Saturday, June 28, 2014

What a Difference a Cover Makes

I've had Beneath Montana's Sky, the prequel novella to Mail-Order Brides of the West and The Montana Sky Series available for sale on pre-order since April. The book is available on June 30th.

Here was my cover:



Perfectly fine. What I didn't realize was that this wasn't the final version. When I recently went to upload the book to Nook (anticipating that I might need a couple of days for the book to go live) I found the cover was too big. So I requested a smaller version from my cover artist. She sent me this:






I loaded the cover on Nook. (I was at a conference at the time and was sleep deprived.) To my surprise, the book was live in three hours. The next day, while on the phone with Caroline Fyffe discussing our Mail-Order Brides of the West series, she mentioned that I had two different covers. Not knowing what she was talking about, I had to go look and each. Sure enough, the covers were different.

When I uploaded cover #2 on Amazon, my sales increased and the book went from having a sales rank in the 3000s to the current rank of #1500 overall in the Kindle store and #15 on the top 100 Western Romance list.

I love the new cover, although I'll probably have her make my name and New York Times Bestselling Author more visible.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Fantasy Author Holiday Sale

To honor the holiday season, I've reduced the price of Sower of Dreams to .99 from $3.99.



AND I've joined with some other fantasy and fantasy romance authors to do a special promotion, where they too are discounting their books to .99 (or making them free.) In addition, there's a rafflecopter give away, including gift cards! The top giveaway is a $100 gift card for either Barnes & Nobel or Amazon.





The other awesome authors in this promotion are:


Product Details
Crista McHugh, The Tears of Elios
 

 
Mona Hanna, High Witch


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Michelle McCleod, Psychic Appeal







S.A. Hunter, Unicorn Bait



Priya Ardis, My Merlin Awakening









Thursday, November 14, 2013

Facebook Launch Party Invitation!




COME CELEBRATE THE LAUNCH OF SWEETWATER SPRINGS CHRISTMAS

Monday, November 18th, I will be hosting my first ever Facebook launch party at: https://www.facebook.com/events/628356887207612/?ref=br_tf.
I will be joined by ten other authors who’ve contributed short stories to Sweetwater Springs Christmas: A Montana Sky Short Story Anthology. Throughout the day, we’ll be “chatting” and doing playful question and answers. Each hour there will be plenty of giveaways, and at the end of the day, commenters will be entered into a grand prize drawing for a Kindle Fire.

If you buy Sweetwater Springs Christmas: A Montana Sky Short Story Anthology before November 18th or during the time of the launch party, you can be entered into a grand prize drawing for a $100.00 Amazon gift card. Just forward your Amazon receipt to my assistant Mindy Freed at: freedmindy@yahoo.com.

The party starts at 9:00 am Pacific Time and ends at 5:00 pm Pacific Time. The two random drawings for the grand prizes will take place at 5:00 pm. I hope to see you there!



THANKFULNESS BREATHING

This morning after working until 3:00 am to finish the edits to Sweetwater Springs Christmas and send the story off to the formatter, I lay in bed reading emails on my phone. At some point, I became aware of feeling happy, and I set down the phone to explore and savor the emotion.

The first and easiest reason for the feeling was because the book--my focus for three intense months--was finished and turned in. Then I became aware of my cat sleeping on my legs. The heaviness of his body curled between my knees was both cozy and comforting. Third, I realized my breathing had deepened and become slow and relaxing, and that I’d unconsciously been breathing thankfulness in and out, expanding and contracting my ribcage and belly.

Deep breathing combined with a focus on feelings of gratitude is a meditation technique I often practice, especially during times of stress. For a few minutes, I take deep breaths making sure I fill my whole lungs, which will expand my belly. In other words, my stomach (not just my chest) poofs out. Then I exhale, pulling my stomach in.

At the same time, I concentrate on different things I’m grateful for. These can be as small as appreciating being snuggled in a warm blanket, or as large as my gratitude to all the veterans who have served our country. Or, as in today, I may just enjoy a general feeling of gratitude and wellbeing.

