On Curse Words and Book Covers

I read an article a few weeks ago–I think it was in Publisher’s Weekly, but of course now I can’t find it–bemoaning the use of curse words on book covers as a new trend. Here’s a similar one. That got me to thinking of the use of curse words in our society in general. Language, for all its shared value for its speakers, is a very personal and subjective thing. Fair warning: I will likely contradict myself a few times in this post because I have mixed feelings on the subject.

First of all – yes, I am a frequent user of curse words in real life. I have a mouth like a sailor. My good friend Lee finally helped me embrace the F word a few years ago. And thanks to Chuck Wendig (a damn fine writer, I must say – he has a book Called Damn Fine Book, so it’s a joke, see what I did there?) I am a much more creative cusser. (If you can handle profanity, check out his blog. He is awesome – and his books really are great.)

To me, at this point in my life, curse words are words like any other, not good or bad, right or wrong, just with a little more color and emphasis than others — like an adjective or other modifier. I don’t think it has anything to do with a lack of creativity or vocabulary; I have both in spades. For me, some of it is habit and some of it might be laziness, but other times it is spice. Like I want to add a little extra emphasis to what I am saying. But also I curse without really thinking. I can, however, hold myself back at work, in professional writer settings, and when there are kids present (if I realize they are there, of course).

Funny thing is, I try not to curse online. (Except for the occasional FFS, which I don’t spell out. If you know what it means, that’s fine. If you don’t, you wouldn’t even know I was cussing.) It’s just not part of my brand. (It is for Chuck and he incorporates it well.) I don’t want to alienate people or look unprofessional, either. I guess my brand might be a little more straight-laced than I really am outside of book world.

But yet, there is cussing in my one contemporary book, and sometimes historical curse words in my historicals. Go figure. Why? It feels more authentic to me, to my experience of life. Obviously if I was writing a Christian or clean book/romance I wouldn’t use it because it’s not what the reader expects to see. But outside of those markets, I think people are pretty immune to it in daily conversation, especially since you see it on TV now. (I will admit that even I had to get used to the number of F bombs when I was watching Entourage. About those contradictions?)

Do I think it belongs on book covers? In rare instances, yes. I mean Go the F*** to Sleep is a perfect title. I’m not even a parent and I know that–because it’s how you feel. But I don’t suddenly want to start seeing it all over the place. For one, it’s mostly done for shock value and to get people talking, which is disingenuous. It’s like being a Shock Jock was in the 80s and 90s. Do it to get attention and seem cool.

For another, you don’t know who is seeing that title and as I mentioned, some people get offended by cussing and/or don’t want their little ones exposed to it. Sometimes it seems like being yelled at, and God knows we have enough of that in our world already.

And there are levels to swearing, too. In general, a D or S word is less offensive than an F word, which is still better than calling a woman the C word. But that is my system. What if yours isn’t the same? Who says what is acceptable and what isn’t? How far is too far?

But I also think society in general isn’t ready for it. A lot of people still have a Victorian mindset to cussing and would find it rude at best and downright vulgar at worst. I bought a book on feminism in the 90s a while back called 90s Bitch and I was a little uncomfortable with the title, even though I know it is a nod to third wave feminism, which took place in the 90s/early 2000s and partially focused on reclaiming words like “bitch” and “slut.” So the title had meaning, but it still wasn’t necessary to me.

Maybe that’s my point. When the word is necessary–like in Go the F*** to Sleep, somehow Go the Hell/Heck to Sleep just doesn’t have the same punch–then I think it is fine. But when it is just there because they can (like many examples in the article I linked to above), it still feels crass.

I know, I know, why is it okay for me to cuss with impunity, but yet I get offended by it in a book title? I told you I would contradict myself.

I think some of it is also a matter of choice. I have made the choice to cuss. But I will try not to do it around you if I know you don’t like it. However, when it is in a book title, I have no choice in the matter; it is just there. And often THERE because the publisher/author is trying to make a point, even if it is only “look how subversive I am.” And that is just stupid.

Quite frankly, most cussing isn’t used in a very nice way either. Here I am differentiating between when you cuss out of emphasis–like when you stub your toe or  say “s***, man” to something bad someone just revealed–and when you cuss to call someone a name or really to be mean. Our world has so much negativity already (which is behind a lot of the aforementioned yelling) why would you needlessly put more out there, much less broadcast it on the cover of a book?

I know, you could say I contribute to the negativity in the world by choosing to cuss in my daily life, and maybe I do. I never said I was f***ing perfect or that I have all the answers.

Gothic Novels in the Modern Age

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m excited to have the Halloween post for the first time in my Spellbound Scribes career! I’m not as into it as Shauna is, but for me it ushers in three very holy days: Samhain (Oct. 31), All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2) I thought about talking about that but decided to go in a more literary direction instead.

Earlier this year I was on a panel about neo-gothic fiction at the Historical Novel Society Conference. I thought this was the perfect day to share some of my observations. I am planning a gothic novel, but it keeps getting pushed farther and farther down the priority list. But you will see it eventually.

Introduction
(Full disclosure: My friend, fellow panelist and fellow author Kris Waldherr wrote this introduction, but I like it so much I’m stealing it. The rest of the post is all me.)

The birth of the Gothic novel occurred alongside and in reaction to the industrial and scientific revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the book considered to be the first Gothic novel, was published in 1764; in 1818 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein terrorized readers with its nightmare vision of science run amok. Over two hundred years later, the Gothic novel is enjoying a renewed popularity in historical fiction, aided in part by television shows and films such as “Penny Dreadful” and “Crimson Peak.”

What Makes a Novel “Gothic”
To me, Gothic always has—and always will—have its basis in death, as that is ultimate human fear. It is all about the “in-between:” life and death i.e. ghosts, automatons, even vampires and zombies; cursed and blessed: angels, demons, old churches and graveyards; fears, real and imagined: anxiety, hallucination and dreams.

But what sets it apart from similar genres like horror is a dark, haunted atmosphere. Gothic always takes place in the shadows. Whether it is a castle, a mansion or even a dark alleyway, it is a place where one’s sight is not clear and one’s mind is played with and preyed upon. If and author can’t build that kind of atmosphere, the rest of the novel will not succeed.

The author also must have the main character wrestle with a psychological torment of some kind, whether it comes in the form of an apparition or haunting or a question of sanity or something in between. That issue is usually related to the character’s life and/or political situation in some way. Class and politics were very big in classic Gothic novels, whereas neo-gothic tend to be more psychological and sometimes even spiritual.

What Makes Neo-gothic Novels Different from Traditional Gothic Novels
I touched on this a little above, but the biggest shift in my mind is the power of the heroine. She used to be a victim and passive, but in most neo-gothic books she is anything but. She may begin the story as subjugated, but finds her power through the course of the novel, which is very inspiring. I think feminism and a reaction to the current political climate has a lot to do with that.

I also think gothic novels have become subtler as their audience has grown more sophisticated. The Castle of Oronto was just bonkers in your face, to the point of seeming absurd to a modern reader. Now, gothic fiction preys so much more on our minds and subtle fears because we have been conditioned, both through the horrors we see on the news and the gore in horror films, not to react to the obvious as we once would have.

I also see neo-gothic as less overtly political, i.e. not so much about nobility and common man so much anymore as about the fears about and fighting against societal issues that go beyond class structure. I just read about a new sub-genre of Gothic literature called environmental Gothic or ecoGothic. Dates to about 2013 book called Ecogothic by William Hughes and Andrew Smith. It engages with the dark side of nature and our anxieties around climate change. Nature is an entity and a presence in and of itself, rather than just being a backdrop.

