Lights, Camera, Book Option!

An amazing thing happened the other day. I SOLD THE MOVIE/TV OPTION OF MADAME PRESIDENTESS! My name is actually in Deadline Hollywood!

So what does this mean, exactly? It means that the company I sold it to, Fortitude International, can now shop my book around Hollywood to directors, screenwriters, producers, actors, etc. There is no guarantee that it will ever be made into a TV show or film – far more books get optioned than get made – but give how relevant Victoria’s story is to what is going on in the news, I can’t imagine that it will be long before we hear something more.

Madame Presidentess is historical fiction, but it tells the story of the real-life first woman to run for president in the United States (in 1872), Victoria Woodhull. She was also the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress on woman’s suffrage, and one of the first to run a weekly newspaper. All this despite growing up dirt-poor, having very little formal education, and dealing with the interference of her low-class, huckster relatives. Victoria was no saint, but she was one fierce woman – she would still be controversial today! 

Me signing the contract

I bet you are wondering how this came about, especially for an indie author who has never been traditionally published and doesn’t have an agent. Well, I saw in Publisher’s Weekly a few months ago that a new company called TaleFlick had just opened and was promising to connect authors with production companies. One of the founders used to be with Apple and Netflix, so I knew it was legit. A few days later, one of their sales reps contacted me and I was able to ask questions. Then I uploaded my books. Everything else took place behind the scenes without my knowledge. Last Wednesday I got an email saying a company was interested. The next night I talked to a Taleflick rep and by Saturday I had the contract. I signed it on Monday and it was announced on Tuesday.  It really was a whirlwind!

Now we wait, visualize big things and pray!

P.S. – If you’re an author and are interested in TaleFlick, use this link and it will count as a referral from me: http://taleflick.refr.cc/nicolee. You’ll get $8 off your first submission.

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In the Mood for a Holiday Read? Try a Christmas Anthology!

So, a Christmas anthology that I’m  part of, Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, was just published this past Sunday. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.

There are several cool aspects to this anthology:

  1. All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured in Madame Presidentess.
  2. It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
  3. All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

My story is a tie-in to my biographical historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess. Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)

Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.

As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)

I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts…

As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.

Order your copy today! But hurry, the paperback price goes up next week! Remember, all proceeds go to charity.

Piracy and the Value of Art

The day after my latest novel published, I awoke to two emails that put me in a bad mood for a while. They weren’t negative reviews, but rather readers asking me to either give them my book for free or at an internationally adjusted price that would have caused me to lose money. One of them was even asking for my trilogy compendium for free – so three books for nothing. While this may have been done out of ignorance, it is still not right.

When did expecting something for nothing become permissible? I wanted to write back and ask if they would walk into a museum, take a painting off the wall, and walk out with it. Because that is exactly what they are asking to do with my book. The book that took me over two years of hard work to write, or in the case of the trilogy, 19 years. Apparently my time, blood, sweat and tears are not valuable – at least to them.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration pirate websites. Every day I see my books show up on new sites that I didn’t authorize. There are tools like Blasty that can help – and I have tried it – but even it is of limited use, especially if you don’t want to pay for the premium version (which is yet another cost for an author shoulder) and/or don’t have the time to monitor/blast the sites. Perhaps if I wrote full-time or had an assistant it would be a reasonable way to fight piracy. But for now, all I can do is ignore it. I’m trying to take the Neil Gaiman approach and think of it as free advertising because people looking for a free book wouldn’t have paid for it even if these sites weren’t there. I don’t really have another choice.

I’m an indie author. Most months that I don’t have a new release or do any marketing (which costs money), I’m lucky to make three figures. Even on my best months, I’ve never made more than mid-three figures. Overall, what I make from my writing is about 5% of my annual income. (Thank God for my day job, as much as I complain about it and wish I didn’t need it.) I can’t afford to give my art away for free.

There are times that I do giveaways, but I don’t do them out of the goodness of my heart. They are strategic. I give free copies to my Street Team to help get reviews, which drive sales. (Which I may stop doing depending on how that strategy pans out, even if it is considered a best practice in the industry.) Occasionally, I do contests to bring in readers or increase my mailing list. Sometimes I put the books on sale for $0.99, but that is done to help entice people to read them.

