Category Archives: Authors

My Three-Year Journey to the 10K Cake Club

spice-cake-su-1673099-lIf you’ve never heard of the 10K Cake Club, it’s the name given to that elusive group of authors who reach the milestone of selling 10,000 copies of their book(s). Now, given that statistically, most authors will never sell more than a hundred copies (no kidding), reaching this milestone is an amazing feat. But we all know how numbers and milestones are relative, and our own expectations can often derail even the most wonderful achievements.

PJ Sharon here, celebrating with you, my dear friends, my three years as an independently published author. I released my debut novel, HEAVEN is for HEROES in September of 2011. (In celebration, I’m giving away an audiobook copy of HIFH over on my website blog. Stop by and leave a comment to enter and feel free to share the post with friends on FB or Twitter. Contest ends September 30th at midnight. )HIFH_audiobookcover (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)

Now, I recall being asked, while on a panel of Indie authors, what my sales goals were as a newly self-published author. At the time, self-publishing was on the rise, Indies were on fire, and sales were through the roof for newcomers. Being the ambitious and overachieving sort, I replied with confidence that I wanted to sell 10,000 copies a year, netting me about a $20,000 dollar a year paycheck from my writing–what I saw as realistic and an amount that would make all the hard work worth the effort.

This was a reasonable goal, but one that I soon found was more or less beyond my control to achieve. I did not foresee the effects of market saturation, the need for endless promotion, or the ever-changing Amazon algorithms that would make it nearly impossible to gain traction on the discoverability front. Basically, I could not have predicted the “luck” factor.

When, in the first year, I sold over 5,000 books (I had three titles out by then), I was not unhappy with my results. After all, goals are merely guidelines…a star to shoot for. But in the second year, when I had the brilliant idea to switch from Contemporary YA to writing a Dystopian trilogy, and sales dipped to half of what they did the first year, let’s just say I was less than thrilled with the results of my ongoing efforts. I shuddered to consider my hourly wage as a writer and decided it was best to stop looking at daily sales reports, screaming into the wind about my books, and beating my head against a wall trying to figure out what the heck the secret to success actually was.

My third year hasn’t been any more profitable than the previous two, despite the fact that I–at the suggestion of Indie superstar Bella Andre no less– went back and wrote another Contemporary YA. In fact, I’ve spent more on covers, editing and formatting on PIECES of LOVE than I have on any of my others simply because I’m trying to compete in the market and feel that others do a better job of these things than I can do myself. Added in is the cost of producing a theme song for POL (thinking that this might be a novel idea and help with sales, but has as yet, not appeared to make any difference at all). With production costs up and sales down (thanks to Kindle Unlimited and the insane amount of new product coming into the market), I’ll be lucky to recoup my costs over the next year.

I’m hopeful that once I finish the Dystopian trilogy, add a boxed set or two to my cybershelf, and get back on the promotional wagon in 2015, that I might see some real return on my investment.

Lest you think that any of this is sour grapes on my part, think again.

I went into this with eyes open that it would be a LOT of hard work, gave myself five years to turn a consistent profit (this is typical for any new business), and expected that there would be a steep–and ever-changing–learning curve. I’ve had to adjust my expectations for financial success, but am hopeful that with perseverance, the pay-off will be worth the continued effort. This is, after all, my retirement plan, and being that I have another fifteen years until retirement, I’ve got plenty of time to make it happen, right?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that success is measured in many ways. Positive reviews and happy readers who are excitedly awaiting my next release are priceless in the grand scheme of things. Knowing that over two and a half million readers have enjoyed SAVAGE CINDERELLA on Wattpad thrills me beyond words. And the awards and accolades for my books tell me that I’m doing something right. Reader reviews continue to average 4.5 stars across the board.

Another important lesson for me–one that continues to be challenged daily–is about finding balance. I worked around the clock that first year and a half, typically putting in 80 hours a week between my two jobs. I finally decided this past year to set myself a schedule. Knowing that I need to work my day job at least 20-30 hours a week to earn a  guaranteed paycheck to cover expenses, I set a limit on my writing/publishing time to 25-30 hours a week. Perhaps that’s partially to blame for the decrease in sales numbers, but I will say, I’m much happier and healthier these days. Time with family and time to take care of myself are far more important to me than sales figures and financial gain. If I’m in this for the long haul, that’s the way it has to be. I’m good with that.

