Why You Need an Author Website

Finding time to write can be a struggle.

Most authors have day jobs, or families, or social lives… or maybe all three.
So if you manage to find the time to finish a writing project, whether that be a novel, a nonfiction book or anything else, you’re doing well.

But then there’s the time you need to set aside for marketing it. More time!
At the bottom of the mounting todo list that being a busy writer involves, there’s probably an item you keep putting off and maybe worrying about… your author website.

It’s tempting to not bother. After all, these days, everyone’s on social media, right? They can find you on Twitter, or Facebook, or maybe Instagram.

Wrong. Even in 2019, social media won’t be enough if you want to find readers and sell books. You need an online marketing platform that you have total control over – and that’s your website.

In this post, I’m going to show you why social media isn’t enough if you want to showcase your work and attract readers, and give you some tips for getting up and running with a great author website – without writing any code or spending much (or even any) money.

Why You Need an Author Website

You’re still doubting me, right? You use Facebook every day, and all your friends do. Plenty of them are readers, so why shouldn’t they look for authors and find books on Facebook?

And you know JK Rowling is famous for her tweets, so you know you can use Twitter to find readers too.

Well, no. Sorry, but social media is a really, really tough way to reach readers. And it’s only getting tougher.

If you want to have a professional presence as an author on Facebook, you’ll need to set up an author page instead of using your regular profile to push your books. There are three reasons for this:

  • If you want to run ads for your books on Facebook (which can be very effective), you’ll need a page to run those ads from.
  • Your friends are not your target audience. How many of them read in the genre you write in?
  • Do you want to bore your friends with constant writing updates, or do you want your readers to see the stuff you only want to share with your friends?

    But Facebook pages have a problem, and that’s reach. If you post to your Facebook page, only a minority of your followers will ever see that post.

    And that’s because Facebook wants you to pay them to boost that post, so you can guarantee that all your followers will see it.

That seems pretty harsh. They’re your followers, and you worked hard to get them to like your page. Now you have to pay to talk to them?

Yup. And the proportion of people seeing your posts organically (i.e. without you paying) is continuing to shrink.

So you need a platform that you have control over. That won’t make you pay to get your message out and show people your stories. And that platform is your website.

Once you have an author website you can:

Put a link to it in the back of all your books, so people can find out more about you.

Use it to gather mailing list subscribers and offer people a freebie (a novella or short story maybe) in return for their email address.

Even sell books directly through it, as long as you own the rights. (You will if you’re self-published, you probably won’t if you’re with a publisher.)

Have I convinced you yet?

Good. Read on.

Creating an Author Website

So you know you need an author website. Your next-door neighbour has a thirteen-year-old son who’s a total geek and can do it for you for free. Fantastic.
Well… no.

I’ve worked with lots of people who needed a website over the years, and many of them have started out with a freebie that a friend, colleague or relative put together for them. In every case, it hasn’t gone well.

There are plenty of website providers out there that will let you set up your own website for free or at a low cost. And it means you have control over your site. You don’t have to wait for someone else to fix it if it crashes. You don’t have to tear your hair out because they didn’t update your site when your new book came out. You can do it all yourself, and without writing any code.

Here are some of the options available to you for creating an author website:

  • Use a website builder like Wix or Squarespace. These are easy to use and intuitive. The free plans are quite limited, though – you’ll struggle to get them to link to your mailing list provider, for example. But if you have zero experience, these can be a good place to start.
  • Use a blogging platform like Blogger. These are free and easy to get started with, but they look very old-fashioned in most cases and won’t reflect so well on you as a professional author.
  • Use WordPress.com’s free website platform. This is the best place to start if you have no budget and no experience. There’s loads of support available, you’re joining a vast community of fellow bloggers (many of whom might follow your site) and you can choose from a variety of themes to make your site look the way you want it to.

Get yourself a hosting package and a self-hosted WordPress.org site. This uses the same software as WordPress.com but gives you lots more flexibility. And even better – the site is 100% yours. You aren’t reliant on anyone else’s service and you own the content and the code.

Which one you use is up to you. If you want a more comprehensive guide to the pros and cons of each, my FREE Author Website Blueprint will steer you through the maze.

And if you’ve decided you want a WordPress site, my book WordPress For Writers will give you a step by step guide to creating and managing your site, either on WordPress.com or WordPress.org.

For more resources on author websites, including tips on setting them up and getting the most from them and round-ups of the best themes and plugins, you can follow my site RachelMcWrites. It’s all free and there’s no obligation to buy any of my books.

Although if you decide you want to, you’ll make me very happy… after all, that’s why I have an author website!

Byline

Rachel McCollin has been helping people create websites with WordPress since 2010. She’s written hundreds of articles and tutorials on web design and development and is the author of five books including WordPress For Writers, which helps authors create a professional website without writing code or spending a fortune.

You can find out more about her books and get tips on author websites at her website, RachelMcWrites.

 

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Five Publishing Secrets

by Val Tobin

I’m one lucky indie author.

When I wrote my first novel, I spoke to already-published authors, and the advice they gave me saved me time, money, and embarrassment. I’m always happy to save time and money and relieved when I’m spared embarrassment.

The following five tips will help you release your novel to the world with less pain:

A Professional Cover that Looks Great

Some authors can create spectacular covers for their magnum opus and no one would know they did it themselves. If you’re not a graphics guru (I’m not), then hire a good cover designer. It’s worth the investment.

Before I finished my novel, I thought about a cover. That readers judge books by their covers isn’t a secret—it’s an accepted fact. The secret you might not know when you’re starting out is that your cover will also have to look great as a thumbnail. Amazon and the other retailers will take that great big gorgeous cover of yours and shrink it down to the size of a postage stamp in results lists and ads. It still must look fabulous. Does it?

Beta Readers Who are Experts

I’d heard of beta readers before, but their importance in the writing process didn’t register until I’d completed the first draft of my first novel and needed to get feedback for it. I asked friends and family to read my manuscript and tell me where I went astray. In the process, I discovered a secret: sometimes you want feedback from experts and nothing says they have to read the whole story.

In The Experiencers, which is my first novel, I have a scene where two characters undergo hypnosis. I wanted to make sure the hypnotherapist in the scene came across as credible. I contacted an expert hypnotherapist, and, rather than asking him to read the entire book, I asked him to read that one scene. He agreed, I sent him the excerpt, and he provided valuable feedback.

I’ve since asked other experts to read snippets and received valuable feedback on my stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten if I’d only interviewed the experts. Some of the most surprising and minuscule details catch an expert’s attention and experts can provide inside information you’d never get from a book or website on the subject.

This is one of those tips that will save you embarrassment.

Enter Tax Information Relevant to Your Country for Income Tax and the IRS

If you live in the US, you have to abide by one set of tax rules and if you’re outside the US you have to abide by another while being aware of how the IRS expects you to accomplish this. I’m in Canada, a country that has a treaty with the US and, as of this writing, I provide my Canadian tax number, and Amazon and other US retailers don’t take income tax from my earnings. You need to provide the correct tax information to any distributor you work with, such as Amazon or Smashwords, so you get all the revenues to which you’re entitled.

The secret here is to make sure you read all the information current at the time you open your account with your distributor. I distribute through Amazon and Smashwords, while some authors use Draft2Digital.

Don’t let the taxman take more of your earnings than he’s entitled to. If you’re outside the US, provide the correct information, or you’ll have a headache dealing with the IRS to get the funds released to you. The best strategy for this is to read the information on the distributor’s site when you open your account and talk to other authors in your country to see how they did it.

