Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I would do differently

Recently, a fellow blogger asked me to write a blog entry about my experiences as a new author and what I would do differently. The idea intrigued me. As I considered what to write, memories came back to me as I revisited some of the mistakes I made with the release of my first novel.

If I had my way, I would go back in time and have a heart-to-heart talk with myself to discuss how essential promotion and publicity are to a new author. Authors should be visible, inviting and welcoming to their reading audience. They should not be afraid to tell people about their craft and what they write. I would use all the avenues available for promotion and try to find new ones.

Foolishly, I waited for my publisher to offer some direction or guidance, but that didn't happen. They are way to busy to guide new authors through the process. It was up to me to make things happen and honestly I did not know how.

African-American romance author Kimberley White explained it best. "When you become an author, you are now an independent business owner." It is up to an author to push their own product. We sell a completed, hopefully entertaining story that readers will pass along to other readers. Word-of-mouth good press is and always will be the best advertising you can receive. Cultivate and use good industry and reader reviews to your advantage.

Book signings provide one avenue to make readers aware of your book. Many new, exciting and talented self-published authors use different techniques to advertise their manuscripts. As authors we have to make ourselves available to every outlet that generates an opportunity for our names or titles to be seen or heard. The Internet provides a wonderful, inexpensive way to reach your core audience, take advantage of this resource.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you know of different ways to attract readers? I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at

Remember, don't be a stranger.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What are you thankful for?

The Thanksgiving holiday has just past. It is a time for giving thanks for all the blessings of life. Of course, living most my life on St. Kitts, Thanksgiving was something I was never exposed to until I moved to the US over a decade and a half ago. Even then we celebrate it in typical Caribbean fashion: with a giant party.

The entire extended family: mother, sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends and acquaintances would meet at my oldest sister's house. Sometimes the number of guests exceeded forty. The only thing traditional at the meal is generally the turkey; everything else is Caribbean ranging from curried goat to sorrel. Instead of the often portrayed scene of everyone sitting around a table with a turkey in the center making polite conversations, folks sit on whatever surface is available: around various tables, on couches, even in the stairwell, often occupying different rooms. Multiple loud conversations occur simultaneously in accents so deep that the first time I invited my college roommate to our Thanksgiving dinner, she asked if we spoke a foreign language. Odd considering our only language is English. Sometimes, there's even music. And of course at the end of it all is the usual boisterous games of piggy and taboo. If all this sounds familiar, it is a scene I described in both "A Marriage of Convenience" and "From SKB with Love" in Holiday Brides.

Somewhere amid all the partying and good time around this Thanksgiving holiday, the true meaning of the holiday is often lost. But this year for me was different. A few weeks ago I posted a blog about my experience with coming home with a newborn to a house of folks suffering the swine flu. Most of my household including myself and my eighteen month old recovered from it without complications. I am thankful for that. The newborn did not get it and I am thankful for that.

We managed with the help of a few earthly angels. My next door neighbors watched the newborn for a few days while I was recovering. My youngest sister took a few days vacation and drove a several hundred miles to help out. Reflecting on those acts of kindness and the encouraging words and prayers of friends and family that helped us through a very rough time I realized just how much I had to be thankful for, especially this year.

I am thankful that God gave us good health.

I am thankful for the blessings of family and friends.

I am thankful that I got both a novel and a novella published in print this year.

I am thankful that in these though economic times both my husband and I still have jobs.

The list of things I'm thankful for goes on and on.

So what are you thankful for?

Why you should buy publisher-local

The last time I was here at Novel Spaces, I mentioned that my book, Guarding His Body, had made it to print. Among the many congratulations that brought a skerrick of warmth to the frozen cockles of my heart, was a comment from Jewel that really got me thinking. She said: "I'm assuming it's available on".

Here's what you should know about sites like Amazon and Fictionwise. You have to pay to play. It's fairly well known in the industry that a 50% discount to such sites is not unknown if your publisher wants to add your title to their catalogue. What do I mean? Let's make it simple and say you have a book out that costs $10.00. Also to make it simple, let's say your epub royalty is 40% of net and your print royalty is 10% of net.

If you want your book to be available on Amazon, your book may still sell at around the $10-mark but it would only cost Amazon $5.00 per unit using their usual requirement of a 50% discount. So, say Amazon sells at full marked price, the breakdown is as follows for each ebook sold:

Amazon gets $5.00 (that 50% discount thing I mentioned earlier)
Your publisher gets $3.00 (60% of the remainder)
You as author get $2.00 (40% of remainder)

I'm simplifying a whole lot here, so bear with me. If a print book of yours sells on Amazon, the breakdown is:

Amazon gets $5.00
Your publisher gets $4.50 (90% of net)
You as author get 50 cents (10% of net)

Now, say you don't go via Amazon (or Fictionwise). E-publishers and a lot of small presses also sell directly from their website. So, assuming the same sale price of $10, this is the breakdown for ebooks:

Your publisher gets $6.00 (60% of net)
You as author get $4.00 (40% of net)

With print books, it's:

Your publisher gets $9.00 (90% of net)
You as author get $1.00 (10% of net)

I'm putting all this maths down for a reason. It's convenient to go to Amazon, for example. You have a huge range of books available and you can just shop till you drop and have everything delivered to your door with very little fuss. On the other hand, it's INconvenient to have to hunt down every small press your favourite author is published through, and buy through a multitude of shopfronts, each of which demands that you re-enter your personal and financial data.

HOWEVER.... As you can see from my quick and dirty calculations, you are actually supporting an author more by going direct rather than by going through one of the convenient book portals. It's completely up to you, of course, and I'm not going to stand here and lecture you. (I buy a lot of my print books through The Book Depository, for example, and I'm sure they have a similar model to Amazon's.) But for small presses, I do go the extra kilometre and try to buy direct from the press. In this way, I know the author is getting just a little more than they probably expected, and I know that it will be very much appreciated come royalty statement time.

ADDITIONAL: If the maths above hasn't deterred you, and before you go thinking that publishers are also making money hand over fist, please have a look at a related post from literary agent, Nathan Bransford. It also makes for very interesting reading.