How Gothic Gives Women Writers and Their Female Protagonists a Voice
Spiritualism was one of the founding forces of gothic novels – more on that in the next section. It gave women a public voice for the first time, because it wasn’t them speaking; it was the “spirits” speaking through them.

Today we have much more freedom, but using the supernatural still gives us a chance to voice opinions and viewpoints we otherwise might not. For example, in the 60s and 70s, we had figures like Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter using their work to explore women’s issues for the first time. In the Haunting of Hill House, Elinor has always been a dutiful daughter and sister, but when she disobeys societal expectations to go to Hill House, she slowly loses her sanity and eventually, her life. Theo, on the other hand, who is the more subversive character, in that she never followed the rules – she is clearly a lesbian or bisexual – pays a bit through her pain of seeing what happens to Elinor, but emerges largely untouched. Because she never played by society’s rules, for her the price wasn’t as high.

How the Growth of Spiritualism in the Mid-nineteenth Century Ties into the Rise of the Gothic Novel
Gothic certainly existed before the rise of Spiritualism in the late 1860s and 1870s with Hawthorne, Poe and others, but I think Spiritualism took it out of the realm of fantasy for the average person and brought it much closer to home.

The timing of the rise of Spiritualism was two-pronged issue:

  • The Civil War had left so many dead and the living were desperate to be in touch with them.
  • New inventions like telegraphs and unseen electric waves made people wonder if we could communicate invisibly on this plane, why not on another?

Between the emphasis on mourning and death from the war and this tantalizing new technology came a new religious movement where gifted individuals could communicate with the dead. It is very interesting to me that scientists were among the most fervent Spiritualists, whereas today we tend to think of science and faith as needing to be divorced from one another. James Prescott Joule, Michael Faraday, and William Thomson, whose research created scientific advancements such as the Laws of Thermodynamics, the creation of “electric current from a magnetic field,” and the “foundations of modern physics” respectively. What used to be considered superstition was now possibly scientific fact.

I think Spiritualism, in putting the otherworld within reach—all one needed was a medium or someone at least willing to hold a séance or work with a planchette—opened minds to Gothic fiction.  It also came at a time when organized religion, especially the Roman Catholic Church, was beginning to really feel a lost from the Enlightenment and the emergence of agnostics and atheists on a larger scale than ever before. Even these people could embrace Spiritualism if they so desired.

The Relationship Between Psychology and Gothic Novels
I think Gothic novels are highly psychological, especially from WWI on.

I actually HATE Freud, but I could talk about his theory of the Uncanny for hours. The Uncanny is anything that gives you that creepy feeling that something isn’t quite right, a type of anxiety and uncertainty. It arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when we are faced with the reality of something that we have until now considered imaginary.

Freud believes that the feeling of the “Uncanny” has its origin in something that was once familiar and well-known that has long been forgotten. He basis it in primitive man’s feelings on God and death, feelings we have repressed in modern society.

There are two main ways the Uncanny manifests:

  1. The double or doppelganger. Freud believes this comes from when primitive man believed in an animistic form of religion in which everything had a spirit. He made images of himself (think Egyptian sarcophagi) as an attempt and immortality; but then those images became reminders of his of mortality, and thus engendered fear. Examples:
    • In Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, the main character is often seen playing the piano under a portrait of St. Cecilia who also plays the piano, and was a martyr, which seems to be the death the main character is heading toward.
    • Twins in every horror movie. Ever.
    • Mirror images, shadows, ghosts and guardian spirits—even our own conscience.
    • Things that are not quite living, but not quite inanimate either, such as dolls, automations, and wax figures.
  1. Repetition. Freud believes this comes from an infantile compulsion to repeat, which dominates the unconscious mind. We are helpless to stop it and therefore it creates anxiety. One example is seeing the same number everywhere and taking it as an omen. This is also why The Raven’s “tap, tap, tapping” and “rap, rap, rapping” gives us the chills.

Freud also mentions severed limbs (which he says come from a castration complex, especially the eyes), wish-fulfillment, the evil eye, and madness as forms of the Uncanny.

Freud says the uncanny can’t happen in fairy tales or other forms of fantasy because we already know anything can happen in them. He believes that the uncanny happens the most often in stories where reality is interrupted by some form of fantasy and where the reader highly identifies with the place and point of view character. In that way, the reader can feel the uncanny event as though it is happening to them.

Why All Things Gothic Endure
I think humans will always have an attachment to the Gothic because we are always going to need a safe space in which to work out our fears, especially the deepest and darkest of them. It is part of human nature to want to question and explore the “unexplainable.” It’s also human nature to like to be scared; it’s a way to have a brush with danger and death without the consequences.

The Best Gothic Authors Today

  • Carol Goodman (aka Juliet Dark)
  • Ruth Ware
  • Diane Setterfield
  • Kate Morton
  • Libbra Bray

Happy Halloween, everyone! And Blessed Samhain, All Saints and All Souls, if you celebrate any of those holy days.

Season of the (Feminist) Witch

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m going out to left field today. This post relates to a book I’d love to write, but really isn’t about books or writing. Every so often I need to write about something else.

This morning I felt the first cool kiss of autumn in the air. My favorite season is here. This is the time of year I am happier, more energetic and more productive than any other.

Plus, we’re entering the season of the witch. I’m not a skull and bones kind of Halloween girl. I’m a witches and black cats and spells, kind of girl.

But that’s not the only reason I’ve had witches on the brain lately. A few days ago I saw an ad on Facebook asking “Are you struggling with witchcraft?” *cue eye roll* It was trying to get you to sign up for some kind of online coven. (I have a whole other rant about opportunists and religion but that’s for another day.)  That made me realize something else: witchcraft is back in vogue!

And there’s a reason for that–it’s linked to feminism. Go with me on this.

I came of age in the mid-to-late 90s when all things witchy were cool:

  • Pop Culture– Goth fashion, long black or velvet dresses. People began wearing pentacles in public (I am not a fan of that symbol, but no worries if you are. I prefer the triquetra.) New Age stores were everywhere.
  • TVCharmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
  • MoviesThe Craft, Hocus Pocus, The Crucible (with Winona Ryder), Practical Magic
  • Books – This was heaven. Borders had a whole section on Wicca. Hundreds of books. It was amazing. I probably owned at least 50 myself during this time.

That was during the third wave of feminism, when Girl Power and Lilith Fair was all the rage. Women were fighting for reproductive rights, LGBT rights (there was no QIA at that point), intersectional recognition in feminism, against gender violence and more.

Then things quieted down in the 2000s as both witchcraft and feminism began to be viewed as passe. Women began saying feminism was no longer needed and maybe even dead.

But suddenly a few years ago (long about 2015 or 2016) witchcraft began to creep back into pop culture, right along with a fourth wave of feminism that I would argue began with the 2016 presidential election (I really, really want to write a book about that!)

Suddenly you have a repeat of the 90s (sometimes way too literally):

  • Pop Culture– “Basic Witch,” a really commercial version of witchcraft that uses its trappings (crystals, sage, “spells”- all packaged in book or a monthly subscription box!) to appeal to the yoga moms and millennials. (This is so NOT real witchcraft.) And most New Age stores have moved online.
  • TV/StreamingReboots of Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), American Horror Story: Coven
  • Books – The oldies but goodies written by Starhawk, Doreen Valentine, Silver RavenWolf, Raven Grimassi and others are still around. But now you also have Basic Witch, 5-Minute Magic for Modern Wiccans and other books looking to “modernize” the craft.