When I opened my Smashwords and Amazon accounts, it was more complicated. I had to request a tax number from the IRS. Thankfully, a website I found had step-by-step instructions on how to do this with the least amount of hair-tearing. It took weeks from the time I submitted my form to the IRS for me to get the documentation, and you had to be anal about the way you entered the information or they’d reject your application and you’d have to redo it. It’s much simpler now, but you still have to make sure you enter all the information exactly as they want to see it.

Don’t Publish Prematurely

You’re eager to hit publish. You’ve reviewed the manuscript countless times. Beta readers enthused about the story. What’s left? Editing and proofreading.

The secret here is to know what type of editing you need and when to get it.

I’ve read repeatedly that the biggest mistake most indies make and one that they regret the most is hitting “Publish” too soon. One way to ensure you’ve created the best product readers will love is to hire a professional editor at the correct time in the process.

If you need help with high-level developmental editing, you’d bring the editor in earlier so he/she can evaluate the story at the macro level before any line editing or proofreading is done. Line editing comes next, which will examine the style, sentence structure, word use etc. Proofreading would be done last because it’s done at the micro-level. It catches typos, spelling and punctuation errors, and grammatical errors.

Can software such as ProWritingAid and Grammarly substitute for a professional editor? In my opinion, no. They can help you clean up your manuscript before you send it to your proofreader, but such software isn’t enough to put a professional polish on your manuscript. Even those who edit for a living hire editors for their books.

You can’t edit your own work because you don’t know what you don’t know. Most of the time, your brain skims right over mistakes you’ve made because you know what you meant. A savvy editor will catch embarrassing oopsies. My editor has saved me from such mistakes more than once.

Does this mean you have to spend thousands of dollars on editing? No. When you’re on a starving-artist budget, you can find ways to cut costs or establish a payment plan for editing. I found my editors through word-of-mouth referrals from other authors or from contacts I made online and in the industry.

Since I’ve been writing nonfiction for various online magazines since 2004, I made industry contacts over the years. Other authors will often happily recommend a decent editor. Or, if you read a book that’s edited well, check the acknowledgements. Authors always thank their editor for work done, and will sometimes include contact information for that editor. I provide links to my editors’ websites because I want my editors to thrive even if it means I have to adjust my release dates to accommodate their increasingly busy schedules.

Find a Local Printer

Amazon KDP Print is a great first option for printing your paperback books. However, if you don’t live in the US, you’ll want to find a local printer. The secret is that sourcing a local printer will help you sell your books to friends and family, at events and books signings, and at public speaking engagements.

It’s taken me years to find a printer that costs me less than I’d pay by ordering from Amazon, but I’ve finally done it. I’m excited about this, because the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar sucks right now, making buying author copies from Amazon expensive, which then forces me to charge higher prices on my paperbacks just to make a dollar or two.

Some authors I know use Ingram and are happy with it while others aren’t. Search for a printer in your area. You might find you can get paperback copies of your books at a much lower price than you’d get by ordering from Amazon or Ingram. You can even save shipping costs by picking up the order yourself, and not all printers demand you buy hundreds of copies to get the unit cost down to a reasonable level.

These secrets will help you get your work out there with less stress and with a better product. I hope you have a smooth and happy publishing experience.

About Val Tobin

From Newmarket, Ontario author Val Tobin studied general arts at the University of Waterloo, then went to DeVry Toronto to get a diploma in Computer Information Systems. She worked in the computer industry as a software and web application developer for over ten years, during which she started to get serious about energy work and parapsychology.

In October 2004, Val became a certified Reiki Master/Teacher. She acquired ATP® certification in March 2008, in Kona, Hawaii from Doreen Virtue, PhD Val received a bachelor of science in parapsychic science from the American Institute of Holistic Theology in September 2010. She subsequently obtained her master’s degree in parapsychology at AIHT.

Val wrote freelance and did editing work for online tech magazine Community MX. She also wrote for Suite101 and was Topic Editor for Paganism/Wicca and Webmaster Resources at Suite. A published author, she contributed a story to Doreen Virtue’s Hay House book Angel Words. Her books are available on Smashwords, Amazon, and from other retailers in both e-book and paperback. Her newest release, The Hunted, will be available on pre-order at Amazon in August 2019.

Website: http://valtobin.com/

Blog: https://bobandval.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/valtobinauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/valandbob

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8291936.Val_Tobin

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Val-Tobin/e/B00KC5S69K

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/val-tobin

ALLi: https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/members/val-tobin/profile/

My Self-Publishing Mid-Life Crisis

By Paul Samael

The typical male mid-life crisis seems to involve things like buying a sports car and generally behaving embarrassingly for your age. It’s often prompted, so I’m told, by a fear that time might be starting to run out to do all the things you want to do with your life. Somehow, the sports car bit never really happened for me – but roundabout 2010, it was that feeling of not getting any younger which finally made me resolve to try to publish a novel that I’d been writing, on and off, for about 15 years.

The first step was to finish the accursed thing – which took longer than expected. Then there was the question of how to get it published. I had written a couple of non-fiction books already which had been conventionally published. Although they hadn’t proved to be very successful, I had acquired an agent as a result of that work. Brimming with optimism, I sent her a sample of my newly minted magnum opus. The answer was not very encouraging. What market was I aiming at? I didn’t really know. The novel fell into a kind of godforsaken “no man’s land” somewhere between sci-fi and literary fiction and she didn’t think she could get a publisher to take it on.

I could then have hawked it around other agents or sent it directly to publishers. But I suspected that the responses would be similarly negative; indeed, trawling the internet turned up some research suggesting that on average, it took about 11 years for authors to get their first publishing deal for fiction (which was not good for my sense of time running out….). I also knew from the experience of my non-fiction books that even when publishers do take you on, they rarely do much in the way of promotion and quickly lose interest if sales fail to take off in the first 12 months. Was I really prepared to spend around a decade trying to get these people to publish my stuff?

The alternative was self-publishing. At first though, I was a bit hesitant. My inner literary snob told me that it was little different from paying a vanity press to publish my work – which they will do regardless of whether it’s actually any good. So I felt in need of some kind of external validation. I could have asked friends to read the novel – but it’s a lot to expect of people and I had a lingering concern that they wouldn’t necessarily be 100% honest about what they thought. Happily, the internet has come up with a solution to this problem in the form of peer review sites like youwriteon.com or scribophile.com. These allow you to post a sample of your work and get feedback from other users. They usually require you to provide feedback on other people’s work before you can get any on your own. But my experience was that – with some exceptions – the feedback was constructive. Crucially, it gave me the confidence I needed to self-publish and helped me to improve some aspects of the novel.

The next question was how to self-publish – do you go for ebooks, hard copy or both? For me, an ebook version was the logical first step because it’s relatively low cost – and potentially even zero cost if you prepare your own typescript for publication and design your own cover. And unlike hard copy, it also gives you global distribution – for example, my novel has been reviewed by people as far afield as Australia and the West Coast of the US.

Where possible, I also decided to make the novel available for free – which is an option on three of the platforms I have used, Smashwords, Obooko and iTunes (Amazon won’t normally let you offer your book for free but it will sometimes price match other platforms). I did this because reading a book takes a certain level of commitment and effort – and I was (and pretty much still am) an unknown author with only a few decent-ish reviews to recommend me. By offering my novel for free, I hoped to overcome some of that natural resistance to trying something new and untested.

