The Need to Start Anew – Happy New Year!

“Don’t look down! Don’t do it!”   Have you ever felt that way when climbing a steep hill? But if you don’t look down, you won’t know how far you’ve gone. That’s why we look down, even if we’re afraid to.

Life seems to be the opposite. Everywhere I look, I’m encouraged to measure, compare, evaluate and redirect, especially this time of year. We have a drive to track how we’re doing, evaluate the results and plan bigger goals. We want to start fresh. Do better. Do more. It can be invigorating, actually.   A new start!  A new chance!

The beginning of a new year isn’t a magical point in time that changes everything, but we use it that way. We treasure that yearly gift of hope and renewal. We look at any hardships in the old year and say, “So long suckers!”

I’m looking at the new year as a new chance to enjoy life, learn new things and look for beauty. And of course I’m planning to write more stories.  🙂

I wanted to say Happy New Year to all of you and wish you the best on your goals. I’d also like to wish you peace in this coming year–in this busy, interconnected world, remember to take some time for yourself. We don’t have to be the best at everything. It’s okay to relax sometimes! It’s okay to “Don’t Worry, be Happy!”   Go ahead, click the link, listen to the song and watch the video. 🙂 It’s fun.  Cheers!

jumping dolphin

2.5 Years, 20 books, and 100k sales later–What I’ve learned

I had some thoughts this month stemming from my writing journey and what is happening in publishing, and I thought it might interest other writers. I often read the advice to stop checking sales, ranks, reviews, web hits, and focus on writing. It’s some of the best advice out there, and advice I try to follow. On the other hand, sometimes it’s  healthy to pause and evaluate how you’re doing. (Seems to be a trend at the end of the year!) It can also show you that you really have built something.

I have 10 novels, 7 novellas and 3 nonfiction books, and reached 1,000 reviews on Amazon this month. I don’t think it’s bad to check in on sales and reviews, if you keep it under control. I used to read reviews and see if I could learn anything from them–and reviews used to be longer and more detailed. I often get short reviews these days, especially for my novellas. Still, I like to glance through once in a while to see what readers are saying. Amazon Central puts them all in one place so it’s easy. It’s fine to have good and bad reviews; it shows that your book is selling.

On ranking: I used to check my book ranks, but now I mainly check the rank for my most recent book, or a book that I’m running a promotion on. I look at my author rank in Author Central to see the overall trend. (But in general, I’m trying to check less and write more.)

On predicting: I’ve had some awesome months when I had a new release or a promotion went really well, but I’ve learned that I can’t take that and make a monthly prediction of steady growth. Sales go up and down. I put my sales into Excell and then create a month by month chart showing book sales and income. I have another chart that shows yearly book sales and income, so I can see the upward progress every year. It’s the big picture that matters.

On Changing Amazon: In 2011 and 12, it seemed most of my books would sell and have different seasons and spikes. Since this summer, however, it seems Amazon promotes new books, giving them a chance to succeed at first, but sales for my older books have slowed down. (That follows a more traditional model than what I’ve seen on Amazon since 2011, and it might change again in a few months.)

On crazy ebook growth in 2012–there were some blockbuster books the last couple of years that really drove sales. That can happen again. A book or series will come out that will be different, and it’ll see sales like 50 Shades, Twilight, Hunger Games, Wimpy Kid and Wool. There’s been huge bestsellers from both traditional and author published books.

That naturally leads into my next observation: things change constantly. In the last two years, we’ve had all kinds of storms. The huge ebook growth, then people crying that the sky was falling, then people saying Indie stores are making a comeback, and even times when people said books are on the way out. I know better than that one. But things do change, and they don’t follow our predictions. The steady reality is that we keep getting surprised. I just have to focus on improving my writing. (I’ve been working on bigger story lines and deeper themes.)

Another change: I had a sales curve every year that dipped in the summer, but this last summer was more like my typical Decembers. I released a book that I really believed in, but I was surprised at how well it did. Of course, releasing new books has always been the best promotion, and I regret that I didn’t have another one ready to release this fall or winter. Montlake Romance re-released Point Hope in late October, and I relied on that as my ‘new book.’ My next book is coming out in January, and I plan to write and publish 3-5 books this coming year.

With all the changes on Amazon, the US book market, and publishing in general, I’m going to expand into other retailers with some of my books. I’m very pro Amazon and feel extremely thankful to the company for opening the door to so many authors. I’ve built an audience and got a traditional publishing deal for one of my books that I published through Kindle. Because it’s about my readers and reaching more readers, so I’m going to experiment with other retailers.