It’s taken me three times longer than expected–and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others who have done it seemingly effortlessly–but I’ve finally made it into the 10K Cake Club. very-excited-girl (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC)

Cake and ice cream all around! And perhaps a bottle or two of wine…

What milestone can you celebrate today? I hate to eat cake alone.

You Talkin’ To Me?

Okay, people. Confession time. This is a biggie in my house. So maybe if I say it out loud, I’ll be more conscious of it.

I talk to myself. A lot.

Oh, you’re not surprised? You do too, don’t you? And it drives your husband crazy, right? Mine too. He never knows if I’m talking to him, my son, the cat, the tv or the wall.

Well, why should he? I ask myself. But then, we’re always talking to each other, even about the most mundane things, like “I’m taking out the garbage.” So, John reasons, how is he supposed to know that I’m not talking to him?

People, I hate it when he uses logic. So I did what any self-respecting author would do: I wrote a lyric.

I live in my imagination
conversations are ongoing there
you don’t have a prayer
are you talking to me
no, I’m talking to me
well, how would I know
your voice is so low
so what if I do
what’s my talking to you?
at least give me a clue
if the conversation’s here
or it’s somewhere over there
please signal with a bell
so at least I can tell
if you’re talking to me
or still talking to you.

There, that solves the problem altogether. Want to confess? DO you talk to yourself?

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. “Beyond the Night,” the sequel to “The Darkest Heart” will be an October 2014 eBook release from Pocket Star.

Kindred Spirits

Greetings Scriblings! PJ Sharon here.

I had the good fortune of attending a few days of the 2014 IWWG Summer Conference this week. If you aren’t familiar with this acronym, it stands for International Women’s Writing Guild. Despite the fact that I’ve been heavily involved in the romance writing community for several years, I’d never even heard of this organization.  Here’s why.

Romance writers and literary writers tend not to associate or travel in the same conference circles. Whether this is due to some misconception that one is better than the other or that the two are diametrically opposed, I can’t say, because my experience with this incredible group of amazingly talented women was nothing but educational, inclusive, and uplifting–not to mention well organized and fun. These ladies write everything from poetry to memoir, creative nonfiction to essays. A few write fiction as well, and many are published, either traditionally or Indie.

Workshops included a study in Metaphor with the fabulous Susan Tiberghien,  a chance to make “mischief” with Kelly Dumar, where we explored our childhood prankster selves and acted out stories of our misspent youth.  I learned some new plotting strategies from the excellent Chris Eboch in the workshop, What I Learned from Nancy Drew,  and Dr. Dixie King’s extremely helpful Nourishing the Writer Within was an eye opener! Dr. King took us through a step by step guide of smart goal setting and challenged us to pinpoint the barriers and limiting beliefs that hold us back from achieving our goals. I was only able to attend two days of the five day conference, but I felt so welcomed and appreciated by the group that I felt as if I’d met some kindred spirits.

IWWG conf. 2In addition to the wonderful workshops and new friends I met, the food was outstanding and the venue at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT was absolutely lovely. I even walked the labyrinth at sunset and spent some time in meditation, which is an area of my life I’ve been neglecting and was sorely needed.

IWWG Conf. 6There was an opportunity to showcase my books at the book fair and take center stage to share from one of my stories.  I was completely floored by the quality of each and every writer’s work that was shared. Poignant stories of family,  deep inner journeys, and prose that gave me chills and had me laughing and crying within the same three minute reading. These women are powerful and brilliant, I tell you!

Regardless of genre, we were all writers and all women–sisters of the pen–there to support each other. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this group if only for a couple of days. It gave me just the shot in the writer’s arm that I needed. I learned some important things about myself in the process and hope to meet these lovely women again in the future. My eyes are open a little wider and my heart has been touched by the gift of their words. Thank you IWWG!

Here’s a little about the organization:

The IWWG, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing and open to all regardless of portfolio. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where lifelong learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart–the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions- alongside conventional logic.

Have you stretched your wings and made some new friends lately? When was the last time you just wrote for fun? Because if you aren’t having fun, what’s the point, right?