Obviously, this involved jettisoning that long-cherished dream of becoming the next J K Rowling – but very few authors make serious money from publishing (most do it alongside other jobs that pay rather better). And no one says you have to keep your ebook available for free for all time – I’m aware of a number of self-published authors who’ve chosen to make their ebooks for free for an initial period (often to build up a few favourable reviews) and then switched to a paid-for model afterwards. Or you could make just one of your books free as a kind of “taster”, with a view to attracting readers, whilst offering others on a paid-for basis.

But for me, getting readers to give my novel a try was more important than earning money from it. Does making it free actually help with this? Well, according to Smashwords, free ebooks are on average 33 times more likely to be downloaded than paid-for ebooks. I can’t say whether that’s true for my novel because I never offered it as a paid-for download – but what I can tell you is that, since mid-2012, it has had over 8400 downloads on Smashwords alone (together with a reasonable number of positive reviews). Given that the first novel by a debut author is generally thought to have done well if it sells about 1000 copies, I don’t think that’s too bad a performance – especially when you consider that I have done relatively little in the way of promotion of the book.

As for hard copy, that’s not something I’ve tried yet – so you might be wondering why on earth I am doing a guest post on the blog of a company that specialises in printing hard copy books. But I don’t take the view that with the advent of ebooks, a hard copy is dead; I think there’s a role for both. Indeed, the latest sales figures for hard copy suggest that it has been making something of a comeback over the past couple of years.

Obviously, a hard copy will generally involve higher costs and for many authors, making large quantities available for free is unlikely to be a viable option (although it may be worth distributing a limited number of free copies for review purposes etc). But my advice to anyone thinking of self-publishing is that, if you’re worried about taking the plunge with a hard copy (perhaps because of the financial cost involved), ebooks are a great way of “testing the water” first. And hopefully, the ebook version will allow you to get some reviews which you can use to market your hard copy edition more effectively.

More generally, I think the stigma surrounding self-publishing – which I alluded to earlier – has started to dissipate somewhat. An increasing number of authors who’ve been published conventionally are turning to it, having become fed up with the often frustrating behaviour of traditional publishers – for examples of that, see my review of ”The Judas Tree” by Patricia Le Roy and this article from The Guardian, as well as some of the previous guest posts by authors on this blog.

There is an argument that self-publishing just means that the “slush pile” (which is how publishers condescendingly refer to all their unsolicited submissions from budding authors) has “gone public” – and that this is diluting the quality of books generally and dragging down standards. There is certainly a fair amount of self-published material that I personally wouldn’t rate very highly – and to the extent that the authors tried to get those books conventionally published, I can see why they got rejected. On the other hand, there are many examples of publishers rejecting books which deserved to be published. When self-publishing enables those books to find a readership, I think it’s something to be celebrated and encouraged. I have been reviewing self-published ebooks since 2012 and have managed to find plenty which in my view more than bear comparison with the output of professional publishers (click here for my recommendations). Without self-publishing, most of those books would probably just be gathering dust in a drawer somewhere (just like mine was).

Anyway, that’s quite enough about self-publishing and how it’s a surefire way to overcome your mid-life crisis – I’m off to look at some sports car websites.

 

Paul Samael’s novel “In the future this will not be necessary” is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, Obooko or iTunes. It’s also on Amazon (at the lowest allowable price). On Paul’s website, you can find his other fiction (all of which is free), a guide to self-publishing, his blog and numerous book reviews (including reviews of books by other self-published authors). He lives in London, UK. Paul Samael is a pen name, invented to avoid embarrassment to his real self in case his self-publishing adventure fell flat on its face (as to whether it has or not, only you can decide).

Miles Jensen has a confession to make. To the “true believers”, he is the faithful guardian of a website devoted to the late Pete Novotnik, founder of a technology-obsessed internet cult. But Miles is not a “true believer” – he only got involved out of a desire to rekindle an affair with Pete’s wife, Kay. Hoping to shock the cult’s followers into a crisis of faith, he decides to reveal his dubious role in Pete’s death. But when a journalist starts to investigate, Miles is forced to confront the truth about his motives for wanting to undermine the cult and his feelings for Kay.

 

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Indie Writing for a Niche Market

 

All my life I have loved horses and dogs. I am also a Christian. When my time came to begin writing, these passions made my books. I had a very clear dream which began my first one which is now titled, Challenger. What follows may sound familiar. The sitting and writing it all out was pure pleasure, then the pain set in. Editing!

I discovered how rusty I was but found some totally honest beta readers. They spoke quite bluntly and got me editing until I was blue in the face. Then came the larks with creating the ebook and its cover. With some birthday money, I went to a book marketing company. They gave me a paid plan and nursed me through the process of making a professional attempt, more editing and checking.

Through them, I found that I had made my biggest blunder. Going for a title that I liked, but it wouldn’t catch the readers’ eye. Any of you heard of a Baize door? The book flopped on NetGalley and sales were negligible.

I relaunched the book as Challenger and the reviews began to come in. Now, here’s the crunch. Most people seem to want to read Murder/Mysteries or paranormal. This I found through some, er, review groups, but let’s not get into that. This meant some people who had never in their lives read a horse book had to, and to my relief, the majority were pleasantly surprised.

Then it was the endless publicising in Facebook groups, my blogs, wherever I could. It was time-consuming and frustrating. The only thing I found that worked was the Amazon ad that the company ran for me – I couldn’t get my head around running the Amazon ad myself!!! As the first run had flopped, they re-ran the whole package for me for free.

I had made a plan for my writing and while I hadn’t written a best seller, things moved. I had to go on. The next book, Compromise was written more quickly and this time I had it professionally edited-by a retired editor friend. But even so, more work was needed. This time when I went back to the book company, they didn’t like my cover. I argued my case as I had now thoroughly researched my genre and the cover matched this. I felt I knew my field now. It’s still early days with the Ad. I’ve written the next book and am editing it myself. I have invested in a programme, Pro writing Aid that is amazing.

Through my beta readers, research and groups, I’ve got to know other horse book writers. The thrill of chatting with them and swapping experiences have been amazing. It’s a small genre compared to some, but the books do sell.

The main problem is that Amazon does not have a category for adult horse fiction. If you want a good adult horsey read, you find them under Teenage and Young adult equestrian non-fiction books. This is where the mostly middle-aged women readers go. Daft isn’t it? My answer was to start a FaceBook group, Horse Books for Grown-Ups to match readers with writers.

I have also ruthlessly cut out anything that doesn’t work, such as the FB advertising groups. I don’t think many readers actually look at them. The only thing that got my books started, as said, was the Amazon ad, and that’s my main form of advertising now. I don’t give free books away; people just grab them and don’t read. I will reduce the price of my first book when the trilogy is complete. I do look for mainstream ideas to build my market and am honoured to be part of the Mom’s Favorite Reads emagazine team -whether they are so thrilled I don’t know!

Here are my tips – Not in any sort of priority and you can apply them to the mainstream as well.

