Category Archives: Young Adult

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?

 

i-Movie & Book Trailers

As I’m counting down to the launch of my next book, PIECES of LOVE, due out in a few weeks, I figured I would do something a little different this time. I finished and posted my book trailer before the book’s release. You would think this would be a no brainer, but I’ve published five novels and haven’t managed to do this until now. With good reason, I assure you. I can’t tell you how long it takes me and my husband to produce a decent trailer. Don’t get me wrong. He is an amazing source of technical support, but he’s a super busy guy and can’t always work to my time schedule. I also get frustrated in trying to share my creative vision with him in a way that translates to exactly what I want. Yes…I’m afraid I’m a bit picky. So this time, I took it upon myself to learn how to use i-Movie, and created my own book trailer.

I thought I would share the process with you today.
First off, I recommend finding the right music. There are several stock music sites that offer “free” music, but it can take hours of listening to samples to find just the right piece, and the selection of free titles is limited. It’s likely you’ll pay a nominal fee for what you want. Be sure to read the fine print because you may also only have the music rights for a specifically contracted period of time. The most important thing is to find music that is released under a Creative Commons license, and to give the artist credit when due. Here are a few sites where you can find music suitable for book trailers.

http://www.incompetech.com

http://www.audionautix.com

http://www.danosongs.com

http://www.ccmixter.org

Since I’d gone this route before and found the process daunting, and I wasn’t willing to pay someone big bucks to do  a trailer for me, I almost wasn’t going to have one this time around. As the fates would have it, my main character in PIECES of LOVE, Lexi, plays guitar, sings, and writes music. In my efforts to help readers connect to the character on a deeper level, I was inspired to write lyrics into the book. Of course, then it dawned on me that I should also try to put music to the words. Not that I’ve ever written a song or know how to write music, but what can I say…my muse was feeling adventurous. With a step in faith and a little effort on a lunch break, the tune came to me, and I recorded it into my phone (love those apps). Then I took it to my pal, lifelong musician, Ozone Pete, who plays guitar and “knew a guy” who could help with a professional recording. Six months later, we spent a day with Jim Fogarty of Zing studios in Westfield, MA. All in all, it took a total of about fifteen hours over two days and I had a theme song—now available for download on i-Tunes.

It was the perfect choice for the book trailer.
Once I had the music, I was ready to start on the hard part. Being techno-challenged and averse to learning the Mac’s operating system, I was prepared to defer the actual trailer production to my husband, but as I said, that wasn’t to be if I wanted it done sooner rather than later.  I bit the bullet, so to speak, and dove in.

I used parts of the book’s blurb and boiled the synopsis down to a paragraph, creating a “story board” with 8-10 slides to “tell” the story. I figured each slide would require about 6-10 seconds—long enough for viewers to read. Adding the transitions and front/back matter, I was able to keep the whole production at about two minutes.
Using stock photos from Big Stock Photos, each costing about $5-10, I chose photos that reflected the blow by blow description of the story. Uploading the music and photos to my husband’s Mac and importing it all into i-Movie was a challenge for me (being Mac deficient) but a snap for hubby, so I let him do that part. Once I had all the pieces there to work with, it was a matter of choosing an appropriate segment of the song to match the story board. Two minutes is a bit long for a trailer these days, but I had a certain timing in mind for the slides and the music selection to work together.
Caution: Timing each slide and transition accordingly is an OCD sufferer’s nightmare…or dream come true, LOL. I tweaked and cajoled this thing to death, but the final product was worth it, IMO.

Yes, countless hours went into the project, and there were studio costs, but in the end, for a few hundred dollars, I have a product I’m proud of and it’s exactly what I envisioned. I can use it to promote my book as well as the song on i-Tunes, and at the same time, offer an entertaining connection for my readers who might find it interesting to hear the author singing the theme song.
As much as I’m not a big Mac fan, I-Movie is a powerful program! Once I figured out how to use all the neat features, the possibilities seemed endless. There are several backgrounds, title fonts, and styles to choose from for each slide, special affects you can apply to pictures and transitions, and many variables you can and can’t control. For instance, I wanted to blur a couple of the photos but couldn’t do it in i-Movie, so I exported them to Power Point, manipulated the shots there, and then saved them to the i-Movie event I was working on. It was simply a matter of playing with the program and figuring out what worked. Of course, when I ran into trouble, hubby was there as tech support.
Once I had fine-tuned my baby and edited the crap out of it, I published it to You-tube and shared it on all my social media sites. It had over a hundred hits the first day! I’m glad so many people have enjoyed the production and I truly appreciate all the positive feedback.
If the DIY version seems too daunting, save your pennies, because a decent trailer can run you anywhere from $300-$1200. I’ve seen them for more and I’ve seen them for less, but you definitely get what you pay for in this case. I once paid $50 to a supposedly reputable person and was less than satisfied, so lesson learned for me. Until I can afford to pay the big bucks, I’ll continue to go the DIY route.