You’ve Got To Have Friends

Hi everyone. Thea, home from National where I didn’t attend as many workshops as I should have. But that gave me the opportunity to catch up with several old friends whom I only see once a year, briefly, and on the run between workshops.

I’m still trying to figure out this friendship phenomenon: that there are people you meet and connect with at conference, and you only see them once a year, and yet, it’s like you’ve seen them often and so only need five minutes or fifteen or a half hour to get updated, and off you go, looking forward to seeing them again next year.

And then there are the more profound friendships that last for decades, friends you depend on in moments of author and personal crisis. Friends in whom you confide your problems and your deepest dreams. Friends you talk to every week, or every other day because you bolster each other, lift each other’s spirits, push each other to go further, do more, not quit, and ultimately succeed.

Each of those friendships is treasured and nurtured because we’re a part of this amazing community of romance authors and the comfort of that cocoon of others, whom we’ve grown to love, sharing that experience sustains us and pushes us to keep moving, keep hoping, keep reaching.

It’s beyond a blessing. I can’t imagine my life without my friends, without their counsel, support, friendship and love, and seeing them yearly at conference, monthly at RWA meetings, talking weekly on the phone carries me forward in ways impossible to define, but which enriches my life beyond any other friendships I’ve ever known.

What about your writer friendships? Are they fresh and new, or of long-standing and can’t-live-without?

Thea Devine is the author of more than two dozen historical and contemporary erotic romances. Beyond the Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart will be an October 2014 Pocket Star release.

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike desolation.mt. St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

Interview with PJ Sharon about her Latest Release

Suze here, posting outside our regular schedule. But PJ Sharon’s new novel, PIECES OF LOVE, has just released and I couldn’t wait to ask her some questions about it. PJ will be in and out today to answer your questions too!

She’s got a heck of a schedule planned for her blog tour where she’ll be giving away some neat prizes like signed books and a nifty beach bag!

1.  Okay PJ, tell us a little about PIECES OF LOVE.

So cool being on this side of the interview questions, Suze! Thanks for being here with me to celebrate and chat about the book.

PJSharon_PiecesOfLove_800pxIn PIECES of LOVE, a Contemporary YA Romance, sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to play her guitar and get high, hoping to escape the pain of losing her sister. But when her second arrest for pot possession leads to her mother’s breakdown, Lexi is sent to stay with her grandmother for the summer. While embarking on a Mediterranean cruise hardly sounds like punishment, being forced to face her demons and falling for a guy she may never see again gives Lexi a chance to discover what it means to love someone—even when you have to let them go.

2. A trip to the Mediterranean inspired the setting for this novel. What was the most beautiful or memorable place you saw on your trip?

An impossible question to answer—mainly because they were ALL beautiful. But honestly, it was such a whirlwind trip, the days and ports kind of melted together, LOL. I remember LOVING Barcelona and thinking I had to go back to see more of Gaudi’s amazing work and the passionate artistry that infused every part of the city. I also remember not having a good impression of Cannes, France, but that’s because of a bad allergic reaction to the perfumes! The Greek Islands are heavenly, but I’d have to say Dubrovnik Croatia was one of the loveliest, most interesting locations. Old Town is a spot not to be missed! I have to go back just to walk the mile long, 19-foot thick wall surrounding the village.

3. A little birdie told me that there’s some extra special companion content that goes along with PIECES. Want to tell us about it?

Um…you must be referring to the PIECES of LOVE theme song. This came about because my character, Lexi, is a song writer and singer. In an effort to get readers into her head, I decided to write a song for her sister in the book. In spite of the fact that I’ve never written lyrics before and don’t write music, the words flowed onto the page and a tune popped into my head to go with them. Funny how those creative little miracles happen. So I downloaded a recording app onto my phone and sang the song so I wouldn’t forget the tune. With four years of voice lessons behind me, it didn’t sound half bad. I approached my neighbor and good friend, Ozone Pete, who is a professional musician. Once he saw I was serious, he helped me with the arrangement. He happened to “know a guy” who runs a recording studio in Westfield, MA. A month later, I had recorded the theme song for POL. I was pleased enough with the outcome to put it up on i-Tunes for sale and used part of the song for the book trailer.