  1. Research your genre on Amazon. Look at who is selling in the bestsellers and download samples to get an idea of what is current. Titles and covers, look at these too. Abad picture of a horse won’t sell. Check how many other people are already using your fantastic title.
  2. Categories. We get three when we publish. But you can request up to ten Browse categories, the top three are listed on your book page. The whole list is on the Amazon sidebar on the left. You do need to keep checking them though, they can get altered. Amazon gets a bad press, but so far, my experience is 90% positive.
  3. Be prepared to invest in good programmes and help!
  4. Find the specific groups on Facebook, join them and be active; you can then chat with people writing the same things. Join technical groups, such as for creating coversand mainstream author groups for support, Beta readers and moans! Maybe create your own group.
  5. Look at your genre on places such as BookBub, is it there at all? If not, don’t bother to go with them. Search for websites and blogs on your subject that might be good for promoting. Find other authors in the same genre and contact them. You can get so much good advice and support this way.
  6. Get a good editing programme. I use Pro writing aid and it’s worth every penny. If you have Word 365, use the read-aloud function that’s amazing.
  7. If you use a marketing company, remember that unless paid to, they won’t have read your book. We’re all very precious about our babies, but if they don’t know the book, they might not be able to give the right support. Also, sometimes they are heavily pressed, and you might not be happy with the work, be patient!
  8. Do set some realistic goals and keep to them.
  9. Beta readers. Friends and family are useless. Find random readers from groups who will be totally impartial. BUT don’t send an editable document to a stranger and you must set deadlines.
  10. Be tough, if an idea or website doesn’t produce sales; stop wasting time.
  11. If you blog, host other authors and hopefully some will host back. You can reach huge audiences this way.
  12. Keep writing. The more books you have in your stable brings readers who want to read all of your work. That’s how to make some money.
  13. A niche book will only hit the jackpot if you put in a homicidal, sexually active zombie unicorn that travels in time.
  14. Don’t overdo the FB/blog posts, there comes a point where people switch off.

 

Born in Winchester (UK) Anna grew up with dogs and a passion for horses which was fulfilled when her family moved to the countryside and she had her first pony. After school, she spent a year in Switzerland, then came, home met Dave in Marwell zoo, settled and raised a family. She later took a degree with the Open University, graduating with a First Class Honours in English and History. Anna worked for five years at the Fortune Centre in Hampshire as a Riding Therapist. Married for 36 years, she has two adult children who wouldn’t move to Austria when she moved there in 2007. Maybe a victim of watching too many editions of A Place in the Sun and Grand Designs, she loves Austria and has no plans to leave! She now teaches English and is concentrating on her writing novels.
 
Anna rejected faith until her own family went through the trauma of an eviction and homelessness in the 1980s. It was through these events that she found God again. Since then she’s been involved in Baptist, Anglican and Free churches, she’s now in the Anglican Church in Austria. However, she says she is just a Christian who happened to be in these churches and wouldn’t wish to be labelled! Anna also writes an Award-nominated blog about Austria which tells of rich experiences of life in a new country. This is now hosting guest blogs from other authors!
 
www.annarashbrook.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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If you want to be featured on the Imprint Digital blog please get in touch. We are always looking for content that can benefit our readers. Head on over to the Contact Us page or contact us directly by emailing jamie@imprint.co.uk

 

Traditional publishing or self-publishing?

by Deborah Jay

How should you decide whether to seek a traditional publishing contract or self-publish your book? Only you can answer this question, but knowing what each involves is essential before you take the plunge either way.

I began writing back in the days when the only alternative to a traditional publishing contract was vanity publishing – an expensive, and most often, disappointing venture. My campaign began well, acquiring an agent at first attempt, but although all the publishers she submitted my novel to (in those days, the ‘Big Six’), replied favourably regarding my style, I had made the mistake of writing what was popular at the time, and not what they wanted – that much sought-after ‘next hot potato’.

Discouraged only a little, I gained a two-book contract for non-fiction titles (on horse training – my day job), in the hopes that publication of some sort would make placing the next novel easier.

How wrong was I? I’ve since learned about such things, realising that even a well-known novelist may struggle to break into a different genre, where they will be considered a debut author all over again.

I did, however, gain plenty of experience of traditional publishing. My books have been well received, both have earned out (recouped their advances) and the first is now in reprint, so all in all, they are considered successful. Most of that, however, has been down to my own marketing efforts, because unless you are one of the biggest names, publishers allocate little or no finance for marketing.
Enter self-publishing. Still enamoured of the idea of a publishing deal for my novels, I was somewhat late to the party. Annoyingly so, as I had novels ready to go, and those earliest independent authors made names for themselves with far greater ease than we do today, because there was so little competition. However, when I self-published my first novel, (the one that had gained me the agent), I was ready to do the hard marketing, and was rewarded with an Amazon Hot 100 New Release in my genre (epic fantasy – a large and tough category to figure in). Whilst not stellar, the book gained a solid number of sales and reviews.

Rustam Chalice, gigolo and spy, loves his lifestyle just the way it is, so when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action. Only trouble is, his spy master teams him up with an untouchable, beautiful, aristocratic assassin who despises him.

Plunged into a desperate journey over the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god – and each other.

Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings – a sweeping tale of spies and deadly politics, inter-species mistrust and magic phobia, with a pinch of romance.
Before I released it, I’d spent an entire year researching such topics as formatting, covers, blurbs, editors, outlets, pricing, and the ever-increasing intricacies of marketing. I’d already put in place the start of my author platform – a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter profile.

Things have changed a lot since I published my first novel in 2013. It takes continual effort to keep up with all the latest trends and sophistications in platform and marketing, but although I don’t personally earn a huge sum (by today’s standards, I’m a slow writer, taking upwards of a year to produce a new book), I’m happy to build my readership gradually.

One of the beauties of self-publishing e-books is that they never go out of print, so your catalogue only ever increases.

Another is the difference in royalties, and the level of control I have over my own career. I don’t have my books in bookstores (although I do sell paperbacks online, and in the flesh at events), but where my traditionally published books earn me 10% (and I’m lucky that my equestrian books are relatively highly-priced, bringing me £2.50 per sale, or £7.50, if I sell hardcopies, face to face, bought with my author discount), my self-published e-books earn me between 60-70%, (depending on sales platform) with no upfront costs other than what I choose to spend to produce a professional product.

So, what are the costs of self-publishing? This depends upon what you are prepared to spend your time learning, or sourcing, which in turn depends on how much time you want to devote, what skills you may have in design or tech use, and how much control you want over your project.

  • An excellent, genre-specific, cover is essential, and for me, buying professionally designed covers is the only money I willingly spend.
  • Formatting can be learned, or paid for, or you can buy formatting programmes.
  • Editing and proofreading are also essential, but if you are willing to work with other authors, you can frequently swap these services (assuming you find highly professional partners).
  • You can learn to write your own blurbs, or you can outsource to those who specialise in this tricky area.

Regarding outlets for e-books, you may choose to go exclusive with Amazon and join KU (Kindle Unlimited), which offers advertising advantages, or you may decide to ‘go wide’, and place your book with as many outlets (including Amazon) as there are out there. Even within this, you have the choice to learn how to upload to each individual platform (oh yes, everyone is different), or you might go with an aggregator, who takes a small percentage of each sale for the service but removes the bother of learning so many sites’ requirements.

And then, there is marketing. You can pay someone else to do this, but realistically, unless you are earning bucket-loads of cash, this option isn’t really viable. So that means taking the time to learn, experiment, and keep up to date with the various options, alongside keeping your social media platform up to date. Oh, and writing the next book!

This may all sound overwhelming, and for most of us, we’d rather be writing than marketing, but personally, I’ve found the effort worth it. I own my own words, my books are as I want them, not as a publisher instructs, I can change them even after publication, I set my own deadlines, and I can get them made into other formats, such as paperbacks, hardcovers or audiobooks, as I choose.

I am in control of my marketing – I can run promotions when I like, and how I like. And at the end of it all, I reap a far larger reward than the pittance paid by traditional publishers.

Don’t forget, even if you get a traditional deal, you’ll still need to keep up your author platform, and do your own marketing – unless you are the next Stephen King, or JK Rowling, they won’t do it for you – fact.

As I said at the start, only you can make this choice for yourself; both options are available to you. With traditional publishing, the reward of seeing your book in bookstores and not having to deal with the physical requirements of producing the book may still appeal, assuming you are willing to try surviving the submission and rejection process, and actually secure a book deal, then continue to sell well enough they don’t cancel your contract. Or you may decide to embrace the brave new world of self-publishing, with the challenges it brings in terms of time and learning required to succeed.