POSTSCRIPT: And a Happy Hari Raya Haji to all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I discovered the Yiddish word naches in a novel years ago. One character, a brilliant self-made businessman, was always on the go, flying white-knuckled from deal to deal, taking big risks for the sake of even bigger returns. The guy was hugely obese, and one day, in the middle of a major deal, he dropped down dead of a heart attack. He left behind his devoted stay-at-home wife and some five or six young children. When a friend asked the wife how she would cope without the larger-than-life presence of her husband, she smiled sadly and explained that she got lots of naches from her children.

Naches means joy. To shep naches means to derive pleasure. Jewish children are expected to provide their parents with naches in the form of achievement, but the wife was referring to all the unique joys that children bring: their innocence, love, trust, and perceptiveness, watching them sleep, watching them grow. As a parent myself, I understood what she meant.

I've been thinking of late about the special naches that writers experience. Most of us make little or no money from this racket, but there are some special joys - the naches - that make the writer's journey so very worth it:

— Connecting with other writers and feeling a sense of community, a bond with others who actually get the whole writing thing, and who understand the business is not all about Oprah and six figure deals.

— Stumbling upon a great review. When I do I literally clutch my chest because my heart pounds so hard. I discovered one on the Silhouette forum, of all places. (I'm published by Dorchester.) Another was by a Goodreads librarian who even took the trouble to place her review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Shelfari. Ah, naches!

— Discovering that some unknown reader has put you on her list of favorite authors, or recommended your book on a blog you'd never heard of before Google dropped an alert in your inbox.

— Connecting with an author whose book you enjoyed some time in the past. I reviewed one such book, then saw the author on a buddy's blog, and the author and I are now good friends. She's from the UK but we've discovered so many commonalities it's almost bizarre. She even lived for awhile on Grenada, an island where I worked as a newspaper editor for a short time. Naches!

Emilija and Dejan with their hard-won copy of Café Au Lait

Then there's this kind of totally serendipitous happenstance. Emilija, an engineer/architect from Macedonia who works in Montenegro (yes, I had to pull up a map to reacquaint myself with my hazy geography) contacted me on Facebook and asked how she could get my book, since ordering it on the Internet was not an option for her. I told her that some bookstores would order it even if they didn't carry the title. She wrote again saying that the stores she tried couldn't help but her boyfriend, who's from Slovenia (!) checked bookstores there and was able to place the order. When the book arrived in Slovenia she let me know, happy that it was only "860km far away from my hands". And when her boyfriend, Dejan, arrived bearing gifts, she sent me the photo above. As my son would say, how cool is that? :)

When the writing won't flow, when the wait for agents/editors/publishers to respond becomes tedious, when a review stinks, when the rejections flow in, the advances are insulting, and doom and gloom pollute the publishing news, when we're besieged by self-doubt or self-disgust, when life happens and s**t happens, and we feel that all-too-familiar despair creeping in... there are the naches, arriving out of the blue to set the world - the writer's world - to rights again.

Liane Spicer

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Living the Life You're Living

I've been having an interesting year.

My first novel came out, my mother passed away after two years of slow decline due to Alzheimer's, my sisters are all living in other states or countries, and my home was recently repaired when a contractor was able to fit us into his schedule. It has been a whirlwind of good, bad and indifferent, along with all the day to day things I need to do just to eat and have clean clothes.

After a month of book promotion, I have been trying to settle back into regular daily writing, doing a last minute freelance job that will keep me locked to the computer through the holiday, and struggling to establish something vaguely resembling a routine again. In the midst of it all, I found myself saying again and again, "As soon as I get past this, I can relax and start living the life I want to live..."

In the last week, I realized I am living my life. This is it. I am who I am, I am doing what I want to do, and the things I need to do. What I need to do is stop waiting for some magic moment to come along that makes it all okay. So, no more waiting for enough money in the bank to relax. No more waiting for enough time to dedicate my entire day to writing. Wherever it is I am going, I m there,and just have to live up to the moment.

In the words of Buckaroo Banzai, "No matter where you go, there you are." Be there, whatever it is, and make the most of what you have.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reasons to Be Thankful

Book publishers focus promotion dollars more and more on a handful of blockbuster authors, leaving new authors to sink or swim by their own efforts. A major publishing house prostitutes itself by adding a vanity press line. Magazine ad sales are down, forcing magazines to slim their issues, and so magazines buy fewer articles. Now may not seem the time for writers to be thankful.

Despite the anxious times, I’m still glad to be a writer.

I believe the business of publishing will survive. The extinction of dinosaurs allowed mammals to take over many niches previously closed to them; nimble small presses are likely to fill the gaps left by lumbering giant publishers that could not adapt quickly enough to changing conditions. Companies will try new business models; some authors will, for lack of other options, send their work to publishers using these new models. Publishing will eventually right itself.

Electronic ink has allowed the emergence of easy-to-read ebooks such as the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s new Nook. Electronic books cost less to make than paper books because paper and printing are expensive. Soon, the price of ebooks will shrink to the point where most people can own a reader and carry an entire library’s worth of books in a pocket or purse. The ebook revolution should benefit writers: Publishers can publish more books because production costs will be lower, and readers can buy more books because ebooks will cost less.

In the meantime, changes in the publishing world make the writing life harder. But some things remain the same. The joy of writing a beautiful sentence and then polishing it and polishing it until it sparkles remains. So do the satisfactions of tackling a challenge and completing it, of entertaining or educating others, of creating something new the world has never seen before, and of making friends with other writers, people whose imaginations soar like your own.

Not to be forgotten, either: Few jobs allow you to work in fuzzy bunny slippers.

I’m thankful this holiday season to be a writer. How about you?

As always, I’m happy you stopped by. I’ll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on December 9. The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop starts accepting applications in December for the 2010 summer class, and I’ll fill you in on the application process and why you might want to consider applying.

—Shauna Roberts

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Latest Buzz - "Author Solutions"

Bowker reports that in 2008, there were more titles by self-published authors than by traditional publishers. It's obvious, one way or another, many authors are deciding to self-publish. And so, powered by Author Solutions, a leader in self-publishing, Harlequin now wants a piece of the self-publishing pie. Therefore, they've announced the launch of Harlequin Horizons (BTW - I'm reading today the name will change shortly due to certain resource eligibility conflicts, so stay tuned), a division of Harlequin that allows emerging authors to have their professionally published books available to readers, for a price.