What do you think of book trailers? Are they an effective promotional tool? Seen any you love? 

Do you listen to BTR?

For those who haven’t heard of it, BTR stands for Blog Talk Radio, the latest in on-line entertainment and informational programming. Everyday professionals, experts, and entertainers are hosting their own radio shows and being heard by millions. These topic-driven programs allow listeners to hone in on their interests and hear the latest news in whatever industry that floats their boat. So what does that mean for readers and writers? So glad you asked! PJ Sharon here with the latest scoop on how to help writers find their audience and readers connect with their favorite authors.

Writers can share their books and talk about their writing process with interviewers while sitting behind their computer or on their phones, feet up and fuzzy slippers gracing their desks. All while sipping tea and chatting about their favorite things with whomever decides to tune in. Fans or readers can type in questions to be asked and answered in real time, or a link to the show can be used later for promotion and advertising purposes.

For readers who love romance, it’s a chance to hear your favorite authors dish about their characters, read excerpts, and maybe even share a few spoilers about upcoming books. Basically, it’s another way for readers and writers to connect in a fun, user-friendly format.

The really cool thing is that anyone can host their own show. Of course, that means adding consistent content, being entertaining and engaging, and building an audience over time. It’s not for everyone, but those that are doing it appear to be enjoying the up close and personal interaction and sharing it with listeners.

I’ve done several such interviews over the past year or so and I have to say, I love doing them. It means not having to actually be on camera, but being able to hang out as if I’m conversing with a pal on the phone. It’s very non-threatening. My most recent BTR interview was in February with Linda Mooney from Other Worlds of Romance, who hosts mostly sci-fi/fantasy writers and has a decent following.

She asked me to come on the show and read a steamy excerpt from WESTERN DESERT, book two in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Several listeners showed up to ask questions and I had a blast sharing my story with them, including behind the scenes insights into the third book, the title of which I’ll reveal at the end of this post as promised last month!

After the show, Linda sent me the link to embed into my website so readers can refer to it and listen at any time. What a great promotional tool and something I can definitely add to my press kit. I’m sure if I use it properly it could lead to TV/radio interviews in the future. It’s a way for media types to hear how well you speak about your books and interact with the interview process. You can find a list of hundreds of shows that might be willing to host romance authors here. Or you can go in and search categories for more specific shows that focus on your genre.

Just one more way to connect readers and writers in the digital age!

Now, to reveal the title of the third book in the trilogy…drum roll, please… we had WANING MOON, WESTERN DESERT, and coming this fall…HEALING WATERS, the continuing adventure of Lily Carmichael and friends as they make their way back home to warn the good folks of Stanton of a coming doom. Will they reach them in time…or is it already too late? Can Lily and Will overcome their differences and find their way back to each other as they race against time to save the human race from certain destruction?

Don’t forget to join me on my PJ Sharon Books FB page as I roll out the cover reveal for my next Contemporary YA novel, PIECES of LOVE, set to release June 21st. POL Picture4The big reveal will take place on April 18th, but pop over and “like’ my page now so you don’t miss out on the fun as I reveal a new “piece” of the cover each week along with an excerpt. Leave a comment on my FB post and be entered to win an ARC of the book, winners to be drawn on reveal day, April 18th, when you’ll also be privy to links for the release of my single, PIECES of Love, the theme song to the book.

Tell me, have you ever listened to BTR?

To Select…or not to Select. That is the question.