Both deep breathing and focusing on gratitude are excellent (and quick) stress reducing exercises. They each help our body and our brain become positive and calm. When combined, we feel the beneficial impact of both.

As we head into the holiday season, our stress level tends to increase as we add more tasks to our already busy lives. Thankfulness breathing is one of the best ways to help us de-stress, allowing us to better enjoy all the pleasures of the season.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Debra Holland, Ph.D

Sunday, October 20, 2013

INTRODUCING SWEETWATER SPRINGS CHRISTMAS


In the spring, I issued invitations to fifteen of my friends who write Westerns or Western Romance (or in one case horse racing romance) to submit stories for a Christmas anthology set in my town of Sweetwater Springs, Montana in 1895. Ten of them accepted for Sweetwater Springs Christmas. I think none of us had any idea of how much work this kind of collaboration would be. It wasn't easy for them to write in MY "world" and in some cases, the authors had never written short stories. (Nor did I have as much time as I thought to guide everyone because I was bogged down in finishing Harvest of Dreams, which went 30k longer than I expected.) Nor did I realize how much time I'd spend editing to make sure the stories matched my town and characters both from past and FUTURE stories. Since I have about ten stories in my head, that's a lot of characters no one knows about yet. For example, I couldn't accept another hero or heroine who'd be a doctor because the town already has a doctor and is about to acquire another.

But we've had a lot of fun in the process and friendships have grown out of the collaboration. I've LOVED seeing what other authors could do with stories set in Sweetwater Springs (with my characters making some brief appearances.) I hope you enjoy reading the collection as much as we've enjoyed creating it!






Here's the description:



Come celebrate the holidays in 1895 Sweetwater Springs, Montana, as ten Western Romance authors join New York Times Bestselling author DEBRA HOLLAND in telling SHORT STORIES of love and laughter, heartbreak and healing, and most of all, Christmas joy.


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ELIZABETH AYERSA CHRISTMAS FAR FROM HOME
Far from home, a young Wyoming rancher and the daughter of a Montana railroad man learn the true joy of Christmas is in giving.
LINDA CARROLL-BRADD - WISHES ON A STAR
Will a wish on a star foretell the future of a young suffragette and a visiting rancher?  
MJ FREDRICK - ABIGAIL'S CHRISTMAS ANGEL
A lonely widow and a lonelier marshal make peace with their past.
DEBRA HOLLAND – THE GIFT OF MUSIC
Can two reserved people overcome their limitations and find love?
drdebraholland.com
DEBRA HOLLAND - A FAMILY FOR IKE
A newly-orphaned boy finds and unexpected family.
drdebraholland.com
DEBRA HOLLAND - THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS
The town banker learns that perhaps some things are more important than money.
drdebraholland.com
PATY JAGER – A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER
Ida doesn't remember the last two years, but her husband is determined to find her and reignite their love.
JILL MARIE LANDIS - UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR
A spinster discovers it's never too late to embrace love and the surprises life has in store. 
www.jillmarielandis.com

TRISH MILBURN – A NEW HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
A woman scarred in face and heart finds love with a cowboy.
www.trishmilburn.com

LINDA MCLAUGHLIN -  THE BEST PRESENT
A grieving ten-year-old girl anticipating a sad Christmas receives some holiday surprises.

BEV PETTERSEN - THE CHRISTMAS CROSSING

With a little Christmas magic, two searching hearts discover they can bridge much more than a raging river.



www.BevPettersen.com
 
TORI SCOTT – A PROMISE FOR CHRISTMAS
Faced with her first Montana winter without her husband, Rachel Tanner and her young son need a miracle.

http://toriscott.blogspot.com

CINDY WOOLF - SUGARPLUM DREAMS
Julia Bosworth travels west to fulfill a special dream and finds her heart’s desire.










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Friday, March 29, 2013

Jasinda Wilder: A Self-Publishing Success Story

About a month ago, I made a new author friend--Jasinda Wilder. She'd joined a cross-promotion group I've recently become part of. Until that point, I'd never heard of Jasinda. But I was interested in her book, Falling Into You, because it's a story of love and loss and grief and loving again. I started to read the book and was immediately riveted. I read the book straight through, then thought a lot about the story afterwards. I can honestly say that Falling Into You is one of those rare books that I'll always remember.