If I am to continue writing, I can’t afford to give away my book for free just because people don’t want to pay for it. It costs me hundreds of dollars to produce a book, sometimes over a thousand, depending on the marketing I do, or several thousand if an audio book is involved. Because I don’t have a traditional house marketing me, it is hard to find an audience. As a result, I have never turned a profit on any of my books.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I knew what I signed up for when I became an indie author. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid fairly for my work. You wouldn’t go into a clothing shop and walk out with an item without paying or go to dinner at a restaurant and leave without paying the check. (Okay, maybe some people would, but they are another story.) Why? Because there are prices attached, just like there are on books. That is because there are people (designers, tailors, chefs, wait staff, etc.) behind the products you buy or food that you consume who need to be paid for the work they put into what you purchase or eat.

The same thing goes for books. They don’t appear by magic. There is an author who writes them, and a team of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout people, etc. who help make it ready for production. As an indie author, I not only foot the production costs, but I pay for their services. I don’t have a publisher to do that for me. I have to make that money back before I can even think about making money on a book. And given how cheap we have to sell them in order to compete nowadays, that is not easy.

I am not by far the first person to have this happen or even to speak about it. But we have to do something about it. I wish I knew what. How do you teach people the value of art when corporations (including Amazon and the publishing industry) are constantly devaluing it by either pricing books ridiculously low or paying the author a pittance – and last? Add to that how much (at least in the US) things like sports are valued over arts and the constant government cuts to arts funding, and I wonder if we have a prayer.

All I’m saying is please, at least try to see our books for what they are – art, not a mass-produced product to be devalued. I know money can be tight, but please don’t ask for our work for free or download it from a piracy site. If you can’t afford to buy a book, borrow it from a friend or from the library. If they don’t have it, ask them to purchase it – most are pretty open to reader’s suggestions. Author’s don’t care how you come to our books, as long as the means is legal.

Oh, and if you want to help an author, the other thing you can do is leave reviews – especially on Amazon (even if you didn’t purchase the book there – and Goodreads. Even short reviews are more precious than gold these days.

Reflections on 19 Years and a Wild Dream Achieved

(Warning: I’m going to talk about myself in this post. A lot.)

This Saturday is a momentous day for me. Not only does it mark the publication of my sixth book, Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3), and a single-volume compendium of The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, it is also the end of an era.

You see, 19 years ago Saturday is when I first heard Guinevere speak in my head. (Yeah, I’m one of those authors – wouldn’t have it any other way.) I tell the whole story in the Author’s Notes to Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series, but for now suffice it to say she told me she wanted me to tell her story and that it would be unlike any written to date. I’ve always loved Arthurian legend, and Guinevere in particular, so I thought, “why not?”

That afternoon when I got home from school (I was a sophomore in college at the time), I sat down at the computer in my dad’s bedroom and began to type the words Guinevere was saying in my head: 

I am Guinevere.

I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.

This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history….

It goes on for a bit longer, but you get the idea. That prologue is mostly intact in the published version of Daughter of Destiny (though it was shortened a bit). I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the first few chapters of the book (it was in the double digits for sure) as I learned to find my own voice as an author and developed a plot and style that was doing more than simply aping The Mists of Avalon (which was the book that inspired it). But somehow, Guinevere’s words remained.

(Some of you know this story, so feel free to skip down if you have heard it before.)

I never thought I would become a published author. For the next 10 years I played around with the book when I had free time from college, then grad school and my first two grownup jobs. But it was just a hobby.

Then in 2008 I started taking my writing seriously. The catalyst? Twilight. (Shut up.) By that time I was about halfway through what would become Daughter of Destiny and realized I had something worth reading on my hands. At this point, I still thought the book would be one doorstop of a volume (which is why I’m publishing the compendium). Upon researching the publishing industry, I realized it would have to be trilogy.

Fast forward another 10 years – past an agent, countless rejections (okay, I counted, it was like 40), three damn-near book deals with Big 5 publishers, self-publishing and three Book of the Year awards – and here we are, on the precipice of the final book being published. And I have to say I am very, very proud. It may have taken me two years to finish this book (much longer than I know my readers wanted to wait), but I think it was worth it.