With a greater number of publishers reporting losses and issuing layoffs, there are more author submission rejections than when I first started writing in 1999. I'd self-published in 2000, and by 2001 I was offered a deal with HarperCollins. Suddenly, self-published African American authors were being picked up by major houses left and right because of so many hard working AA self-pub authors who were able to sell more books on the streets than the publisher's own authors.

Today, in most genres, partly because of the recession and party because of the reality that a lot of authors just plain old ended up with very low numbers (for reasons ranging from lack of promotion to poor distribution and more), the very same authors who had book deals have found deals hard to come by. Either they're not being offered subsequent deals by their publishers, or they don't like the advances being offered. And so, they decided to submit elsewhere. Most find that the other major houses reject their work because of previous low sales, or the work itself is not accepted. They then seek out small, independent publishers who offer very small advances, if any. A lot of authors have given up on writing all together.

Non-traditional ways of publishing are the norm now. It's had to be that way just to stay published, or for new writers to get that first deal. Some independent publishing companies that are owned by self-published authors are doing so well, they wouldn't think of sharing the wealth with a major. And so, also thinking in a non-traditional way, Harlequin, and also Thomas Nelson, now offer imprints designed as another option for the self-published author to consider. The author pays a fee and gets sales, marketing, publication, and distribution services fulfilled by Author Solutions - published by Harlequin Horizons.

Is this really a viable option for writers who wish to self-pub? Wouldn't it be a benefit? After all, the Harlequin press release states that if the book performs well, there's a possibility they might pick up the title themselves, so it's a good way to get noticed, right? But what about the author making money? Is this a way for the author to get paid for their work? Or is this simply an easy way for commercial publishers to make money? Some say this is nothing more than vanity publishing with a fancy bow on it? What do you say?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Knitting Through Fear

When I started knitting, it was to keep my hands out of the Doritos bag at night. Hint – nacho cheese dusted fingers and yarn don’t mix.

My knitting bag:

Now it has become a big part of my writing process, and I try to start a new knitting project when I begin a manuscript.

In the beginning, the luxurious skeins of yarn and my fresh idea are ripe with possibility. I can hardly wait to dig into them.

I write a few chapters. I knit some rows. Then fear creeps in.

“Why in the heck did you buy this expensive yarn? You’re just going to mess it up.”

“Why on earth did you sign a contract promising another book? You're just going to mess it up. ”

Next comes doubt.

“I can’t knit a sweater.”

“I can’t write three-hundred pages.”

Even though I’ve done both before.

Despite the fear and doubt, I keep plugging away.

One stitch.

One word.

One row.

One sentence at a time.

When the sweater is looking bad, I get a boost from a well-written scene. When the writing is going awful a perfectly knit sleeve reminds me I can do it.

So anybody else have an outside hobby that aids their writing?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Guest blogger: Elisabeth Naughton

Thanks so much to Stefanie for inviting me to blog with you today! Some of you know me, some of you don’t. So for fun—and to get the ball rolling—I have a question to pose: Which of these statements do you think is false?

My name is Elisabeth.

I’m an author.

I’m a runner.

I’m a mom.

I’m a sucker for a happily ever after.

I’m a laundry slacker.

Yesterday I committed a heinous murder and I liked it.

Find it yet? I bet not. Because they’re all true. My name is Elisabeth. I am an author for Dorchester. I do run at least three times a week and have completed two half marathons to date. I’m a mom of three. I love a good happily-ever-after. I suck at laundry. Oh, and yeah. Yesterday I killed a trucker. Mind you, I have nothing against truckers, but the guy had to go. There was blood, there were screams, there was even a little whining (I hate it when they whine), but the end result was and is always the same—I killed someone and I liked it.

Twisted? Yeah, probably. But it’s part of my job. And as they say, someone has to do it.

What do you love most about your job? Me? I love that I get to do things I wouldn’t necessarily do in real life. Since I write romantic suspense/adventure and paranormal novels, murder and mayhem always seem to find their way into my books. I like that. I like that my characters are in jeopardy, that not only their love but their lives are on the line. I like that every time I kill someone in my books, the stakes are raised and time starts ticking for my hero and heroine to find an answer, save the day, or stop the world from ending. In what other profession can you say the same?

Of course, as much as I enjoy what I do, I will admit it has gotten me into trouble before. Case in point: My husband works for a pharmaceutical company and when I was writing STOLEN SEDUCTION – my January 2010 release –I asked him how I could poison someone and not make it look like murder. We brainstormed for a while and, since he wasn’t entirely sure how to cover up the murder in question, he asked a doctor/medical examiner he calls on for his job. The doc’s answer? “Get a lawyer.”

This was not the first time I got this response. When I asked a P.A. friend who works in the ER this same question he came back with, “Can I have your husband’s cell number? I think he needs to know what you’re researching.” Honestly? Do I look like an unhappy wife who wants to off her husband and get away with it? Apparently, I do.

It’s funny what people think. For a long time I was known as sweet and innocent Elisabeth. Former teacher. Mom. Wife. Harmless. Now that people are reading my books, they’re looking at me differently. What DOES go on in that head of hers? Just about the time they figure it out, a new book releases and they’re left wondering all over again. And I LOVE that. Keep ‘em guessing. That’s my motto. In my books. In real life. Even the people who know me best never know quite what to expect because, well, they’re not me.

How about you? Are you predictable? Or is there—deep inside—something unexpected lurking?


A previous junior-high science teacher, Elisabeth Naughton now writes sexy romantic adventure and paranormal novels full time from her home in western Oregon where she lives with her husband and three children. Her debut release, Stolen Fury, was a 2007 Golden Heart Finalist and has been heralded by Publisher's Weekly as "A rock-solid debut." When not writing, Elisabeth can be found running, hanging out at the ball park or dreaming up new and exciting adventures. Visit the author’s website at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Worlds you don't know

I always wait until the last minute to write these columns. In part because I have a backlog of ideas ranging from the use of metaphor to branding to writing techniques to literary reviews. I've lived a long(ish) time, pay attention, have strong opinions, and ain't one bit shy -- which means I can usually pull 300 to 500 words out of thin air with little effort.