It’s interesting that now most of this is darker, especially the reboots. But so is our culture, with its hatred and bigotry (exactly the opposite of what most witchcraft is about, at least the kinds that call themselves white or green). And frankly, women have a lot more to fight for this time around: our reproductive rights are being threatened more than ever and we’re taken even less seriously on issues of sexual violence – just look at the appointment of Judge Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the high profile rape cases like Brock Turner, and the police who got probation a few days ago for raping a woman they had drugged and detained. Women’s rights are sliding backwards again and the patriarchy is trying to reassert itself. And at the same time we find a rise in the popularity of witchcraft.

All of this makes sense, if you think about it. Witches, or at least the women accused of witchcraft in the US and Europe, have always been the resistance. They often lived alone, which in itself was bucking the system because it kept them out of the control of men. They had power in their independence and in the healing arts (herbs, midwifery, etc.) that they provided the community. People feared their magic and spells, regardless of whether or not any were ever cast. They were the original “nasty” women.

One could argue that the Spiritualism trend of the 1800s and early 1900s, which gave women to the ability to speak in public for the first time and tangentially led to the suffrage movement, was the witchcraft of the first wave of feminism. (God I want to write a book about this!)

After centuries of being “forced” underground, modern Wicca (one of the most well-known forms of witchcraft in the US) was founded in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, who claimed it was an unbroken continuation of the ancient forbidden practices. (Believe what you will about that. I think it is BS.) It grew in popularity over the next twenty years and had it’s first public heyday in the late 70s and 80s. (Think Stevie Nicks in the music world, The Mists of Avalon for a literary example and Teen Witch for a movie example.)

Not coincidentally, this was during the second wave of feminism, when women were beginning to enter the workforce for the first time and demand their rights (abortion legalization, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment, etc.) equal to their male counterparts.

We saw this pattern repeat in the 90s and its happening again now. So it seems that in times of resistance, we as women naturally seek to copy our fore-mothers and seek solace and power in witchcraft, which grants us equality with (and in some forms of Wicca, dominance over) men.

Now, of course, not all women are witches, by far. Christianity is still far more popular. (Everyone has a right to their own beliefs, whatever they may be.) And there is still a great fear and hatred of anything pagan by many people. I just think the correlation is interesting.

And since this is a blog about books and writing, here’s a list of my favorite fictional witchy books:

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
  • The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Kathrine Howe
  • Kim Harrison’s whole Hallows series.

And our own Spellbound Scribe Shauna Granger has her Elemental series and Melinda Kavanaugh series. Happy witchy reading!

Please don’t ask about my personal beliefs. Those are my business and honestly a very, very long and complex answer. I’ve studied witchcraft for years from a scholarly perspective, so my true beliefs may not be what you expect. But then again they may. 😉

Anatomy of a USA Today Bestseller or How I Made the List

Many people have asked me how I hit the USA Today Bestseller list with The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, so today I am going to share exactly what I did, including more detail and numbers than you could ever want. This is going to be a LONG post.

This method is not the only one by any means, but it is time-tested and many authors have used it with success. Of course, if you want try it, you’ll need to adjust it to your own needs and budget.

A Bit About the USA Today Bestseller List
Each of the bestseller lists is a little different, but USA Today counts sales from Monday to Sunday, so you would want your promotion to mirror this. As the name of the publication implies, only sales in the United States count toward their list. The number of sales you need varies, but the general advice is 5,000-9,000, though I hit the low end of the list with 4,191. The number depends on the time of the year because there are busy and slow periods in publishing just like in any other industry. But the good news is pre-sales count if you are trying to hit the list with a new book. The general rule is that you need at least 500 sales at Barnes & Noble and iBooks in order to make a list, so you can’t try if you are Amazon exclusive. There is debate about whether that 500 is combined or separate or if it is even accurate; some people say the real number is closer to 150 or 200. The point is you need a mix of sales–USA Today won’t count you if you are only on Amazon.

Quick Tips
For those who don’t want to read the whole post, here are some quick recommendations. But I do suggest reading the whole thing because not everything you need to know is covered here.

  • You really need a Bookbub Featured Deal in the U.S. to make this work.
  • Ad stacking is key to gaining and maintaining momentum.
  • Have a budget before you start so you don’t go crazy with your spend.
  • Put thought and strategy behind your advertising, graphics and text.
  • Lower your price at least 3-4 days in advance at all retailers. I did this and still had problems with NookPress and Google Play not lowering correctly.
  • When you put your retailer links into the forms for your ads, save which ones you used. One or two nights before your sale, check all them to make sure they are reflecting the sale price – especially if you use distributors. I had a rouge Barnes & Noble link that was removed from a major newsletter because the price didn’t drop with that link, even though it did with all the others I checked. By the time they told me there was a problem, the newsletter had already gone out and they refused to send the correct link. I will always wonder how many sales I missed out on because of that stupid link.
  • Ask for help! People are so willing to share and do what they can to help you succeed!
  • Tell people you are aiming for a list. That’s not something people get to help others do everyday and I really believe letting people know makes them more likely to share than if you just say your book in on sale.
  • Don’t be shy or get worried you will annoy people. You may, but they will also understand why you are posting so much. And if they don’t, you don’t need to be friends with them anyway.

My Sales By the Numbers
I’m listing these early in the post so you can see what I achieved with the method outlined below.

Total sales: 4,191
Estimated Total Income= $2,136.30
Estimated Expenses = $1,672 (newsletter ads) + $761.40 (social media ads) + $9 (graphics) – $2,442,40
Estimated Total Loss = $306.10

It doesn’t bother me that I lost a little money on this. Profit was not my endgame. My goal was to hit the list and I did. You may feel differently and that is totally fine.

By retailer breakdown:

Amazon = 3,574 ebooks (and five print books, but those don’t count toward the list)
Barnes & Noble = 298

  • Nook Press = 6 (I had issues with them not changing prices, so that is why it is low)
  • Distributed through Smashwords: 283
  • Distributed through Draft 2 Digital = 9 (I don’t use them like I should)

Apple

  • Distributed through Smashwords. (I have yet to go direct with them, but I should) = 224

Kobo

  • Distributed through Smashwords = 91

Smashwords = 5

Smashwords sales

(Google Play was not included because they never lowered my price.)

My Category Rankings
Barnes and Noble

  • #1 in fantasy
    • Held for 2.5 days
    • In top 15 for 4 days
    • Bestseller status for 5 days
  • #11 in ALL Nook ebooks
    • In Top 100 for 3 days

Amazon

  • #1 in three subcategories on Amazon
    • Held for 2.5 days
  • #4 in Fantasy on Amazon
    • Held for 2 days
  • #5 in Sci-fi and Fantasy on Amazon
    • Held for 2 days
  • #40 in ALL Kindle ebooks
    • In Top 100 for 2.5 days

Apple

  • #8 in Sci-fi and Fantasy on iBooks (I only thought to look at this on Sunday, so I’m not sure if it was any higher. It likely was at least on Thursday.)