I set out to give Guinevere back her voice and give her the fair shake I never thought she had from other authors (at least the ones I had read). In my mind, she was a full-fledged woman with hopes, dreams and desires, not the one-dimensional adulteress we usually see. In order to show that I set out to tell her whole life story, not just the part that involves Arthur. That meant dreaming up a youth for her in Daughter and imagining her heading into old age in Mistress of Legend. I feel like I’ve told the best possible story I could and did as much as possible to redeem her from the stain of sin past literature has laid upon her. 

Apparently others think so as well. I sent an ARC of Mistress to my friend and fellow author Tyler Tichelaar so he could review it on his website. He liked it so much, I ended up using the opening of the review as a blurb on the cover. But the part that brought tears to my eyes was this line: “She has given back to Guinevere, an often overlooked and derided figure, her dignity and endowed her with a true personality.” Mission accomplished.

Completing a trilogy is no small feat. There were years upon years where I wondered if I could do it and feared I could not. I remember burning with jealousy the day one of my friends completed her first series. But now all I feel is tremendous accomplishment and pride. I want to jump up and down and yell “I did it!  I did it! I did it! I did it!” 

More than that, I feel like each book on the series got better as I grew as a writer. One of my biggest fears was that my story would end up like so many other trilogies and peter out or go totally off track in the last book. (Breaking Dawn, anyone?) In fact, I feel like this is the strongest book in the series, and early reviews are indicating the same.

Now I face for the first time in nearly two decades a future without Guinevere. (Well, not totally. She’ll be one of the point of view characters in Isolde’s story whenever I get around to writing that.) I will  be forever grateful for all she as done for me. She was meant to get me started in my career, and I know she will gracefully cede the stage to the characters who come next. I just hope this trilogy is repayment enough.

PS – If you want to catch up, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen are only $0.99 for a limited time…

PPS – For those who know of my obsession with the band Kill Hannah, the reference in the title of this blog to “a wild dream achieved” comes from their song “Believer.” 

Do Writers Have Worth Beyond Their Debut?

Are debut novels magical?
(Source: Adobe Stock)

It has long bothered me that the publishing world gives massive attention to debut authors. I know it is in keeping with they “hey look, shiny and new!” mindset of Hollywood and the world in general, but I feel like it is disingenuous to all other authors. Last weekend’s New York Times Book Review really irritated me because they devoted an ENTIRE issue to fall’s debut authors.

Oddly enough, the New York Times itself addressed the issue of the attention given to debuts in 2016. One of the contributors writes, “A debut novel is a piece of the writer’s soul in a way that subsequent books can’t ever quite be.” I don’t agree with that. Yes, the debut author was able to tinker with it without the pressures of business looming (more about this below), but I don’t think just because it is your first time doing something that means it has more of your soul. I care deeply about each one of my books, and each one is a part of me, no more or less on my sixth than on my first. If that ever changes, that is the day I need to stop publishing.

Why does the attention to debut authors bother me so much?

1) It gives the impression that only debut authors matter. Yes, we all like to know what/who is new and up-and-coming, but there is a reason wisdom comes with age and experience. Rare indeed is the author who hits it big with their first (or even first published) book. Even publishing industry insiders admit they have no idea what will hit and what won’t. From the same NY Times article: “It’s impossible to know for certain whether the top picks will become huge stars or disappointments who never fulfill their extraordinary promise.” So why to they persist in that model? Her answer boils down to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Hey, life isn’t fair. No one said publishing was a meritocracy.”

I get that. But still, the constant trumpeting of debut authors leaves everyone else in the shadows. “Oh, this your second/fourth/seventh/twelfth book? Yeah, no one cares…Who’s the hot new debut?” is not a mindset that helps authors who may have not been struck by lightning the first time around and had to write their way into learning how to produce fantastic novels (which is 99.5% of the authors out there).

Take F. Scott Fitzgerald for example. His best-known book is undoubtedly The Great Gatsby. It was his third book. If he had been one of the chosen debut authors today, he would constantly have had to live with This Side of Paradise, his debut, as the measuring stick by which all of his other books were judged. Paradise did well, but it wasn’t a huge money-maker. By today’s standards, it may not have earned him a second book, much less that fated third.