But sometimes I get caught up in the world around me, and become overwhelmed with things to write about. Then it becomes an editing, or self-control, issue and I'm not good at either of those. Up until this week I'd had a vague idea I'd write about writing groups, for example, but that plan got derailed by my recent discovery of China. Really. I was just following President Obama and there it was. Quite remarkable. Actually, in anticipation of Obama's visit to Asia I began looking into what the local bloggers and news sources were posting and discovered the Chinese internet and the culture of Netizens.

How did I become fluent enough in Chinese to follow blogs? (I have readers who will tell you I'm only marginally fluent in English.) Through dedication, hard work, and sites like chinaSMACK and ChinaHush that translate hot news stories and blogs on the Chinese web into English for ex-pats and foreigners who might be interested.

As I began exploring, I was struck by how familiar most of the Chinese web is, something that may indicate certain universals. Follow a link to a Chinese-only page, for example, and almost immediately a little pop-up with an image of a pretty girl appears. Even in China local singles are waiting.

At first the similarities disguise the differences, but as I read certain fundamental differences in world view became apparent. A story about a young man graduating from the police academy and -- with his fellow cadets forming an honor guard -- proposing to his fiancée generated hundreds of comments from people outraged because a policeman in uniform had trivialized his duty with personal business. The police commissioner had to weigh in, confirming that the cadets had broken no laws.

I began corresponding with one of the founding translators at chinaSMACK and asked her about the Netizen response to President Obama's town hall meeting in Shanghai. She sent me links to a dozen sites. where every word and action of the President was analyzed debated (the fact that he carries his own umbrella is big). In following them and reading the blogs I came to see a pattern. In a nation where all public media and news sources are controlled, the people assume everything they see is staged and intended to misdirect; they parse every nuance.

What this brought home to me -- in addition to realizing these folks would solve any mystery I wrote by the end of the first chapter -- was how little I understand of cultures outside the western model. I love to create worlds and cultures. I do it all the time in science fiction. But how well can I depict a world that is real but outside my experience? To write a story of modern China, I would need to spend weeks among the Netizens, Not researching their physical world -- that can be done with any good search engine -- but learning how they think, how they see the world.

This is a challenge for any writer who ventures in her fiction beyond the places she's lived and the people she's known. Whether writing a historical or setting a story in a different land, she runs the risk of projecting her own values, her own expectations, her own culture onto her subject. To write authentically about a culture beyond her own, an author must move beyond research. She must immerse herself in her new world and write from the inside out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No Regrets

I’ve been on Facebook for just about a year or so. Over this past year, as I’ve reconnected with old friends from high school, college and graduate school, I’ve often looked at where those people are and compared my own life’s journey to theirs’. It’s hard not to.

Recently, I was “friended” by a former classmate from graduate school who now has those three letters I always pictured following my own last name, Ph.D. I thought seeing that would induce those old “maybe I should go back to school” feelings, but to my surprise it didn’t. As I pondered this, I realized I haven’t experience those feelings in quite a while. For about two years, in fact, ever since I published my first book.

I wrote for a long time before selling my first book, and passed on many things I thought should have been on my life’s journey in order to pursue my dream. Publishing that first book validated the path I’d taken, and made all the sacrifices worth it. This is what I should be doing. When I’m writing, it’s the only time that, when I’m doing it, it doesn’t feel as if I should be doing something else.

If I had entered that Ph.D. program instead of taking those few months off to concentrate on my writing, I possibly never would have finished that first novel. Which eventually turned into a second, then a third, and then a fourth.

Even though it took five manuscripts to make that first sale, I will never regret the path I’ve chosen. And living with no regrets is a great feeling.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing with a reason

Is there an ulterior motive buried in your fiction? Is your plot a fun ruse to seduce readers to the dark side of chocolate? Are you making the case for a social cause like the elimination of injustice or world hunger? Or are you merely trying to convince people that good always defeats evil, love does indeed conquer all and mom’s advice really was the best?

In other words, do you have an author platform? Is your writing branded?

If you’re wondering what these things are, so did I at one time. A platform is more common among non-fiction writers; my colleague Stephanie Jones, for example, who writes about sexual abuse. Her book details a personal journey that has served as a springboard to speaking engagements with victims’ rights, support and advocacy groups, and freelance articles on spin off topics.

Branding gets a lot of attention among fiction authors because it helps define a reader’s experience of your work. More than a name or tagline, a brand is about expectations. In a grocery store, for instance, shoppers may attach higher hopes to flavor from a Sunkist orange than they do to the generic fruit in the next bin. Likewise, readers expect very different books from Toni Morrison and Stephen King.

As a horror author, are you known for your skin-crawling slasher scenes? Are you a romance writer known for gut-wrenching relationships? Are you a thriller writer known for page-turning plot-twists? Do you feed your readers a consistent diet that keeps them coming back to your table of titles?

It took me awhile to figure out who I wanted to be as an author. Paranormal romance tagged me long before I recognized the genre as what I wrote. Once I conquered that identity crisis, however, others followed. Fantasy/paranormal romance covers a big, broad range. I wasn’t sure how to stand out in that spectrum. I spent close to a year developing my tagline of “supernatural stories of passion and suspense” and creating the web site and materials to support it. I like the fit.

I also like the fact that beneath the marketing aspect of what I write (which is really what platforms and branding are all about), I have found that the stories of my heart revolve around second chances. More than anything, I love giving my characters another shot at something gone awry in their lives. When I can, I try to tie the struggle to a tangible current event. In, a couple’s second chance at finding each other happens amid the very real backdrop of sudden unemployment.

Though I don’t claim a platform, I find that the current event tie-ins help get the attention of people who may automatically bypass my genre as something they don’t like. The second chances and contemporary settings might win them over in ways psychic dreams and guardian angels don’t.

When I can, I do plant social seeds. In Where Souls Collide, I dealt with the downfall and transformation of a local newspaper. And I think we’re all aware of the plight of traditional media. In, I hope I paint an honest picture of what it’s like to lose a job and fear for your future. Again, how often do we hear about the country’s growing unemployment rolls?

