Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday Blog Hop: Giving Thanks for Reading and Other Blessings

All of my life I've been a compulsive reader. I remember getting in trouble in second grade for reading a book in class instead of paying attention to the teacher. I didn't learn my lesson because I continued to sneak books whenever class was boring--and since I have a masters degree and a Ph.D, I had plenty of opportunities.

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me, "Put that book away and do ..." I'd be rich. :)

Even today, I was getting ready to take a shower, waiting for the water to heat up, combing out my hair and reading my Kindle, which I'd set on the bathroom counter. (Isn't great how you can set an ereader down and can read it without holding it in your hands?) My boyfriend popped his head in the doorway to ask me a question and had to make a comment. "You're even reading now?" He doesn't get it. He's not a reader, poor guy. We're kindred spirits in many ways, but not with books. He doesn't know what he's missing.

In counting my blessings this week, I thought of the thousands of authors I've read. I've reread my favorites many times. My books overflow my house, my office, and my boyfriend's house. I even have a library in my house, but can't fit all my books on the shelves. Thank you to every author whose book I've enjoyed. You've enriched my life beyond what I can express in words. I know how much work it is to write a book. A piece of your life goes into every one. Many of you had to go through many difficulties to write your book(s) and get it published. I'm so glad you persisted.

I still buy paper books, but do so less and less. I'm reading more books on my Kindle and having a great time discovering other wonderful self-published authors. I'm probably saving a lot of money for self-published books are usually a LOT less expensive than traditionally published ones. However, if I already have an author's series, I'll continue to purchase matching paper (or hardback) books.

I'm thankful for my Kindle. I love it. It's so much easier to carry around with me because I always have a book in my purse, car, briefcase, etc. I know many people grumble that they'd never use an ereader. If they say that to me, I'll pull out my Kindle and show it to them, including how it works. That seems to change the person's mind, and he or she tells me that maybe....

I especially love the light that's installed in the cover so I can read at night without turning on a lamp. The other night, I read on my way home. (I wasn't driving.) Usually I can't read in the car because I get carsick. But darkness hid the blur out the windows (which is what's supposed to make you sick) and I could read just fine.

I'm thankful for self-publishing. My two series (starting with Wild Montana Sky and Sower of Dreams) have done really well. I've been able to cut back on my private psychotherapy practice and the corporate crisis counseling and write more. (I'm hoping to have Stormy Montana Sky out in a few weeks.)

I'm thankful for Amazon because they've created a platform that allows self-published ebooks to thrive. Because of them, four books that I'd written years ago (and my agents couldn't sell because they didn't fit the New York market) have found readers--about 32,000 readers in 7 months. My sales at Barnes & Noble are picking up, so I'm grateful for them too. I'll also add Smashwords to my blessings list. :)

I'm thankful for my friends who also write. They have supported, educated, prodded, and entertained me.

I'm thankful for Romance Writers of America (RWA) and for my local chapter (Orange County Chapter) and my online chapters--Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal, Hearts Through History, and Scriptscene. I'm the writer I am today because of them. But I'm also thankful that there are many other writers organizations that help their members become better writers and promoters. I get to benefit because they write and sell better books.

I'm thankful for editors, whether or not they make their living through editing. They make my books better. They also make other people's books better.

Most of all, I'm thankful for READERS! Whether you're reading my blogs or my books (or both) you're making it all possible. I'm so very grateful!

I'm giving away a free book (via a Smashwords coupon) to one lucky commenter on my blog on Black Friday. This is your chance to win Sower of Dreams. Good luck!

After commenting, hop on over to Jane Wakley's blog, where she'll be giving out a journal, pen, and bookmark.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Grief Book's Out!!!

I went to Barnes & Noble today to see if my book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving had come in yet. When the sales clerk led me to the shelf and pulled out the book and handed it to me (to my surprise) I started to cry. He thought I was grieving, and tried to escape. I said, "This is my book. I wrote it." And he practically ran away from the crazy woman. (I should add that I was dressed in workout clothes, with my hair in a ponytail, because I'd dropped by after women's fitness bootcamp.)

I found a chair and started to look through the book, then began reading. I had thought that I wouldn't read the book because I was secretly afraid of what I'd find. I'd written the book to a tight deadline of five months (although it took five and a half) and had never seen the whole thing. I turned in sections as I wrote them. Even my revisions came in chapters. Yet, I quickly became engrossed. I could recognize what I wrote, but it was still surprising. I thought, I can't believe I wrote this. It's so good. It's really going to help people! I figured dancing around the bookstore would really make me look crazy, so I settled for introducing myself to the manager and requesting that they order more books, which she agreed to do.

When I've had time today, I've read more of my book, and except for one paragraph, which I swear one of the editors must have shortened, I'm pleased with it. Oh, and the missing cover quote didn't please me. I'm sort of in awe that it's real.

I also paid attention to something I wouldn't have thought of before self-publishing--formatting. There's lots of complicated and fun formatting in the book, and I really appreciate it now.

I've created something that will hopefully help others for many years to come. That's a humbling thought.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Self-Publishing: What Works--Changing Your Product Page

I read an article on Digital Book World by Carolyn McCray about refining your Amazon Product page. (Sorry, I can't make a link work, so you'll have to google it.) If you haven't read any blog posts by Carolyn, I recommend you do so. She’s one of those amazing (and incomprehensible to me) women who knows statistics. (I had five stat classes in grad school, yet couldn't do a statistic to save my life.) She’s figured things out about Amazon, that would never even occur to me. I tend to read her articles, go away for a while and think about them, then come back and read them again. And maybe a third time.

