have a notebook or laptop and what I’m doing on my time is no one’s business – and no one has asked directly yet. Much to my surprise. That particular boss has caught me in the break room and asked questions about my laptop, but draws short of questioning what I’m actually working on.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll say when she asks. Not because I’m ashamed of my writing, or what I write, but because I don’t want to be hassled over something that’s none of her business.

So my question for all of you is: When do you tell? When do you not? Are there certain situations you avoid, or have you become comfortable enough to share indiscriminently?

Dani

I’ll check in on my lunch break and after work! Another thing I’m not allowed at this job is personal use of the internet, which I understand a lot more but is very hard when I’d like to be playing with all of you!!!  :)

 

How Different is Too Different?

My latest book in the Muses of Mayfair series, The Marquess Who Loved Me, just came out last week (yay!). You can see below for the cover and description, if you’re so inclined. I’ll also give an ebook copy (Kindle or Nook) to a random commenter today – good luck!

However, as excited as I am about my new release, my mind is already churning with ideas for the next book (The Earl Who Played With Fire). Because I’m still in early brainstorming mode, it feels like everything is possible. Even though I write Regencies, I’m considering having my main characters travel outside of England. Which leads to my question for all of you – how much do you think an author can get away with in terms of stretching readers’ expectations?

I know that the stock answer is that you can get away with anything as long as it’s well-written. But if it’s clear from the book description that the book doesn’t match your expectations of the genre, would you as a reader even pick it up long enough to determine whether the writing was good? Or would you move on to another book that meets your expectations?

I’ve heard that the commonly accepted industry wisdom is that historicals (and particularly Regency historicals) don’t sell if they’re set outside the UK. Obviously, our very own Ruby Sister Jeannie Lin is an exception to this rule, since her books are set in Tang Dynasty China. But what’s behind this belief?

And I suppose the real question is this – did previous non-UK historicals not sell *at all*? Or did they just not become massive bestsellers? And in that case, should an independent author take that risk and write for the smaller, unsatisfied niche of readers who want non-British historicals? Or are the publishers right in their assessment of the market?

I realize that this post is more of a survey than a statement of fact – but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What makes you pick up a book – something unique or something comfortable? And what are your views on how setting plays into purchasing?

As mentioned above, a random commenter gets an ebook copy of my latest release – cover and description below!

The Marquess Who Loved Me - Cover

A not-so-merry widow…

The widowed Marchioness of Folkestone is notorious for her parties, her art collection, and her utter disregard for the rules. But Ellie Claiborne knows her destruction is near. The new marquess is her first lover – the man whose sculpted body and sardonic grin haunt her every time she picks up her paintbrush. If he ever returns to claim his inheritance, her heart won’t survive seeing him again.

A man determined to destroy her…

Nicholas Claiborne hasn’t stepped foot in England since watching Ellie marry his cousin. He has no use for the gorgeous, heartless girl who betrayed him, or the title she abandoned him for. But when his business in India turns deadly, Nick must return to London to uncover a murderer – and take revenge on the woman he couldn’t force himself to forget.

A love they can’t escape…

Nick hates Ellie’s transformation from sweet debutante to jaded seductress. Ellie despises him for leaving her behind. Still, the sparks between them reignite the passion that should have been their destiny. As their demands of each other turn darker and a potential killer closes in, they must decide whether to guard the fragile remnants of their hearts — or find a way to fall in love all over again.

If you want to read it right now, you can find The Marquess Who Loved Me on Kindle or Nook (other formats coming soon!).

Quitting Your Day Job – Two-Year Update

Two years ago, I left my day job to focus solely on writing (a decision I documented in this Ruby post from October 2010). As the second anniversary closes in, I thought I would share with you how this grand experiment worked out, what I learned, and where I plan to go next.

Spoiler alert: I haven’t starved to death yet, so even if it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, there’s at least a ‘happy-for-now’ ending to this post ;)

The Grand Experiment

Year One: I finished a book, shopped it to NYC, finaled for a Golden Heart with it, and received a slew of rejections (that took all of Year One, from October 2010 to September 2011).

