Saturday, November 17, 2012

Superstorm Sandy:Crisis Counseling, Kindness, and Hope

I'm in New Jersey on my second to last day of volunteer crisis counseling. Yesterday, I finally had a chance to take the books to the distribution center. Here's a photo of the books. There are actually more boxes of books than you can see because there are some behind the big boxes. I purposely hadn't opened any, one for ease of transportation, and two because I wanted everyone to see that people from all over the country had sent them.

Once the volunteer who unloaded my car had all the books in his cart, he started to roll them away. I offered to help him open the boxes. "No, Doc," he said in a thick New Jersey accent. "I have plenty of volunteers who can do that. But there's only one you who can counsel people."

Disappointed, I almost stopped him because I really wanted to see all the books. But I would have lingered, seeing who'd sent them, examining covers and reading the back blurbs, starting the stories, and probably coveting more than a few. So I left.

Then when I got home to Bill's late last night, I had another three boxes waiting. And five more tonight. I'll make another stop to the distribution center tomorrow after my last group and before I leave to fly home. The last two nights were dark and cold, and I quickly loaded the boxes in the car because I know I'll dash out of here in the mornings. So I didn't look at who sent them. But I'm VERY grateful.

Today I did a group at the Senior Center in Sayreville, where FEMA and the Red Cross are set up. As can be typical after disasters, neither organization knew about the distribution center for people to get free food and clothing (and now books.) When a woman told me she had to use a portion of her rent money to buy food and diapers, I told her about the distribution center where I knew they had more diapers than they knew what to do with. She was so happy to learn she could receive free food, clothing, and diapers, and she could return another day if she ran out. After that I made sure the Red Cross volunteers who greeted people and said good-bye to them had the directions to the distribution center and told everyone about it.

Just as I was about to leave the building to go back to Our Lady of Victories Church, where I have done the majority of my groups, a Red Cross volunteer came up to me and mentioned that there was a man who'd lost everything and was having a difficult (and thus emotional) time navigating the bureaucratic hoops that disaster victims often have to jump through to receive assistance.

I approached the man, (I'll make up a name and call him John) introduced myself, and asked if he'd like to speak to me. John was tall and wide, with dark circles under his brown eyes. He wore shorts and sandals on a day that I had on a coat and boots. His expression lit up with eagerness, and he said a strong, "yes!" Then John asked me to wait while he left to do some paperwork, promising to return in ten or twenty minutes. I said I'd wait for him.

John returned. We went to an empty room, and he started talking. Very quickly, I could tell that this was a man who life had dealt some very hard knocks, the latest one being Sandy. He and his 17 year-old son were left with only the clothes on their backs. John was on disability from an injury and didn't have resources to replace what he'd lost. He'd been wearing the same clothes for days.

Early on in our discussion, after I'd said something to validate his experience, John said in a tone of wonder, "You've only been talking to me for 10 minutes, and you understand what I'm going through!"
I could tell he hadn't received much compassion in his life.

John told me a story that touched me and also broke my heart--how when the storm first started, he took $100 of his own money, bought candles, and went door to door at the hotel where he was staying and gave one to everyone.

His son said to him, "Dad, why are you doing this when no one cares about you?"

"Because it makes me feel good," John replied.

I hated to think of that young man (who'd been abandoned by his mother at age six) already having a world view that no one cares.

John and I had a very productive session. He was very open to my feedback and suggestions. I connected him with Catholic Charities for some free counseling and with the church for some spiritual support. At the end, he told me how much it meant to him that I had approached him, that I had listened, and that I had cared. The act of kindness was as important to him as the counseling.

As we were walking out, I told John I wanted him to take his son to the distribution center. In addition to getting food and clothing, I told him to search out the books, and I explained how people from all over the country had sent them to me, and I'd taken them to the shelter. I said I knew there were some science fiction and horror stories (thanks to the author-team at Amazon and also to Seventh Star Press) that I was sure a 17 year-old would love to read. "Yah, he likes those kind of books," his father said.

"Be sure you tell him that those books come from people who care," I said.

John thanked me, almost in tears.