The book starts out with sixteen year old protagonists, but it's not a young adult book, its a new adult book (meaning college age and up) then jumps to a time period of several years later. The book is very sensual and makes an accurate portrayal of what can happen when someone becomes stuck in grief and guilt as well as the aftereffects of trauma.



But Jasinda's terrific book isn't why I'm having her guest blog for me. I wanted to showcase her on my blog because of her life story. A year ago, she was struggling with a family member in the hospital and bills mounting up to the point of almost losing her house. Today, as of this week, Jasinda is a USA Today Bestselling author, A New York Times Bestselling author, and #1 on the Amazon Kindle Top 100 list. Needless to say, her financial situation has considerable changed, and all because of writing good books and then self-publishing them.

I felt reading Jasinda's story couldn't help but motivate other struggling authors and give them hope and encouragement. Writing books for publication can be extremely difficult and discouraging. Not everyone will experience the extremes of darkness to fireworks kind of success that has been Jasinda's journey, but you don't have to hit #1 to make a positive difference in your financial situation.

And so, I bring you, Jasinda Wilder. 




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ON HEARTACHE; OR, THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL
By Jasinda Wilder


We’ve all been through hell. I have, and you reading this…you have too. Stop for a moment and think about your life, think about the hardest times. You probably went to bed wondering how you could get up in the morning, and then when you did wake up, you had that blissful moment where you let yourself think it was all a bad dream, something horrible you imagined. Then, of course, reality asserted itself and you wished you could go back to that place of denial. It’s tempting, isn’t it? To want to just deny, deny, deny. Pretend the horror that’s swirling all around you and making a ruin of your life is just a dream.

The problem is, reality doesn’t stop. Truth doesn’t go away, and life doesn’t live itself. Sure, if you ignore the problem long enough, circumstances will eventually change; usually, in my experience, the way they change is for the worse, whereas if you stand up, accept the heartache and let it wash through you and breathe past it, take life one step at a time, you can forge a new reality for yourself. It’s easy for me to type those words, though.

I’ve been there, though, that’s the thing. I’ve been betrayed. I’ve had my heart stomped on and my life ruined and my trust broken and my reality shattered. I’ve ignored problems in the hopes that they’d work themselves out, and I’ve spent the weeks and months and years working to rebuild myself and my life after it all came crashing down. I’ve lost people I loved and cared about to cancer and suicide and age.

I’ve been Nell. I may not have chosen to deal with my pain in the same self-destructive ways she did, necessarily, but I’ve been in denial of my own pain, I’ve closed myself off from those around me, I’ve drank too much in the search for numbness. I’ve also been Colton, having to make my own way in life, having to believe in myself when no one else did.
There’s no secret formula, no magic bit of advice I or anyone else can offer to help you through your hardest times, except, perhaps, what Colton told Nell: just keep breathing. Keep getting up day after day and force yourself to go through the motions. Fake it till you make it. Eventually, things will get better.

How does this apply to writers?

Keep writing. Keep submitting. Keep publishing. Finish a story, be it a novella, short story, novelette, or the fictitious “next great American novel”. Finish it, set it aside and write another one. Polish the first one, make it as best you can, and then don’t mess with it anymore. Just keep writing. Publish it, or work up your query letters if you’re going the trad-pub route. And then? Keep writing. If the first thing you published doesn’t sell, publish something else. Don’t endlessly fiddle with the cover or the blurb, don’t screw around with a social media campaign. Just keep writing. That’s not to say that covers and blurbs and social media aren’t important, because they are, especially for the indie author. But don’t let anything overshadow the writing. That’s where the satisfaction is, that’s where the money is. Write, publish, repeat. Do this as fast and furious as you can.

If your book gets shit reviews, keep an open mind and take the core advice to heart when you write the next one. Try—and you will sometimes fail at this—not to take the bad reviews personally. There’s no accounting for taste, you can’t please everyone…take your pick of overused adages. They’re all true, though, which is why they’re so overused. The reviews are there to help, good or bad.