Year Two: Based on some fancy-schmancy analysis of costs/potential earnings, I pulled the Year One manuscript submission from the remaining houses and self-published it. I edited the first book, completely rewrote my 2009 Golden Heart winning manuscript to be the second book, and released both books in 2012 (Heiress Without a Cause in January as a Nook First pick, and Scotsmen Prefer Blondes in April). I’m almost done with the third book in the series (The Marquess Who Loved Me, coming this fall), and I’m planning for the fourth book in the series and proposals for a new series to launch when this series ends.

But enough about that…let’s get to what I learned!

What I Learned

1) Full-time writing may not actually mean full-time writing

As it turns out, I don’t write much faster now than I did when I had a day job. However, the time I would have spent at my day job is now spent on a combo of activities that either make me more healthy/satisfied as a person (gym, friends, cooking, walking around the waterfront, Twitter) or relate to my book in some way (marketing, social media, staying caught up on the industry).

2) Taking time to adjust to full-time writing is critical

I expected to hit the ground running when I left the day job. Instead, I spent six months eating, going to the gym, and napping (with some writing in there, but not as much as I expected). Part of it was recovering from the intense burnout I had from my previous job, but a bigger part was that I didn’t have a routine and hadn’t given myself time to adjust to my new life – so every day I didn’t accomplish something made me more depressed. I eventually snapped out of it, but it took a long time. If you’re thinking about leaving your day job, I suggest giving yourself time to grieve for your old life (even if you hated it) and build a new life around your writing, rather than expecting that you’ll be immediately and optimally productive from the start. And, unlike me, forgive yourself for the days when you just watch ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ marathons :)

3) Writing is a small business – and should be managed as such

Most small businesses lose money in their first couple of years of operation. With traditional publishing, you might not ‘lose’ money since you don’t have the same upfront costs as self-publishing – but you’re losing an opportunity cost if your manuscript is sitting for 1-2 years while it’s on submission and going through the publishing process. Conversely, self-pub can result in a lot of expenses before the book ever comes out, and you need to be realistic with how much you can spend, how much you should spend, and whether your investment has any hope of being earned back. I over-invested in marketing on my first book, and while I’ve earned it all back, I think there were some marketing efforts where I could have saved money if I’d been more careful early on.

4) Some thoughts on self-publishing

Self-publishing has been awesome for me, but I’m not rabidly pro-selfpub or anti-trad. It should *always* be a business decision, but I firmly believe that there’s more to the decision than the money. I happen to love self-pub because I like being in control, I was willing to invest money up front, and I’m earning faster than I would have with a trad deal (important since I’m not earning anything else).

However, my hypothesis is that the most robust careers in the long term will be for authors who have feet in both the trad and self-pub world – traditional for increased print distribution/better opportunities with marketing and reviews, and self-pub for being able to experiment with price, build readership through quick extra releases, and pivot into new genres that a trad publisher might not be willing to buy from you. While I’m happily self-pubbing, I’m also exploring traditional opportunities – and I suspect that in five years I will either have a foot in both worlds, or will no longer be writing for publication.

What Comes Next?

This is the question of the hour. My self-pub endeavor has been as successful as I could have expected, and I believe that with another couple of books out, I could write full-time without dipping into my savings. But I’m not quite there yet, and my business plan says I won’t be for at least a year. So, I’m exploring my options and deciding whether to go for broke and give myself another year (riskier than my initial decision to do this, although I still won’t starve to death), or pursue my passions for digital publishing and either work for an epublishing startup or start my own consulting firm.

I don’t know what the answers are. I knew when I started this that it would be highly unlikely to build an audience in two years that would support me full-time. But I’m pleased with where I am right now and confident that writing full-time (without burning savings to do it) is possible at some point in the not-so-distant future. It’s just a matter of how hard I can push myself to write faster (difficult for me), how much I can do to build a bigger readership, and whether I have the stomach for this kind of risk (my heart loves risk, but I’m prone to ulcers, so I may need to factor that into my decision ;)

So that’s the two year update! Are any of you considering taking the plunge? If you’ve already quit your day job, what have you learned since you started writing full time? If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them, and I’ll answer everything as candidly as possible in the comments!