My biggest lesson: many of the promotional activities we’re encouraged to do don’t get the results we want. I used to advise people to build their “snowball,” and I still believe in this idea, but there is also an 20/80 rule. 20% of what we do will get 80% of the results. In terms that I understand better, focus on the things that make big results. I experiment, and learn from other authors, and I focus on writing.  Maybe I’m stating the same lesson over and over! It’s about the writing. When I launch a book now, I basically publish it and post it here, on my FB page and Twitter. I also did a Goodreads giveaway with Point Hope and plan to do more of those.

Preview on Kindle (also available in print)
Newly updated for 2014 – insight and advice for all the phases of Indie Publishing


The big things I’ve learned pertain to writing and storytelling, which of course is the whole point of all of this. I write, read novels, read books on writing, learn from podcasts and videos, write some more, repeat… and it’s thrilling, challenging and fulfilling. I’m putting together a workbook on novel writing for a class I’m going to teach this coming year. I’m really excited about it. I keep files on everything I learn about writing, and now I get to put it all together with diagrams. 🙂  I had some huge breakthroughs in structure this year, especially about how to up the tension and drama in a novel’s middle, and I’m eager to share that. I’m going to publish the book so people who aren’t local to take the class can also buy it.

One thing I keep in mind is that learning is a continuous, life long process. I have a thick journal where I record notes on useful writing books, videos, etc, and new things I learn. I write life posts and encouraging quotes too. It’s a fantastic way to keep all my writing notes in one place, and I can look through it to refresh what I’ve learned. It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for my writing career. Well, time to wrap up this monster post. I hope you enjoyed it and found something useful. 🙂

~Best wishes to all the authors out there, and thank you for blogging, sharing and encouraging other writers!

P.S. I’m a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors, which runs a series called “How I Did It,” featuring posts from many successful Indie authors. Here’s my interview:  How I Do It: Kristen James Shares The Secrets of Her Self-Publishing Success.    This group is a great resource!

Writing Point Hope

I constantly read, both novels and nonfiction books about how to write better. There are many on the craft of writing, and I look for anything that discusses how to tell a better story. Writing a novel takes good writing and good storytelling, which are two separate things. What’s the difference? I’d say at least 75% of the books out there have well constructed sentences, vivid description and correct grammar… you know, the things that make a piece of prose readable. However, a much smaller percentage tell a gripping story. You can write a well written paper about your fun day at the zoo, but that doesn’t mean the general public will pay money and spend time reading it.

Writing a page turner takes heart and passion for your storyline, your characters and your message. Yes, novels have a message! It’s that little thing that makes you stop and think after you finish the book. Often, it’s a simple but powerful message such as, “Yes, love does change us and help us through life.” It’s the human connection in the story. Some of this goes into the initial writing, and I’m finding the ‘message’ comes out more with the fine tuning and revising. More and more, I believe the stronger the message, the more successful the book will be. I don’t mean a preachy message, but just the feeling that the author has captured something about our experience and shared it. I can see it in the novels I love, and I can see how I’m developing that in my own writing. That’s what I’m aiming for now.

Some of the excellent writing books I’ve read challenge authors to look into why they are writing their novel. I used that to guide me in writing my current work in progress: Why am I writing this book?  Point Hope looks at what family really means, and what we’ll do for our families, and even what we’ll sacrifice for our kids and family. It can be about honor but you’ll find love there too. Family is the people who love you, the people you take in. This book, for me, goes even beyond that. I thought about, what can this book give people? What if people feel they missed something and are looking for it, like the characters?

Each character desperately needs something from the others – The Sinclairs are a close-knit family and depend on each other, even though things are falling apart. Trey and Rosette are on the brink of divorce, but they have kids depending on them. They’re also raising 16 year old Alex, Trey’s younger brother, before things get even more complicated. (Alex surprised me and became a very interesting character!)

I have more to say on the subject, but I don’t want to give the plot away just yet! I will say, I’ve put so much into this book that I almost worry I won’t anything left for the next book. I’m pouring in my heart and soul. But I have to trust that there are always new stories to tell and new characters to meet, so I can’t hold back while writing this one.

I’ll keep you updated with a firmer release date as we approach March!

“Good” Writing

The book world seems to be a hotbed these days. First we had the line between traditional authors and indie authors, and now indie, or self published authors, are drawing lines based on where they publish. Just Amazon? Or everywhere? It seems like a business decision to me, that each author should make for themselves, but I’ve seen some heated and mean conversations online about it. Along with that, there’s an almost frantic search for all information on book marketing and the best tips. You know, the secrets that really work. It could lead one to believe the way to make it as an author is through marketing. All this has been on my mind because you can get so focused on it that you’re not writing or improving your storytelling abilities. I want to believe the writing industry is still about producing great stories, and that the best books will spread by reader word of mouth.