Before things started taking off for me as Jasinda Wilder, I’d been writing and self-publishing here and there for a long time (and I even made a few passes at trad-pub agents and writing contests), but nothing ever really hit, never felt quite right. I hadn’t found my niche. It was hard. It was discouraging. The stuff I was putting out there just wasn’t finding an audience. So, instead of giving up or continuing to throw more of the same thing at the wall, I stopped, stepped back, and reconsidered my approach.

I looked at what I was writing and why. I looked at the market, at what was selling, what people were reading. Then I looked at myself, my life, the stories I had to tell, and tried to come up with a new plan. The result was a partially-autobiographical novelette, Big Girls Do It Better, and that was the beginning. People identified with my characters and seemed to be responding to my writing style, and were asking for more.

But like I said, that was the beginning. I had setbacks, I had stories that didn’t quite flop, but weren’t really going anywhere either. I had partnerships dissolve and friendships fizzle. I had personal drama, illness, bills that weren’t being paid. And in it all, I kept looking at the market, following the trends, watching for what kind of stories were doing the best and trying to figure out my own angle. See, I don’t want to ever just write a story that will fit neatly into a slot. I believe in taking risks—calculated, considered risks, but risks nonetheless.

So when I look at the market and the bestselling titles, I don’t ask “how can I mimic this and capitalize on the trend?” but rather, “what is the trend, and how can I write a unique and edgy story that will fill that niche?” I don’t want to be part of the trend, I want to further it, make it new, expand on it, push the boundaries.

Falling Into You is a New Adult novel, because that’s the big thing right now, but it’s also a story that (I hope!) will always be relevant. Nell and Colton are all of us, anyone who has faced a mountain of grief and felt buried under a deluge of trial and tribulation. They’re you and me. The healing power of love, the need to let yourself grieve, to own your emotions and keep breathing through the hardest times, the need to find someone that fills the space in your heart, these are timeless issues. Death, pain, the mistakes we make in dealing with our problems, these too are all things that will always be relevant.

You can’t just capitalize on a trend. You have to be relevant and daring. Most of all, you have to believe in your own talent and in the stories you have to tell.

The most-quoted words of advice for new writers: “Write what you know.” But that’s so ambiguous. What you know can be anything. If you know historical fiction, you don’t have to have lived in Restoration-era England to write good Restoration-era romance. I know loss and grief and betrayal and redemption and love and hot sex, so I write about those things. If you know what it’s like to be cheated on and how devastating that is and how to move past it, write that story. It will always be relevant, because people are stupid and cheat on other and they always have and always will.

Write what’s true for you.

Just write. That’s my biggest piece of advice. Don’t be an aspiring writer; be a writer. I can be an aspiring Olympic gymnast (Ha, right!) but unless I go to the gym and get a coach and start learning to do backflips and handstands, I’ll never be anything but an aspiring gymnast. I have to get my ass in the gym and start practicing my backflips. Same with writing. Aspire all you want, all day long. But you’ll never sell a single copy until you sit down, put on your headphones and fill the page with words every single day and finish the damn book.

This is all a bit rambling, I guess, but it all fits together, I hope. Take risks. Understand that heartache is part of life, and one day you might be able to put that heartache into a story and it’ll move people, it’ll touch their lives. But before that, you have to just keep breathing, keep living. Love. Be true to yourself and what you want your life to be. Just breathe, just write.
And listen to great music, because music heals, too. 

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Debra Holland is teaching an online self-publishing class for the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Chapter of RWA, starting April 8 and running through May 12. Cost is $20 for members, $30 for nonmembers. For more details, see http://romance-ffp.com/page/workshops
 



Tuesday, February 5, 2013

STARRY MONTANA SKY--ONE OF AMAZON'S TOP 50 GREATEST LOVE STORIES!!!

Starry Montana Sky, Book Two in my Montana Sky Series, is an Amazon Top 50 Love Stories pick!!! I’m over the moon, disbelieving, humbled by being included in such impressive company, and very, very grateful. Amazon picked a book per state, and Starry obviously represents Montana. Wow! What a wonderful early Valentine’s Day present!