What a Year It’s Been!

I don’t know about you, but for me, 2011 was quite a doozie.

In January I was diagnosed with a parathyroid tumor. It turns out that it had been doing crazy things to my body for years. In April, just before I underwent a surgery that yanked it out and cured me (thank goodness!), I self-published my second fantasy romance, The Source of Magic. In the months since, I’ve been thrilled to watch Source‘s sales surpass even those of my first novel, Kismet’s Kiss. But while this summer was a giddy time career-wise, September, erm, “blessed me” with a very difficult personal situation.

A few months later, I find myself living 1000 miles away from the state that had been my home for eight years. I’m in a truly nutty but special place at the top of a mountain, with (yes, I’m biased) one of the best vistas in the world. Okay, I may not have an oven, or even hot water every now and then, but at least I have one helluva Room with a View.

I’d originally hoped to be announcing the release of a new fantasy romance short story today. I’d envisioned 1500 words in the style of a fairy tale, but “Swords and Scimitars” has a mind of its own and is refusing to end where I’d planned…or heck, even take the same GPS route.

I’m realizing that sometimes it’s okay to take that new path, even when my life might be, well, simpler if I’d stuck with the old one. One of the gifts I’m trying to give myself these days is patience. After all, when I began 2011, I had no idea what was awaiting me. As I’m ending it, I’m so glad I’m where I am today.

During this hectic holiday season, I hope you get a chance to breathe, look around you, and remember what’s good and beautiful in your life.

What wonderful things did 2011 bring you? What do you seek from the brand-new year to come?

San Francisco eBooks for Everyone Else Conference Recap

Yesterday’s eBooks for Everyone Else conference was an amazing one-day event about all aspects of digital publishing, from formatting and uploading to pricing and marketing. The event, run by Publishers Launch, brought together approximately 100 publishers, agents, authors, and vendors for a quick and dirty slog through a very ambitious list of topics.

I could probably write a novella about this conference, but I’ll highlight a few of my key takeaways for you. If you want my raw notes, you can read my Twitter feed from yesterday (http://twitter.com/#!/Sara_Ramsey) since I wrote 100+ tweets about what I was hearing throughout the day.

One additional note: some of this is more focused, at least on the surface, around epublishing. However, I think that savvy authors should keep track of what’s happening in channels other than their own and implement approaches that work — whether that’s epubs borrowing from what traditional publishers do, or vice versa.

And finally, any errors in quotes/attribution are my own, and I’ll fix anything that is pointed out to me. Now that I’ve caveated this post to death, let’s move on!

1) Discoverability

Discoverability is all about how readers find your book. In the good old days, a reader might stumble across your book in a bookstore, love the cover, and pick it up. But people who shop for books online are less likely to impulse buy; one stat quoted was that impulse buying drops by 9% when people shop online. And if a reader doesn’t know they’re looking for you, how can they find you when search terms are usually so specific and targeted?

There are a couple of solutions for this. One is more the publisher’s responsibility (or the indie writer’s responsibility, if managing their own uploads): creating excellent “metadata” for the book. That covers everything from descriptions of the book with keywords relevant to that genre, to spelling the title and author name correctly. This information is vital to whether your book can be found — for example, if I accidentally enter my name as “Sarah Ramsey” someplace instead of “Sara Ramsey”, that book wouldn’t be found by anyone searching for me directly. So, get your data straight, and make sure you understand metadata before taking the DIY approach.

Another solution is not on the author side, but on the distributor side. I personally don’t browse much on Amazon, B&N, etc., but Book Country did a really cool presentation on how one can browse through content there. Because they’re targeting genre fiction, they’re working on making genre books more discoverable — including using a cool visualization of books, almost like a periodic table, to show you what books are clustered around a book that you already love.

