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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Self-Publishing--What Works--5 Star Reviews

I know authors who've been in the business for a long time are good at not looking at their reviews on publisher sites. Nor do they look at their reviews from professional reviews. (But that's another blog.) They've learned the truth about how you can't please everyone. I'm not able to do that yet, and don't see being at that place for quite a while. It seems all my self-published friends are the same.

Enough of my friends have examples of nasty, weird, or crazy reviews. There are some people out there who are negative and critical, and none of us are immune from their toxicity. I've read some of these describing a book I happened to enjoy, and I just have to shake my head and wonder why that reader didn't have the same experience. I know we're all different and have differing expectations, but I can't fantom giving any good book a 1 star.

Five star reviews are vital to the success of a self-published book, especially by an unknown or little known author. The 5 and 4 star reviews will make a reader stop and consider buying the book. For some readers, the positive stars are enough, and they don't bother to find out more. Other readers will read a couple of reviews, or they will carefully read through all the reviews before making their decisions. Then there are the readers that may be interested in the book, but wait to see what kind of reviews are generated before they buy.

I am so grateful for each person who has given me a good review--whether I knew them before or not. I'm not so grateful for the negative reviews (at this time, three 3 star ones for Wild Montana Sky) because they hurt when I first received them. I do try to focus on feeling glad that these readers gave the books a try. I also know this makes the book look more legitimate. If everyone loves the book then maybe all the reviews are written by friends and family.

For each 5 star review I received, my sales rose a bit--from a couple of book sales to ten a day. The rise in sales seemed to level out at about eight or nine reviews. I'll be interested to see what happens with my recently published book, Sower of Dreams, to see if that holds true for the fantasy romance series as well.

I have reviews generated from 4 different types of readers:

1. Author friends/acquaintances
2. Family Members and friends
3. General Readership
4. Fans who wrote me about the books

Let me expand:

1. I have author friends who are self-publishing their books, and I've been eager to read them, especially if I've known about the book for a long time. I know these authors feel the same about my books. When I read their books, I'm happy to review them, and they do the same for me. Through joining a group of self-published authors, I'm meeting more and more who have books I want to read. I have a bunch on my Kindle already. If I like a book, I'll review it. If I don't like it (which hasn't happened yet) I won't. A few have done the same for me.

2. My uncle played an important part in Wild Montana Sky. He helped with the scene where the heroine learns to shoot and also on the bear attack scene. He is NOT a romance reader, but after he read Wild Montana Sky on his Kindle, he wrote me the most beautiful email, which definitely made me cry. I asked him to use part of the email as a review, and he did. He went on to read Starry Montana Sky, and tells me to hurry up with the next one.

One of my friends, also not a romance reader, read the book and told me she really liked it. I asked her if she would post a review, and she did one for Starry.

3. Other reviews come from people whom I don't know, will never know, but will always wish I could hug and say a heartfelt "thank you." In many ways, these reviews mean the most of all because they come from strangers.

4. I was floored by my first fan email. She described herself as "spellbound" by the stories. I asked her if she'd be willing to post what she'd written to me as a review. A few days later, she did, although she didn't use the spellbound description, darn it.

Since then, I've received several other fan emails. I've replied to each one, telling the reader that her email has made my day. I answer any questions or respond to comments. Then at the end, I make my request. It goes something like this: "I have a request. Would you be willing to take some of what you've written to me and write a review on Amazon? Positive reviews mean so much to authors, and I'd really appreciate it." So far, each person has written a review.

I make sure to put in the point of reviewing for other authors. Most people don't even think to write a review. I certainly didn't. Most people (who already like your book) will be glad to do this for you. Once they start, they might continue to post positive reviews for others.

Since I've started self-publishing, I've been making a point to write reviews. I mostly give positive ones, although if I'm frustrated by a book, and I don't know the author, it might be a 3 star. But that's rare. (If I know the author, I'll email or tell her in person about what troubled me.) Writing 5 star reviews is fun, although I usually just make a few comments, I don't recap the book. I like thinking about how happy that author will be when she/he discovers it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Self-Publishing--What Works--Price Point

I think my pricing strategy has led to successful sales. For both series, I've set the first book at .99 and the second at 2.99. When the third books in each series are finished I intend to sell them at 3.99.

There are two cons to the .99 book. The first one is that some people think you are showing the reader that you don't value your book. Personally, I think this is a silly concept. It never even occurred to me to think that way until I read it on several blogs. The second con is that you only receive 35% on .99. Therefore, I make a LOT more money on the books that sell for 2.99. I know a lot of people who say that they'd rather sell less and make more. That's their choice.

The reason I originally went with .99 is that I thought a reader is taking a risk on an unknown author when they buy my book. Far more readers are going to make that choice when the risk to their pocketbook is less. By book two, I figure that I'm no longer an unknown author, and thus the price of book two. Originally, I sold more of Wild Montana Sky than Starry Montana Sky--about 5 or 6 to 1. Gradually Starry crept up until it was 2 or 3 to 1. For example, yesterday, I sold 187 copies of Wild Montana Sky and 74 of Starry Montana Sky. A good day for both books.