PJ Sharon here on this chilly New Year’s Eve Day. Since I’m in the process of re-evaluating my first quarter marketing plan for 2014, I thought I’d share the results of my latest promotion. Most of you are familiar with KDP Select, Amazon’s 90 day exclusivity contract that requires authors to publish only with them for that time period. The perks of putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket are paid borrows by Prime members (average $1.94 per borrow), entry into their new “Count Down Deals” program, and/or the ability to run FREE promotions for five days of the 90 day period. A year ago, all of this was very attractive. Now, not so much.FREE promo

Most Indie authors agree that running free promotions has been much less effective than it was a year or two ago. Now that the market is flooded with freebies and bargain books, it’s getting harder and harder to sell at any price—even FREE! Sales of my last published novel, WESTERN DESERT, book two in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, which released last July, reflect the drastic change. I’ll preface these results with the caveat that YA Dystopian is a hard sell across the board lately since that market is pretty much glutted. I also believe that book two in a trilogy is often tougher because folks won’t buy/download book two if they haven’t read book one, and readers don’t want to get hooked into a trilogy with no guaranteed release date of the third book.

Having said all that, I’m trying not to take it personally or be embarrassed about such a poor sales record. The fact is, I don’t think the numbers reflect the quality of the book at all. What reviews I do have, are excellent, and feedback I’ve had from readers has been awesome. So what’s up with the numbers?

Coming June 24th!
Coming June 24th!

I enrolled WESTERN DESERT into the Select program in October, figuring I would promote books one and two through Halloween, running my first two day FREE promo around the time readers might be drawn to Dystopian/Sci-fi-fantasy stories. I was part of a group sale, advertised on the usual 20-30 sites that promote freebies (some charge a nominal fee of $5-15), and did a social media blitz, including some blog appearances. The best I did was had about a thousand free downloads and sold eighty or so copies of WANING MOON, book one in the trilogy.

Now, I realize that those results meant that my book was in the hands of potentially a thousand new readers, and it did wonders for my sales rankings for both books during the sale, but being that WANING MOON was selling for the .99 cent price point, I made about $30. I’ll add that there was no after sale bump in numbers (meaning my sales flat-lined again immediately), and I’d spent my budgeted $100 for advertising the sale, netting me -$70 for my trouble. Consider the amount of time it takes to set up ads on 20-30 sites, schedule blog appearances, participate in social media non-stop for two days, and well…you get the picture.

I waited a couple of months, planned my last three day FREE run for right after Christmas, hoping to catch all those new Kindle owners, and promoted both books like crazy. As in, “Two Books for under a buck!” “Buy WANING MOON for .99 cents and download WESTERN DESERT for FREE!” I joined with Awesome Indies for their Holiday Bonanza e-book sale, promoted on 30 FREE e-book sites (I’m hearing now that it takes 50 sites to make a dent), and I scheduled mega tweets, FB, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest, and tumblr promos. I spent my $100 budget, and had the support of dozens of other authors who tweeted, posted or otherwise shouted it to the world for me. Here were the results:

Worldwide (including a few downloads in Germany, France, India, Canada, and Australia—a new market for me!), I had a whopping 543 downloads of WESTERN DESERT and 39 new sales of WANING MOON. Oy! Hours of preparation, insane amounts of marketing, and yes, I’m down about $85. I did reach the #1,026 mark on the Amazon rankings in the Free kindle store, #2 in the Sci-fi/fantasy/Genetic engineering category, and #10 in the Dystopian category, but numbers bounced right back to oblivion when the sale ended.

Granted, I was unable to procure ads on the really big sites like Book Bub and a few others which require as many as twenty-five reviews these days to even be featured and are very choosy about what they pick to advertise, but really? For the work involved and the investment of time and money, it feels like I’ve run a marathon and placed next to last. A far cry from last year’s FREE promo for SAVAGE CINDERELLA  when I boasted 40,000 downloads between my two day and then a three day promotion. The best part was the over 800 direct sales in the weeks after my free run. Yikes! What a difference a year and-a-half makes. Even HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES and ON THIN ICE promos last year at this time did much better than my 2013 efforts for my Dystopian reads.

It would be nice to get a few (hopefully good) reviews out of the promotion and getting my name out to new readers is always a good thing, but all in all, the Select program has little left to offer me with this book series. Perhaps when I publish another Contemporary YA romance, or when I have a boxed set of all three books in the trilogy, I’ll give it another go, but for now, KDP Select is a losing proposition for me. Of course, take all this with a grain of salt, because I’ve heard of a few other authors on my loops who are still pulling in good numbers with Select. Go figure!

What do you think? Have you had better results? How did you do it? Am I missing something?