Carolyn has monkeyed around with her product page and tracked what worked. She’s figured out a formula that works best for the product pages. In this article, she recommends taking out your blurb and just doing some bullet point highlights. However, before your blurb, you should do two or three short (a few words to a few sentences) reviews. After your blurb, finish with a couple more, hopefully ones that would lead to buying the book or the next one. She also has a lot more good points, but I’ll let you read them for yourself, instead of parroting her here.

I went to Carolyn's product pages and partially agree with her. (Only partly because I would have liked more product descriptions for all her books.) But her bullet point idea was intriguing, and I liked the reviews before and after. What I didn’t like was the lines at the bottom of her product page about her other books, which didn’t make much sense to me, so I skipped reading them after the first book.

My fantasy books have not had the amazing success that my sweet historical Westerns have, only selling a couple of books a day. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try a different way. I went to the product page of Sower of Dreams and took out the blurb, replacing it with:

Overview of Sower of Dreams:

A country invaded.

A princess on the run for her life.

A hero from another world.

An evil god who wants their souls.

Can they join forces to defeat the evil one and win freedom for their people?

(On the product page, they're single-spaced except for the last line. Couldn't make the blog single space them.)

I also added reviews before and after Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky, but did NOT take out the blurb. I didn't want to mess up a good thing. :) So far, it doesn't seem to have made a difference.

I had a good feeling when I made the changes to the product pages of Sower of Dreams and Reaper of Dreams. In the last two days, I’m seeing some improvement. Yesterday, I sold 8 of Sower of Dreams and 4 of Reaper. Today already, I’ve sold 4 of Sower and 3 of Reaper, and it’s only 4:30 PT. In the three months I’ve had these books up, I have had two or three days when the sales have been slightly better, but that’s rare, especially for Reaper.

I've made changes to two of the books on Barnes & Noble, and intend to finish the other two. Also I'll make the changes on Smashwords.

I’ll keep people posted. But if you have a book that’s not doing well, it’s worth changing your product page to see what happens.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Showing the Money: September

It's that time of the month again to share my Amazon statement for the purpose of providing information to all authors who are interested in self-publishing.

My sales have been heading downward, partly due to the September slump, and partly because I made a big mistake. When I had Sower of Dreams and Reaper of Dreams formatted, I also had Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky reformatted. However, I didn't put them into prc files, and when I uploaded them, the formatting was off and the quotation marks messed up. I didn't catch this because the first few pages (the acknowledgments section) looked fine in the preview. I was focused on the other two books, and didn't pay the attention I should have. Two months went by and one reader gave me a 2 star, commenting on the formatting. Of course, I changed the books, but the damage was done.
so they didn't buy the book. Even though I changed the books, and Amazon has agreed to let buyers know there is a new version, that 2 star with the negative comments is there to stay.
So during September, I had people reading the sample and not liking the formatting,

However, the sales are still good and I'm grateful for every one of them.


Wild Montana Sky: 4211 sales at 35% $1473.98
Starry Montana Sky: 637 sales at 70% $3355.66
(outside countries) 62 sales at 35% $65.10
Total $4894.74

Wild Montana Sky: 11 sales at 35% $2.86
Starry Montana Sky: 4 sales at 70% $5.08
Total: $7.94

Wild Montana Sky 3 sales at 35% $.90
Starry Montana Sky 2 sales at 70% $3.58
Total: $4.48

Total for this series: $4907.16


Sower of Dreams: 96 sales at 35% $33.60
Reaper of Dreams 37 sales at 70% $75.48
(outside countries) 3 sales at 35% $3.15
Total: $112.23

Sower of Dreams: 3 sales at 35% $.78
Reaper of Dreams: 1 sales at 70% $1.24
Total: $2.02

Total for the Trilogy $114.25

Total for all four books: $5021.41

Thanks to all the authors, reviews, and readers who've supported my books!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Death Threats--Take Them Seriously

The recent murder of 8 people, wounding of 1, in Seal Beach by Scott Dekraai hits too close to home for me. My mother's neighbor, Lucia Kondas, was one of the women killed. Although I didn't know Lucia, I did know her husband, a psychologist, with whom I'd spoken.

In reading the stories, I saw a comment that I'd read or heard too many times before--"He threatened to kill her." In this case, it was, "He threatened to come to the shop and kill us."

In working as a crisis counselor for the last ten years, I've counseled far too many people impacted by murder from someone known to the victim. In all the cases I'm remembering, the person (usually a wife/ex-wife and maybe the children) had warnings or fears that they would be killed. Sometimes they took the threats seriously, sometimes they didn't.

However, there were also times, like with Scott Dekraai, that the murderer didn't stop with killing his intended victim. Often he (it's usually a man) would deliberately or accidently hurt or murder others.

The purpose of this blog (besides expressing my condolences to all who are mourning the loss of family and friends) is to alert people to take death threats seriously.

Many times it's hard for people to believe the killing could really happen. Normal people, people you're in contact with, don't go around killing--that's for those crazies on the news.

Or, perhaps intended victim dismisses your concerns, saying something like, "Oh, he really wouldn't do that. He's just trying to control me." Remember that the recipient of the death threats might not take them seriously because she once loved the man and perhaps had children with him. She doesn't think she could have picked a potential murderer to have sex with.

Therefore, when someone makes a threat to harm you or those you know, act. Report the person to the police. Take out a restraining order. If you work together, tell your employer. Take self-defense classes. (The killer doesn't always use a gun, sometimes he uses a knife or other instrument.) Be vigilant of your surroundings.