Having more sales, even though I don't make much money on them (although still more than I'd make per traditionally published book) resulted in more sales. Higher sales resulted in a better sales ranking and in my making Amazon top 100 lists. Being on those lists sold more books. About a month later, Starry Montana Sky ended up on the top lists, too. As I write this, Wild Montana Sky is ranked #217 in the Kindle Store. And #5 #6 #9 on several lists that end in Historical or Historical Romance. Starry Montana Sky is ranked at #751 in the Kindle Store, and #2, #32, #32 on different lists.

Having a .99 book also has caught the attention of some bloggers who look for cheap books. It hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but has gotten some.

If you are a popular author who is publishing your backlist, then you might not need to have a .99 book. However, you might still do it to draw in new readers.

One of my friends, Jacqueline Diamond, has written contemporaries for Harlequin for as long as I've known her. However, she has an extensive backlist of Regencies and a few other genres that I've happily been reading. After a few months with disappointing sales, she followed my example and her sales have picked up.

The nice thing about self-published ebooks is that you pick the price and it's not set in stone. You can play around with the price and see what works. You can try a .99 book to see if it jump starts your sales, but after a few weeks or months, raise the price.

The more books you have published, the more you can experiment. So keep writing!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Self-Publishing--What Works

Since my last blog post, I've had so many people ask me about what I've done to promote my books, Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky, that I promised to blog about what has worked for me.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the question and realized that I can't just blog about promotion because I believe far more goes into a successful ebook than promotion alone. However, if I wrote everything I think works in one blog, you'd be reading a book. So I'm going to break it down into a series of blogs.

I've been amazed at the success of my books. They are simple stories, traditional, maybe even a bit old-fashioned. They are more "Americana," like Little House on the Prairie than "Western" like Lonesome Dove. And I think that's part of their appeal. There's a whole niche of readers who have missed "sweet" romances. They may have even stopped reading romance because they are uncomfortable with the sexuality. There's also a lot of other readers (like me) who just like romance. They won't care if it's sexy or if it's sweet. Readers who prefer "hot" romance will be able to tell from the cover and the description that these are not sexy books and, thus, won't buy them.

The other niche I've hit is historical Western. There are avid Western readers out there. Most enjoy both contemporary and historical Westerns. However, there aren't many historical Westerns published today, so fans of historicals tend to pounce on one when they come across it.

Therefore, if you're going to self-publish a book, think about your niche. It might be one that's tremendously popular--New York turns out lots of books in that subgenre. Or it might be a small niche, neglected by New York, that has avid readers. For example: Time Travel is a self-published subgenre that's doing very well for some friends of mine.

You might have to go with your instincts that readers will like your type of book. That's what I did when I believed that there were readers for sweet stories. The problem I always had was how can publishers find these readers if they've stopped buying romance? I've stopped worrying about that because those readers are finding me.

Or you might position your story to take advantage of a topic or activity that's already popular. Yesterday, I had a talk with a friend who's going to self-publish a book that was originally published in the late 1990s. The hero in the book is a retired Formula One race car driver. I suggested she make him a former Nascar driver. When the book was originally published Nascar wasn't as popular as it is now. Nascar has a huge and growing following. More and more women are are becoming fans. Therefore, she has a built-in market for her book.

Having a niche also ties in with your promotion efforts. Although I haven't done so, I've been thinking of promoting to the Christian market. My books aren't inspirational, but they do have some inspirational elements. I think that would also be a good word-of-mouth market. One woman likes the book, and she tells other women at her church about it.

I'm not saying write to the market or what you think the market is. I'm saying write the book you want to write. Just take some time to think about the possible niche or niches and see if there's anything you can do to increase your readership by tweeking your book in any way.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Self-Publishing--Showing the Money ll

I've had many people tell me they appreciated my prior blog (July 17) about my self-published sales of my two sweet historical Westerns, Wild Montana Sky (.99) and Starry Montana Sky (2.99). They also asked that I'd keep posting information about sales and money.

To recap, I published the two books on the evening of April 28th on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. I'm going to continue to only discuss Kindle because my sales on Nook and Smashwords are under $100.

Today, I received my sales report for July from Amazon.

Wild Montana Sky :
5026 US sales $1759.53
8 UK sales 2.08
1 Germany .30
Total $1761.91

Starry Montana Sky:
1777 US sales $3613.89
4 UK 5.08
1 Germany 1.40
47 (outside) 49.35
Total $3669.72

Total $ 5431.63

On July 31, I published the first in my fantasy romance series, Sower of Dreams.

3 US sales $1.05

This brings my Kindle income (three months and a couple of days) to date:


So far my sales for August on Amazon are:

Wild Montana Sky: 2227
Starry Montana Sky: 993
Sower of Dreams: 35
Reaper of Dreams: 20

I'm SO very glad I decided to self-publish. As you can see, my results have been (in my opinion) amazing! I'm so grateful to everyone who's supported me in this process, especially my readers!