Smashwords

  • Made their Hot List two weeks in a row.
    • Week 1
      • #1 selling book
      • #1 selling boxed set
      • #1 selling fantasy boxed set
      • #1 in fantasy
      • #1 in fairy tales
    • Week 2 (this is with it back at full price)
      • #4 selling boxed set
      • #1 selling fantasy boxed set
      • 1 in fairy tales

Outsold both George R. R. Martin (2 books) and Nora Roberts at certain points. I know most of their fans likely already have these books so it isn’t like I outsold a new release, but still, these authors are HUGE!

BookBub is Key
You can try the other elements described below without a BookBub Featured Deal in the US, but unless you already have a huge audience, I wouldn’t recommend it. BookBub is expensive, but very powerful. They say most authors average about 3,000-4,000 in sales from one of these deals, but that depends on the category you are in. (I was in fantasy, where they say the average is 2,100. My numbers were just above that at about 2,500.) In my experience, if you want a US deal (which is where the vast majority of subscribers are) DON’T click both US and International, even though they say it increases your chances. Every time I’ve clicked both, I’ve gotten international only. While that is good for increasing sales and establishing greater foreign readership, a US deal is what gives you the chance to make a list. This was the first time I indicated I only wanted a US deal, and the first time I got one.

When you are submitting for a deal, unless you are published by a major house, the general advice is to focus on your ebook only. This is partly because of the costs involved in printing paperbacks, which limit how far indie authors can reduce our prices before we lose money on a sale. It is also because many of the lists count paperback and ebook sales separately, so focusing on both won’t actually increase your chances. Plus, most readers of these newsletters are buying ebooks anyway. (I did find that I saw a slight increase in paperback sales during the campaign even though that book wasn’t on sale, so you may see the same benefit.)

When thinking about your potential deal, there are two big decisions you have to make: which book and what price? As for which book, it is easier to make the list with a boxed set (either of your own books like I did with the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy or with a set from various authors who have established fan bases) than it is with a single book. This is because readers feel like they are getting greater value when they get more than one book at a sale price. (Hey, I can’t blame them.) It is definitely possible to do it with a single book, but you will have to work that much harder at advertising and rely more on your fan base to promote.

Another fairly big decision is which genre to advertise in. Bookbub only has so many choices so you have to decide which best fits your book and its potential readers. If your genre is straightforward like contemporary romance, it will be an easy decision because they have that as a category–and it is a very popular one. However, The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy is historical fantasy and they don’t have a category for that, so I had to choose between historical romance (which it is not), historical fiction, and fantasy. I’ve learned from previous experience that my Guinevere books sell better when I market them as fantasy, so that is the category I went with, even though historical fiction has a bigger BookBub subscriber number. (A lot of this has to do with anticipating reader expectations. I think straight historical fiction readers could be turned off by my Guinevere books because she is a mythological, rather than historical figure and the book has mystical elements to it.)

Marketing expert Amy Collins told me once that the bigger the price drop you can demonstrate for BookBub, the more likely you are to get a featured deal. How far you choose to drop it depends on your goals for your campaign. If you are looking to make money (or at least break even), you may not wish to go all the way down to $0.99 like I did. (My normal price is $9.99.) However, if you don’t care about a profit and are just looking to try to make a list, as I was, drop the price down as much as you are comfortable. I personally wouldn’t advise free because 1) you won’t make any of your money back and 2) many of the lists don’t count books offered for free.

Rumor has it Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days for BookBub deals because you can then ride the “tail” from the ad for the rest of the week. Mine was on a Thursday, and I did just fine. My sales dropped off pretty quickly Saturday and Sunday, so for me, the tail wasn’t as long as some had led me to believe. If you don’t like the day/date that Bookbub gives you, just email them (quickly – I think their rules say it has to be a certain amount of time before your deal) and they will change it. Mine was originally on a Saturday and I asked them to change it because I was traveling and also asked for a different day based on when other major advertisers had open slots.

You Got a Featured Deal, Now What?

Ad Stacking for Newsletter Lists
The first thing you should do when you find out that you got a BookBub Featured Deal (besides celebrate) is start planning the other ads you are going to run in the week of your promotion. These are usually mostly ads targeted at newsletters/mailing lists of readers. Some of the really popular ones (especially Robin Reads and Fussy Librarian) fill up a month in advance, so keep that in mind when confirming your BookBub date. Also keep in mind that some of these sites are VERY expensive. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford them. I went into debt for this and I don’t advise anyone else to do so. Below are ones I used, along with the price, which of course, they can change at any time. Some of them are flat-rate pricing and some let you choose what package you want. Here’s a great database to use to evaluate potential ad companies.

Location Date Cost
BookBub Thurs 7/11 $516
Just Kindle Books Wed 7/10 $53
Fussy Librarian Tuesday 7/9 $20
Book Gorilla unknown free, part of a package with another company
BargainBooksy Wed 7/10 $40
ManyBooks Wed 7/10 $78
Robinreads Mon 7/8 $85
ENT Tues 7/9 $35
Choosey Bookworm Mon 7/8 $36
Kindle Nation Daily week $119
BooksButterfly 6/8-6/12 $190
BookRebel Mon 7/8 $25
Riffle Select Wed 7/10 $75
Early Bird Books Mon 7/8 $300
The Portalist Wed 7/10 $100
Total 1,672

There are a few that I would have liked to have used, but couldn’t and why:

Book Barbarian full
Book Cave not accepted
Free Kindle Books Didn’t have enough reviews
BookDealio date conflict
Booksends not enough reviews
Ebooksida not enough reviews
Writerspace not appropriate for a short period promo; better for new release

The best advice I can give is to cluster ads from these types of companies around your Bookbub ad, preferably BEFORE the day of your Featured Deal. Don’t run other ads on the day of your Bookbub Featured deal; just let it do its job on its own. It is better to get some heavy hitters in before your Bookbub deal so that they jump-start your sales and trip Amazon’s algorithms into paying attention. That way your book is primed for the big BookBub day.

Based on my sales, the promotions that seem to have done the best are the ones I scheduled on Monday (Robinreads, Bookrebel, Early Bird Books), as I had 625 sales that day, as opposed to 227 on Tuesday and 220 on Wednesday. I’m only using Amazon as my example because they have the easiest report by day but my sales at other locations showed a similar pattern.

It is still important to continue to advertise after your Book Bub deal. You can do this through ads from the places above and/or through your own ads. I had scheduled all of my ads with other companies earlier in the week, so I relied upon Facebook/Instagram, Amazon, and Bookbub ads that I created during the last four days of my campaign (Friday-Sunday). My sales reflected that as they trended steadily downward. I will go into more detail on the ads I created myself below.

Theme
When you’re planning your campaign, you need to think like a marketer. This means:

  • Being consistent in your messaging through all of your graphics and other communications.
  • Keeping your color scheme and fonts consistent as well.
  • Having a theme to tie together your copy and images.
  • Using images that are professional (I recommend stock photography from iStock, Adobe Stock or some other paid site) and that are consistent.
  • Using comparison titles to help readers understand what type of book you’re promoting.

You can choose to base your theme around anything–perhaps an upcoming holiday, season, news event, TV show or movie that your books are similar to–as long as it gives your audience something to identify with and as well as a clear, honest picture of what to expect from your book.

I chose to target the “showhole” left behind by the end of Game of Thrones because my Guinevere books have a lot of similar attributes (political conniving and maneuvering, murder for the sake of gain (though not as many deaths as GRRM’s books], a quasi-medieval setting [though mine is more early medieval], and a bit of magic). I also played off the idea that in the show at least the women did not fare well, but they do in my books. This also ties nicely into the resurgence feminism is having at the moment. I also wanted to touch on the idea that fans have waited a long time for The Winds of Winter and still have a long wait, so they can use that time to read my book.