SEEKING CHRISTMAS with Brenda Maxfield

Welcome Scribers and Readers, PJ Sharon here. I have with me as today’s guest, Brenda Maxfield. Her short story, SEEKING CHRISTMAS hit home with me since neither of my two sons has a relationship with their dad. Brenda Maxfield’s perspective from the minds of teen siblings, Courtney and Dennis, truly reflected how I imagine my sons dealing with this situation. And may I also say, I LOVE this cover!

Blurb for Seeking Christmas (an Ocean Mist short story Two):

Brenda Maxfield-SeekingChristmasCover

The Christmas season has eighteen-year-old Courtney crossing the state line with her little brother Dennis to rendezvous with the man who deserted them years ago. Courtney remembers him only as the tall man who ran away. Dennis doesn’t remember him at all.

Courtney is furious, but Denny is curious. Will their meeting result in a happy Christmas memory or another miserable disappointment?

I asked Brenda what made her write this as a short story. Here’s what she had to say.Take it away Brenda…

Thanks PJ!

My first thought is that “Short Can Be Sweet”. But there was more to my decision than simply wanting to write a short story. Here’s what happened.

Open Call for Submissions: Such musical words of opportunity to any writer’s ears.

Except when such writer is buried deep in her latest work-in-progress and stretched thin between a day job, family, and uh, well, trying to stay sane!

That’s where I found myself a while back when my publisher put out a call for submissions. Sometimes emails are ripped open like paper envelopes showing checks through tiny little windows — and that’s how I opened that one. Yet even while my eyes flew downward over the content, censuring comments such as, “Who are you kidding, Brenda? You’re insane. All you need is another project…” coursed through my mind.

You know how it goes, scolding yourself even as you continue with whatever you were doing. (Hmmm, now I’m thinking about that luscious half-eaten piece of dark chocolate cake. But I digress.) My scolding continued until my eyes landed on the phrase, “Short stories only. No longer than 5,000 words.”

I major perked up. That I could do! That I could find the time for!

I’d never considered short stories as part of my writing career. I love the YA novel, the joy of unfolding a character’s crisis, angst, redemption, and growth over the course of chapters. I didn’t realize the fun of writing a short story: the smaller time frame to completion, the opportunity to give readers a taste of your style, and the possibility for those same readers to get hooked and become fans of your novels.

I did answer that open call and send a short story to my publisher. I’ve also self-pubbed two other short stories. The first was Player, which introduced the characters in Buried Truth. (Writing about two-faced Daniela in Player turned out to be a blast. Oy, I couldn’t stand the girl!) And this season, I’ve released Seeking Christmas, dealing with the aftermath of Cornered, which is releasing in a few weeks.

Christmas in September

I couldn’t bear to let the Christmas season go by without a release. So in September, I started playing with the characters from Cornered in my mind. I wondered what would happen if Courtney heard from her jerk of a dad — the guy who deserted her and disappeared like so much water down the drain years previously. Would she want to see him? Could she swallow her anger long enough to hear him out? And what about her little brother? Would taking Denny to meet the guy result in a disaster? What kind of Christmas would it turn out to be?

The characters wouldn’t stay quiet, yet I knew I didn’t have time to write another full. Thus, the short story Seeking Christmas was born. (It’s @ 8,000 words.)

I loved it. I loved the whole process. We writers are fortunate to have many avenues to get the stories out of our heads and onto the page. Short stories are just one of those ways. I heartily encourage all writers to give them a whirl!

And of course, I’d be totally thrilled if you’d give Seeking Christmas a read. During this season, take a bit of time to curl up with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and take a trip with Courtney and her little brother in Seeking Christmas.  I hope you enjoy it!

Seeking Christmas Purchase Links:

Amazon:  http://tinyurl.com/ky7oxzu

Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/jvktfxz

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/373439

Ocean Mist Books:  http://brendamaxfield.com/ocean-mist-series.html

Author Bio:

Brenda Maxfield author PhotoMy passion is writing! What could be more delicious than inventing new characters and seeing where they take you?

I’m a teacher so I spend most of my waking hours with young people. I love chatting with them and hearing their views on love and life. My students are magical, and I am honored to be part of their lives.

I’ve lived in Honduras, Grand Cayman, and Costa Rica. Presently, I live in Indiana with my husband, Paul. We have two grown children and three precious grandchildren, special delivery from Africa.

When not teaching, I love to hole up in our lake cabin and write — often with a batch of popcorn nearby. (Oh, and did I mention dark chocolate?)