Bottom line: if no one can find your book, you’re toast. Getting discoverability right is perhaps the single most important thing you can do (after you write a fabulous book, of course!).

2) Marketing

Ah, marketing. The very word gives a lot of authors hives. I suppose the good news is that no one has the perfect marketing formula, so no one can tell you you’ve screwed up :)

Seriously, though, there are viable options in both traditional/digital marketing and in social media, if you’re willing to take the plunge. On the more traditional, direct to customer marketing side, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo pointed to Ruth Ann Nordin as an example of someone who does almost no social media, but has built a robust email newsletter mailing list and does most of her marketing direct to her established reader base. Bob Mayer has also had success running Google and Facebook ads in an effort to build brand awareness — he gets very few clicks, but by targeting his ads at the right places, he can get readers used to seeing his name and prime them to buy his book later.

On the social media side, it isn’t as simple as going on Facebook and playing Farmville all day. It’s important to remember that you are what you tweet. Iris Blasi said that “you are advertising the best version of yourself” — in other words, be yourself, but make sure ‘yourself’ is filtered through the awareness that you’re engaging with your audience, not your mom or your best friend.

Also, you need to know where your audience is. If you’re writing historical fiction, where do the history buffs hang out online? Is your story set during the Civil War and likely to attract older men? Or is it a Jane Austen or Tudor-era story that might appeal to women? Are you writing for teenagers? You need to identify your audience, then find them online and interact with them where they already are.

Surprisingly, one market research tidbit that came out was that teenagers may spend the most time on Facebook, but they don’t engage with marketing there. They buy primarily based on reviews from their peers, not on marketing-driven interaction. Even more surprisingly (to me), women in the 40+ age bracket were more likely to buy based on Facebook interaction and discussion, even if they spend less time there than teens. This doesn’t mean you have to be on Facebook (just because someone is likely to buy on Facebook doesn’t mean your audience is there — averages don’t necessarily apply to the specifics of your niche), but it’s worth considering where your audience can be reached. The market research came from Bowker, who is doing a ton of work on genre-specific audience identification.

Bottom line: know your audience and interact with them when and where you can.

3) The future of agents

I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but it’s no surprise that agents are being forced to rethink their business models. The agent panel at the end of the day included some powerhouses (Scott Waxman, Deidre Knight, Ted Weinstein, and Laura Rennert), and they’re all working in a variety of ways to provide new ebook services to their clients while attempting to build sustainable long-term businesses.

Ted Weinstein laid it out very clearly: he thinks that agents will either become a) Hollywood style agents who only work with the biggest, splashiest clients on the most surefire projects; b) small publishers themselves; or c) more like a CEO/career manager who works with a much smaller subset of clients but manages all aspects of their career (such as building a speaking career for an author who is already a successful nonfiction expert). Every agent will choose a different path that suits them, but eventually most agents will have to make hard choices about what their business will look like.

Bottom line: Agencies are in flux, but any agent worth his/her salt is thinking hard about what the future looks like for them. My own personal opinion (not endorsed by anyone) is that it’s still worth signing with an agent depending on your goals, and I would sign with mine all over again in a heartbeat. But if the agent isn’t willing to have a conversation with you about the agency’s future (or predicts something that feels totally crazy), that would be a major red flag for me.

—–

That’s the bulk of the recap. There was a lot more detail about technological solutions, pricing, conversions, more on metadata, etc., but this post is too long as it is. I’ll check in throughout the day on the comments here and answer any questions, or feel free to tweet or email me (dearsara AT sararamsey DOT com) directly!

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Bria Quinlan

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Bria Quinlan, a finalist in the Young Adult category for SECRET LIFE. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Through all the talk (and mocking) over the last month about the Rapture that was supposed to happen on May 21st, part of me felt horrible.

Here were people willing to give up everything because they believed something so strongly. They were willing to get out there and tell person after person because they knew it was true. They knew they were the ones who had to make those around them believe.