Once I saw how the various messages performed (more on that below) and I had some solid success to back up revising my ads (this was on Friday after the big Bookbub push), I decided to keep the basic graphics and message the same, but change them a little to play on the books’ new bestseller status and create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), since the campaign was coming to an end.

Graphics
Once I had those basic ideas in mind, I decided to create eight graphics that I would both use as the basis for my Facebook/Instagram and Bookbub ads and share on social media. The reason two were similar is I wanted to see which type of background connected better with people, simple or complex.

Out of those, four played heavily on the Game of Thrones theme:

But I knew not all my readers were fans of the show, so I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I also created an ad that appealed more to readers of historical fantasy, one for readers of epic fantasy, one that emphasized the award the book recently won, and one to those who are attracted to the romance in my books.

I use Canva to create my graphics. I’ve tried Bookbrush, but I can’t get it to work correctly for me. (Some people swear by it, so use whatever you are comfortable with). All of my images either come from Canva or Adobe Stock. (It is very important to use legally purchased images. Yes, it costs money, but it’s better than getting yourself sued for something you stole off of Google.) I have a running account with them that costs $29.99/month, so I have hundreds of credits to use anytime I need them. I don’t have any special graphic design training; I think I just picked things up over my 15 years in PR and marketing.

Once the Bookbub deal happened and I had several things to crow about, I edited my graphics. You’ll notice the bestseller seals (which I created myself, based off of things I had seen others do). They aren’t on every image and I don’t always include all three because sometimes that made the design too busy. I let the ad dictate what I did and did not include. Also note the change in language. It is simpler and uses terms like “Buy now!” Don’t Miss Out!” and “Hurry!” to create a sense of urgency and FOMO. These graphics also emphasize the end date more which is both a helpful reminder for people and another way to emphasize this is a limited time offer.

 

Prep Work

There are a few things it would be wise for you to do before your promotion week.

  • Make sure your book page is properly formatted on all sites. You’d be surprised how messed up they can get, especially on Amazon (their editor follows no known HTML logic) and Barnes and Noble (which I never did get fixed, despite multiple attempts).
  • Check Amazon your categories. Amazon is always adding new categories, so if you haven’t checked yours lately, you might want to shift them around. It is easier to hit #1 in a smaller, more niche sub-category. But I actually took my book out of the Arthurian niche sub-category and put it into the bigger historical fantasy category because I wanted to see how it did. My two categories are Fiction > Fantasy > Epic and Fiction > Fantasy > Historical.
  • Check your Amazon keywords. These are how Amazon will throw you into a third category, so make sure your keywords really reflect what you book is about. This is how I got into the Sword and Sorcery subcategory
  • Get any typos fixed that you or readers have identified and be sure to upload the new files in plenty of time before your sale.

I also did a few other things that are totally optional:

  • I asked on Facebook if any of my author friends had a newsletter timed to the sale and was willing to mention it. From that, I got nine people who said they were willing to share anything I posted on Facebook, a suggestion for someone to contact who might help, a newsletter swap with author Nancy Bilyeau and an interview and newsletter mention from marketing expert Amy Collins. This is something I would totally do again. The worst people can do is ignore you or say no.
  • I was heading to the Historical Novel Society Conference just a few weeks before the sale and I knew they would have a swag table so I had 25 small cards printed advertising the sale. I didn’t count how many were left after the conference (a lot) but I needed something to do with them. So I handed them out to people I knew at my day job. I have no way of knowing how many people actually bought the book from the card, but as several of my co-workers said, “Hey, if we can ask you to buy cookies and pizza for our kids, you can certainly ask us to buy a $0.99 book.” I would advise checking on your company’s solicitation policy if you’re going to do this, just to be safe. It was fun, but it’s not something I think I would do again.
  • They say the higher the number of reviews your book has on Amazon, the more likely readers are to buy your book, so you may want to try increasing your number before your promotional week. I emailed my newsletter subscribers asking for review in exchange for free book (not sure if that is totally okay or not, but I did it). It only netted me two reviews out of 2,000+ newsletter subscribers. I won’t take that exact tack again, but if I had more advanced notice I might have done Choosy Bookworm’s Read and Review program, which I’ve used before and had success with.

Newsletters/Blogs
Another important step is to email your newsletter subscribers and if you have a blog, write a blog post letting people know about the sale, your desire to hit the list (don’t be shy about this!) and how they can help you. The messages can be pretty much the same. I would advise making your story as personal as possible. After all, if you’re going to ask people to help make a dream come true, it’s only fair that they understand why this is your dream. 

Because I changed newsletter providers, I don’t have access to the email I sent to my newsletter subscribers, but here’s the post that I did on my blog. It’s a little longer than I would recommend, but the important things are:

  1. Include your buy links up front so people don’t have to look for them
  2. Bold the key messages for those who will skim
  3. Provide more detail toward the bottom for those who want it
  4. Say thank you. After all, you can’t make a list on your own; you are reliant on people buying the books and spreading the word. 

You may also want to send a reminder close to the end of the sale period and/or provide updates along the way. This is especially good if you are doing interviews or writing articles to try to attract attention to the campaign. It gives you (and your fans) more things to share online, too.

Here are mine:

These not only may spur some people to action, but it will also serve to keep the energy up around the campaign. And be sure to do a wrap up post after, especially if you make the list!

Also, if you are part of any group blogs, make sure you post to those as well! They will reach different audiences.

Street Team
If you have a Street Team – a group of dedicated superfans who have promised to help promote your books – even a small one (mine is only 29 people, but I know authors who have around 1,000 in theirs), make sure you let them know about the sale and provide them with resources to help tell people about it. I created a page on my website with ready-made graphics for Facebook and Instagram, as well as tweets that could be copy/pasted: https://nicoleevelina.com/spread-the-word-the-guineveres-tale-trilogy-0-99-sale/. I included this link in all my communications with them via email and in our secret Facebook group. The idea is to make sharing your information as easy as possible for them. (When I updated my graphics, I created another page: https://nicoleevelina.com/new-sale-graphics-guineveres-tale-trilogy/ and let everyone know about the updated information.)

I also invited my team members to share suggestions in the Facebook group for how to keep up interest over the weekend. Then I added some of my own, a few of which were good, a few of which were really dumb. I included everything because you never know what might spark an idea.

If you have a large Street Team, you may want to run a contest with prizes for the person who gets the most shares/likes/etc. or something else to reward the people who put in the most effort. This is something I wish I would have thought to do.

If you don’t have a Street Team, start one now. You can begin by setting up a simple sign up form on your website and then ask your fans on social media, your blog and your newsletter if they’d like to join. Then put a link on your website as well. It will grow over time.

Social Media
I am active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, so that’s where I posted these graphics. I did daily posts (with a different graphic each day) on Instagram and Facebook (both profile and page…yes, I know technically you aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing on your profile). If you are aiming to hit a list, TELL PEOPLE. As one of my writer friends said, “You should never be modest about your accomplishments [or in this case, goals] as an author.” I think most people really want to see you succeed and if they know you have a goal like that in mind, they will be more willing to help than if you just say, “Hey my book is on sale.” Sales happen all the time; it’s not every day you can help someone hit a bestseller list.