2) It puts enormous pressure on those debut authors to succeed. If they did well enough with their books to get major media attention, chances are good they also have large advances to try to earn out, which is enough stress. And honestly, especially in the area of literary fiction, most of those highly-touted debuts were meticulously workshopped in MFA programs, which gave the authors a chance to revise, revise and revise again, something they won’t have once they are under contract. To take an example from popular fiction, look at Veronica Roth. Divergent was FANTASTIC and it was her MFA book. The next two books paled in comparison. And she was one of the lucky ones who attracted enough of a following who stuck with her.

Many of these OMG prodigies disappear after their debut or second or third book because they were either dropped by their publisher when the next book(s) didn’t do as well or they burned out from all the pressure. Harper Lee is a great example. Now, I don’t know her story well, so maybe she was only ever intending to publish one book, but it seems more like she was stifled by her own success, a theory that The Telegraph seems to espouse. “Much more common is the writer who is effectively destroyed by a single huge success. The burden of fame and acclaim weighs down particularly on the creative faculties.” Or as my mom would say, “if you start out on top, there is nowhere to go but down.” Honestly, I feel sorry for these authors.

3) It gives the impression that your first book is the only one that will matter or is the best you will deliver. I don’t know about anyone else, but my books get better with each one (if I do say so myself). That is because I learn and grow and change and expand my skill set with practice. I mean, Daughter of Destiny was good and won a lot of awards, but when I read it now, even I can see how much my writing has changed and strengthened. I am grateful I didn’t have someone presenting me as the greatest thing since sliced bread back then because I wasn’t. I’m still not. Maybe someday I will be. But one thing obscurity has done for me is allowed me to make mistakes and grow and change at my own pace.

These highly-publicized debut authors don’t have that. They will always have to measure up to the bar set by that first book. And that bar often is not set by how good the book is, but by how skilled its publicist is. If they blow a crappy book out of proportion, then the author has to hope they will do the same for the next however many it takes for their work to not be crappy. Whereas if the same debut was treated like any other book, they would only have to live up to or surpass a realistic standard.

Don’t get me wrong – some debuts are totally worth all the press. Take J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter for example. But I don’t know that I would want my debut to be considered my masterpiece. If it is, then what else is there to strive for? What is the point of the rest of your career?

I could talk to the New York Times until I’m blue in the face and they wouldn’t listen. But I think the focus on debut authors is a relic of the old model of publishing that is daily proving itself in need of an overhaul. The same writer I argued with at the opening of this blog also noted, “Sometimes it is the case that a novelist, debut or otherwise, writes a great book that doesn’t reach the right readership and fails by sales standards, which makes her less appealing to publishers next time around. That’s a dangerous model.”

It’s an irony of the industry as well because as many new authors (and several of our Spellbound Scribes) can attest, publishing houses are reluctant to take on debut authors for the simple fact that they are unknown and untested. But yet, when they do, they make a big deal out of some of them being the next big thing. I know it all has to do with making money, but it makes no sense, especially in an age when we can choose to publish our debuts ourselves.

I have no answers. I just wanted to get this out there. What are your thoughts on the subject?

When Competition is Motivating

I’m a very competitive person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shut up.

I’m beginning to realize that rather than discourage me, the success of others motivates me to work harder, to reach farther, to branch out into areas I otherwise would be afraid to go.

A few years ago, my fellow Scribe Emmie Mears had a run of great news in her career, securing four book deals in one summer for both fiction and non-fiction books. At the time, I was 1.5 years into being on submission for my first book, Daughter of Destiny, and I was starting to see cracks in my relationship with my agent. So while I was happy for Emmie, I was also feeling insecure, which led to me being VERY jealous.

Not long before Emmie’s announcement, my agent had told me the editor who had my book at the time was so certain we were going to get an offer that she wanted me to write a non-fiction book about the Celts so she could tie it into my Guinevere books. I thought she was nuts. Me? A non-fiction author? Right. I didn’t think I had the education or skills for that so I dismissed it out of hand.

I was in Chicago on vacation when I found out about Emmie’s good fortune. Of course, I stewed for a while, but then I thought, “If Emmie can get a non-fiction book deal, why can’t I?” Over the next two months, I researched my little heart out and ended up with a proposal and a 50,000 word book. Sadly, we never got to send it to the editor because the publisher ultimately passed on Daughter, but it made me do something I never thought I would. (I never have published that book. Maybe someday. I have since published non-fiction, though!)