I enjoy getting to know my readers, so feel free to write me at: contact@brendamaxfield.com . Join my newsletter at: http://mad.ly/signups/85744/join. Visit me to learn about all my books and some smart and sassy, clean teen reads: www.brendamaxfield.com  Happy Reading!

Contact Links for Brenda Maxfield:

Website:  http://www.brendamaxfield.com

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/AuthorBrendaMaxfield

Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6570620.Brenda_Maxfield

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/BrendaMaxfield

Blog:  http://www.brendamaxfield.wordpress.com

Email:  contact@brendamaxfield.com

Amazon Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/psj82bj     

Don’t Miss any News! Join my Newsletter Ganghttp://mad.ly/signups/85744/join

Thanks for joining us today, Brenda! Readers, if you have any questions or comments for Ms. Maxfield, please don’t be shy!

How about you? Do you like to read short stories? Have any favorites you’d like to share? Are you reading any wonderful Christmas stories right now? We’d love to know!

Killer First Lines

PJ Sharon here, chatting today about “Killer First Lines”. So what constitutes a great first line? Is it action-packed? Does it evoke emotion or imply conflict? Maybe it sets the scene or reveals the tone of your story. Or does an awesome first line combine all of these elements and more in order to grab the reader and compel them to read on? Consider these first lines:

1)      It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

2)      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

3)      I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

4)      You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

5)      If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

6)      Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

These classic first lines might seem antiquated in terms of today’s genre fiction standards and rules, but they remain powerful examples of compelling prose. They say something about the author, expressing their unique voice, and setting the tone for what’s to come. They inherently ask a story question and open the eyes of the reader to a new world in which the author’s imagination comes to life on the page.

I spend a good deal of time contemplating first lines. I want my first line to pose a question to the reader—a question that compels them to read on and keep turning pages until that question is ultimately answered at the end of the story. In my current WIP, PIECES OF LOVE, the first line is, I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. Hopefully that makes you wonder what habit our teen character must break. Maybe you’re asking what good habit she would like to adopt, and why she would be concerned about making or breaking a habit in the first place.

Here are a few more first lines. These are from more recent books and by authors some of you will recognize. Analyze each of them, not for what they say, but for what they tell you about the author and the story.

1)      The day Honor Grace Holland turned thirty-five, she did what she always did on her birthday. She got a pap smear. Kristan Higgins, The Perfect Match, 2013

2)      My fingers drum into the desktop, beating out the rhythm of my hammering thoughts. TL Costa, Playing Tyler, 2013

3)      The Garretts were forbidden from the start. Huntley Fitzpatrick, My Life Next Door, 2012.

4)     He lifted the limp body out of the trunk, wrapped the girl in a woolen blanket, and tossed her like a rag doll over his shoulder. PJ Sharon, Savage Cinderella, 2012

5)      I’m a liar. I know it. I hate it. And I can’t seem to help myself. PJ Sharon, On Thin Ice, 2011.

Yes, I realize those last two are mine, but they are, nonetheless, decent examples of first lines that hopefully compel readers to read on. Notice the tone in each of the above first lines. With Kristan Higgins books, you know you’re in for some laughs and you can bet that every reader who read that first line had an instant smile plastered on their face. TL Costa’s book, PLAYING TYLER, puts you squarely into the mind of a teenage boy with ADHD. You can hear the noise in his head as he struggles to find focus. And in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s contemporary YA romance, you can feel that you are in for heartache and conflict based on this enticing first line that immediately makes you want to know the Garretts.

Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

The opening line of SAVAGE CINDERELLA gives you a chilling look into the calculated actions of a serial killer and makes you instantly care for that little girl and wonder what happens to her next.

And in ON THIN ICE, teen readers are faced with a mirror into their own lives. What teenager can’t relate to the ever-tempting desire to lie?

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Look at books you love. Analyze them for how that first line makes you feel. Does it propel the story forward? Does it grab you and pose a question that you have to know the answer to? In my opinion, as long as the first line makes the reader a) think, b) care about the story/character, and c) read on, the author has done their job.

Have you written any fabulous first lines you’d like to share? Can you think of any books you’ve read that had a killer first line?

Audiobooks

Good day, PJ Sharon here, coming to you from the snow-carpeted Berkshires. The first snow fall is always so pretty.  First snow picI have a couple of questions for all of you. Do you listen to audiobooks? How do you listen to them? And where do you find them? Best seller’s lists? Specific authors/narrators you love to read/hear? Let’s chat.