There’s something amazing about that. Something just absolutely awe-inspiring about believing something that strongly –especially in the face of so much doubt.

I’d been thinking about beliefs since the beginning of the Arab Spring – thinking about America and myself and my life and my beliefs…

And my writing.

Do I believe?

Things we’ve learned since publishing

My critique partner, Elisabeth Naughton, signed me up to speak on a panel at the Emerald City Writer’s Conference near Portland, OR in October and the topic is…you guessed it, What I’ve Learned Since I’ve Published.  (In my case it’s sold, because my book doesn’t come out until April 2012.)

And it occurred to me that I’d love to hear what all the RUBY SISTERS have learned since they’ve sold and/or published.  So, I’ll start the ball rolling with one element and I hope everyone who has been down that publishing road will give the ball a little kick and add one thing they’ve learned that hasn’t been listed yet.

Mine:  FLEXIBILITY

I’ve learned that the published arena in a much bigger place, and I’m trying to please a whole lot more people, and to do that, I’ve got to be flexible.  About everything.  Title, cover, character names, the way a plot branches, etc.  Being flexible with your time is important because everyone moves at a different pace based on what else is going on in their schedules.  Flexibility extends to your marketing plan, your marketing budget, where your career goes after this contract is fulfilled and/or what you write next.

I’ve dealt with the title changes, the long waits, the altering marketing plans.  And while I’m still waiting for the edits, copy edits and cover changes to come, right now I live in what-comes-next village. 

With the two book contract complete and the option proposal written, I am in that phase of…now what?  It’s…an interesting place.  The freedom can make you a little giddy — but only for a while.  Then it gets a bit dicey.  Especially if what you want to write isn’t what’s selling or something you don’t have the voice to master.  (There is a fantastic article on this topic written by literary agent Laura Bradford here.)  Or maybe you are venturing into a genre that your current agent doesn’t represent, maybe staying in a genre that is saturated and struggling to find a “different” or “fresh” angle or concept to develop.

I recently submitted a proposal to my agent for a paranormal romance.  It was rather different from what I write currently, which is a touch more romantic suspense with paranormal elements.  How is that for pushing around a genre to fit?  But the concept didn’t completely sit right with my agent.  Some aspects worked for her, but some didn’t.  She couldn’t envision how I would be able to make the premise unique enough to stand out from what had already been done.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t crushed.  I think because my subconscious knew something wasn’t quite right, or maybe I wasn’t completely in love with it.  I don’t know, but I went back to the idea stage.  Pieces of this story had come from an idea I’d had a long time ago, something quite different–dark and gritty.  I took the original idea, fused it with some elements of the newer idea and of course, those two combined created elements unique to this book.  As I developed the book, I could see where it would open up into a series of related books.

Luckily, my agent really liked this version.  We talked over some issues she had, which if changed would make the idea stronger.  Once again, I altered the story and the characters, rewrote the synopsis and am waiting to hear back.

So, that’s just one of the big things I’ve learned since I’ve published…you’ve got to be all kinds of flexible.  Try things you never thought you’d try.  Think in ways you never thought you’d think.  Trust ideas you’d never thought you’d trust.

Think Gumby.

I can’t wait to hear what all of you have learned!!

Tell!  Tell!

Trust Issues

As a reader, I love characters with backbone.  Nothing annoys me more than a heroine who is nice to EVERYONE–even the people who repeatedly blow her off, insult her, or try to hurt her–like the writer is afraid that if the heroine dares to stand up for herself, the reader will think she’s mean.  Standing up for yourself isn’t spiteful–it’s a basic survival instinct.

You Can’t Do That!

A funny thing happened on the way to publication: I got a truly up-close look at the difference between a “guideline” and a “rule.”

I’m what you would call a Golden Heart success story. Not just because I finaled, won, and sold – but because I sold to a publisher I would have never submitted to if it weren’t for the Golden Heart. And I would have never submitted because I thought my book violated the publisher’s guidelines.

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