As we parted, I hoped that the help I'd given John would indeed make a difference. Even more, I prayed that his son would pick out some books and, in so doing, would not just receive stories, but hope. And maybe, just maybe, he'd come to believe that there are people who do care.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Superstorm Sandy, Trauma Recovery Counseling

As I write this, I'm in Sayreville, New Jersey, doing volunteer crisis counseling for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. I arrived at midnight on the 11th and am staying until the evening of the 18th.

Before I came here, I did a book drive, contacting my writers' groups and asking for donations to be sent to where I'm staying. I knew from experience that people in shelters needed the distraction that a good book can provide. I promised that if I had the time and energy, I'd write some blog posts to keep let people know how it was going. So this post in about keeping that promise

First of all, I I want to acknowledge that I've been welcomed with open arms. People are very touched that someone would come all the way from California on their own accord to help out. My friend, Bill, is housing me and driving me around. Through him I was networked into Catholic Charities. (Did you know Catholic Charities helps people who aren't Catholic? I didn't.) Monday, day one for me, was spent in meeting the people from Catholic Charities and determining where my services could be best utilized. Yesterday started with a meeting of all the agencies in the area who are working to help the victims, including the Red Cross, FEMA, Catholic Charities, United Way, and other government and local organizations. During and after the storm, many of these organizations had to deal with the loss of power or perhaps even damage to their own buildings, but the staff worked hard to help others, and managed to get creative and still accomplish a great deal both for their clients and the general community.

The purpose of the meeting was to learn what everyone was doing and to find a way to enhance the communication between the various agencies. I was there to talk about the free trauma recovery groups I was going to do, and also the group I wanted to organize for the people in the room and anyone else who's worked for one of the organizations serving the victims.

After the meeting, I went to the Red Cross shelter at Rutgers. Earlier in the day Shirley Hailstock had dropped off boxes of books and tote bags, and by the time I got there, people were happily reading. I've been receiving boxes of books (and know I have more coming). Tomorrow, I'll donate them to the distribution center.

I did my first group at the Red Cross shelter. By this time, many of the people who'd originally taken refuge there had moved on to live with families or friends, or found local housing. Those who stayed, had no where else to go. Some had been homeless before the storm and were coping with other issues such has not having proper medication. These people have had a chance to have their lapsed prescriptions renewed, and staff members are trying to transition them into local programs or at least a better situation. So they are receiving the support and attention that they normally don't have. One man commented with awe that he'd been taken to the Rutgers football game.

I also had five Red Cross workers join the group, so I had a mixed "bag" of people. Once I started the group, I felt this inner sense of relief. Even though I'd been "helping" since I'd been in NJ, I finally was doing what I'd really come here to do--aid people in their healing process. My crisis groups are usually a mix of education and sharing, and this one was no different, although I had to sometimes simplify things. But afterwards, I had a lot of feedback that the group was helpful--which was good to hear considering I had to meet very differing needs.

After working at the shelter, I had a break from thinking about the work when Bill, who graduated from Rutgers, took me to a popular restaurant and then to his favorite bar. If you know me personally, you know I'm not a bar person, but this was fun because Bill knew the staff, and we had interesting conversations and lots of laughs. The perfect way to escape for a while.

Today I started my first group at St. Mary of the Victories, and it was to help people, such as the staff of Catholic Charities, who'll be working with the victims. This group was both a training for them in what to say and do to help people with their emotional recovery, but also a place where they could share their own feelings and take a little personal time. I enjoyed working with such a great group of dedicated, caring individuals, knowing that they'd take what they received from their experience with me and pass it on.

Ironically, I gave them a lecture in self-care, but hadn't taken the time for breakfast, and then the group went so long it overlapped with group 2, so I didn't have lunch. However, my excuse was I squeezed in a little workout at Bill's gym, which is in itself self-care, and I did grab a protein drink and add a vitamin packet to it. And I had a protein bar in my purse for after the group. So I was doing self-care, just maybe not as well as I should have.

Catholic Charities has supplied me with a car, and Bill programed his GPS for me. So I'll be able to drive where needed.

The rectory at the church has a guest suite, and I was able to take a nap and join the priest for dinner. He shared with me that he was able to get the message for my groups to the community information network. We have them scheduled every day, including Sunday. I took a picture of the television. They missed the 12:30 Saturday group which is scheduled at the Senior Center. If you know of anyone in the area, encourage them to attend.

