Confessions of a Story Binger

Hello, I’m J Monkeys.   I’m a story binger.   Phew.   Boy, it feels good to get that out.   They say you can’t solve a problem until you recognize you have one.   Well, I do.   I binge on stories.   Only good stories, by good storytellers…but still.   I’m a story binger.

You may wonder what brought me to this point in my life.  Lots of things, really.  Specifically, Julia Quinn, Lynn Kurland, Jude Deveraux, Aaron Sorkin, Eric Northman, Temperance Brennen, Piper Halliwell, Jack Bauer, Benedict Cumberbatch, the fellas of Ripper Street, the ladies of Downton, Walter White and Francis Underwood

Back in the days before Netflix, I binged mostly through books.  In my high school and college years, I’m not exaggerating when I write that I read at least a thousand romance novels.  It’s a good thing I’ve had a job since I was 8 years old, to support my habit.  And I discovered second hand book stores about the same time I learned to drive.  very handy, that. 

When the last couple of Harry Potter books came out, my boys weren’t born yet, so I declared each of those days “Harry Potter Day” and nobody was allowed to interrupt me until I had finished the book.  I recall wandering the house, cooking and eating all while sobbing my way through the end of Book 6.

the west wing castIn my 20′s I would occasionally by a season of 24 on DVD, then watch the whole thing in 36 hours or so.    And Mr. Monkeys bought me wonderful Valentine’s Day gifts a couple of years in a row, the complete series of The West Wing and Charmed.  Not together, that would be a strange combination, but two different sets.  Charmed comes in it’s very own book of shadows.  ;)

I’ve had to limit myself to not watching episodes in order, because that leads to another one and another one until half a day has gone by with me watching shows that I can probably recite.  Sigh. 

And True Blood?  I’ve bought the last few seasons and watched the whole thing in less than two days.  Pretty much every moment that the children were unlikely to walk into my office, I was sitting at my laptop, with my headphones on watching the show.  If you are unfamiliar, it’s the kind of show that you never know what someone might say (HBO – f-bombs galore – and that’s not the worst of it!) or what might pop up on the screen in the time it takes to hit pause on the remote. 

bonesBut now, Netflix is enabling me in heretofore unheard of ways!  I watched 7 seasons of Bones in a month.  A MONTH!  That’s like 7 episodes a day.  I watched all of Breaking Bad in a few weeks.   I watched so much 24 in two weeks that I had to take a break from it.  House of Cards, the whole season in a weekend!   I’m chomping at the bit for the next seasons of Sherlock and Ripper Street

Is it any wonder that I seem to have trouble finishing writing projects?!   Okay, I’ve admitted my problem.  Now it’s time for a solution.  Here’s the one I’ve come up with: I vow to stay away from all stories (but my own) until I have written 500 words every day.   No word-y, no story.  That’s my new philosophy. 

Anybody else have this problem?

Lollipops

Should Writers Have Opinions?

Hey there fellow scribblers! Casey here.

Once upon a time, in the dark days before the Internet, writers used to be inaccessible Titans of Storytelling. There was a mystique, a veil of awe, that separated the reader from their beloved authors. Many times, a faceless (unless there was an author photo) God who churned out books we love and who solely existed to bring us readers joy.

An intrepid fan could contact a writer via their publishers, snail mail or by attending a convention, book signing or other public appearance. Even then, the hallowed author of your favorite books/series/universe was somewhat of a celebrity, often rendering you speechless. After all, chances were good that you’d approach the table, state your name so they could personalize your book, then you’d mumble something lame like – “I really love your books”, then move on**.

** quick aside – as a writer, we don’t think that’s lame at all. We appreciate knowing that readers enjoy our books.

Rarely did a reader learn or probably even try to discover the author’s political, religious or any beliefs at all. Nor as a reader, did we necessarily care – we just wanted them behind a keyboard churning out another book.

Ahh, how times have changed. Right?

Today, with multiple forms of social media, your friendly neighborhood author is just a mouse click away. The veil of mystique is shattered which begs the question – should author’s have opinions? How much is too much sharing?

Heck, do we even use our own names?

No doubt about it, there’s a fine line here between being yourself as a person and being a persona as a writer.

Some writers love to let it all hang out and are very vocal in their beliefs (example – Orson Scott Card). His very vocal views on homosexuality led to a firestorm that in all likelihood alienated fans. I know it made me think twice about him.

Other’s let the world know just enough about them to be enjoyable but don’t cross the TMI line (example – our dear friend Kristan Higgins). Since we Scribes know Kristan – we can say, yes, she is that down to earth, enjoys her man candy and loves her family. An ordinary person and a generous author with both her time and advice.