I'm sure there are others things to do as well. Readers, do you have any suggestions?

My thoughts and prayers go out to all who mourn the victims of the Seal Beach shootings.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Here are the next covers in the Montana Sky Series. What do you think?

I'm about two thirds through writing Stormy, and hope to have it published in December. I originally thought I'd get it done by November, but I've been working on other things as well.

Originally, I only had four books planned for the series. Then, about two months ago, another book idea came to me. I realized, the new story, Sheltering Montana Sky, was actually book four. So now I have five books in the series. I've also thought of three novellas, two of which I might write before Sheltering.

I'm finding my creativity is exploding with story ideas, and I'm taking notes on various stories when the ideas come to me. It's hard to stick to writing Stormy because I want to explore the others as well.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Remembering Steve Jobs

When I read the headlines that Steve Jobs had died, tears immediately came to my eyes. Even though I knew he was ill with cancer, I hoped (as I'm sure millions of others did) that he'd recover.

I've been an Apple fan since my first Apple (not Mac) computer. That tells you how long ago it was. I'm typing this on my Mac G4, with my Macbook Air open next to it, and my iphone on the other side.

However, Steve Jobs has touched my life with more than technology.

As I write this, I'm listening (for the third time) to the commence speech Steve gave to Stanford in 2010. If you haven't heard it, it's WELL worth hearing. So very inspirational, especially now that he's passed. (I couldn't get the link to work, so Google it.

Some quotes from the speech:

"Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith."
"The only way to do great work is to love what you do."
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life because almost everything...these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."
"No one wants to die....and yet death is the destination we all share...death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make room for the new."
"Your time is limited so don't waste it by living other people's life."
"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."
"Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

Steve Jobs changed the world in ways I can't even begin to list. People all over the world who didn't even know him are mourning today.

His final words in the speech: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and co-workers.

Steve Jobs, may your legacy live on.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Self-Publishing, An Author's Despair

I received an email last week from Carol D. Parker a self-published author (whom I didn't know) telling me how distraught she was that she hasn't sold a book. I could see that my reply to her would be long and detailed and asked her permission to used her email and my reply as a blog, in the hopes that it might also help others.

Dear Dr. Debra
I was broken hearted and terribly disappointed when viewed the “report” on my book and saw that not one copy had been sold in the whole world to anyone. Not one person was interested enough to purchase it. My cover picture is striking and fits the theme of the story. I am so despondent I can’t even talk to anybody. I have to sleep to stop crying. I wrote about it to the support team and asked if they could help me.

Then I ran into your ad and read that you made $20,000 already on your books. I was so upset, I thought I would faint. Can you please tell me what I’m doing wrong? And how you succeeded? I’m sure The Lord doesn’t want me to be a failure.

I have an extensive literary background as Editorial Associate, critic, writing instructor with F&W Publications; Writer’s Digest School. I’m a published writer, contributing writer and editor for numerous publications. My work was featured in the Miami Herald’s Pulitzer Prize winning Tropic Magazine often.

I made a promise to my mother that I would have my books published. When I published my book, “Flukes” with KDP I felt I was fulfilling my promise although she died 3 years ago. I’m 71 and I’m determined to finish this job. Four more books and two in my mind. But right now I am so depressed that I feel it’s not worth it to spend what years I have left struggling to accomplish a back-burner dream.

Thanks for your attention. I know how many irons you have in the fire so I don’t really expect you to answer this. I only hope.

Carol D Parker


To clear up a few things before hitting the "meat" of your letter, you must have read my blog because I don't have any adds except the free one from Savvy Authors, which I got for teaching an online class. The 20,000 is sales, not dollars, (of the Montana Sky Series) although I'm close and should hit that mark next month.

Before I address your book, I'm going to put on my psychotherapist "hat." Although I'm NOT diagnosing you, I'm going to suggest that you might have depression. Crying all day to the point you need to sleep to escape is often a symptom. You might also be experiencing complicated grief from the death of your mother. I suggest you see a psychiatrist or counselor to talk about what you might be going through.

I don't believe as you do that "God doesn't want me to be a failure." I do believe that God's definition of success may be very different than mine. Failure is often one of our best opportunities to learn and grow. It's what you make of your failure that's important.

I'm going to be firm with you, which may come across as uncaring. That is not the case. If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't be writing this.

When you publish a book, regardless of whether it's traditionally published or self-published, you need to promote it. Most of the time, the publisher will do little or nothing to promote your book, and it's up to you. For the last ten years, authors have known this, although to many, it's still a shock to find it out. Because of your age, you may have "grown up" in the time when publishers did more to market a book.

Therefore, you have to adjust your thinking. The success of your book will be up to you--not just to write a good book and have a good cover designed, but to get the word out. There are a lot of blogs and books on the topic of promoting your book.

Also, I can't believe that none of your friends, family, students, fellow writers, and acquaintances have bought your book. I know I have sold about 50-100 books from these people alone. Since self-publishing, my circle of friends has grown! Therefore, I think you must not be mentioning your book to these people. Some people feel self-conscious about doing this. But most people in your circle want to support you and would be eager to buy your book. They're not mind readers, though, so you'll have to tell them. Sales from your circles are what usually gets the ball going. Also don't be shy about asking for reviews.

When I went to Amazon to look up your book, Flukes, I saw 6 names, which confused me and made me think it was an anthology. I suggest you take everyone else's name off but yours. You can acknowledge them in your book.