Either way, you have a chance for success or failure, but only in self-publishing are you in total control, and the independent (indie) author community is hugely supportive and generous, because success breeds success, and we’ve recognised that we are not in competition with each other – the more people we encourage to read, the more readers there are for all of our books.

I think you can tell which choice I made!

Deborah Jay writes fantasy and urban fantasy featuring complex, quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read.
 
Living mostly on the UK South coast, she has already invested in her ultimate retirement plan – a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands where she retreats to write when she has time. Her taste for the good things in life is kept in check by the expense of keeping too many horses, and her complete inability to cook.She has a dream day job riding, training and judging competition dressage horses and riders, and also writes books and magazine features on the subject under her professional name of Debby Lush.

A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, she started writing her first novel aged eight, and has never stopped. Her first published novel is epic fantasy, THE PRINCE’S MAN, #1 in the Five Kingdoms series, and winner of a UK Arts Council award. #2, THE PRINCE’S SON and #3 THE PRINCE’S PROTEGE are both available.
 
Her first urban fantasy, DESPRITE MEASURES, about a Scottish water sprite, is the opening novel of the CALEDONIAN SPRITE SERIES. The companion Short story, SPRITE NIGHT is available FREE on most ebook retailers.

Stalk her at:

https://deborahjayauthor.com/

https://www.facebook.com/DeborahJay

https://www.pinterest.com/debbylush/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7172608.Deborah_Jay

Amazon author page: https://viewAuthor.at/DeborahJay

Newsletter sign up and FREE short story: http://eepurl.com/bPZcmT

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Five Ways to Save Money As An Indie Author

Natasha D. Lane

If someone were to say writing is not for the feign of heart, I think writers everywhere would applaud in agreement. Now, if this same someone were to say writing is not for those with empty wallets, we’d applaud, then check our bank accounts. We indie authors would probably check twice for good measure.

Finances can be a struggle for authors everywhere, particularly those of us wild enough to go at it alone. Indie authors, unlike traditionally published, are responsible for every step of the writing and publishing process. Those steps include but are not limited to the following:

  • Brainstorming
  • Outlining
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Professional Editing
  • Professional Cover Design
  • Formatting

In my experience, the bulk of publication costs stem from professional editing, cover design, and formatting. Of course, you could save money and ask your neighbour/mom/high school English teacher/the newspaper boy/random stranger with some experience to assist you with one of the bulk costs, right?

In short, that decision is yours. I always advise hiring people outside of your inner circle especially for the editing process. That’s a post for another time, though! Here are a few ways to save money as an indie:

1. Learn to Format Your Manuscripts

Formatting is a must if you ever want to sell your story. Amazon has systems in place which check for formatting errors before a book is approved for publication. These systems ensure words don’t bleed off the page, lines remain straight, and there aren’t large blank spaces. That being said, you don’t want to mess up your manuscript’s formatting.

A badly formatted novel will leave a bad impression, particularly for a reader new to your work. Of course, you can pay for this service, or you can learn to format. Not only are there plenty of YouTube tutorials, but some experienced authors offer courses. These courses are usually no more than one-hour long and cost a small sum. However, that’s a one-time payment for a lifetime of savings.

2. Work With Other Indies/Freelancers

Networking matters. It’s how I’ve learned to navigate the crazy publishing industry. Authors, fellow indies included, keep each other informed. They also act as referrals for external tasks such as graphic design and editing. Several of the editors I’ve worked with came through a recommendation from another author. This statement is true for the formatting course I took, as well.

On top of providing great referrals, indies want to support one another. If a graphic designer or editor knows you’re a fellow indie, they may be willing to offer a discount or special deal. Don’t expect anything for free (everyone has to eat, right?) but they’ll do what they can to stop your bank account from screaming at you.

3. Give Away Ebooks Instead of Paperbacks

This tip is pretty simple. Ebooks are cheaper to ship than paperbacks because you can send them via email at no cost. And once you have an ebook copy of your work (in either Epub or Mobi usually), all you need is that copy. You can send it to as many people as you like.

Though many readers prefer paperbacks, they’re more expensive to ship. If you know the reader’s address in advance, you can ship directly to them from Amazon. This step prevents you from paying twice for shipping costs: once to yourself, then again to the author. Still, it’s extra money that could have stayed warm and cosy in your bank account.

I do want to add a few caveats here. Amazon, like many print-on-demand publishers, offers author copies, so you pay less than a reader would for your printed book. This discount will be useful during those occasions when you really need your paperback copies.

4. Self-Edit & Use Beta Readers

Despite the number of times someone reads your manuscript, you’ll still need a professional editor. Some authors send their manuscripts in for several rounds of editing because there are different types. To name a few, you have developmental editing, line editing, and proofreading.

I sent my first novel in for both line and developmental edits. It cost a lot, to say the least. However, I’ve found that when I self-edit my novels and use beta readers, there’s less work for the professional editor to do. Less work means fewer rounds of edits and more money in my wallet.

5. Save Money In Your Personal Life

Another simple tip but still worth noting. The more money you have to spare towards your work, the better. No, money is not everything when it comes to writing or publishing a novel. But, it does make the process easier. Saving before you publish means you won’t feel the strain as much.

So, skip a few coffees, don’t go out to eat as much, and don’t buy that new pair of shoes. It’ll be worth it when you finally get to hold your book in your hands.

Thanks for letting me chat with you all. I hope you find these tips helpful! You can learn more about me, as well as my proofreading and sensitivity reading services here.

What other money-saving tips do you all have? Make sure to share them in the comments!

Author Bio:

Natasha D. Lane is a friend of most things caffeinated, a lover of books (particularly fantasy), and a writer to her core.

As a big believer in the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” she graduated from Juniata College in 2015 with hopes of becoming a journalist. Instead, her path took her on a different route and Natasha found herself digging up a manuscript from her childhood.

This dusty stack of papers would become “The Pariah Child & the Ever-Giving Stone.” With one book under her belt, Natasha went on to release”The Woman In the Tree: The True Story of Camelot” and most recently “The Pariah Child: Sarafina’s Return” which released August 1st 2019.

If there were a single piece of advice Natasha could give to young writers, it’d be this: Write your way through life.

Connect with Natasha on; – Website – Facebook – Instagram – Twitter – GoodReads

 

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A Publishing Experience by Elizabeth Hull

I can look back on my own route to publication and howl with laughter at the mistakes I made. Some of it was right, but the first steps … well. So having been inspired to write and totally convinced I could write, I set out to write a fantasy novel in a wonderfully clueless way. Not only did I blissfully commit every writing flub known to man, but I packaged the typed pages of quite a large book and posted them off to Random House without return postage or an agent, let alone an invite to do so. Bong, wrong move and yet they were champions, thanking me for my unsuccessful submission and posting the whole mess back to me. I will never forget that gentle kindness. As for the book, it was consigned to a box in some closet where I think it might still sit, a failed tome beyond help.

Having acquired a pc at this time a search of the web about writing was warranted, really, really warranted and I came across a new group just setting up called the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy. This was initially run for free by Random House imprint Del Rey for the purpose of reducing their slush and potentially finding a new writer or two for the new idea of digital books. I stayed on this site for years, long after it was dropped by Del Rey and we all chipped in with subscriptions to keep it open. Here is where I actually learned to write with the help of many wonderful fellow writers that I still count as dear friends. Here is where my next three books were critiqued, chapter by chapter. I also branched out into a new group a few years later called Authonomy, again making some dear, dear friends. Here is where I had the fantastic good luck of meeting the people who would go on to publish my two series, the science fantasy series, starting with Shadow Over Avalon and a paranormal fantasy series, starting with Darkspire Reaches under the Kristell Ink imprint of their company, Grimbold Books.