Does this mean writer’s shouldn’t have opinions? Are we not allowed to air our beliefs? Well, of course we’re allowed to have opinions and, hey, it’s a free country, right?Rooster Crowing

But again, it’s a fine line when it comes to what you say in public. So before you rant on Facebook or engage in a heated twitter battle, know the potential repercussions.

I like to apply the old adage – think before you speak (or type). And do unto others is also sound advice.

Put yourself on the other side of the fence – think of yourself as a reader too. Ask yourself:

  • Does learning that your favorite author has a total opposite view than you change how you see them?
  • Would you stop buying their books if they expressed/ranted about XYZ?
  • Do you really want to know XXX level of detail?

For me personally, as a writer, I’d rather walk on the positive side and keep my personal views to myself, especially in the political arena. During the last election, I un-friended people on Facebook (fellow writers) because of too much political ranting.

And when I apply the reader test to myself, I find I’d rather hear about when the next book is coming out and what my favorite author has planned next. It’s not that I don’t think writers should have opinions, but I’d rather save it for face to face conversations or private correspondence.

I say –  be polite, accessible but leave a little of that old mystique.  Let the reader enjoy your books without too much information ruining their good time.

What do you think? Do you like to let it all hang out? Have you ever faced repercussions? Or have you found a happy medium?

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

Suze here, wishing you the happiest of St. Patrick’s Days.  Am I Irish? Yup. Some of the names in my family tree are Higgins, McBath, Kearns, and Morrison.  But of course it doesn’t really matter. No matter your background, St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating with the ones you love–even if it means drinking green beer!

Beltany Stone Circle, photo courtesy of www.pdphoto.org.
Beltany Stone Circle, photo courtesy of http://www.pdphoto.org.

So today, in honor of Ireland’s most famous little round thing that grows underground, I thought I’d share a recipe with you. Enjoy!

Suze’s Mashed Potatoes

  • 6 Medium Size Potatoes–My favorite is Yukon Gold, and yes, the type of potato really does make a difference. You want a waxy potato, not a baking potato like a russet.
  • 1/4 to 1/2  cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or cream cheese (lite versions are fine, but don’t use the fat free stuff–yuck!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and quarter potatoes, rinse with cold water, and place in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until fork tender. This will probably take around twenty minutes, but keep checking them. Drain the potatoes immediately–don’t leave them sitting in the hot water or they’ll turn to mush.

Return potatoes to hot saucepan (off the heat). Mash the potatoes with your favorite mashing tool, then add the remaining ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup of milk that you’ve warmed in the microwave along with the butter. Mash everything together, adding more warm milk if necessary to make a creamy consistency.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with more butter and gravy if you have it. This ain’t lo-cal. Get over it, LOL!

Variations:

  • Add a cup of grated cheddar cheese during the hot mashing process
  • Sprinkle cooked potatoes with crumbled bacon and chopped scallions (Bacon? Did somebody say bacon?)
  • Drain a can of corn and mix into potatoes along with ground beef or turkey that has been browned with some finely chopped onion and drained. Place mixture into a casserole dish, cover with shredded cheese, and bake at 350 until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  • Leftover potatoes? Place in a saucepan the next day and stir in chicken broth until your desired soup consistency is reached. Season with a bit of thyme and some more freshly ground pepper.

How will you be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? I’ll leave you with a classic Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields  and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

And may you all find your pots of gold!

HOW FAR THE BAR?

Greetings, everyone. Thea here today. This past weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at t CTRWA March meeting about writing erotic romance from my perspective. Which admittedly goes back at least twenty years, when one of my historical romances, Beyond Desire, was the first romance to be reviewed as erotic romance — a totally new designation at the time. And not one that publishers jumped on either.

That took the publication of the anthology, Captivated, in 1999. Labelled “tales of erotic romance,” it flew onto the USAToday bestseller list in no time. And even then, the industry sat back and watched as the follow-up anthology, Fascinated, zipped onto USAToday as well.

There were constraints at the time as to what terms you could use, what body parts you could name, how far you could go.

Twenty years later, 50 Shades changed everything.

Now everything is on the table (and in the bed) as far as combinations and sex — front, back, side, upside down, inside out, casual, meaningful, manacled, chained, blindfolded, whipped, flipped, one night stands, one day, one hour get it on and get off, no commitment, scratch the itch and over you go.

So now that there are readers for every sexual taste, where’s your line? How far will you go? You could push the bar even further — male/male, female/ female, triads, quadrads, and any multiple combination of that; bestiality, hard core bondage/domination/punishment, corset discipline, flogging, gagging, needle play, fire play … .