Then I saw a typo in your blurb/description. That's a big turn off because it tells me that the book might not be well written and/or full of typos.

Your description was also confusing, and I wasn't sure what kind of genre story the book is. It looks like it has some great elements, but they're not put together well.

All three of the above are easy changes. :) Isn't it nice that self-published efforts aren't set in stone?

Keep writing, Carol. Having more than one book makes a difference. GOOD LUCK!

Readers, what else could you say to Carol?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Self-Publishing: September Slump and Gratitude

For the first time in my four and a half months of self-publishing success, the sales of Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky are down, and have been since the day after Labor Day. I've read enough posts from other self-published authors to know that this seems (with a few exceptions) to be happening across the board. I'm hoping sales will change for all authors after families get settled into their school routines.

Since June, I've tracked my sales figures, writing them down every night before I go to bed--usually around 11:30. I have one of those big desk calendars that I write the numbers reached for the day, number sold, and a running total. (As of last night, 21,275 for the Montana Sky Series, and 230 for the Gods' Dream series.) I'm sure this could be done on a spread sheet, but computer challenged me doesn't know how to do this.

The September slump is interesting (and disappointing as well) because I just had my very best sales numbers a few weeks ago. Wild Montana Sky broke 200 sales in one day on August 27th. Starry Montana Sky broke 100 sales in one day on August 28. Up until Tuesday, Sept 6th, Starry's sales had been consistently above 60 a day, with occasional dips into the upper 50's, and often into the 70's and 80s. Reaching the 90s was always a red letter day. Sales for Wild Montana Sky were from the 140s and above, usually in the 150, 160 average.

I know many self-published readers would LOVE to have my sales numbers, slump or not, and I'm VERY grateful to have them. This slump blog is NOT a complaint. Rather, the slump has made me stop taking something for granted--that my numbers would continue to rise. It's not that that won't happen, but I need to know slumps will occur.

From the very beginning, realizing how much money I could make from self-publishing, I've tried to have a mindset that wouldn't depend on the income. I have cut back on my psychotherapy practice, but not because I've dropped clients. Like book sales, I've long known that the number of clients I saw weekly would also rise and fall. I've been at a low for several months, and instead of worrying like in the past, I've been SO grateful that I now have more free time. (I'd say more time to write, but that doesn't seem to be happening like it should.) Perhaps because while my private practice has waned, my corporate crisis counseling has been up, and that takes a lot of my energy that I then need to recover.

The goals I have in mind for the book money have to do with paying off debt, adding to savings, adding to my IRA, and increasing my charitable contributions. Therefore, if the book money goes away, I'm not left hanging on a limb, but have added to my financial security while I had a chance.

During this slump, I'm remaining optimistic and focusing on gratitude. I have SO much to feel thankful for, primarily for each reader who buys my book. When I feel disappointed about a low sales day, I stop and switch my thinking, often saying a prayer of gratitude for my readers and for everyone who has helped me on my journey, including each person reading this blog. I'm SO very, very thankful!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Self-Publishing--Showing the Money--Month Four

Yesterday I downloaded my Amazon statement, and, like I have in the last two months, I'm going to share the information in an attempt to help other authors know what's possible with self-publishing. As before, I'm going to remind readers that every author's self-publishing experience is going to be different. I seem to be doing unusually well, and I'm very grateful to everyone who's bought my books since I first began publishing them on April 28th, 2011. Right now, I'm almost to 21,000 sales of the two Montana Skies books in four and a half months.


Wild Montana Sky had 5048 US sales at 35% of .99 for a total of $1755.57.
Starry Montana Sky had 2115 US sales at 70% of $2.99 for a total of 4335.67.
Starry Montana Sky had 54 sales outside countries Amazon is contracted with at 35% of $2.99 for a total of $56.70.

Total for the Montana Sky Series: $6147.94.

I self-published the first book of my fantasy romance trilogy, Sower of Dreams, on the last day of July. In August, I had 93 sales at 35% of .99 for a total of $32.55. Reaper of Dreams was self-published on August 7 and had 44 sales at 70% of $2.99 for $90.16 and one outside sale at 35% for $1.05.

Total for The Gods' Dream Trilogy: $126.76.

Total for both series: $6271.70

As in the previous months, the sales at Barnes and Noble are still under $100. They are inching closer to $100, though. At the end of the month, I'll blog about the B & N numbers.

This month (so far) is slower than the two previous months. I'm at:

Wild Montana Sky: 1968
Starry Montana Sky: 804
Sower of Dreams: 44
Reaper of Dreams: 23

However, I've heard enough other self-published authors complain that their sales are slower this months. Maybe people are too busy during the back to school rush that they aren't buying as many books.

If you're wondering about my promotion efforts, I'm not doing much. Read my previous (and future) blogs to see what I'm doing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Promotion: Guest Blogger Claire Delacroix

I've invited Claire Delacroix/Deborah Cooke to be my first ever guest blogger. We've swapped blogs, and I'm on her site today talking about the tales behind my tales.

Welcome, Deb!

Promoting My Books
also writing as Claire Delacroix (

Thanks, Debra, for having me visit today!

Debra suggested that I write a post about my self-promotion. I always think it's funny when people ask me about this, because I'm convinced that I'm the world's worst promoter. I do promotion for both my self-published and NY-published books, but I mostly do things I like to do. Let's talk about those.

