Thursday, June 14, 2018

Showing My Pride

June is Pride Month. It’s a time for the LGBTQIA community to celebrate the freedom to be themselves. It can be done in any number of ways with everything from parties to parades.

In this day and age, most of us are familiar with the terms gay and lesbian and bisexual which takes care of the L, G and B of the acronym. That leaves the TQIA. For those who may not be aware, the T is transgender, Q is questioning, I is intersexed and A is asexual.

I love that our society has evolved enough that we recognize that people don’t fit into a simple box. We’re not all gay, straight or bi. Some of us are, but there are many more of us who are not. Many people are questioning their sexuality or have realized they fall on the asexual spectrum while others are intersexed.

I’m grateful to live in a time where we are dedicated to helping people feel less ashamed of who and what they are even though I don’t fall anywhere in the LQBTIA equation. I wish we didn’t have to single out one month for celebrating. I would love to see the day where sexuality isn’t something we worry about in others. It would be nice to have a normal that made it as unimportant to judging someone as their height or eye color. Meaning, we know these things about each other, but we don’t let it affect our assessment of their character or our interaction with them.

I am 100% straight. I’ve never questioned who I was or questioned my sexuality. From the minute my sexuality awakened, I knew I liked boys. I dated boys, loved boys and ultimately married a cute little nineteen-year-old boy who was the sweetest guy ever. Twenty-four years later, I’m still married to that guy. One of our daughters is gay and recently married a woman. When our daughter came out, it was with little fanfare. There was no big announcement. We’d suspected. We asked, she admitted it, we told her we supported her and that she should always be proud of herself, and life moved on.

Thanks to my very gay daughter, I’ve been exposed to things I never knew about. My daughter introduced me to the first transgender person I had ever met, a young boy named Josh.  She also introduced me to the wonderful world of drag and showed me her alter ego Apollo. The first time I saw Apollo, I told my daughter, ‘You make a really hot guy’. It must have been the right thing to say because she laughed and told me I was the best mom ever. I may be biased, but I stand by my assessment of Apollo.

I think a combination of living in this time and having a gay child has directly impacted my writing. When I first started out, I wrote romance novels with a male and female couple. Now, I’ve written characters who are gay and bisexual and this year I released The Truth Inside, my first book with a transgender male lead.

In the past, the romance genre has primarily been about straight couples, but LQBTIA romances are gaining popularity. I’ve been reading male/male romances for years and have just started trying my hand at writing them. While I’m sure this may offend some people, I don’t care. I may not be LGBTQI or A, but that’s not going to stop me from showing my pride damn it.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

It's the End of the World

Okay, yes, I’ll admit it. That title is a little melodramatic, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Just not in the way you’re thinking.

Two years ago, I was contacted by best-selling romance author Erin Nicholas and asked if I would be interested in writing a book attached to her Sapphire Falls series. For those of you who don’t know, and I’m sure that’s a small number, this popular series was set in the fictional town of Sapphire Falls, Nebraska and featured some hot country boys and sassy gals trying to keep them in line. As with most of Nicholas’ books, the Sapphire Falls brand was wildly popular. So popular in fact that it was getting its own Kindle world.

Until Nicholas reached out to me, I didn’t know much about Kindle Worlds. It turns out that Kindle Worlds is an Amazon brand. It takes a series of books that are being sold on Amazon and allows authors to write what basically amounts to fan fiction. Participating authors use the characters and settings of the original author with a few rules in place. Authors aren’t allowed to write stories for main characters already written but can use those characters to support their story. As the name implies, these titles are exclusively offered on Amazon.

I was both excited and honored when Nicholas asked if I would write a book for the October 2016 release. Even though she reached out to me in April, I jumped right on it and quickly churned out the book and secured a title and cover. I couldn’t have been happier when the book was well received by Nicholas’ rabid fans. In fact, it did so well, and I had so much fun being part of the Sapphire Falls Kindle world, that I released a second title in that world.

To this day, those two books are my most reviewed and possibly highest selling. I have no doubt those books are responsible for the increase in my fan base, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Too bad all good things come to an end. Last week, I received an email from Amazon announcing they were going to discontinue the Kindle Worlds brand in the next few months. Not only that, but they’re pulling all existing titles. That means I lose the reviews attached to those titles as well as the income I net each month.