And so my question to you, which I asked at the meeting as well, is — do you feel the need to compete with 50 Shades? To push further? To define the bar rather than straddle it? To be the one to make waves? Or you do have your own strict won’t-go-there parameters?

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She’s the author of 27 historical and contemporary erotic romances and a dozen novellas. Look for “Beyond the Night”, the sequel to “The Darkest Heart,” to be released as a Pocket Star eBook, fall 2014.

10 Rules for Writing an Effective Press Release

Hi Scribblers,

Being a marketer, I was blessed with the gift of gab.  And, using my gift I’ve been quite successful getting my clients of Market or Die Author Services, LLC noticed in the media.  My client, Kourtney Heintz was even featured on a local TV station – and her book was the focus of the show.  But, getting the attention of traditional media isn’t easy.  I’ve gotten more no’s or no responses than yes’s over the years.  But, my wins have been big ones. Just last week I was on the phone with the producer of CBS This Morning discussing my client Ava Miles as a potential guest.

Having the contacts is part of being successful in the press. The other half of the equation is  writing an effective press release.  So, here are my top ten must-have’s for writing a release that is both professional and eye catching.

1.- The words FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE should appear on the top left of the page above the headline – No dates – Dates will be overlooked.

2. Next, the headline should appear in bold capital letters.  Write the headline to attract the attention of the reporter.  If you have a title before your name like, USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR, make sure you use it here.

3. Avoid overused words like HOT, NEW, BEST EVER. Write simply and concise.

4. Make sure your book title appears in all caps.

5. Write your release in the 3rd person and do not use a title such as Mr. , Ms. or Mrs.  Just refer to yourself by your last name, such as, Fusco says this is her top ten rules for writing an effective press release.

6. Never use exclamation points in a press release!!!!!

7. At the bottom of the press release type the word “end” or designate the end by using ### .

8. List your website and social media information as well as your phone and physical address.

9. Your release should be no longer than 2 pages MAXIMUM!!!

10.  Submit your press release, and follow up about a week later. If there has been no response – accept that the venue is not interested and move one.  Further correspondence will only piss them off.  :)

Finding New Ways to Shine

Hey folks. It’s been a busy month since we last met. PJ Sharon here, on this first Thursday of March. I’ve been finishing up edits on my contemporary YA romance called PIECES OF LOVE, due out the first part of June. I also spent ten hours in the recording studio hammering out the theme song for the book!

I’ve had to bump my production schedule back after some, hehemm…technical difficulties with my cover artist. Basically I’m starting from scratch with someone new on the project so I’m excited to see what they come up with but I’m chomping at the bit to get it done. Admittedly, I also wanted a little more time to prepare for my launch this go round. As many of you are writers and authors, you know the importance of preparation when it comes to marketing and promoting your books well—especially in today’s competitive marketplace. But how do we find new ways to shine the light on our product?

I’ve been trying to think of some out-of-the-box ideas to add to the tried and true methods that others are using to launch their books successfully. Many of these ideas came from an awesome workshop I recently took with Amy Atwell and her pal Kelli at Author EMS. This was my takeaway from the workshop (which offered sooo much more), and what I came up with specifically for my book. There’s much to be done but I’ll try to implement at least the following over the next few months:

1)     Happy Couple Cover Reveal-Introduce a piece of the cover each week for three or four weeks leading up to launch (“Pieces” of love…get it? **ggg**). You guys get the first peek right here! Along with an excerpt, I’ll share each piece with newsletter readers first, and then on my FB page, attempting to gain momentum for the full reveal date—which I will advertise profusely as soon as it becomes available:-)

2)      Get reviews-this is my first time pushing for reviews ahead of launch, but it makes sense to me to get as many as possible before launch day to create buzz and to have enough reviews to get an add on Book bub and ENT-which have to be set up weeks ahead and budgeted for.

**If anyone is interested in an advanced reader copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review, I’ll have those available in the next few weeks. Just leave a comment below and let me know you’re interested or e-mail me off loop if you like at pjsharon64 (at) gmail (dot) (com).

3) Pre-orders-Smashwords offers a way for Indies to do pre-orders…YAY!!! Mark Coker. Thanks, man. On a limited basis, Amazon might do this as well, but I’d have to look further into that possibility. If any of you has done it, I’d love to hear how.

4)      Release of song to i-Tunes. Yes, PIECES OF LOVE, the theme song to my book will be available for a .99 cent download on i-Tunes in the very near future! I’ll keep you posted as to when it’s available for sale. Part of the song will be used for the book trailer, which will hopefully cross-pollinate attention for both the song and the book, and bring something unique to readers of YA fiction. A link will be available within the e-book so readers can listen to a song that Lexi writes and sings in the story. I’m very proud and excited about the finished product.