1. Covers
I get excited about covers. Really excited about covers. I think this is because as a reader, I choose what books to buy on the basis of their covers. Covers do the whole promo job for shopper-me. I will read anything if I like the cover. The thing is that the cover is the one thing that every potential reader will see. It pays to get it right.

I talk a lot about my covers - especially when I like them - and have a tendency to show them around a lot. This means that they get placement on my webpage and lots of mentions on my Facebook pages. I also have been strangely lucky with covers - ::knock wood:: here! - although I can't explain that at all. Maybe enthusiasm turns luck your way.

It also means that I have a lot of opinions about covers. I'm always ready when I deliver a book to my New York editor to talk about the package, and have a bunch of links and ideas at the ready. My Dragonfire books have awesome covers - you can see the cover for FLASHFIRE, which is coming up in January, right here (

One of the most exciting things to me about self-publishing is having complete control of the cover art. (Insert diabolical laughter here.) This is probably because I'm so opinionated about covers. I've found it really exciting to work directly with artists to have my re-released books get the covers I think they should have. One of the most exciting trilogies for me to repackage was my Rogues of Ravensmuir medieval romances. These are very hero-focussed romances with a bit of a darker, more gothic tone. The artist I hired, Eithne O'Hanlon, did a completely awesome job with these three covers.

In contrast, the loosely linked series called The Jewels of Kinfairlie is lighter in tone, and also medieval. Kim Killion did great covers for these three books, which you can see right here. In both cases, the linked books have strong graphical branding - there's a novella for a secondary character from the Jewels of Kinfairlie called "The Ballad of Rosamunde" which I had Kim create a cover for as well. I'm glad I did as it looks like part of the set.

2. Websites
What I like about websites is that they are available to readers 24/7. I like to update mine frequently, but it's good for readers that the information about my books is out there all the time. I have three websites right now: focusses on my Dragonfire series of paranormal romances, which are published by NAL Eclipse. highlights my spin-off trilogy, the Dragon Diaries, which is paranormal YA with romantic elements and is also published by NAL in trade. is Claire Delacroix's site. Since I've published a lot of books under that name and am digitally republishing a number of them this year, it's my most complex site. Claire Delacroix has written medieval romance, fantasy romance, fantasy with romantic elements. My Claire Cross time travels and contemporary romances are also on this site - three of the time travels have been digitally republished this year - (Kim Killion did the two covers with the clocks and clinches!)

I think it's important to keep the brands and series on separate websites. Even on the Delacroix site, I create separate pages for linked series, then link those pages to interconnected series. A reader interested in my medievals might not want to find my future-set post-nuclear but pre-Apocalyptic romances featuring fallen angel heroes - and vice versa! - but everything is there for anyone who wants to explore.
3. Blog
I have a blog called Alive & Knitting, right here

I talk about pretty much everything here, from writing to publishing to knitting. (It's true - I am a compulsive knitter.) This summer I started to host guest authors on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, sometimes swapping posts but other times not. I had this idea that if I thought another author was interesting, that my blog-followers might think so too. This has worked out so well that I wish I'd had the idea sooner. (Psst - Debra's over there today!)

4. Facebook
I came late to Facebook, but I enjoy it a lot. I've made a lot of wonderful connections with readers and booksellers and cover artists too. I "met" Eithne on Facebook, which has worked out well for both of us. I have two pages there, again to keep the work in separate groups for readers who want to read one kind of book but not the others. The links are self-explanatory.

5. Amazon Author Central
Although I belong to many online forums and have my bio and picture on many reader sites, I think Amazon Author Central is the coolest of all of them. I not only can upload my bio and my picture, but I can ensure that all of my books display on my author page. I also have the RSS feed from my blog going to my Amazon author pages, and I just love that Amazon provides Bookscan data every Friday for print published books. Every author can only see his or her own Bookscan data, but those are the most interesting numbers!

6. Writing More
The final big thing that I do to promote my work is write more and publish more. There is a cumulative effect in book sales as an author releases more titles. You can watch in your numbers that a new release will prompt sales in much of the backlist. This effect is so pronounced for me - maybe because I tend to write linked series - that I think it's a better investment for me to get back to my desk and write more than to spend more time on promotion.

But writing is what I really love to do, so I will always choose it over promotion.

What do you think? What promotion do you think works best? And how do you balance writing and promoting?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11, A Crisis Counselor's Memories

I had no idea on the morning of 9-11 that an unthinkable, horrific event was about to occur that would devastate and emotionally wound every American old enough to understand, and would change my life, sending me in a new career direction.

I didn't know about the plane's hitting the Twin Towers. I was doing a phone session when my client mentioned it to me. He described what was happening, and I remember not really understanding. After the session, I turned on the television, just in time to see the second tower fall.

There weren't words to describe my reactions. I, and everyone else, tried to describe what had happened--to label an experience far beyond what anyone had ever witnessed. Shaken, horrified, traumatized, surreal, angry, fearful, confused were common reactions. After watching television for a while, I called all my clients and arranged for phone, instead of in person, sessions. I didn't want to leave my house, and neither did they. In between the sessions, I turned on the TV. I stayed glued to the television for the next two days.

Thursday, Lisa Reinhart, my partner (at the time) in my psychotherapy office, called me to see if I could worked with her, doing crisis work. Lisa had worked for United Behavioral Health as a corporate crisis counselor for about a year. From time to time, she'd told me stories about what she did, which at the time of 9-11, was my only knowledge of crisis work. Right after 9-11, UBH was desperate for extra counselors because they were stretched so thin. Lisa could vouch for me. So because of the emergency circumstances, UBH had me join the team. We were sent to work with the employees of American Airlines, who'd lost two planes and their crews in the tragedy.