The top 50 picks are love stories, not necessarily romances. Many, such as Gone With the Wind, or My Antonia, are classics. 

Today, as I reflect on Starry Montana Sky’s journey, I realized the book has lessons to offer authors and readers about the value of collaboration, persistence, and of following your intuition.

The germ of the idea for Starry Montana Sky came about when I attended the Rose Parade--probably back in 2001. I saw a tiny buggy pulled by miniature horses, and immediately thought, I want miniature horses in my next Montana Sky book! 

For the next hour, I divided my attention between watching the parade and thinking about a story. I wanted to have the miniature horses save the day in a way a horse couldn’t. By the end of the parade, I had the idea of someone being injured in a cave system, and only a little horse could pull him through the tunnel. I scribbled notes all over my parade program. The only possible stumbling block was not knowing if miniature horses existed in the 1890s.

When I returned home, I researched miniature horses, and to my relief found Falabellas existed in Argentina in the 1890s, although they weren’t officially recognized as a breed until the 1930s. So I knew my heroine or hero had to be from Argentina and bring Falabellas to Sweetwater Springs, Montana.

In a an informal plotting group with the fabulous author, Leanne Banks, organized by my local Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter of Orange County, Leanne mentioned that she’d recently read an article titled, “Last Chance Ranch,” about an organization that rehabilitates wayward youth and suggested that might be something interesting for the book. I liked the idea, and started toying with my own version of Louisa May Alcott’s book, Jo’s Boys, a little known sequel to Little Women and Little Men.

For my heroine, I chose widowed Samantha Rodriguez, an American who’d married an Argentine rancher. Samantha inherits her uncle’s dilapidated ranch in Sweetwater Springs. I gave the book a working title of Sam’s Boys. It wasn’t until two thirds into the book, when the hero, Wyatt Thompson is driving to Samantha’s ranch and admires the night sky, that the title, Starry Montana Sky came to me.

In Starry for the first time I allowed a secondary character a point of view. I LOVED writing the POV of Jack Cassidy, one of the orphaned boys adopted by Samantha. His “voice” flowed out of my fingers, unique and so very him. My writing teacher and editor, Louella Nelson, warned me that he was in danger of taking over the book, and said that I needed to make the rest of my writing match the quality of Jack’s scenes. To this day, those scenes I wrote for Jack are among my favorites.

Once I finished Starry, I entered it in the Orange Rose contest where it took second place. My agent at the time loved the book. But because it was the second in a series, Starry wasn’t submitted to editors. The first in the series, Wild Montana Sky, was the book garnering the stack of rejection letters for not being the type of book the editors were looking for—meaning it wasn’t sexy nor a contemporary Western Romance.


Finally my agent received an offer (with an advance) for Wild Montana Sky. BUT the publisher wasn’t interested in a series. That meant no sale for Starry. Going with my intuition, I turned the offer down. My agent was NOT pleased. She lost interest in me and within a few months she dropped me.

With a pile of rejection letters for all my novels, I turned to writing nonfiction, which I knew I could self-publish and sell in the back of the room when I gave talks. At the time I made that decision, Kindles didn’t yet exist, and self-published novels were considered the bottom of the barrel.

I finally received my first contract for The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving AND a five month deadline. While in the middle of writing the book, author Delle Jacobs sent me an email about how well she was doing with her self-published books. I made up my mind to self-publish Wild and Starry as soon as I turned in the grief book.

While still on the deadline, I commissioned Delle to design my covers. I knew exactly what I wanted for both books. Wild’s cover took us some time as we went back and forth in choosing the elements. Delle sent me dozens of photos of ranch houses, and when I saw the one for Starry, I emailed her to hang onto that photo for book two. Luckily we found the ranch house for Wild soon after.

The process of creating Starry’s cover was much easier. I told Delle I wanted a starry night sky with a full moon, the ranch house I’d already chosen, and a solitary horse. Delle nailed the beautiful cover on her first design, although we made a few small changes. I think the covers are a big reason for the success of the books, and one of my stipulations for going with Montlake as a publisher was that I’d keep my covers, although they could be polished up.