I’ll admit I look at the bestsellers and think about what makes them sell. But I don’t simply look at how the book is marketed, I also look at what’s in the story that draws readers in. We love strong characters that we identify with, especially when they’re facing a giant hurdle. Sometimes it’s a hurdle we might encounter, and other times it symbolizes some kind of hardship or rite of passage. Those huge bestsellers all seem to take us somewhere new and different, even if that’s back in time. Think of Water for Elephants. It’s a very different story. Or The Help. Both of those novels take me to a reality that I didn’t know about in such depth. I haven’t read The Hunger Games yet, but I can tell they take you to a different time or dimension. In some books, that “other place” is just a small town with an engaging cast of characters. This element is one aspect of a great story. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I can’t always put my finger on it. That might be the best part for me. I read a story and savor it, and find myself going back again and again to think about the characters, what something really meant, or how other characters might have done it differently. Memorable characters, there’s something to that…

A Roller Coaster Ride

I just published “The Perfect Christmas,” a short story that appeared in Skive Quarterly around 2005. I hope you enjoy it!

I’ve been trying to think of interesting things to share here on my author blog, and it’s a little funny that a writer has a hard time finding things to share. I could write about writing, but writing tips are more for other writers than readers. I will share that this last month or so has been a wild and fun roller coaster ride with my books. A Cowboy For Christmas hit #100 in Kindle and then More Than Memories reached #92 yesterday. I’ve been on the Movers & Shakers list with several different books and also hit the top of the category in Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance. The reason those numbers are so exciting is that they represent just how many people are reading my books.

This means some exciting things for my writing career. I’ve worked as a publisher and freelance writer for the last several years, which has been great because I could work on “work” projects and my own writing from home. This allowed me to get an amazing amount of writing done and sharpen my writing skills. I’m so happy I was able to work out my own job the way I did, but I’m also excited about where I’m headed. I’ve backed off from publishing quite a bit over the last year, and from ghostwriting and freelance writing over the last six months. I have a couple writing projects right now but I plan to transition to working on my own fiction full time in 2012.

I’ve actually published 2-4 books a year the last couple of years, but I want to work on a longer, deeper book. I have a couple projects in the works for publication in 2012 and I might also write more novellas like The Fairy and her Giant.

Thank you to everyone for your friendship and for reading my work. Here’s to another exciting year!

I’d love to hear from some of you… what do readers want to read on author blogs?


Back To School Thoughts

I’m starting to wonder if I jinxed summer! I blogged about the season and then, when my kids went back to school, it suddenly got cool here. We’ve had three days of cooler, cloudy weather. Now I’m hoping my garden will mature before the weather really turns to autumn.

School started with a bang. We’re into the full swing of things and even two days into football practice – tackle football even, so I’m a bit nervous. Sometimes I wish they had a “stay little” button so I could catch up and be ready for all this!

My year seems to structure itself around the school year – I set goals starting in fall. Last school year I wrote and published several books, and this summer I focused on freelance writing and spending time with the kids. We had a lot of fun, and of course the summer went by all too quickly. In August, I got to watch one of my novels, A Cowboy For Christmas, spike up the rankings in Kindle and continue to climb. It’s been a fun and amazing to experience. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in September. A Cowboy For Christmas will be featured on The Book Junkie Library and I’m also joining a book giveaway with Bees Knees’s Reviews where we’ll give away a few print and Kindle copies of my books.

Enjoy your summer/fall weather!

Update – The Giveaway is up (see next blog post) and my guest blog on Bee’s Knees Reviews, “What The Publishing Revolution Means to Readers”  is up at


The Scenery of my Life

The road is a fairytale lane filled with sunshine. At least it was today when I drove through on my way home from the small nearby town. Light purple blooms huddle all over a tree on the left while white blossoms cover the trees on the right. Smaller bushes sport pink flowers too. Color everywhere, from the tender new blooms to the newly grown bright green grass covering all the surrounding hills and mountains beyond. There had been a rainstorm here in the valley last night that left snow capped mountains to frame our world.

The country road curves through the trees and then straightens out into farmland. The river runs wildly over on the other side of the pasture, which is filled with hundreds of lambs right now. They lay in cuddle piles of white fluffiness or run about after their mothers. On the other side of the road, the pasture holds calves. They’re smaller than you’d think, than you’d expect of a cow.

This is the scenery I drive through. At home, daffodils decorate the bottom of all the tree trunks. Each flower clump is a slightly different color. Some have bright orange centers, others peach, and still others a rich yellow. Bluebells bloom close to the house in blue, pink and a beautiful purple. I suspect another bird family has moved into the Rhoddies. Last year a scrub jaw nested there in a half foot wide nest of sticks. These birds are smaller and orange, and that’s all I’ve notice as they fly away when I walk by.

Some days I write 10 or 20 pages on a book project or get a book formatted for publication. Today it was hard to focus on getting much done, so I did little things like adding this blog to my website. Writing can focus my mind when it wands to run in all directions. Taking a drive and then writing about the beauty out here calmed my thoughts today.