And no, authors can’t simply republish their titles. Some of us, me included, wrote under a trademarked brand. To republish would violate that trademark. Thankfully, the amazing Erin Nicholas is already on top of this and working with her authors so I will have some options in the future. I’ll keep you posted on those.

If you’re a Kindle reader, as many of us are, and you borrowed these books, you may want to consider buying them. If you don’t buy them, you could run the risk of never being able to read them again because the world is ending; the Kindle World that is.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mess With One

The writing community is usually a pretty peaceful group. Since I only write romance, I don't know if it's true across all genres, but I find we are very supportive of one another as well. We'll reach out to each other and form friendships. We'll bounce ideas off each other, collaborate on projects and promote each other on social media. We've even been known to share our locales or characters or series with each other in an effort to cross promote.

With all of that support, you can imagine that we tend to band together against injustices. Now, I will admit there aren't many scandals in our community, but when there is one, it's epic. The latest one has turned an entire group against one author, and believe me when I say it's well deserved.

Okay, so let's go back to the beginning. Last week, several romance authors received an interesting email from one of their peers. The gist of the email was to order these authors to change the titles of their books or face legal action. Why? I could say it's because the sending author is an uppity bitch, but I won't go there. The author, whom I will not name and give any further publicity to, is insisting that she holds the trademark on the word "cocky", a word all of these authors had in their titles.

Yep, you read that right. This author went so far as to register a word as a trademark to brand her book series. The fact that she was allowed to do so is mystifying for many reasons, not the least of which is that titles cannot be trademarked. Logos can, and series titles can. Example, the Apple logo is a registered trademark for Apple Inc. Harry Potter was trademarked by JK Rowling. That means none of us can use the words Harry Potter in our book titles, but we can make reference to them in our blog posts.

Writers talk, and it wasn't long before word of this spread. As a result, romance writers across the globe have banded together to offer support to each other. There's been a lot of fun poked at the author who started it all. Just yesterday, I read a blog on the subject titled, Harry Potter and the Audacity of This Bitch. Authors are calling this whole fiasco cockygate, but it's not just authors who find it ridiculous. Book bloggers have thrown their support behind romance authors. Many have used their blogs to point readers in the direction of every cocky book there is. This has even gone all the way to the Romance Writers of America who are likely going to pursue a course of action that would lead to this trademark being revoked.

What is the author herself saying? Besides the fact that she's playing the victim card and claiming she feels attacked but is willing to turn the other cheek, she claims this is for the benefit of confused readers. Supposedly readers are searching for her books and finding someone else's. The author also alleges she doesn't want other authors to lose sales because of this. I have two words to sum up my feelings on this; bull shit.

If a reader buys the wrong book, it can always be returned. Most retailers have such generous return policies that authors cringe because readers are returning our books after reading them and we lose the sale anyway. If a reader finds my book by mistake and returns it without reading it, the sale I'm losing is one I wasn't going to have in the first place. No real loss there.

I  think her motivation was more selfish. She was losing readers. Maybe readers were finding the rest of us and liking us better. Ever heard that phrase there's no such thing as bad publicity? Seems pretty true here considering we've all had her name on our minds and social media posts the last two weeks.

Ultimately, only the author who started this hot mess knows why she did it, and at this point I'm not sure I care. I'll tell you one thing though. She can't pick this kind of a fight and then cry foul when we all hit back. It's absurd, and she learned a hard lesson. Mess with one of us, you're messing with all of us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Things to Think About

In my last post, I talked about an article, I'd read that was written by a romance author who was discussing her recently released sports themed contemporary romance novel. It seemed that the first book in her series didn’t sell nearly as well as her second book, and let me clarify that. The first book sold a few hundred copies in comparison to the few thousand the second book sold. The author and publisher were frustrated and looking for answers. What she suggested was an interesting yet sad commentary on our times, and I promised to address that in my next post. This is difficult for me to do, but I owe it to myself and my readers. 

In the article I read, the author pointed out that the cover of her first book featured a sexy black man while the second book featured an equally sexy white man, leaving the author to wonder if the problem was that covers featuring men of color aren’t as well received as those featuring white men. This comes on the heels of an issue with a well-known romance publisher dropping their black romance line and actively encouraging their white authors to start writing about different races and ethnicities.