There was one other hiccup along the way to publication and it came long before Grimbold Books came on the scene. I googled my legal name just to make sure I was the one and only writer. Um no, I wasn’t. Fred Pohl’s wife, a lovely lady, was published under that name, right down to the ‘e’ on my middle name of Anne. She was also published in those genres so it would have been impolite in the extreme to continue as myself.

This is where the name C.N. Lesley came into being. It wasn’t picked at random and has meaning for me, so is appropriate. Anyone wanting to know what the initials stand for? C stands for Christine and N stands for Norma, all of them are first names.

As for marketing, I am in Central Alberta, Canada, so not really in a position to do conventions or books signings. This leaves social media, which these days means Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as my own website.

  Elizabeth Hull, writing under the byline of C.N. Lesley, lives in Alberta with her husband and cats. Her three daughters live close by.

When she isn’t writing, she likes to read and to paint watercolours. She is also a keen gardener, despite the very short summers, and now has a mature shade garden.

Once a worker in the communications sector, mostly concentrating on local news and events, she now writes full time.

You can follow C.N. Lesley on the following social media platforms;

Website: https://cnlesley.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.hull.39
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darkspires/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/darkspires

 

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The Brave New World of Publishing

By Debbie De Louise

I wrote my first novel, Cloudy Rainbow, a paranormal romance, in 2008. I decided to self-publish it with Booklocker.com, a self-publishing company. At that time, self-publishing companies were beginning to gain popularity among authors. Today, self-publishing is a whole different ballgame. Self-publishing companies are still around and continue to offer a gamut of services, most that include ala carte choices from book cover design to editing services, to marketing and promotion assistance. However, many authors are now self-publishing their own books and some are reporting success.

In 2015, I found a publisher for my second novel, A Stone’s Throw. I’ve learned a lot since then. While I was thrilled to land a publisher, albeit an Indie publisher, it might’ve been better for me to have spent more time querying agents so that my book could’ve been considered by a larger publisher. I think many new writers make a similar mistake. They don’t wait because they feel, rightly, that agents and traditional publishers receive tons of queries. They don’t believe they can stand out in a sea of authors. That’s how I felt and still feel after having published 7 books, a novella, and a dozen or so short stories and having sold my works to three publishers without advances or any substantial royalties and doing all this while working full-time and having a family. There have been rewards, though. I’ve garnered a small fan base composed of online readers as well as those who have read my books in the library, some of whom also purchase it and ask for an autographed copy.

I found my first publisher through a twitter contest. They contacted me after I posted a pitch for A Stone’s Throw. I was shocked and hurried to sign the contract they sent me. I spent time reading it and even had an attorney review it but basically jumped at their first offer. I was equally excited that I was able to see my book on Amazon as an eBook and paperback within a short, three-month period that included two months of working online with an editor. I never questioned that traditional books take about a year to be published which allows a long lead-time for promotion and opportunities for journal reviews such as the ones I read when I order books for the library where I work. It was just great to see my book in print by a publishing company. This bedazzlement wore off as soon as I submitted the second book in my series because the publisher rejected it.

At this point, I didn’t know what to do. I knew that many publishers wouldn’t consider the second book of a series. I entered another twitter contest and attracted the interest of a different Indie publisher. I was just as eager to sign with them especially when they offered to also represent my first title if I asked for my rights back. This will be my third year working with Solstice Publishing. I have the four books of my Cobble Cove mystery series with them, a standalone mystery, and a dozen short stories of various genres. They even reprinted Cloudy Rainbow.

Despite my prolific publishing, I still yearned to see my books in more formats than eBook and paperback. I wanted to see my work in large type, hardcover, and audio. I dream about a review in Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, or one of the other professional publishing journals. I hoped that I’d eventually earn enough money to list my business for tax purposes, that I’d make more in royalties than I spent on promotion, conference travel, and even the purchase of my own books. I envisioned an advance, possibly a movie or TV deal, that would make up for all my hours of non-paid work. I knew the only chance I had to achieve any of this was to keep querying agents. There was one I particularly liked. I was friends with some of the authors she represented. I sent her a proposal for the first of a new cosy mystery series. I was hurt when she turned it down, even though I’d been rejected in the past and knew that was all part of the process that all authors endure even those who are now famous.

Then I met another author who wrote mysteries and also had a cosy mystery series. I inquired about his publisher, and he suggested I might want to query them. Unlike other Indie publishers, his publisher, Creativia (now renamed Next Chapter) was planning to publish books in hardcover and audio as well as eBook and paperback. They’d already begun publishing large type books. In addition, they helped promote authors worldwide, although authors had to promote themselves, as well, something I was used to, anyway. I sent a query for my unpublished mystery, Sea Scope. It was accepted and published this past May. I haven’t yet seen any royalties from it and am not expecting a windfall, but I’ve met some great new authors and am looking forward to having my book appear in new formats.

Sarah Collins needs an escape. Mourning her brother’s death and the impending breakup of her marriage, she returns to her childhood home in South Carolina, where her family operated an inn.

Sarah hasn’t been back to Sea Scope for twenty years; not since she and her brother Glen discovered a body by the nearby lighthouse. She never understood why her parents left Sea Scope so suddenly, or the reasons behind her father’s suicide.

After Sarah returns to the inn, she faces long-buried memories, text messages and strange clues. Something is not right in Sea Scope. Reunited with people from her past, she tries to figure out what’s going on in her childhood home.

When past and present collide, Sarah must face truths about her family, and what happened that summer day by the lighthouse. But will she survive to tell the tale?

I have to admit, after all this and trying to write another novel, I still hope to land an agent one day. I’m holding on to that unpublished first book of a cosy. The problem is time. How do I prioritize my writing, promoting, querying time when there are so many other things to do? Eight hours of my day is spent at work; six or seven sleeping. I have a teenage daughter, a husband, and also three cats. I need time for them, too. I also need time for my friends and for myself. I know other authors suffer a similar dilemma. We’re told you have to write because you love it. Forget the money. Forget fame. If it happens, it will. If not, at least you’ll be memorialized. Your words will live on.

What would I advise a new author to do? It depends on what they want. There are so many options for publishing today. It’s perfectly acceptable, even admired for one to self-publish, either on their own or through a self-publishing company. It’s also great to find an Indie or small publisher, but there are so many that you can shop around. Talk to other authors. Check websites that evaluate Indie authors. If you’re determined to publish traditionally with a larger publisher, there are benefits as I’ve mentioned but also negatives. Like in any business, most people start out in the red. Don’t let that discourage you. Networking is important. There are lots of great genre and local writing groups out there. I belong to Sisters-in-Crime, International Thriller Writers, Long Island Author Group, and the Cat Writers’ Association.

There are also plenty of blogs, fellow authors, and others who are willing to help you sell “the first ten thousand copies” or “turn your book into a movie,” “tweet your promo to 100,000 readers,” “guarantee a hundred new reviews,” etc. all of this at a sale or discounted price that still exceeds what you’ll make back. At the same time, there are many free or low-cost sites if you look for them and/or find them through fellow authors. Being an author is much more complicated than I ever imagined when I started writing. It’s a brave new world for authors. There’s so much to learn, and many paths that you might choose. What works for one author, may not work for another. It’s a tough field, but someone has to do it. It might as well be us.