Instagram

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day.
  • I used a core group of about a dozen hashtags and then added others that were more specific to the given graphic. For example for the one with the guy on the side that talks about Lancelot, Arthur and Aggrivane, I used the ones below. You’ll see the specialized tags about romance at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The graphic that did the best was the Winds of Winter ad. Instagram has hidden the number of likes for me, but I was mentally keeping track and it got over 1,000. I have never had anything like that happen before and I can’t explain why it was this one that hit. I used the same hashtags. This was even still the case when I updated my ads with the award seals.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well. That was mainly just me being excited but also a little to show others how well the book was doing in the hopes they’d want to jump on the bandwagon and but the book, too.

Facebook

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day on both my profile and my page. (Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to advertise anything on your profile, but with the low percentage of people who see anything you post to your page, I do it anyway.)
  • I pinned my favorite post to the top of my profile on Monday. That way it would be the first thing people saw all week.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well.
  • I asked everyone on FB over and over to please share my posts that had the graphics and buy links. I estimate that atleast 30 people shared over the course of the week.
  • I drove everyone I know crazy with the above, I’m sure.
  • I also posted to about three or four different Facebook groups a day, totaling about 15 groups. There were several others that I never got around to posting in.
    • Here’s my whole list. Some will apply to you, some won’t. But you can find ones in your genre.
    • Be sure to read a group’s rules (usually the post pinned to the top in the main area or over on the right-hand column) to see if they allow promotions. Some do, some don’t, and some only allow it on certain days or in certain ways (i.e. you have to comment on a post the admins start; you can’t start your own.)
    • Don’t do too many right in a row or even in the same day because Facebook might accuse you of spamming and lock you out for a period of time, not something you want during a promotion.
    • It’s a good idea to participate in the groups first so you don’t just look like a spammer.

Twitter

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day. I pinned that tweet to the top of my profile.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well.
  • When I was getting close to number 1 in Canada, I started doing specific tweets aimed at Canadian readers. This was my only Canadian promotion; I hadn’t done any ads (mine were specific to the U.S.). The rest was word of mouth.
    • At the same time I also asked my friend, Canadian author Susanna Kearsley, if she would mind sharing my promotion to to her fans. She did. 🙂
      • I was very careful in who I asked and how. This is not something you want to take advantage of. If you are going to ask other authors to share your promotion, it is best to stick to the ones you know well, and ask politely. Some may say no or not respond and that is okay.

Pinterest

  • It didn’t occur to me to add my promo graphics to one of my boards (I have one called “Book Shelf (My Books)” for this very purpose) until Friday.
  • The reason to do this is to get the graphics onto the boards of your followers for free. I have 18,900 monthly viewers, so that is a lot of people. I wish I would have done it on Monday instead so they would have had longer to see them.
  • Two of the graphics were in my top 10 pins for that week, netting a total of 1,018 impressions for free.
  • I also promoted a pin, which I will talk about below. It is not included in the numbers of the bullet above.

Advertising (non-newsletter lists)

Facebook/Instagram

Total spend: $353.78

  • I ran a total of five ads using Boosted Posts over the course of a week. In total they reached 13,872 people, 5,062 who engaged (liked, shared, etc.) with the post and 24 of whom clicked a link.
  • My most popular post in terms of both reach and engagement was The Winds of Winter ad (which isn’t surprising since FB and Instagram are now linked). I just wish I understood what made that one so popular.
    • Interestingly, I didn’t even post that one until Friday.
  • The two that posted on Monday and that ran the entire campaign had very different results. The one I thought would do better only had 1,430 reach and 646 engagement, but the other one that was female-focused blew it away with 5,206 reach and 846 engagement. Go figure.
  • I had one ad (the bottom one in the image below) that wasn’t doing well at all, so I killed it right away.

Pinterest

Total spend: $16.28

Strategy

  • This ad was a last-minute decision that I made on Friday night on a lark.
  • I decided to promote one of my pins (the romance one with the guy) instead of creating an ad. It is a new option and frankly, way easier. I chose that pin because I felt like it appealed to the widest variety of people and aligned well with Pinterest’s mostly female audience.
  • I only had two days left in the campaign at that point (less once Pinterest approved my pin), so I didn’t throw a lot of money at it – only $20, of which I actually spent $16.28

Results

  • The results were 10,328 impressions, 1,400 close up views, four saves and 132 clicks on the buy link, for a click through rate of 1.28%.
  • Verdict: I would totally do this again, but keep my spend low.

Bookbub

Total spend = $383.37

Strategy

  • I broke my ads up into ones that would run in the early week before the BookBub Featured Deal and ones that would run in the end part of the week.
    • They say the average click-through rate for a BookBub ad is about 0.5%. even though we should all be aiming for at least 3-5%.
    • There are a lot of complexities about how you set up your ads and how that affects your rate. I’m not an expert, so I just tried different things to see what worked.
    • These ads appear at the bottom of the emails, so opening the email counts as an impression but doesn’t guarantee that the ad is seen or clicked on.
  • I targeted my ads both by category (fantasy and historical fiction) and author because just doing category alone made my audience too broad. Authors I targeted included Deborah Harkness, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Brooks, Philippa Gregory, Diana Gabaldon, George R. R. Martin, and Susanna Kearsley.

Results

  • The Bookbub ad that did the best for me.

    I ran a few different ads with a few different goals:

    • In the early part of the week (Mon-Wed) I ran five ads.
      • Three were different graphics, just to see which performed better.
        • Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot: 6,597 impressions, 17 clicks, click through rate of 0.26%
        • Historical Fantasy at its Finest: 6,682 impressions, 26 clicks, click through rate of 0.39%
        • A Woman Rules Camelot: 7,302 impressions, 18 clicks, click through rate of 0.25%
      • I also ran ads that just targeted certain retailers, i.e. Apple or B&N, to try to drive up sales there. That didn’t work at all. My click through rate for those were 0.03% for Apple and 0.08% for B&N, which is abysmally low. I won’t be doing this again.
    • In the later part of the week (Fri-Sun) I ran three ads, two which I designed myself and one of which I used the Bookbub ad generator for.
      • Historical Fantasy at its Finest: 2,259 impressions, 3 clicks, click through rate of 0.13%
      • Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot: 2,046 impressions, 0 clicks, click through rate of 0%
      • Bookbub generated ad: 12,364 impressions, 37 clicks, click through rate of 0%
  • Things I learned:
    • Simple ads with little text and the book cover work the best.
    • You may as well just use Bookbub’s ad generator instead of spending the time to design your own.
    • The more money you throw at an ad, the more impressions you will get (my budget for the BookBub generated ad was twice that of the others) but that doesn’t necessarily mean much higher click-through (that one had only 0.30% vs one of the ones I created with 0.39%)
    • I need to take some classes on how to create ads that work.
  • Will I do Bookbub ads again? I’m honestly not sure. I am reading that some people thinking they have gone the way of Amazon ads: too popular and too expensive to really make a difference anymore. If I do them again, I won’t budget as much money, that is for sure.