There are many ways to sell yourself, make a point, brand your fiction, or elicit a smile (or scream for some of you). Does your writing do double duty? Or is it enough to simply entertain? I'd love to know your thoughts.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Published Authors

When my first novel was published, I attended the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference and found myself swept away by all of the events involving published authors. I went to a meet and greet where I met Suzanne Brockmann who was very generous with her time. She asked about my novel and was very attentive while I explained the intricate details of my story. I felt like a real author.

During the conference I made a connection with one of the booksellers from Chicago. We agreed on a date when I would be at her store and as she walked away, Darlene called over her shoulder, "I'm almost finished with your book. I'll have the review up tomorrow."

What review? Who told her she could review my book? And where would the review be shown?

I was shocked by the amount of people who had my writing career in their hands. When I look back on my first release, I realized that I didn't know jack. I didn't understand any of the process that went along with writing and being a published author.

Today, things would be different, I've learned a great deal over the last seven years. What kind of experience did you have with your first novel? How was the process easier or more difficult? E-mail me and let me know what you encountered.

I'd love to hear from you. Remember, don't be a stranger.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Curve Balls

Two weeks ago I gave birth. Not to a novel, but to an 8lb bouncing baby boy. Incidentally, it was less than 24hrs after my scheduled time to blog on novel spaces. Of course anticipating the birth of my son, I was prepared. I tied up all my loose ends at work, cleaned my house and prepared the nursery. I even cooked sufficient food to provide for my older kids for my two days hospital stay. And knowing the baby could come at any time, I wrote and scheduled my blog over a week before it was due. I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back for optimizing my new found organizational skills.

Of course life always throws curve balls. What I couldn’t anticipate was being released from the hospital with a newborn into a house full of sick, contagious people. My six year old daughter and my nephew had the flu. My husband had a nasty cold, and my eighteen month old daughter had a runny nose. Now not only do I have to take care of sick folks, but I had to find a way to avoid spreading the viruses to my newborn son.

So how did I do this? Everyone was required to wear surgical mask (except of course my eighteen month old who protested anything going near her face). Constant hand washing became mandatory and hand sanitizers were kept in every room of the house. Immune building herbal brews (a.k.a. bush tea) and vitamin C rich juices were shoved down everyone's throats. Since I couldn’t quarantine everyone, I quarantined the baby, restricting his access to only two rooms of the house that the others were forbidden to enter. And I wiped everything with disinfecting wipes constantly. Most importantly, I perpetually prayed that neither me nor the baby would get sick. So far, God answered our prayers because my flu ridden family members have recuperated without spreading it further -- or so I thought.

So where did I find the time to write in all this? I didn’t. For those first ten days since leaving the hospital, I considered myself as being on maternity leave not only from my day job but from writing. I didn’t work on my WIP, check my email, read any blogs, or update my facebook profile. I didn't have the time.

A few other things had to give. Making myself presentable to the world was definitely not a priority (not that any one would visit when they hear the words H1N1). Keeping a pristine home took a back burner. As for cooking, prepackaged food and take out had to do for those first couple of days.

And just when I finally thought I was through the worst, life threw another curve ball: I got the H1N1 flu. And this happened when my husband had to return to work.

I guess no matter how prepared we are, no matter whether we have plan A to Z, we can’t be prepared for those curve balls life throws at us. We just have to wing it as we go.

Pray for me for a full recovery and that I don't spread the H1N1 to my vulnerable kids.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wow! A book in print

I'm a geek girl. I'm comfortable around technology. So you'd think that the medium of my work wouldn't matter. But, to be honest, I felt an irrepressible sense of joy when I realised that one of my books was released in print. This week! Pity the dead trees, but still! Print!

Not that it's anyone's fault but my own that I haven't been in print till now. The truth is, up to this point, I've only written mostly novellas, and those puppies tend to run no more than 30,000 words. Not viable. So this is my first published novel, even if it isn't the first novel I've ever written.

Guarding His Body. I'll be honest with you, I've always had a hidden fascination with the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner movie, "The Bodyguard". Okay, there was heaps of overacting in it, but the concept stayed with me. Except...what if it was the other way around? What if you had a female bodyguard guarding a male body? Wouldn't that be something? And how exactly would that work?

Suave, and slightly arrogant, Frenchman, Yves de Saint Nerin, thinks he's hired a gruff Aussie to guard him during a sojourn to Australia. Hell Collier is the bloke's name. Must be a rough'n'tough type, right? Except, "Hell Collier" turns out to be Helen Collier in her first ever solo bodyguard assignment. And each finds that the other isn't quite what was expected.

The book is set in Brisbane, Australia, a beautiful sub-tropical city on the eastern seaboard of Australia. I know that people rave about Sydney and Melbourne but, to me, Brisbane has it all -- the lovely weather, the proximity to the world-famous beaches at the Gold Coast, and a laid back atmosphere. I was happy to revisit the time I lived there through the novel.

The heroine is Australian -- a capable woman with a hint of vulnerability and an ache for a dream that she thinks will never be fulfilled. After all, what man feels comfortable in the presence of a woman who can easily physically tie him in knots with very little effort? The problem is, Helen intimidates most men and she despairs of ever finding a partner who'll appreciate her for who she is.

When thinking about the hero, I'll admit I scouted further afield. Now I realise this is a gross generalisation, but it seems to me that European men are a bit more comfortable in their own skins than most others. My hubby, J, for example, is not ashamed to say that he loves pink roses and that he thought of writing romance when in his early twenties. He's also a delightfully masculine, hot-blooded Pole who's a perfect match to my more brusque manner. A well-mannered and sensitive Klingon male, is how I think of him! I decided to pair a much tamer version of him with Helen to see what would happen.

Anyway, that's my stealth promotion of my new book, in case you didn't realise it! My publisher liked the idea so much, she commissioned a series and I'm about to start on the second book of three next month. I know I've started late, but this year has been a roller-coaster for me, as it has for most people. All I can do is hang on, keep writing, and hope people enjoy what they read. Thanks for giving me the chance to share.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fidelity in Writing

I met a new novel yesterday.

Not a new idea for a novel -- I had that a few weeks ago when a conversation with a black historian gave me an idea for another vampire novel in my Testaments. Basic premise, rough outline of the story arc, new characters...I made a few pages of notes in my Moleskine on the subway and kept going.