That Thursday, Lisa and I went to a hotel, to debrief (do crisis counseling) with the flight crews from other cities. With all the planes grounded, the crews were stranded, unable to return home to loved ones. Lisa led the educational session, then we broke into groups for more personal sharing.

The next day, Friday, Lisa went back to the hotel, and I was sent to LAX, which was just starting to allow limited flights. People were being processed in a parking lot off the airport site, so there were long lines of people trying to get home. Police officers were everywhere. I realized that I didn't have any official paperwork to show I was allowed to get into the airport, and started to pray that I could get in.

I went up to a policeman in front of the line and told him I was the crisis counselor. I showed him my driver's license and business card, and explained why I was here. After scrutinizing me, and seeing that I looked harmless, he said, "I'll let you in, but you might be turned back at the next checkpoint." Relieved, I stepped on board the shuttle that would take me to the airport. The man at the next checkpoint also let me through, and the shuttle dropped me off at the American Airlines terminal.

Inside the terminal, few people were about the usually bustling building. My footsteps echoed in the emptiness. In the Human Resource office, the manager was out on disability, so there was only a part time assistant and an intern. Everything was in chaos. I'm good at organizing chaos, and I waded right in. I organized counseling groups, and found places we could use as private offices, set up phone sessions, and developed flyers to distribute to employees. I drew up a schedule so there could be coverage where needed, 17 hours a day.

Luckily, the psychiatrist American Airlines uses came in to help. He was a skilled trauma counselor, and in the first group we co-lead, I was mostly silent, watching how he took people through the various steps that are an import part of a debriefing. The Red Cross also sent counselors, and a few more UBH counselors arrived. One of them brought me copies of debriefing handouts she'd gotten from taking a crisis counseling class, and, in-between working with people, I studied them.

Late that night, the crews started flying home. We met the first plane, returning to Los Angeles, thinking the crew might need to talk to us. But most wanted to go straight home. They agreed to come back another day for debriefing. After that, we didn't meet the planes.

The flight crews were scared to fly again, angry at the terrorists, grieving for colleagues they knew and didn't know, and experiencing the-it could have been me--syndrome. Their world had turned upside down. All their training in hijacking situations was wrong for the-plane-as-a-bomb senario, and they felt helpless and out of control.

The staff at AA were overwhelmed and overworked. They had planes grounded all over the world. For a long time, they didn't even know where everyone was. They were flooded with employees calling and needing help, but couldn't stay on top of everything because of the sheer number. They were just as traumatized as everyone else, but too busy to do anything about it. They couldn't even squeeze time to talk to the counselors until the second week.

To provide coverage, we had groups scheduled three times a day at a nearby hotel and in the airport. Employees could make an individual appointment or could also drop in without an appointment. They could also call in for phone sessions.

As the next week rolled around, I moved all my clients into evening slots, or canceled them all together. I couldn't afford to completely give up my practice. I knew I'd be paid for the crisis work, but the check wouldn't come for a month or so. My clients were very understanding and glad to give up their time or move it around because they wanted to support me in doing the crisis work.

I worked about 15 hours a day, then had the commute home. I forced myself NOT to turn on the television because I needed to sleep. After a few days, I realized the people who continued to watch television became further traumatized. Therefore, as much as I wanted to tune in to see what was going on, I didn't allow myself.

All the counselors soon found that regardless of their training, 9-11 had changed everything with regards to what is effective. As the week wore on, I started seeing what worked and didn't work, and adapting my counseling methods to fit. I even utilized my martial arts background. In one group, when flight attendants shook from fear at the idea of returning to flying where they might be attacked and killed, I had a tiny, older woman stand up and demonstrated a simple self-defense skill. The energy in the group immediately changed when the women realized that they weren't so helpless after all. We brainstormed some things they could do, such as throwing coke cans, that helped them let go of some of their fear and take back their personal power.

AA used up their contracted amount of crisis hours from UBH, and the intern started to send the counselors home. I called my contact at UBH and told him that I wanted to stay, and that I'd work for free. He told me that wasn't necessary because UBH was going to cover all the expenses. I started to cry from relief and from pride to be associated with a company that was doing such a compassionate and extremely costly (UBH had counselors helping out all over the country) good deed.

As the week stretched on, the Red Cross counselors had to drop out. They couldn't afford the extended time away from their jobs. The need for counselors trickled off. By week three, I was the only one there. I finished the week, and though I hated to leave, it was time to return to my own life.

My life had changed, and not just from the 9-11 experience that changed everyone. I'd discovered I loved crisis counseling and wanted to continue the consulting work as an adjunct to my psychotherapy practice.

I took some formal training so I'd have the right credentials, and continued to work for UBH. I also worked for other employee assistance programs,and as a private corporate crisis/grief counselor. In the last ten years, I've spoken to thousands of people during times of crisis and pain. It might be because of the death of an employee, witnessing an accident, experiencing a robbery, or undergoing a layoff. I've also done mental health relief work after Hurricane Katrina and for various local disasters.

Working as a crisis/grief counselor has given me the material and "expert" status that enabled an editor at Alpha Books to contract with me to write a book. The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving will be out November 1.

People ask me all the time how I can do such difficult work. I tell them it's because I help. People (for the most part) feel better after talking to me. I give a lot of my energy when I do crisis counseling. But since I don't do the work every day, I (usually) have time to recover between jobs.