Amazon Advertising

Spend: $2.75 (lockscreen) + $5.22 (product ad) = $7.97

Strategy

  • I originally had two ads going, a lockscreen ad (shows on the locked screen of a Kindle) and a sponsored product ad (shows in the product listing on Amazon when people search for certain terms or authors that you define).
  • Amazon doesn’t give you a lot of options for customizing your ad. Your image will be your book cover and you have only 150 characters for your ad copy.
  • My ad copy was: “Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot. Priestess. Queen. Warrior. Guinevere was much more than a sinner. Experience life through her eyes in a 3-book set.”
  • My copy focused on Game of Thrones, but I also told my audience a little about who the book was about (a Guinevere, who is not your average portrayal. She is a priestess, a queen and a warrior who was more active than the traditional sinner) and what they should expect (there is an implication in the roles I mentioned that they will get magic, political mechanations, and action, plus you know that you will be reading her experience as it happens).
  • I chose manual product targeting by category. My categories were 1) /Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Epic Fantasy 2)/Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery Fantasy and 3) /Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Historical Fantasy. I picked these because they are my categories for the book within Amazon as well as the categories I thought my readers would read. Interestingly, these are the three categories I hit #1 in!
  • I also targeted a few products, mostly GRRM books, The Mists of Avalon, and the categories of Arthurian Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, Fantasy Anthologies, Mythology and Folk Tales, and Myths & Legend Fantasy.

Results

  • I stopped the lockscreen ad after only a day and only spending $2.75 (with 0 sales) because Amazon just wasn’t pushing it out. I won’t do lockscreen ads again, as I’ve noticed from personal experience that they are HEAVILY weighted toward Kindle Unlimited books. (Plus a lot of people have them turned off in their settings.)
  • Interestingly, my sponsored product ad wasn’t pushed out much either. I only spent $5.22 for 16,846 impressions, but made $44.15 in sales from it. I had an average click-through rate of 11.82% which is really good.
  • Verdict: I might do a sponsored product ad in the future, but I am finding Amazon Ads to be less and less effective.

Things I Would Do Differently
No matter how good any marketing campaign is, there are always lessons learned and things you would do differently next these are mine:

  • I didn’t find out about merchandising with major retailers (Barnes & Noble, Apple and Draft2Digital) until my campaign was almost over. Apparently if you tell them you have a sale (and mention BookBub if you have on because they understand how important that is) they may help promote your book. I emailed all of them and only heard back from Barnes & Noble. It was too late for this campaign, but now I have the links to their forms for the future. 
  • May not use quite as many newsletter ad services in the future. I don’t know. I’m on the fence about that.
  • Add my graphics to Pinterest on the first day of the campaign rather than when it was almost over.
  • Contact a few people I know (Chuck Wendig, Joanna Penn)  who might have helped promote the book. 
  • Possibly engage a VA like Kate Tilton on the campaign.
  • Look at Apple stats earlier. That just totally slipped my mind.
  • Run a contest with prizes for the person who gets the most shares/likes/etc. or something else to reward the people who put in the most effort.

I’m sure there are other things I could have done differently or better, but that is what is coming to mind. If can think of anything else, please let me know!

Questions?
If you’ve made it this far into the post, congratulations! If you can think of anything I haven’t covered or that you want more detail on, please comment and I will totally share!

How You Can Help Me Make a Dream Come True

Being a writer is full of “dream come true” moments.

Some happen with each book, like typing “the end,” or holding a hard copy in your hands for the first time, or celebrating your publication day.

Some happen more rarely, if at all, at least for most authors. Hitting a bestseller list is one of those, especially for an indie author since we don’t have the distribution power of traditional publishers.

This week I have the chance to make that happen. You see, I have a Bookbub featured deal in the United States today for my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. The whole thing (all three books in one volume) are only $0.99 in ebook through July 15. If enough people purchase it by then, I could possibly hit the USA Today bestseller list.

I’m a firm believer that God helps those who help themselves, so I am not being shy in asking for your help. I only ask one thing of you in return for a series that took me 19 years to write: please download The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy by June 15. Even if you already have one or more of the books in another format, even if you don’t ever intend to read it, please consider spending $0.99 to support my dream.

If you aren’t tied to Amazon for your ebooks, please consider downloading from Barnes and Noble or iTunes (authors have to have a certain number of sales from there to make the list; Amazon alone doesn’t qualify.)

amazon-logo-icon nook-icon-150x150KoboIconWeb

Tell Me More
What’s the book about? You can read the full description here, but in short, it is the story of King Arthur and Camelot from Guinevere’s point of view—her life story.

  • Book 1, Daughter of Destiny, covers her early life as a priestess of Avalon and her first love during a time she never dreamed of becoming queen, as well as how she met Morgan and Arthur.
  • Book 2, Camelot’s Queen, tells the story we are all familiar with, Guinevere’s time at King Arthur’s side, but it also provides a twist on why she had her famous affair with Lancelot.
  • Book 3, Mistress of Legend, includes the fall of Camelot and Guinevere’s later life as she seeks to reestablish her identity once she is no longer queen and preserve the legacy of her mother’s people from the invading Saxons.

In case you are wondering what others have said about the trilogy, I’ll quote from a few reader reviews. (You can read the trade reviews on the book page.)

“The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy shows us not a passive woman, but a strong one…This is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure woven with a touch of fantasy.” – K9freind1

“Loved this series! Strong, vibrant characters. The world building is detailed and pulls you right into the story…I’d highly recommend it for a great summer read.” – John

“I didn’t want this story to end!…This book is 100% book of a lifetime to read!” Kristinann

Going Above and Beyond
If you are so inclined, please also share information on the sale on social media. I’ve created a page that has ready-made images (just right-click on them to download) and sample tweets and links to where the book is for sale to make it as easy as possible to share.

What do you get in return? Three books that are my baby. If I could list with this single-volume boxed set, it would be especially meaningful to me because I originally imagined Guinevere’s story as one gigantic volume (ala The Mists of Avalon). While I certainly don’t mind it being broken up into a trilogy, I love that I can offer it the way I envisioned it as well.

If you’ve already helped my dreams come true by buying, THANK YOU. If you have time to leave a review, that is always appreciated and may encourage others to buy. Here’s the link to review on Amazon.

Thank You
Thank you for any help you can give. Know that your support makes you agents of fate in my life. Let me know how/when I can return the favor for you. 

In the meantime, if you need me, I’m going to be fighting the temptation to look at my Amazon rankings every five minutes…I’ll let you know in a few weeks if we were successful in hitting the list!

Book to Screen is Becoming Easier

Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

There once was a day, not long ago, that the only way to get your book turned into a TV series/movie was to traditionally publish, sell a TON of copies, and pray your publisher’s rights department had really good connections. It was a rarity that anyone, even the bestsellers, got these deals.

But over the last several years this has been changing. I’m not exactly sure when it started–I first noticed it after the success of Twilight, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that’s when I was paying attention–but Hollywood began adapting more and more books. These were usually still traditionally published bestsellers. Enter Netflix, Amazon and Hulu with their constant desire for content to adapt, and TV/movie deals grew even more common.

Then came 50 Shades and The Martian, which showed that a rare few indie books might be worthy of adaptation, you know, if they sold like a million copies. Indie authors with sales numbers like that began to be able to contract with film/rights agents just as if they were traditionally published.

Now it seems everyone is in on the game. Hallmark has had a production arm for their TV channels for ages and now has a publishing arm to feed it. We’re all familiar with Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine. The Obamas and Hillary Clinton have formed their own production companies. Back in February, Wattpadd formed Wattpadd Studios. Just yesterday, Harlequin announced they are starting their own TV/Movie sector.

There is even hope for us indie authors. One of my friends just mentioned that more and more Hollywood people are attending major book conferences to hear pitches. (I think she specifically mentioned the Willamette Writers Conference.) If you write romance, Passionflix (I swear to you it’s not what it sounds like), will take a look at your book. (Although most of the books they’ve adapted to date seem to be traditional bestsellers.)