My name is Debbie De Louise. I’m a reference librarian at a public library on Long Island and the award-winning author of the Cobble Cove cosy mystery series. I have a B.A. in English and an MLS in Library Science.
 
I’m a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters-in-Crime, the Cat Writer’s Association, and Long Island Authors Group and have published articles in Cats Magazine and Catnip (Tufts University Veterinary Newsletter). I won the Glamour Puss special award from Hartz Corporation for my Catster.com article, “Brushing your cat for bonding, beauty, and better health,” (June 2016). My short mystery, “Stitches in Time” was published in the Cat Crimes Through Time Anthology, (1999). I have also published several other short stories of various genres in Solstice anthologies. I live on Long Island with my husband, Anthony; daughter, Holly; and our cat, Stripey.

I welcome followers at my social media sites:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/debbie.delouise.author/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Deblibrarian

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2750133.Debbie_De_Louise

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2bIHdaQ

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debbie-de-louise

Website/Blog/Newsletter Sign-Up: https://debbiedelouise.com

When Romance Perturbs

By Holly Bargo

I remember the 1970s, the latter part of which I moved from reading Laura Ingalls’ autobiographical series to Barbara Cartland’s historical romances and Harlequin romances in which nothing more explicit than some passionate kisses occurred. Romance novels at the time fell under the derogatory category of“bodice rippers.” Many books deserved such disparagement. By the early 1980s, I’d plunged deeply into fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and hardcore romance with explicit sexual content.

Establishing Expectations

What I remember most about those many, many books is that the heroines overwhelmingly fell into two categories: wealthy, pampered, and innocent or indigent, desperate, and innocent. They relied upon wealthy, powerful men to guide them and/or rescue them. They had no marketable skills other than “housewife,” “governess,” or “nanny.” Occasionally, an adventurous author cast her heroine as a nurse, secretary (relabeled in the 1980s as an administrative assistant), or grade school teacher.

That is not to say that many housewives, governesses, and nannies aren’t skilled, intelligent individuals. It simply seemed an expectation that a woman’s industry belonged in the home. A professional woman always—always—took a lesser position than a man.

By the time I reached high school, attitudes began to change. Women could do more than clean and take care of the kiddies. They could—gasp!—hold professional positions as accountants, doctors, scientists, and professors. I have yet to see a romance in which the heroine makes her living as a plumber or paperhanger or rodeo clown. Being somewhat liberated myself and quietly rebelling against an extremely traditional upbringing (My father’s words: “No, you don’t need to learn to change the oil in your car. Your husband, brothers, or I will always do it for you.”), I reveled in that development of woman as intelligent, competent individual.

In those romances I continued reading, men did not grow gentler, although they were less likely to take their heroines by force. Heroines grew bolder, stronger, kickass. Heroines acquired skills, education, and respected professions. Authors gave heroines permission to feel sexual attraction and act on it. Non-consensual sex, rampant in romance then and (unfortunately) now, receded as an expected and romantic part of the male-female relationship, because society finally began to acknowledge that women didn’t want to be raped and certainly didn’t enjoy it.

Well, that didn’t last long.

A Devolving Legacy

Over the past decade or so I have seen an upswell of romances featuring heroines backsliding into the old domestic tropes: woman as a receptacle for male passion. Then Fifty Shades of Grey burst upon the scene and the BDSM subculture went mainstream. Not only was a woman’s purpose to receive male passion, but to obey said male’s every command, too.

And I thought the Women’s Liberation Movement had succeeded. Stupid me.

Now, book advertisements flood my social media, promoting stories that disguise brutal rape as passion, torture and beating as sexual stimulation, and unquestioning obedience as natural and desirable. I cringe at stories glamorizing Stockholm Syndrome and oppression as wonderful, delightful fantasies which excuse the antihero’s selfishness and cruelty justify the heroine as deserving of such horrors as would drive any real woman to suicide just to escape. Stories of sexual slavery have ascended as the new height of romantic literature as romance authors attempt to build upon and exceed the debauchery and degradation glamorized by E. L. James.

Egad, have we really come to this?

Is this the message we want to send to the adolescent girls and young women who read our work? (Don’t’ delude yourself: teenage girls are reading these books.)

When did alpha heroes who want their heroines to be happy become passé?

I missed that memo.

Rachel’s brother uses her as collateral to settle a debt with an outlaw motorcycle gang. She flees to a local bar and pleads with a darkly handsome stranger to help her. His help results in homicide. When eagle shifter Diego’s vacation is interrupted by the innocent young woman he recognizes as his mate, he flees with her across national borders because she’s his and he’s not letting her go. 
 
Having essentially swapped one captor for another, Rachel knows the dashing, sexy Spaniard is keeping secrets from her. He showers her with kindness and generosity in exchange for her obedience. Diego’s control over her and his secrets elicit her distrust and resentment. 
 
When freedom beckons, Rachel answers its call; however, freedom brings hardship and indignity. Will she return to the controlling alpha male who stirs her blood or cling stubbornly to her freedom?

Storytelling and Genre Expectations

The premise of good fiction is to take an ordinary person and plop him or her into extraordinary circumstances. Think of the ingenue who discovers she has powers and must learn to control them, the woman who dies and arises a vampire, or the administrative assistant or waitress who finds herself the target of an elite assassin or mob boss.

Good storytelling begins there.

Considering how much romance has regressed, one might wonder why I continue to read it and write it.

I believe in love.

Furthermore, I believe in love in which the parties involved want to make each other happy. Genuine, powerful romance involves both give and take by all parties involved in the relationship.

My novel Rowan, published in 2014, features our “ordinary” heroine—actually not so ordinary, but an immortal sidhe—who finds herself the romantic target of a vampire and a shapeshifter. One’s immortal, the other isn’t. The heroes, who are friends and business partners, work out an arrangement so that each gets what he wants, but … wait for it … our heroine consents. She initially consents for practical reasons, but practicality soon gives way to romantic love. In no way does this woman wallow in victimhood or accept herself as a victim, even when circumstances exceed her ability to overcome them by herself.

This year I dipped my toes into science fiction with a reverse harem romance titled Triple Burn. The heroes resemble such antiheroes as written by other authors (whom I won’t mention) in that they endure a mating instinct that drives their actions. Yet, the heroes in this book—warriors all—can and do exert some self-control because they want a happy mate. Although they dominate her, they don’t oppress her. Their patriarchal attitudes run toward protection and coddling rather than domineering exploitation and forced obedience. Sure, they expect their fragile (compared to them) mate to obey their commands, but their goal is to protect her from harm. Of course, the heroine doesn’t understand that at first, which introduces the relationship conflict needed to propel the story along.

Even the practically-a-caveman hero of my novella The Barbary Lion who most closely resembles those antiheroes so prevalent in today’s so-called “dark” romances learns that the presence of a uterus does not nullify mental capacity or free will. The resourceful heroine teaches him a hard lesson, and he realizes that he must give in order to get. He negotiates with her and she holds him to his word. In other words, he finds redemption because he finally understands that his mate—the love of his life—is not his sex slave. He makes concessions to secure her consent to come back to him—and then he keeps his word. His rigid code of honour—keeping his word no matter what—strongly characterizes him.

Perhaps the difference between heroes who imbue the romantic alpha characteristics that romance readers love between the antiheroes who also exhibit that same dominance lies in two simple concepts: honour and compassion. Even when sexual attraction blazes hot between a hero and his heroine, he holds to honour and exercises compassion. Those two concepts lead to redemption of an otherwise irredeemable character.

Is there honour in harming or terrorizing someone weaker?