In her article regarding her covers, the author acknowledges that she had input in and final say on the art of both covers. She admits that she can’t necessarily prove that the first book didn’t sell as well because the model was black, but it seems awfully suspect.

So much about this article got me thinking. As authors, we’re encouraged to write what we know. The advice is sound, but I don’t think we all follow it. I once wrote a young adult series about vampires, and I can tell you for a fact I know nothing about vampires. Anything I didn’t know, I made up. That’s the beauty of being a fiction author. We are allowed a certain amount of creative license, more so in fantasy books, which brings up another interesting point the author made.

Maybe her books weren’t selling because they had a high element of realism and readers want to escape reality. Readers are happy to read about billionaire CEOs, pregnant shape shifting men, and the like but they don’t want to read about characters struggling with real issues. I sure the hell hope not because while I’ve dipped my toe in the fantasy pool, I’m much better at writing books that have a basis in reality.

If you’ve read any of my books, you know most of my characters are white. There have been a few books where I’ve included black or Latino characters, but they’ve never been lead characters. The closest I’ve gotten to writing about minorities is writing a book with a straight, transgender male lead and a few books with gay male leads, but all of those characters were white.

It’s honestly never even occurred to me to write a black, Latino, Asian, Indian or non-white character as a lead. In asking myself why, it comes down to two things. The first is that I write reality based novels, and I don’t know enough about these cultures and the issues they face to do justice to the characters and their struggles. The second is honestly the bigger issue for me. I want to be taken seriously a writer, and there’s a part of me that wonders if writing lead minority characters as a white female author means that I’m going to be judged more harshly and held to a higher standard than a minority author writing about these characters.

Am I right to think this way, or does my lack of diversity in my writing make me part of the problem this author was trying to bring to light? I truthfully don’t know. I certainly don’t have any issues with buying books with sexy men of any race on the cover. If I don’t buy a book, it’s because the story doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve never looked at a book cover and refused to read any further if the model is a man or woman of color.

Is being a diverse reader enough though? Should I be a more diverse writer? Do I have a responsibility to? I don’t know, but the author has definitely given me a lot to think about.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Writing Your Way, No Matter What

I recently read a blog post from another author who was frustrated by the lack of sales of her first book in comparison to her second one. The author offered up a lot of theories, one of which is quite provocative and I’ll address in a future blog post.

You can definitely feel the author’s frustration, and it’s understandable. Authors put their hearts and souls into their writing. We spend a lot of time, effort and money to produce and promote our work and often don’t see an equitable return in our investment reflected in sales and reviews. There is no way to adequately explain what goes on behind the scenes of writing a book. You just have to take my word when I say that it can be a soul crushing process.

One of the less controversial theories the author put forth was that readers just weren’t interested in sports romances. She went on to point out that there are plenty of best-selling books about billionaire CEOs, MMA fighters and even pregnant men who can shift into animals. This really struck a chord with me, and I found myself doing an emphatic head nod in agreement.

When I first started out as a writer, I wanted to write young adult novels with disabled characters as romantic leads. I can’t tell you how many agents, publishers and editors told me that would never sell. The industry wanted fantasy novels. Readers wanted vampires and werewolves and fairies. Books were about escaping reality.

I floundered for a while. I’m ashamed to admit, I threw my hat in the vampire ring. Guess what? It didn’t make a difference. Even that wasn’t good enough. I was told I’d never compete with Twilight or True Blood. As much as that hurt, I could live with it because that’s not what I wanted. I’m going to date myself here, but I grew up reading Judy Blume and Lurlene McDaniel. These women were writing stories about kids my age that were dealing with sobering realities and we devoured those novels. Those were my heroes and who I aspired to be.

It took a lot of soul searching and trial and error and some growth and change in the publishing industry for me to find my way. Now, I write what I want. While all of my books are romance, I don’t let myself be penned in. If I want to write new adult or young adult or anything in between, I write it. I don’t care if the story is m/f or m/m. I give my characters the love interest that I think fits best for them. It’s amazing the amount of stress that I took off myself when I accepted this was the approach I wanted to take as a writer.