Then there is Taleflick, a relatively new company (first publicized last August), that aims to bring together Hollywood types (directors, producers, screenwriters, etc.) with books written by indie authors.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I got my movie/TV option for Madame Presidentess through TaleFlick. But I do not work for them, they have not paid me to endorse them or in any other way suggested that I should speak positively about them. I am just a VERY happy customer.

If you want a quick rundown on who they are, I was just quoted in a Publisher’s Weekly article about TaleFlick. I really like that they don’t care about your sales numbers. They are looking for a quality story and a professionally produced book. That’s it.

All of this means more opportunities for authors than ever before. Granted, they still say 99% of books that get optioned never make it to film. Alyson Noel, a YA author whom I consider a bit of a mentor, had her book, Saving Zoe, on option for 10 years before it was ever made into a movie. (Opening in select theatres and streaming online July 12.) She has several others on option that still haven’t been made. Deborah Harkness had A Discovery of Witches optioned several times (I know of at least four, including at least one major Hollywood studio) before finally landing with BadWolf Productions, a new company who made the TV series that aired in the U.S. earlier this year to much critical and fan acclaim. So options still aren’t guarantees, but they are opportunities that are getting more and more within our reach.

Even if my books, or your books, never make it to that point, being able to say they were optioned is worth it, at least in my opinion. It gives you credibility that is SO difficult to come by as an indie author. And you’ll make a little money (and I mean a little) on selling the option. What do you have to lose?

Rom-Coms: the Good, the Bad and the Mis-categorized

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I have a love-hate relationship with rom-coms. On one hand, they are lovely and sweet and much-needed female fantasy. On the other, they drive me crazy when they are overly contrived.

During the Memorial Day weekend I caught a marathon of Gary Marshal films on Lifetime. I started watching with Pretty Woman and then The Princess Diaries 2 came on. I watched until I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open (it was past midnight). These are the movies I love. They focus on the romantic and have (at least a little) themes of female empowerment. This is certainly true in The Princess Diaries, which ends with the proclamation *SPOILER ALEERT* that Princess Mia doesn’t have to marry to rule. And although Edward is the Prince Charming of most of Pretty Woman the nearly final lines of Pretty Woman hint at gender equality in a way that was uncommon when it came out in 1990:

Edward:” What happens after the knight rescues the princess?”

Vivian: “She rescues him right back.”

Last week I was trying to listen to a rom-com on audio (it shall remain nameless) that really had the potential to be cute, but was so OVER THE TOP (yes, so much so as to deserve caps) and ridiculous, I couldn’t finish it. The main character was utterly clueless time and time again. No one is that stupid or naive. And the author completely ignored how the real world works to point of pretending certain laws don’t exist and changing basic human behavior to suit her plot needs. Ugh!

Today, I read a review in USA Today of a much-touted soon-to-be released rom-com. This quote could so easily have been applied to the book I’m referencing above: “It’s a ridiculous plot that would never happen in real life − the perfect ingredient for an inherently idealistic rom-com.” Yet they still gave the book 3.5/4 stars.

I’m trying to figure out when this requirement for the farcical in a rom-com began. I guess I could blame Shakespeare (I mean, Hero pretending to be dead in Much Ado About Nothing is pretty out there.) But the movies of the 1930s and 1940s like and It Happened One Night (1934) were witty and intelligent. Now, I realize rom-coms have always had elements that would never happen IRL, from Bringing Up Baby (1938) to What Men Want (2019). That’s what makes them female fantasy. But nowadays its like you have to ignore the laws of life in a major way to be a rom-com, such as doing things that would actually get you arrested or that borderline on psycho.

When I was thinking about it, honestly, as much as I love the movie, I blame Bridget Jones’ Diary. Bridget is the first rom-com heroine (at least that I can recall) who was clutzy (which is fine–I totally am and I like being able to relate–but it has been taken to a terrible extreme). Plus as the movie went on (not to mention in the sequels), the plots became more and more outlandish. Because that was successful, that was the formula that was followed by authors thereafter.

Last night I watched the rom-com satire movie Isn’t It Romantic. It was really, really cute and it brought up some serious issues that I have with rom-coms. The biggest is that I HATE deception, especially when it could be remedied by a simple conversation that most normal people would naturally have–or you know, by not lying in the first place. But this has become a classic defining characteristic of the rom-com. So much so that when I wrote Been Searching for You, I purposefully didn’t include it and people told me I couldn’t call it a rom-com. Even screenwriting guru Micheal Hauge lists it as a must-have for the genre.

A few other pain points for me in rom-coms:

  1. Female colleagues must be mortal enemies; there is no other way. This is so stupid and does nothing for female-kind. In Been Searching for You, I never even considered making almost-entirely female agency have work enemies. We have plenty of other enemies and frienemies in the rest of life. I honestly think this idea came from male writers of early rom-coms who couldn’t conceive of women as good for anything other than bitchy cat-fights. Then again, I work for a non-profit and not a corporation, so maybe it is different there. Regardless, we should be building one another up rather than fighting with each other.
  2. You have to have a gay stereotypical sidekick who has no life outside of the heroine’s. And this is why Annabeth has two best friends, a guy and a girl, and Miles isn’t gay (Mia is bisexual, but that has nothing to do with her role in Annabeth’s life). I can’t suffer the disrespect of an outrageously gay male best friend character. Yes, I love very gay men, but to use them in this way is just wrong. Gay men come in all types, just like straight ones, and not all of them (or even most of them) want to be your fashion consultant/cheerleader/lap dog. And even if they do, they have their own lives. How about exploring their sub-plots a little and maybe even letting us see their happily ever after? The world is ready.
  3. The person you’re supposed to be in love with has been right in front of you all along. Yes, sometimes this happens in real life, but this is certainly not the case for every woman. I don’t currently have any close male friends, but when I did, ew, no! They were like brothers to me. Ick! This also reinforces the idea men and women can’t be just platonic friends, which I think is disingenuous. Just like not everyone marries their high school sweetheart, not everyone marries the guy they work with/live door next to/get their mail from, etc. Some of us actually have to go looking.

And if this isn’t enough, until recently (I’m not sure when it changed, but I just checked and it has) the books that topped Amazon’s romantic comedy category where really erotica. I don’t know how that happened or why, but it was a thing for at least a year. Thank God it seems to have been rectified.

Yes, Amazon, these are indeed rom-coms. (Click to enlarge)

But it looks like their sponsored ads may still need some work. I kid you not, when you look Been Searching for You up on Amazon, you get these “related” sponsored books. These are what used to top the romantic comedy category and could not be further from what a rom-com really is:

And these are related to my sex-off-the-page rom-com how? (Click to enlarge.)

Anyway, all this to say I fail to understand why “it could really happen” or at least only slightly fantastic rom-coms aren’t a thing anymore. Are we that in need of escape that anything that smacks of real-life isn’t acceptable? Do we secretly like watching other women make fools of themselves? (Because let’s be honest, that’s a LOT of what the farce comes down to, even in Bridget Jones.) Or have we lost/changed our definition of romance altogether? (I could get on a 50 Shades soapbox here, but I’m really so clumsy I’d fall off of it.) It would be really interesting to hear a publisher/producer’s perspective on this issue.

I’m going to keep writing what I write (there are two more books in the Chicago Soulmates series that Been Searching for You started), and hope for the best. In the meantime, I can’t wait for The Princess Diaries 3–which might actually happen!

What are your thoughts on rom-coms, both books and movies?