I'll bet the terrorists never thought that good would come from their villinous acts. They had no idea how Americans would draw together and become a stronger country because of what they did. Thousands of innocent people paid the price. Families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors suffered from the loss. Those who lost loved ones will always grieve for them. The whole city of New York was traumatized, and has had to live with the aftereffects of the destruction. Many companies were directly or indirectly impacted, some going out of business. Their employees suffered from lost wages or jobs. The ripple effects of those acts were dramatic, deep, and lasting.

Americans are scarred now. But we are stronger for it. I'm glad I've been able to take something so horribly tragic and use it for good--for help, for comfort, for healing. I hope you have too.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all who have lost loved ones ten years ago today. They are not forgotten.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Self-Publishing--What Works--Networks

In my twelve or so years of writing fiction, I've developed many networks with other authors. Some of these networks are only one or two people. Others have hundreds of authors and are still growing. Some of these networks go back to the beginning of my writing career--my first writing class/critique group and my local chapter of RWA, Orange County, California--and another is less than two months old--a yahoo group of self-published romance writers.

These groups have women (and some men) who are pursuing a writing career. They are eager to learn the craft of writing, publishing, and promoting, and to share their knowledge with others. These people have learned that helping other authors also helps them.

I once heard New York Times best selling author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, say at a conference that other authors are NOT your competition because a reader will read your book and immediately want another book. They might speed through your backlist, and then what? You won't have another book out for six months or a year. What are readers going to do in the meantime? Read other books. Will that stop them from reading yours when it comes out? No! The only thing that will stop (some) readers from buying a favorite author (or checking the book out from the library) is if that author produces one or two not so good (or even bad) books.

Therefore, it's important not to see other authors as your competition, but as your support system. I can't even count the various ways, big and small, that I've learned from or received support from other authors. I've developed some true and wonderful friendships. Some of these women (and one man) I rarely (if ever) see in person. My success is without a doubt due to other authors, who've been teachers, mentors, coaches, friends, promoters, and supporters.

I wouldn't be a self-published author if I didn't have a network that actually has a name, the Wet Noodle Posse, composed of authors who were RWA Golden Heart finalists in 2003. Many of these ladies have become dear friends. About four of them started self-publishing before me and sharing about their success. Because of that information, I resolved to self-publish as soon as I finished writing The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving and turned it in to my editor. If it weren't for my WNP friends, I might not even be aware of self-publishing yet. I cringe at the thought.

Other friends and acquaintances from my writers' networks have given me so much information about self-publishing and promotion. They've bought my books (Wild Montana Sky and Sower of Dreams) promoted them on Twitter, Facebook, or their blogs, invited me to guest blog, reviewed my books, or swapped chapters with me. They've also recommended my books by word of mouth. Some of these things I requested, but many came spontaneously.

Most people who are in my networks know that I will do the same for them. For example, last week, I had a wonderful talk about books with Donna (whom I'd just met at a job function.) We found that we're both huge readers with a lot of favorite authors in common. When she told me she likes time travel romance, I recommend WNP friend, Theresa Ragan, another self-published author. I almost fell out of my chair when Donna told me she'd already read Theresa's books and loved them, especially Return of the Rose. By the end of the conversation, Donna had written down a list of my self-published friends and intended to go buy their books. I'd also asked her to write a 5 star review for Return of the Rose, which she has.

A few minutes ago, I wrote an email to a fan. This fan wanted to know when Stormy Montana Sky was coming out (late November.) In my email (among other things) I recommended Caroline Fyffe's books because her Westerns have a similar tone to mine. I told him that Caroline's books (out in a few weeks) could help tide him over until Stormy is out.

If you go through my blogs, I've sprinkled my friends' names and links to their books. Some have done the same for me. Maybe one of these days, I'll write a blog that just list my friends and links to their books. :)

After I write this blog, my next task is to check out a list of the self-published books from members of one of my networks, perhaps to buy some, but certainly to add checks to their tag boxes.

So you see, the GIVE and take of networking can be both personally fulfilling and of benefit to your sales figures. When you're promoting your books, think of how you can also promote others. I promise you'll reap the rewards.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Self-Publishing--What Works--Swapping Chapters

At the back of all my self-published books, I have several first chapters from my friends' books. This isn't a new concept, traditional publishers have been doing it for a while, and I've been hooked a couple of times from reading an excerpt in a book I've just finished.

As I was preparing Wild Montana Sky for publishing, I wrote an author who was in the RWA Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal chapter with me, Paty Jager. Paty wasn't a personal friend and (at that time) I hadn't read her books. Yet I knew of her Historical Western Romances because Paty is the Queen of Blogging, and I'd read a lot of her guest blog posts. In one of her blogs or chapter emails, she'd mentioned she was self-publishing, Marshall in Petticoats and the rest of the series. I emailed her to ask if she'd want to swap, and she agreed, even though Wild Montana Sky wasn't sexy and Marshall in Petticoats was. We agreed to put a "warning" before the excerpt so readers would know what they were getting.

At the time, I thought I was the one who'd reap the most benefits from the relationship because I assumed Paty's fiendish (in a good way) promotion of her book, Spirit of the Lake, would spill over to Marshall, and then trickle to me. And I'm sure that has happened. However, with the early success of Wild Montana Sky, I was soon outselling Paty. I think my "sweet" readers weren't jumping to a sexy book. But after about a month, I started seeing on the Amazon section of Customers-who-bought-this-also-bought... that Paty's book had popped up on Wild Montana Sky's page. Yay! It bounced on and off for a few weeks, but since than has stayed solid. Paty's next book, Outlaw in Petticoats soon joined it. My readers who love Westerns did jump on Paty's series, and I think the same happened for those who liked my excerpt in her book.