4. So, what was it like being in a recording studio? How long did it take to get the final version of the song and what’s the process?

Jim Fogarty of Bing Studios is awesome to work with and he gave me a great deal on studio time! Adding his piano skills as well as his sound engineering expertise, Jim spent ten hours with me and Pete the first day and another five hours two weeks later for the finish work and editing. He hooked me up with a mike and headphones, and played Pete’s instrumental version in the background for me to sing with. He gave me a few tips along the way, but essentially, it was just singing take after take and then editing the best pieces together. It’s really an amazing process, especially when he starts manipulating things with auto-tune and adding background and harmony. He was able to take out any excess vibrato in my voice (opera training has its downside), and clear up any pitchiness. As he put it, “It’s still you. We just accentuated the excellence and removed the suckage.” To keep things fun, and not drive himself totally crazy listening to the song a thousand times, he would change the words once in a while, singing “Pizzas of love, pizzas of looove…” That’s when I knew it was time for a lunch break. I won’t even tell you some of the other lines he added. When it all got to be too much, he’d flip over to Three Stooges movies for a short giggle break.

5. The cover for PIECES OF LOVE is just gorgeous! Can you give us an idea of how you work with a cover artist to get just the right look for your book?

That is a challenge, Suze. I start with gathering stock photos that I like to represent the characters. Some cover artists will do this for you and give you some choices, but I generally know what I want and it saves time. I pay anywhere from $10-20 for a high resolution stock photo from Big Stock Photos. Cover artists usually have a form for you to fill out, asking you to detail the tone of the book, genre, color preferences, story concept, etc. Once they have all that information, they will work up several covers to choose from. It takes a few times going back and forth to decide which font works best, and to make necessary adjustments until I’m satisfied. It’s a relatively quick process if you have a good cover artist and you know what you want. If you’re picky like me—or unsure of your vision, it can take a little longer. Kim Killion from The Killion Group, made this cover for me in only a few days. Granted, she had a design concept already made because I had original hired someone else who came up with the basic design but just got too busy and wasn’t able to make the changes I wanted. It was a bummer starting all over with someone new, but I’m so pleased with the results of working with Kim, I’m planning to re-brand my Lily Carmichael covers this summer.

6. What are you working on now? What’s your next book and when can we expect it?

Gulp! Isn’t that always the question? I’m working on HEALING WATERS, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, and hoping to have it done later this year.

Thanks, PJ! Can’t wait to read (and review!) PIECES OF LOVE.

Readers, until June 30th, PJ has her book on sale for only $2.99 for Kindle, Nook, and i-Tunes e-readers. The price goes up to $4.99 on July 1st, so don’t miss out!

Thank you, Suze, for taking time out to set up this interview. The support and generosity of my Scribe sisters is what keeps me going some days. In case I haven’t told you lately…you’re awesome!

Questions, comments? Any good books on your vacation TBR pile?

 

Chapter 2

Sugar here, calling myself out for not posting this morning like I was supposed to. But I had 2 good reasons. I thought next Monday was my day.  AND today was my last day at work. I have worked in the same place for seven years. My very first job out of college. I love my coworkers and my building, but I don’t love the job anymore.  I was finding myself so exhausted, so stressed out that I couldn’t write.  My brain just couldn’t handle another thing and there were times when I was so overwhelmed by it all that I just didn’t want to get out of bed.  I know they call it work for a reason, but I knew I couldn’t go on like that. So I made the decision to leave.  I’m not going to be able to survive on writing alone. I’m going to work but at job that won’t suck the life out of me.

I need to write. Some people do it as a hobby. They can pick  it up and put it down when they want. But I need to write and when I can’t do it I feel bad, like I’m depriving myself of some sort of essential nutrient. And that job was making it hard for me to do what I love. So today was my last day and while I have very good memories of that place I don’t for one moment regret  saying goodbye.  I have two books coming out this fall. I’m under contract for three more. I am lucky. I know it’s a blessing to have these things when so many writers are dying to get where I am. So I am going to take this opportunity now, because I don’t I’ll always wish I had.

I feel like I started chapter one of my adult life there. Now it’s time for me to start working on chapter 2.