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.