I’ll confess that I’ve only listened to a few audiobooks–and always in the car with a tangible CD (or 29 CD’s as is the case for OUTLANDER  which I’ve listened to five times). I’m afraid I haven’t made the leap to the next technological step in the evolution of how we read books and hear stories–digital audiobooks. As in–downloaded them onto my i-pod touch or my android phone, or listened to them directly from my computer. As hard as I try, I’m still resistant to learning/using new technology.

I often feel as if I’m being dragged forcibly into the future. I’m trying not to scream too loudly about it since I know that many people are having great success with audiobook sales. According to the world of publishing, audiobooks are in. Bob Mayer admits to having spent over $35,000 having all of his books turned into audiobooks, and I know Bella Andre thinks they are as untapped a market as the foreign marketplace. I’m pretty sure their audiobooks are selling…I’d love to ask them.

Personally, I’m not seeing it. Maybe because I’m not on any best sellers lists or because I’m not out “finding my audience” as diligently as is needed, but I don’t see my readers buying audiobooks. Whenever I mention that my book is available on audio, I’m asked where they can buy the CD so they can listen to it in their car. Um…sorry…no CD. These are friends and family I’m talking to, however–the folks like me who are always one step behind the latest tech trend. No problem, you say. You write books for teens, and teens in general are glued to the latest and greatest electronic devices. Surley, they must be listening to audiobooks. But once again, they don’t have the buying power of adults. And let’s face it, none of them is likely to spend $17.95 on a digital download of a book unless it’s someone they really want to read/hear.

When I decided to dabble in the realm of audiobooks, I figured I would start with a book that had universal appeal. Many adult readers loved HEAVEN IS FOR  HEROES for it’s sweet military romance, family drama and Thanksgiving theme. It seemed like the right story for an audiobook audience.HeavenisforHeroes_audiobookcover (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)

You can hear a sample of Erin Mallon’s awesome narration of HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES here. Just click on the little “listen” arrow beneath the cover picture on the sales page.

With companies like ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), it’s much easier for authors to have professionally produced and fabulously narrated audiobooks. ACX offers two plans. You can either pay up front, which will likely cost you between $1,500-2,000, depending on the length of your book (mine was 78,000 words and would have cost me $1,000). Or you can do a 50/50 royalty share, where you pay an upfront cost (usually half) and then split the royalties until the complete cost of production is paid and I’ve sold a certain number of copies, at which time, my royalty rate increases.. Basically, I paid $500 for an awesome narrator who I found on the ACX site, and I split the royalties. It comes out to a nice little chunk of the $17.95 per copy price through Amazon, Audible, or i-tunes. If you want to read more about ACX and how it all works, the WG2E has several excellent posts here.

On the consumer’s side, If you’re an avid audiobook fan and decide to become an Audible Member, which is around $14.95/month, you’d get the $17.95 price point OR you can use the 1 Credit you get each month and download the book for FREE–or even gift it to someone else. You can also purchase the file from Amazon and get it FREE with a 30-day Audible Trial Membership.

Now, the other difficulty I find with audiobooks is getting people to review them. I don’t know if people who have bought the book have downloaded it and simply haven’t listened to it yet, or if they aren’t inclined to leave reviews on audiobooks. Either way, I can’t even give a copy away to get an honest review. ACX provides five free download codes to give out to reviewers or as giveaways, but finding reviewers for audiobooks seems to be a bit of a challenge. It’s a market that is getting increasingly flooded and some reviewers are backlogged for months. If anyone is willing to listen and review the book, I’d be happy to gift you a copy along with instructions on how to download from Audible, Amazon, or i-tunes. All I ask in return is that you give it an honest review.

If anyone has any suggestions on where’s a good place to market audiobooks or how I can get some reviews, I’m wide open! I’ve even tried to join a Goodreads group of romance audiobook reviewers, but those groups are pretty persnickety about authors promoting themselves. If you aren’t part of the discussion every day, it’s not really cool to just jump in and ask for reviews. And since I hang around mostly with the characters in my head and not the characters on Goodreads, I haven’t found an “in”.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on audiobooks. Questions are cool too–if you’re wondering about the process or have questions about working with ACX. I’d be happy to answer them. Have a lovely day!