The sales of Starry always lagged behind Wild. Wild Montana Sky served to weed out the people who didn’t like my type of stories, and the book’s lower review average reflects that--4.2 versus Starry's 4.4. People who bought Starry were predisposed to like the book because they already like my writing style, my voice, and the time and place of my stories.

In November, after an intense Amazon promotion of Wild Montana Sky, the sales of Starry overtook book one. The people who bought and loved book one had jumped to book two, floating the sales and the rank. For the first time, Starry started to outshine, USA Today bestselling Wild Montana Sky.

Amazon chose Starry as the Kindle Daily Deal for January 1, 2013, and I sold the most books I ever had in one day. Starry quickly reached the top 100 Kindle list and dropped lower in rank than the two times Wild Montana Sky made the list. Midway through the month of January, the books flipped in sales and readers who first bought and read Starry returned to buy Wild.

Today, I started to think about why Starry Montana Sky was chosen as a to 50 love story instead of Wild Montana Sky. I don’t know that it’s a better book, but perhaps it’s a more “classic” read, and I believe that’s because of Jack’s POV. 

I’ve learned from Jack. Since his creation, I’ve added the POV of children to my subsequent Montana Sky stories, and I believe the stories are richer for it. I've found I have a knack for getting into the characters of children.

I can’t help but reflect with humility and awe on my journey for the last year and nine months since I first self-published the Montana Sky series, ten years after Wild Montana Sky won the RWA Golden Heart. After years of rejections, I thought my dreams for writing fiction had died, and I never dreamed they’d rise from the ashes and flame into an amazing blaze. I still see the books as simple, old-fashioned romances and am sort of bewildered by the reader response to them. I try to make my stories reflect my own values of love, family, kindness, and helping others because I believe that’s what’s important in life.

So that’s Starry Montana Sky’s journey. Thanks to all who made it possible, especially my readers.







Thursday, January 24, 2013

Self-Publishing: Avoiding, "It's too short!" Bad Reviews

A common reason for a bad review is the criticism that a short story or novella is "Too short." Whenever I hear authors complain about this type of review, they also are grinding their teeth because they mention in the product description and/or the cover that the book is a novella or short story. Thus the readers didn't read (or notice) that a book is a novella or short story, or they forgot by the time they got around to reading the story on their ereader.

When I self-published my first collection of short stories, Montana Sky Christmas, I worried about receiving these kinds of negative reviews. To prevent these type of reviews as much as possible, I took four proactive steps to avoid reader confusion.



1. I made "short stories" part of the title. The whole title is, Montana Sky Christmas: A Short Story Collection.

2. I made sure the subtitle was on the cover and as visible as the main title. I did this by changing the font and making the color "pop."

3. I put "Short Stories" in all caps in the product description:  In Montana Sky Christmas, USA Today bestselling author Debra Holland offers seven SHORT STORIES set in the small town of Sweetwater Springs, Montana in 1894.

4. In my email blast to my fans, I made sure to communicate the book was short stories.

In a lucky stroke that I didn't anticipates, when the reviews started coming in, the reviewers often mentioned that the book was composed of short stories. Some even mentioned which stories they liked the best.

To date, a little over four and a half months after publication and with 55 reviews, I don't have any reviews dinging me because Montana Sky Christmas was short stories, instead of one long story. I do have one or two who wistfully mention that they wish there were more.

For my novella, Painted Montana Sky, I did the same thing. I put in the subtitle that the story was a novella--Painted Montana Sky: A Montana Sky Series Novella. The subtitle also identified the novella as part of the series.



The only difficulty I encountered before publication was people asking me what a "novella" was. So when I sent out the fan email announcement, I used novella/novelette as a descriptor.

The first line of the product description reads: In Painted Montana Sky, a NOVELLA from the acclaimed Montana Sky Series, USA Today bestselling author Debra Holland brings together two people who have turned their backs on love and relationships.

I self-published Painted Montana Sky on December 22, and in slightly over a month it has acquired 21 reviews, none of which complain about the length.

So while I might not have forewarned every potential reader about the type and length of these stories, I did everything I think is possible to give them the knowledge, thus preventing future disappointment.