So, if you write about pregnant omega wolf males or billionaire oil tycoons or up and coming MMA fighters, that’s great. It doesn’t make you better or worse than your peers who choose to write in a different genre. You have to write what makes you and your readers happy. It might not make you rich or a best seller, but writing your way doesn't make you a failure either.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Long, Hard Indie Road

After years of rejections and a few heartbreakingly close calls, I made the decision to become an independent author. That was back in 2006 when I self-published my first book, Letters from Linc. Since that time, I have released a total of 18 books, which includes 3 novellas but doesn’t include the multiple titles I’ve released on Wattpad.

When I published Letters from Linc in 2006, I told myself this self-publishing thing was a one-time deal. I just wanted to be able to see and hold and touch an actual book that I’d written. I said that if I could do that, I’d be happy. I’d feel like I’d achieved my dream and I could move on. With an additional 17 books under my belt, it’s obvious I was wrong.

So much has changed since I released that first book. In 2006, E-books were offered by only a few publishers because e-readers were still in their infancy. Authors who released their own books weren’t recognized as being independent authors. They were called self-publishers, and they had to pay to have their books published. Companies that published books for pay were, and still are, known as vanity publishers. The difference is all those years ago, paying to publish your book was frowned on. You weren’t considered a real writer. Now, some indie authors are far more successful than many traditionally published authors. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

In the time since publishing my first book, I’ve come a long way in my promotion efforts. I went from a basic website with a few tabs to something that’s far more intricate. Thanks to the advent of social media, I have accounts with things like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram that I use to increase visibility. I’ve taken a couple of online book tours, held a few online release parties, hired a third party to do promotions of my new releases, done at least two Thunderclap campaigns, had a third party make a book trailer for two of my books and have done countless giveaways.

When I see it all laid out like that, the amount of effort that we as authors do in promotion of our work is staggering. It’s also somewhat depressing for me. I spend a great deal of time and effort on writing my books, and when it comes to promoting them, I spend quite a bit of money. Often, I spend more money than I make. Considering the number of books I have published and the level of promotion I’ve done, it’s pretty discouraging to make such an emotional and financial investment and see so little return.

With every new book I release, I tell myself this is going to be the one. This one is going to break that glass ceiling and get noticed and I’m going to reach more readers. It doesn’t happen, at least not on the scale that I’d like. The funny thing is, my books are always well received by the few who do read them and are kind enough to leave a review on Amazon. My latest novel, The Truth Inside, has only 5 reviews on Amazon, but they are all 5 stars. While that’s a great feeling, there’s also this part of me that wants more. Trouble is I just don’t know how to get it.

Today is one of those days where I question everything about this decision. Am I even good enough to be in this game? What more can I do to reach more readers? Should I be spending more money? More time? Or is there something else I should do? Should I just quit?

Quitting isn’t in my nature. I figure I’ll probably be writing until my mind and body are too far gone for me to write anymore, but as you can see, being an indie author isn’t all fun games. This is a long, hard road, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Pretty Happy Birthday

A couple of weeks ago, I told you that my birthday was coming. We talked about what I wanted for my birthday, which is pretty much the perfect gift for any author.

Last we talked, I promised to come back and give you an update on whether or not my birthday wishes came true. In case you forgot, I asked for Amazon reviews, social media posts about my books and to make a best seller list. 

Let’s start with reviews. Guess what? I got two additional reviews for my newest book, The Truth Inside. Two reviews might not seem like much, but it’s two I didn’t have before. And best of all, both of those were five star reviews. It can’t get any better than that. So, to the two of you who read and reviewed The Truth Inside a few days before my birthday, thank you. You made my day.

Social media posts? I think I got a few more. I can safely say that I Love HEA Romance Book Blog did some heavy posting for me after reviewing my book. The blogger’s reaction to The Truth Inside was shared all over Facebook, Instagram, and more. That was pretty awesome. My book was also on tour that week, so it got some decent exposure as did I. 

Sadly, I have yet to make a best seller list. Not even the Amazon best seller list. Don’t worry though. I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep writing and keep improving my writing so that one day I can reach that goal. I have no doubt that it’s going to happen, and I can’t wait. This is one dream every writer has. It’s not easy to accomplish, but the good things in life don’t always come easily.

Aside from the writing related things, my family made sure I had an amazing day. I got some nice gifts and a few sweet cards. My favorite card came from my twenty-two-year-old daughter who wasn’t home for my birthday this year for the first time since she was born.

All in all, it was a pretty happy birthday thanks to my friends, family and some awesome readers. You guys never fail to make me smile.