And NO—I’m not starting a new career as a recording artist. This is something I did for fun and for my love of music. I think readers will get a kick out of hearing the author’s voice. Now, I know that not everyone can write music or sing, but how cool would it be to add within your e-book, a link to a pod cast or a personal message to readers about your book? Maybe a three to five minute interview about where the idea came from and so on.

Multimedia integration is where the industry seems to be headed, so why not get creative? Beyond having links to your other books, your newsletter sign up, and social media sites, you can offer live chats or book club discussions. Or maybe offer access to a private page on your website for readers of that particular book, giving them deleted scenes, playlists, a contest or some other special privileges unique to your books theme.

4)      Release book trailer—see above. There are several sites that promote book trailers, one being the USA Today HEA blog. I’ll try to get the trailer out to as many as I can find that are within my budget. Hear that honey? Get working on that book trailer!

5)      Launch book-There are a dozen or more steps that have to happen before I get to this point, but on launch day, the plan comes to life. A FB party launch seems to work well these days. Although teens are hanging out less and less on FB and more on Instagram, I have a pretty enthusiastic cross-over market with adult readers who enjoy my contemporary YA romance novels. (Yes, I will set my FB feed to jump over to Instagram at some point.)

For PIECES OF LOVE, I’ll focus on the Mediterranean cruise theme. It will be in June, so I can invite readers to take a trip with Lexi and Ethan to the Mediterranean. I’ll have excerpts from the book, pictures taken throughout Europe, and of course punch and Spanikopita for everyone. I’m currently trying to find dolphin themed swag in reference to a recurring totem throughout the story, and of course there will be giveaways and free books. Mediterranean cruise 2011 005 (2013_02_16 18_14_38 UTC)I plan to reach out to other authors who might want to use my launch to offer some of their books for free through Smashwords coupons or PDF copies. I know Gemma Halliday does this. Her readers love it and authors can find new audiences through another author’s fan base.

** Anyone wanting to offer up e-books or even signed print copies, let me know in the comments below and I’ll connect with you about how to get your books into the hands of a potential new reader.** (Sweet romance only, please. I do have to consider my YA audience.)

6)      Blog tour-I’ve done blog tours in the past with mixed results. For this launch, I will do a focused tour and try primarily for review sites and YA bloggers.

**If any f you YA authors or book bloggers out there would like to host me in June, July, or August, let me know in the comments section below or email me off loop.**

Well, there you have it. Those are just the basics, and I may not get it all done, but that’s where you’ll find me for the next few months. In my free time, I’ll be writing book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy due out in the fall of 2014. When I see you next month, I’ll reveal the title! Stay tuned.

What new ideas have you seen that are helping books stand out in the market?

Let’s Talk About Reviews

Hi! Sugar here. I want to talk a little bit about reviews. I had two releases this past week and the reviews have started to trickle in.  The great thing about being traditionally published is that your book gets reviewed in RT, Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. If you’re a bigger author you might get covered by the NYT or Kirkus or USA Today.  Getting reviewed by those big publications are an honor but do they really matter with readers? Liberty

NOPE. I never heard of RT until I started writing. I never paid attention to Publisher’s Weekly until my first book was reviewed by them and I was a voracious reader. Reading 2-3 books a week. I think most of your average romance readers don’t pay attention to what those publications say.

But that brings me to another question, do any reviews matter with readers? That’s a tougher question to answer.  Yes and no.  As a reader I never paid attention to reviews, because people have different tastes. Just because I don’t like chocolate ice cream doesn’t mean you won’t. So I rarely look at reviews. There are a couple of reasons why.

1.Some people like to give the  whole plot away.

2. If a book only has a few reviews and they are all great, I can never be sure if the author rallied their friends and family to post them on Amazon.

3. Some people are just stupidly mean. Ripping a book to shreds just because they can.

I choose books because my friends recommend them or because I love the author or the book simply because the blurb sounded good. So as a reader I reviews are of little importance to me.

Thrown For A CurveAs a writer… Well… That’s another story. I try not to read my reviews.  TRY. I don’t always succeed. I’ve learned not to pay attention to the bad ones because I know myself well enough to know that it will bother me. And I don’t have time to let one person’s opinion affect my day.

So what about you? Are reviews important to you? Do you read all of yours? Do you ignore them? Let me know what you think.

PS. I’ve been told by people who are in the know, that that whole “certain amount of reviews thing” you need to manipulate Amazon’s algorithms is BS. You can’t manipulate Amazon. Amazon is all knowing and all powerful. They have drones and stuff!

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