No. This was a new novel, delivered almost as if on a golden platter, the beginning of the story, where it went, the theme and subtext, a range of interesting people I didn’t know, a few characters from the book I’m working on now in a new place in their lives, and the chance to skewer Atlantic Yards and the whole current crop of mega-developers reshaping Brooklyn around me. Sweet.

It was born as a follow up to the novel I’m working on now, one that’s finally up to speed, but still in an early stage of hard work, well before the midpoint, and still very much an uphill climb. I started it after I completed my first novel, to keep me busy while I looked for an agent and publisher. It kept me busy writing, gave me somewhere to go other than into obsessing about whether or not anyone would ever publish the first book. It worked, and after I found an agent, sold the first book and finished a follow-up that turned into book two of a trilogy, I went back to my busy book.

It’s on a personal theme and has given me more than one day of feeling it too much, getting momentarily lost in the replay of old emotions I thought I‘d come to terms with long ago. It’s a book I love, but not an easy one to write, even though it’s one I feel I must. My publisher gets a contractual first look at it, but there is no guarantee it will ever see print. I wanted to “sweeten the deal” by coming up with a second book that grew out of the first, to show them it could be a series, as my first is becoming.

Suddenly, here was its younger, prettier, offspring, birthed fully formed after only a week of gestation, spread out before me, fresh, nubile and tempting. None of the difficulties of sorting through over a hundred pages of notes, written by the writer I was before I’d finished two novels and learned what I’ve learned doing it, not the one I’ve become.

There was something tempting about the book that made me laugh when I thought about it. I found myself going back to it again and again in my mind over the course of the day of our formal introduction, considering where it could go, what I could do with it. So open, so inviting, filled with promise, seductive whispers of clever twists, new characters to explore, subtle jokes it would take multiple readings to find...I scribbled down all I could, created a folder, started the file that would carry me to the point of starting the novel.

Then I stopped.

I already had a book to write, dammit. A damned good one I’d spent years with, a story that had grown slowly, with difficulty, but become familiar, strong, worth following through. Sure, it was a little tough now. But I couldn’t do the second book without the first, and dumping the first to run to a new story that seemed easier and more fun was just stupid. I'd felt like I was falling in love when I started it, and just because we were well past the honeymoon and a little comfortable with each other was no reason to quit. I know there are still surprises in store, new love in the old.

It was what kept me from finishing anything I’d written when I was younger. I’d start a story, get to the hard part and race off after a hot new idea I’d had that seemed more fun. Sometimes they were, sometimes not. It was when I learned fidelity to an idea that I completed short stories, and finally my first novel. Being faithful in a relationship doesn’t only apply to people.

So I keep notes on the new novel and add to them when they pop into my head. Before I spend any real quality time with it I’ll end my relationship with the current novel, and wait until we are done with each other for real, not just taking a weekend off. I won’t call up the new file until I know I’m free to pursue it, and able to lose myself as fully in that relationship as I have in this one. It’ll be worth the wait, and better than that...

It’ll be like falling in love all over again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

When English isn't

"The Americans are identical to the British in all respects except, of course, language." - Oscar Wilde

When I've completed a novel manuscript one of the last checks I do is to ensure that my spelling and usage conform to the US standard, since my publisher and main market are US. This is because UK English (commonly called 'English') is the standard in the anglophone Caribbean. I spent many years teaching this version of the language and Americanisms, as we called them, were/are considered errors in usage.

Don't start pelting me with rotten fruit, dear US friends. Until relatively recent times not only were these Caribbean territories British colonies, but all our high school examinations were administered by British universities. My high school certificates, for example, were all awarded by the University of Cambridge. These guys mark our papers, we obey their rules. And although I've always been aware that there are differences in the US version of the language, it wasn't until fairly recently that I realized how deeply those differences affect all aspects of the language: spelling, grammar, idiom, punctuation, even formatting of dates and numbers.

Here are a few points of diversion that can result in hilarity or extreme embarrassment to the unwary:

Randy: This is a perfectly reasonable first name to Americans. When these poor guys cross the pond and say "Hi, I'm Randy" to the locals, what they are saying in UK-ese is: "Hello, I'm feeling horny." Then they wonder at all the sniggering and outright guffaws that greet their innocent introductions.

Rubbers: In the UK, and here in the Caribbean, a rubber is an eraser, not a condom. Imagine the mild mannered new Englishman in a US office requesting a rubber from office supplies - and mentioning that he likes to chew on 'em.

Table: In a US boardroom, tabling a motion means postponing it. In the UK, it means the motion has been brought up for discussion. That must make for some entertaining mixups in trans-Atlantic commerce.

Lift: In the US the device used to travel between floors in a building is called an elevator. In the UK it is called a lift. American hitch-hikers should also be warned that it's best to ask for a lift (or a 'drop' in the Caribbean) and not a ride - which is a sexual favour in the UK and the Caribbean.

School: In UK English someone who goes to school is a student between the ages of five and seventeen. In the US, it can also mean an adult enrolled in a place of higher education. We call that university - and look with pity on our middle-aged relatives who reside in the US when they tell us they're going back to school.

Numbers: In the US a billion is a thousand million. In the UK it's a thousand times that amount. Thus a British billionaire is much, much richer than his American counterpart - even without factoring in the exchange rate.

So you thought it was simply a matter of color vs. colour, tap vs. faucet, post vs. mail, pavement vs. sidewalk and trousers vs. pants, huh. When we consider all the differences in usage within the US, UK and the Caribbean, is it any wonder that those of us who go back and forth across the language lines sometimes feel like tearing our hair out?

Liane Spicer

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Guest author Katrina Spencer: Never Too Old for Peer Pressure

Katrina Spencer is the author of Six O’Clock and her next novel, Unbeweaveable, will hit stores summer of 2010. To learn more about this former hairdresser who started writing on a dare, visit her website at

I graduated high school over ten years ago. Upon graduation, I felt my peer pressure days were over.

How wrong I was.

As an adult I am receiving massive peer pressure.

The pressure of joining Twitter and Facebook.

“Even my grandmother has a Facebook page. Get with the program, Katrina.”

“Get on board with Twitter. Everybody’s using it!”

I can hear my mother’s words chanting in my ear, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it?”