These antiheroes whose authors wallow in such cruelty and oppression are nothing more than mature bullies who add rape and violence to their repertoire. I don’t understand why some readers and authors find that romantic, especially when I’m sure they would collapse in puddles of pain, terror, and tears if they experienced even a smidgen of what those poor heroines endure with orgasmic smiles and open legs.

If romance is a genre primarily for women and focusing on supporting women, women’s ambitions, and women’s happiness, then why are romance authors writing about the subjugation and exploitation of women? And why do readers like it so much?

I wish I could answer those questions.

Love and Expectations

Romance, ultimately, is about love. I believe in love and I believe that romantic love exists, grows, and endures beyond the chemistry of gonads. It requires an emotional connection that authors and readers of sex slave stories apparently forget. The trappings of a sub-genre—science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, billionaire, etc.—serve as window dressing because they don’t change the essence of the umbrella genre. The hero is always physically powerful and handsome, even in the occasional happenstance of not being wealthy. The heroine gives up damned near everything to cleave unto him and adapt to his life. (For what it’s worth, the hero gives up his criminal life to live with the heroine in my book, Russian Gold. Many readers let me know they disliked that violation of expectations.)

That expectation that a woman leaves her family and everything else when inserting herself into her husband’s life has ancient roots in most cultures. It goes back thousands of years. So do the erroneous ideas that rape is romantic and that women like being chattel. Perhaps anticipation or actuality of reader backlash against violation of expectations prevents romance authors from writing otherwise.

Another expectation of romance is the “HEA” (happily ever after) or “HFN” (happy for now) ending. Romance readers find satisfaction in those endings, especially the HEA. Defying that convention also invites reader backlash. I learned that with Triple Burn which does not have a traditional (i.e., expected) ending.

If violating expectations garners negative feedback, then perhaps the hundreds or thousands of positive reviews authors of dark romance receive from writing sex slave stories redolent of rape and brutality feed readers’ expectations of what romance should be. Such violent treatment of women satisfies them somehow. Somewhere in the depths of their minds, they approve of it. They think it right and good.

I shudder at the thought.

About the Author

Holly Bargo is a pseudonym but really did exist as a temperamental Appaloosa mare fondly remembered for protecting toddler children and crushing a pager. The author and her husband live on a southwest Ohio hobby farm with a menagerie of four-legged beasties that, yes, includes horses. They have two grown children, neither residing in Ohio. Holly works full-time as a freelance writer and editor.

Holly writes primarily in the genres of romance and fantasy and often combines the two. Her latest book, The Eagle at Dawn, was released on July 1, 2019. She plans on publishing another short story collection of westerns with co-author Russ Towne this autumn, following their original collaborative project titled Six Shots Each Gun: 12 Tales of the Old West, which was released in February 2019.

Readers who enjoy Holly Bargo’s work can visit with her at the upcoming events listed on her website. She welcomes interaction with readers who may contact her through the Hen House Publishing website.

 

 

 

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A Publishing Experience by Dorothy A Spruzen

I started my historical novel The Blitz Business in graduate school at Queens University of Charlotte. A very early draft formed the thesis for my MFA in Creative Writing. Of course, the book went through many iterations after that in response to various nuggets of feedback I received in conference workshops and from agents who were kind enough to say something helpful. Indeed, some of the changes turned out to be seismic, others resulted in me taking a character off In another direction – particularly one, who I decided had not been murdered after all. I started submitting to agents too soon, as I slowly came to realize.

When I started writing this book, I knew two things: I would set my book in England during World War Two, and my protagonist would be a teen who was intellectually challenged. I served for ten years on the board of an organization that provides residential support services for such individuals. I wanted to show this young man as a fully rounded character who had dreams, fears, needs, talents and flaws just like everyone else.

“The Blitz Business is a tale of resilience during World War II through the eyes of Jamie, a teenager with intellectual disabilities. D.A. Spruzen’s narrative will make readers rethink their perceptions of the challenges facing people with such challenges, a bold and progressive perspective even in today’s modern world.” -Betsy Schatz, Executive Director, Langley Residential Support Services, a residential and community support provider for adults with intellectual disabilities

When I felt I had a finished product, I sent it to an editor for copy and line editing and restarted the submission process. I knew enough to check the website of every agent first, to make sure they hadn’t jumped to another firm (which they do like fleas these days), and also to double-check the submission guidelines. It’s a tough business, especially in the U.S., I think. Major publishing houses number around four – all the other names you see are imprints under a very large umbrella and the bottom line is their top priority. I probably should have tried querying British agents, since the book is set in England. I tried a few Canadians, but Canadian writers take first bite up there as the government gives certain benefits to publishers who favour their countrymen (I’m not sure of the details).

Finally, I tried small publishers as they will accept un-agented manuscripts, unlike the big houses. I found one online whose owner did a lot of ministry in his church with the intellectually challenged. Aha! And he liked it.

The first thing I had to do before getting a contract was fill in a massive questionnaire, wanting to know the target audience, marketing plans, etc. They also wanted to know how I envisioned the cover – which I described in detail. I got the contract.

As my editor did a great job, the changes the publisher’s editor wanted were minor. They submitted six cover designs to me. One was exactly what I wanted. But the publisher wanted me to pick two and put it to a vote on Facebook! A marketing technique, I guess. Anyway, my choice got the most votes. I would have insisted on it anyway. The publisher set up a phone conversation to talk about publicity. I could have opted to pay for his person to be my publicist, but it would have been costly. I have to admit that misguided faith in my own marketing prowess led me astray, too. I did hire someone to do social media posting – Instagram, Facebook author page, an Twitter. According to received wisdom, she did all the right things for several years. This month I ended our association as this has not translated into sales. A conference panel I recently attended asserted that social media is a waste of time and podcasting is the way to go. I have yet to dip my toe into those waters!

After I’d approved the galleys, the publication was set, although it was delayed for a couple of weeks – annoying because I cut short a trip to accommodate it. I set up a book launch at a local independent book store, for which I paid a fee. Over 50 people attended and the store sold all the books. They declined to keep the books in inventory, though, because small publishers often make returns difficult.

Then it was all down to me. My publisher did nothing further. No publicity, no recommending for awards, no nothing. In fact, he seems to have run into difficulties, because early this year he dropped 50 or 60 of his authors, including me. I had to pay him a hefty sum to have my book transferred to Ingram Spark. I could have taken the book back and self-published, but that would have meant losing my ISBN and losing my Amazon reviews, and losing the wonderful cover.

So, if I find a small publisher for my new novel Sleuthing with Mortals (an urban fantasy featuring a Norse goddess turned private detective – yes, really!), I will look very closely at services and contact other authors for feedback. For now, I’m querying agents and hoping for a new deal with a larger publishing house.

My poetry chapbook Long in the Tooth was also published by a very reputable small press that specializes in poetry and doesn’t have the resources to provide much support. But poetry is a different animal, at least in the U.S., so I didn’t have great expectations.

Marketing is an ongoing challenge. I will post to my website blog much more frequently so as to maximize my place in search engine queues and keep looking for the best way to promote my work. I do appear on writing panels at various meetings and conferences and am a reviewer for Washington Independent Review of Books, so that helps name recognition.

 

About the Author

D. A. Spruzen earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and teaches writing in Northern Virginia. Her poems and short stories have appeared in many online and print publications. A historical novel, “The Blitz Business” (Koehler Books), a poetry collection, “Long in the Tooth” (Finishing Line Press), and other novels are available on Amazon.com.

You can find out more about D. A. Spruzen by visiting her website www.daspruzen.com.

 

 

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