For Starry Montana Sky, I asked my friend, Janet Quinn, who I knew was going to self-publish a small press Western she'd gotten her rights back to. I'd read and enjoyed Wild Honey when it had first come out, and knew it would be a good fit. Janet emailed me her first chapter, and I included it. She lagged at finishing it, and I nagged at her to finish her preparations in self-publishing the book. Finally, she did, but she missed about a month's worth of people being able to immediately buy her book. It took longer for Wild Honey to pop up and stay on my readers-who-bought section. I think this happened because sales for Starry were slower due to the higher price point. (Although they sure have picked up. I hit 100 sales in one day for the first time just yesterday!)

About a month ago, my friend Colleen Gleason/Joss Ware, multi-published multi-subgenre writer asked if I wanted to swap chapters with her sweet Medieval romance, Sanctuary of Roses. She wanted to pick up the sales of her (beautiful) Medieval series, which lagged behind her other subgenre books. I wasn't sure if my Western readers would cross over, but I thought some of my sweet readers might. And of course, I hoped Colleen's readers might also like Wild Montana Sky.

I made a new friend when I discovered Caroline Fyffe. Her book, Montana Dawn had a title and cover that caught my attention because they reminded me of my series. We've discovered we're kindred writing spirits when it comes to our books, even though they are completely different stories. Carolyn has her rights back and is about to self-publish Montana Dawn and her other Westerns. We are going to swap chapters. I know my readers will love her books.

For Sower of Dreams, I traded chapters with my dear friend, Cate Rowen. I have her Source of Magic in the back of the book. I'm especially happy for this because many years ago, I edited Source for her and she did Sower for me. We both LOVED each other's books, and to have the success we are both having with self-publishing thrills us to no end. I'm more than happy to send readers her way.

In looking back over this post, I've also realized the importance of having friends who promote you, and you promote them. But that's another blog post. :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Avoiding Abusive Relationships

For the last week, I've been working as a crisis/grief counselor at a workplace where an employee was brutally stabbed by her ex-husband. I've been dealing with traumatized and grieving employees and customers who mourn the loss of Leslie, a woman who was (by all accounts) friendly, cheerful, funny, and made you feel special. She was always smiling, even though she had a difficult home life, with a husband who had beaten her at a former workplace, and was continuing to stalk and threaten her.

Leslie's story has been on the television news and in the newspapers, so I'm freer to write about her than I would be if that wasn't the case, although I am changing her name.

Leslie had recently moved out of her home, and her daughters and friends were proud of her for taking that step. Unfortunately, it's when a woman tries to escape from an abusive man that he can turn violent, and that's what happened with Leslie's ex.

It's extremely difficult to pry a woman out of an abusive relationship. She thinks she "loves" him. She's verbally (and perhaps physically) beaten down to the point where she has no self-esteem and believes that much of what happens is her fault. She may have little resources to aid in her escape. She may fear for her life if she leaves. And she may have children that bind her to a relationship with their father.

This blog isn't about helping women to escape an abusive relationship. It's to educate people about how to not get into one in the first place. The beginning of a relationship is when the woman has the most self-confidence and emotional resources to leave. This blog is about educating women to see the trap and not walk into it.


No matter how much a woman loves a man, she can't make him secure. She can't change him. He has to do that work for himself. But most women believe that if they love a man enough, he'll change. And sometimes, men do change. But they have to want and make the effort to. Pouring all your love into an abusive man is like pouring it into a bucket full of holes.

There are red flags that a man is controlling. He is often very attentive and loving at first. He knows how to get a woman to fall in love with him. Then he starts his attempts to control her. These attempts don't look like a big deal at first. He may start to criticize her. He might complain about her hanging out with one of her male friends. Or, he might tell her to change the outfit she's wearing because it's too revealing or sexy. He makes the excuse that he doesn't want other men looking at her, or he's afraid he'll lose her. She may think this is romantic and loving.

This is the point to leave. Most women don't because they don't understand their danger. Or, they may have had a father/step-father who verbally (and physically) abused their mother. But if a woman continues in the relationship, then BEWARE because his attempts to control won't stop.

The control is gradual. In the beginning, a woman might be okay with giving up a friendship or changing how she dresses. She wants to please him. But systematically, he isolates her from friends and family. He doesn't want her to have a support system. He wants to be the focus of her attention. She might find herself living in a "box" of rigid do's and don'ts. Sometimes his rules are arbitrary, giving him a chance to punish her when she does something "wrong." But even then she won't be able to please him because he'll always be insecure.

At some point the woman becomes the man's property. She belongs to him, and if he can't have her, no one will. He threatens to kill her if she leaves. He stalks her if she does. Then, like in Leslie's case, he may actually murders her.

Leslie had so much love and energy to give a man. She had plenty of experience with cheering people up and showing them she cared. That's who she was as a human being. I'm sure she thought that if she'd just showed her love to her husband enough, he'd relax and feel secure.

Perhaps, like with most abusive men, he wooed her back. Sent flowers, acted loving, promised to change. Maybe he did "change" for a few days, or weeks, or months, or even a couple of years. But the signs that the change wasn't real were still probably there. Leslie might have ignored them, or not known to take them seriously.

It's too late for Leslie, but her life and her death can make a difference for others.


A good book on this subject is: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. I think it's essential reading for any woman.

Rest in Peace, Leslie. You're safe now.