Of course not. But a small part of me feels that just by watching so many people jump, that I would at least look over the cliff and consider my options.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried Twitter. I opened a Twitter account and closed it after a month. I could feel myself getting addicted to it, constantly tweeting from my Blackberry. But a part of me felt I was divulging too much. I am a blabbermouth, (much to my husband’s chagrin) and I felt myself getting too personal.

“Be careful of what you say,” my husband warned. “Once you put something in the cloud, it’s pretty much impossible to get it back.”

When I had to start editing myself, Twitter lost some of its sparkle.

“But you’re missing out on lots of marketing opportunities—everyone’s online Katrina. You have to Tweet!”

I do agree that I need some kind of online presence. Readers should have some way of contacting me and seeing my personality—that’s why I started my blog, Curl up and Write. There I get total control of what I put out in the universe and if I ever get misunderstood, at least I can update my post.

I feel that all of the social networking sites are great tools for writers, but how much is too much? Do I really have to blog, Tweet, use Facebook, Myspace, Shelfari at the same time? Couldn’t I just stick to one thing—blogging—and be really good at it?

Right now, the chance of me joining Twitter and Facebook is small. Sure, I might be missing out on opportunities to network with my fellow writers and readers but I’ll take that chance. I feel the pressure to join everyday, but for now I’m content to look at everyone else jumping off that cliff.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Six Reasons to Attend the World Fantasy Convention

Writing conventions are expensive. You have to pay the convention fee plus buy meals and pay for a room in a fancier hotel than you would usually stay in. You may also lose income for the days you take off work.

I have attended the Romance Writers of America’s yearly conference several times and think it well worth the price. This past weekend, I attended the World Fantasy Con (WFC) for the first time—the theme was Edgar Allen Poe; hence the con's raven logo at right—and found that con just as valuable. If you are a fantasy writer or fantasy fan, here are some reasons you should attend the 2010 WFC in Columbus, Ohio.

1. Books, books, books. I brought home almost my weight in books, and almost all of those books were free, with a total value far higher than my conference fee cost. Generous publishers supplied enough giveaways for each WFC attendee to receive a large bag stuffed full of books.

2. More books, books, books. When you visit a traditional bookstore, your selection consists primarily of books from major publishers. You miss out on the innovative, off-beat, and just plain weird offerings of small publishers who sell primarily through the Internet. SFC provides several types of opportunities to learn about such books, and the dealers’ room offers the chance to look them over and purchase them.

3. Stargazing. If you swoon at the sight of your favorite authors, take smelling salts to WFC. Fantasy authors are in abundance, and some are happy to meet fans or beginning writers.

4. Autographs. The long evening autograph session gives you plenty of time to get all the books you brought with you or bought at WFC signed. Also, the program contains pages for collecting autographs from authors whose books you don’t have with you.

5. Networking. One of the best things a writer can do for her career is to meet other writers. Writers of all levels come to WFC, as do some artists and publishers. I am not the master networker some of my friends are. Even so, I met some writers to interview on my blog For Love of Words as well as a blogger who will interview me in 2010, an artist I’d love to have illustrate my next book, several famous people, a few magazine editors, and some talented writers.

6. Promotion. In addition to meeting people informally, I sat on a panel at WFC and signed my new book Like Mayflies in a Stream at the booksigning. I sold several books and passed out a hundred or more bookmarks (not bad at a conference limited to 1,000 attendees). What a great way to get my face, name, and book better known.

Hope to see you at WFC next year in Columbus!

Thanks for dropping by today. I’ll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on November 22, when I talk about reasons for writers to be thankful.

—Shauna Roberts

Friday, November 6, 2009


I really enjoy doing station-radio (as rare as it can be to get booked), as well as online radio, particularly BlogTalkRadio. For me, it feels like I'm actually talking on the phone with old friends. Someone asked if there was any benefit in doing Internet radio and whether or not anyone really listens. While I know that in some cases there may or may not be a large amount of people in the chat room or folks calling in, the benefit of BlogTalkRadio in particular is the unique ability to download the shows and listen to it after the live taping. Some shows can average tens of thousands of downloads per week and higher. That's a lot of listeners. Not only can the host's opinions and ideas be heard, but the guests can discuss topics that relate to their works or brands, or they can contribute to discussions and interact with callers. BlogTalkRadio is a great way to get information to listeners.

To have any choice as far as mass media is key in any business, and a definite necessity when it comes to keeping the promotional doors open. There are commercial advertising opportunities as well. The thing is to appreciate being booked, and thankful for the fact that the listening audience cares to check out the show in the first place. Have you been a guest on a BlogTalkRadio show lately? If so, did you notice a difference in sales or in reader interest through a social network, guestbook or email contact?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deadline Detox

Last week I shipped a 3lb 6oz manuscript off to my editor.

Unfortunately, the non-stop candy and potato chips I ate while writing it has left me with fourteen extra pounds of ass.

Yeah, I do remember all that blah, blah, blah I wrote about healthy eating a few months ago, but have you ever tried eating an apple when your muse is calling for a Hershey with almonds?

Fourteen pounds doesn’t sound like a lot. However, on me it’s two whole dress sizes - as in goodbye 10s, hello 14s. Yowza!

It’s time for me to get reacquainted with the with the gym.

So while I’m huffing and puffing away on the treadmill, tell me, how do you get back to normal after deadline?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Filling The Glass

I knew the day would come once I started going out to bookstores to promote my first novel. It was inevitable. The day every writer dreads, when you get yourself all revved up and ready to go sit a table and read your words in front of a group of strangers you hope will like them enough to buy the whole book -- and no one shows up.

My first reading/signing set up by my publisher’s publicist was at my local Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn. I’d been telling everyone I knew about it for long enough that I had a good local turnout of friends and family. There could have been more: I hadn’t finished entering e-mail addresses and making up my full mailing list for events yet. I had more empty seats than I wanted, but the rest were filled with well-wishers, and I felt comfortable and supported. I got through my first public reading for the book in one piece.

There were two signings left -- one in Queens, where I didn’t know anybody, and one in Harlem that a lot of friends had promised to attend. I checked MapQuest, borrowed my nephew’s car and headed out to Ridgewood a couple of hours early. When I got there I parked, checked in with the book store and went to the mall to eat and flip through the book to decide what I would read at three in the afternoon in a bookstore filled with kids for a Halloween party.