Then just last week I found out a second author I know online, Chanel Cleeton, had her book Next Year in Havana chosen by Reese Witherspoon as her book club pick. When this happened to the first of my friends, Kate Quinn (for The Alice Network, such an amazing book), I wasn’t jealous, just very, very happy for her. But for some reason, Chanel’s announcement really got to me. (My best guess is I am feeling insecure again and that is probably right because I’m looking to go back to traditional publishing for my next few books after three years as an indie author.)

But again, after a few hours of being jealous, during which I created the graphic to the right, it energized me. I thought to myself, “well, if that’s going to be me someday, I better get a move on.” Now, at the time I was editing one book (fiction) and working on a proposal for another (historical non-fiction). What did I do? Began putting feelers out for yet another non-fiction book to determine if there is enough information on my subject to warrant a biography (I can’t find evidence that one has ever been written on this woman, but there might be a reason for that.)

My point to all of this is that you can take a negative emotion like jealousy and turn it into something positive. It just takes a little creative thinking. If I can use all the success of my amazingly cool author friends to power me on, I should be to the moon in no time!

Now I need one of you to do something else really awesome so I can get my butt in gear for the historical non-fiction proposal I really want to get out to agents soon. All I have left is researching and writing the sample chapters. Go! Do! Succeed!

My Writing Process

This was about a year and a half ago at the Chanticleer Author’s Conference.

When I put out a call on Facebook for topics for this post, my fellow Spellbound Scribe, Shauna, suggested I write about my writing process. Honestly, I don’t know that I have one, but I’ll give it a go.

Step 1: Research
Because I primarily write historical fiction and non-fiction, the very first thing I do is research. Even with romance/women’s fiction, there will be research involved because I’ll need to know about a character’s job or a location or something. I find that research often gives me the “bones” of a plot that I can build upon. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I do teach a class on it at Professional Author Academy (the class is actually on writing historical fiction, but it is mostly on research). And here’s a post I wrote a while ago on using Amazon as a research tool.

Step 2: Plotting
Plotting is an interesting step. Some of it I do as an author, and some of it I do alongside my characters. They talk to me and tell me what they want to happen. (One of my friends said she thinks I actually have the gift/powers of a medium and I’m starting to think she is right. Only instead of talking to the dead, I use my gifts for my writing. Maybe all authors are mediums?) My characters even name themselves. For example, in Been Searching for You, I wanted to call Annabeth’s best friend and co-worker Malik. Nope. He told me his name was Miles, which is a name I never really liked. But he was insistent and it stuck.

As far as the author part of me plotting, the first thing I do is look at the genre expectations of what I am writing and fill in what I know. Then I go to Michael Hague and Larry Brooks’ story structure templates and think about how I am going to shape my story. Then I look at Michael Hague’s character arc advice and think about each of my main character’s wounds, essence and identity. This often takes me a while to puzzle through, but it is worth it because it helps me see how these characters will change over the course of the story.

And I also meditate. I think that may tie in the whole medium idea, as it stills my mind and puts me into a receptive state to be able to see the scenes in my head.

Step 3: Writing
I can write pretty much anywhere, but most of it happens on my couch or backyard patio. For some reason that is where I’m most comfortable. I’m also extremely productive in airports and during flights; I think it is because I am a captive audience.

I have tried all kinds of things to get into writing mode, such as wearing certain clothes, drinking certain teas, etc. But what seems to work for me is lighting incense (I prefer campfire because it reminds me of the cabin I stayed in at Hedgebrook when I took a master class from Deborah Harkness, or peat because a lot of my books take place in Great Britain) and listening to film/TV scores (which already have the emotional highs and lows and tension of storytelling built in).

One thing I have learned is that I can’t drink alcohol when I write because it kills my creativity. But I can when I edit. Go figure.

I have a whole process for editing as well, but I don’t know interesting that would be to people. If you are interested, I teach a class on that as well.

By now, as my sixth book is in the editing phase, all of this has become to automatic, I don’t really think about it anymore. I guess that is why I didn’t think I had a process, when I really do.

Any questions about my process? Anything you want me to elaborate on? Let me know.