I went back with fifteen minutes to spare, bought a latte and waited in the café next to the reading area for the seats to, if not fill, at least get more than the one occupant in the last seat of the last row, obviously just the best place he could find to read his book. By three o’clock, it was clear that he wasn’t going to have any company.

The young man put in charge of the operation was struggling to get the microphone working...I sat at the chair behind the table and two stacks of my book and told him not to worry about it. If anyone showed, I could talk loud enough for the space. A friend of mine arrived, and I started chatting with him about the book, while Mike the store kid listened in.

After ten or fifteen minutes of giving them a rundown on the trials and tribulations of getting a first novel finished and published, I saw a woman with a younger friend and a kid in costume approaching with a copy of the book. By now I was chatting away and waved her over with a smile, and ended up having a fun conversation about how she found the book on Kindle and read a sample of three chapters that made her want to read more.

By the time we were done half an hour later, she was taking a picture with me and promising to tell her book group about the book. As she was leaving another woman the book store had lured over from the kids’ party with announcements came by, and bought the book -- while I talked to her about it, I got the interest of a few people in the café, one with a question about writing, the other to tell me how interesting I had been talking about my work.

So, I drove out to Queens to find lemons, a glass that could have been considered half empty, but I had a nice lunch, made lemonade and filled the glass. After chatting with the bookstore manager, assistant and the two customers, the manager told me that I should do meet and greets at a table near the door instead of readings. “Most writers are kind of quiet, but you’d do great just talking! What you said back here would have pulled people in...” It’s not a bad idea, and they’d gone out of their way to set up the end cap of a shelf to display my books, so they did me two favors that day.

Bottom line, I learned that book promotion events are never guaranteed highly attended successes except for the handful of superstars among us. We have to do everything we can to promote them among our readers, and not rely on the bookstore to fill the room, just as we have to do everything we can to promote our books in other ways.

If it works, enjoy it, as I did my last reading at Hue-Man Bookstore and Café to a full house. If it doesn’t -- make the most of it, and don’t take it out on an overworked and underpaid store staff. A wise man once said “there is nothing we can change save how we feel about it,” and I learned the truth of that in Queens that weekend. I went home having sold two books, knowing they’d sold eight the week before, and that I‘d actually had a good time with the people I did talk to, instead of sulking and making them miserable because I felt rejected. It’s never personal.

And it’s never as bad as you’re afraid it will be.

(Kevin Killiany, usually seen here on this day, is out dealing with family health issues. All of us here at Novel Spaces send our prayers and best wishes for his mother-in-law's speedy recovery.)

Just Say No...To Internet Piracy

I’m about to confess a secret I’ve held for a very long time. I’m sure it will change the way some people view me, but you must know this happened a very long time ago. I was a young, stupid, broke college student. And, at the time, everyone was doing it. It was the “in” thing.

Okay. Here it goes.

I was a Napster user.

No, not the legitimate Napster that requires a $60 per year membership. I was one of those early, no good, file-sharing, music-stealing Napster users.

(Pausing for the cyber flogging I so richly deserve).

The fact that I used sites like Napster years ago has created an overwhelming feeling of hypocrisy as I now stand in self-righteous indignation against the growing number of piracy sites that are popping everywhere with tons of books available for free downloads.

Back in those college days, I justified my actions by convincing myself that those music artists had millions. Would my one, two, or two hundred downloads really hurt their bottom line? Nah. Since publishing my first book, I know first-hand how people grossly (and I do mean grossly) overestimate how much a new author is paid. I can imagine some young struggling college student falling prey to the same mindset I did, thinking one, two, two hundred downloaded novels won’t really hurt an author. But it does. It so, so does.

As much as I dislike a hypocrite, I must wear that hat these days and stand up against illegal downloads. Writing is a hard job. And for many of the writers I know personally, a couple thousand illegally downloaded novels would not only hurt their bottom line, it could be detrimental. If something isn’t done soon, I fear some writers will not be able to afford to continue in this career.

Even though it’s still a problem, the music industry was able to curb a lot of the illegal downloads of music. Until the publishing industry is able to come up with a system to fight piracy, I can only plea with those who do engage in this activity. If you’re ever tempted to download a novel, take my advice: Don’t. You don’t want to suffer the guilt I suffer. Not to mention putting out of business the same authors who's work you're stealing. It’s just not worth it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A new take on old stories

Throughout the drafting of my first novel, I was plagued by the idea, "There are no new story themes; only original executions." I thought I’d escaped that line of thinking with Where Souls Collide until a reviewer cited the story as a different take on the Soul Mates theme. Oh.

Originality is a daunting prospect for the unpublished writer, the seasoned author and all of us in between. How have I gotten past my early trepidation and continued to generate stories? I hinge my plot on execution.

For example, I’ve had a thing for angels lately. A recent short story, Stealing a Moment, published in Live, Love, Laugh: Romantic Short Stories, an anthology from Parker Publishing portrays one angel's heaven this way:

Familiar street corner faces stood proud among the clouds, holding prominent positions as Orphan Escorts and Prayer Runners. Others, like her, who’d begged for time to rest from down below got their wish and did little else up here. Sure, she helped out; sorting Shouts for Mercy and Cries for Justice from Mate Requests and Pleas for Children, ensuring each item reached its proper coordinator in timely fashion.

And in in the Holiday Brides anthology from Dorchester, a new angel is surprised at her surroundings:

"Sunday School heaven was all cherubs and choirs," Kay muttered. "Now they tell me there’s more work?"

Certainly grateful to pass the Life Inspection Application Process, Kay wasn’t sure she liked the unexpected promotion that resulted. If they’d asked, she would have declined this job and opted for a role more appropriate.

"I would’ve figured that a life – albeit, short – of faithful service, daily prayer, and eager witnessing deserved more than being appointed Official Babysitter of Fickle Grown Folks." Miffed and disappointed, Kay lamented her plight. "At least it’s only for twelve days."

The fun, for me, in writing familiar themes of angels missing loved ones on earth or charged with guarding unwilling humans was in the reasons behind their emotions and how that tied into my happily-ever-afters.

As a reader, what tried and true theme would you like to see reinvented? As an author, do you have a favorite familiar storyline that you’ve breathed new life into? I’d love to know!