I'm sitting on the bed in my guest suite, quickly typing this before heading out to my 7:00 group. Please excuse any typos, missing words, and other mistakes because I'm not going to do my normal editing job.

I just wanted to express my thanks to everyone who's supported me, by praying or thinking positive thoughts, by sending books I can donate, or by being a member of this community and doing so much to help me out. I truly feel blessed to have the support so I can give to others.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Making Dreams Come True

As I write this, I'm sitting on my hotel balcony in Montana, looking at the mountains. I've been here for four days, researching, relaxing, reading, and writing. This trip is completely paid for from my self-publishing royalties, and I'm so grateful and excited to be here. I'm having a wonderful time, and I know I won't want to go home in two days.

The air has been a little smoky because of the fires, and the sky has been a pale blue-gray instead of vivid blue. Other than the smoke, the setting is beautiful, and thankfully, I've escaped the Southern California heat. Here's a balcony view, although the picture doesn't really show how beautiful it looks today.

Yesterday, I went for a run. Probably not the best thing to do for my lungs, but before I came here, I visualized jogging through beautiful scenery, and I didn't want to give that up. I ran/walked about three and a half miles, and probably would have gone farther, but the air was dry and smoky. and I hadn't brought water with me. Here's the hill I jogged up. It's one of the foothills before the mountains.

Yesterday was the beginning of the Montana Romance Writers Conference, and they graciously allowed a California girl to attend. It's the smallest conference I've ever been to--about twenty authors--which is nice because I have a chance to get to know everyone. The only person I knew before was Kat Martin, who's here with her husband Larry. I've known the Martins for years. Great people. They took me and Rita Karnopp out to dinner last night. Lots of food, wonderful company, and the best tenderloin ever! (And I'm not much of a beef eater.)

Listening to the speakers at the conference today, helped me dig deeper into the two Montana Sky stories I'm currently working on. I'll be able to add layers and characterization. I've been avoiding writing for the last month--just doing a little a day. Hopefully, I've caught the creative spark and will be able jump back in to a more serious page count.

A nice bonus was that (for some unknown reason) the Montana Sky Series took off yesterday. I had over 400 sales of Wild Montana Sky. Montana Sky Christmas (at only a month old)  overshot its previous sales record of 48 and sold 76 books. Yay!

 Even though Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky are Montlake's books now, Amazon has recently installed a dashboard that allows their authors to see their sales figures every day. So, I'm still able to keep track.

I haven't been to Montana since long before I wrote Wild Montana Sky, and it was always my dream to return. It never made financial sense to travel to the state when the Montana Sky books languished unsold, and I had plenty of other places in the country to explore. It was only about this time last year, when my self-published income took a leap, that I started telling myself I'd travel to Montana in September.

I didn't make any plans because in 2012, my personal life had far too much upheaval. I just kept the trip as a vague goal. The writers conference gave me an excuse to come here as well as a starting point for my research, even if Anaconda is south of where my books are set.

Tomorrow, we have a book signing, and for the first time, I'll sign Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky--another dream come true! Then I'll drive to Missoula to spend the night at Kat and Larry's house. They intend to pick my brain about self-publishing, which as you know from reading this blog, is one of my favorite topics. Larry's promised to grill his special salmon...

I've already been invited back to speak at a conference next summer in Bozeman, and I look forward to many more future visits.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Self-Publishing: Reflections on 2012 (so far)

Today I resolved to tackle the paper piles in my house, throwing out what I don't need and filing everything else--a task that's easier said than done. I definitely need to get one of those scan-to-your-computer gizmos. (I found an ad for one in one of my piles.)

The problem for me is that I'm self-employeed and have to save receipts, etc for my records. I have various interests and tend to collect articles that reflect those interests, especially if I might write about or speak on those topics. Then add to the piles the scraps of paper I write on whenever I have a story or article idea, or do some scribbled journaling about what I'm thinking or feeling....

As I sorted out papers, putting them into smaller piles, a stack of bulletins from church started growing ever larger. On Sundays during the sermon, I'm often jotting down quotes, Bible verses, and my own ideas about what's being said. Sometimes, story ideas come to me or a bit of a scene or dialogue. It might not even be about a work in progress, but about one of the future stories I have in my head. I scribble all these things down on the bulletin, which luckily has enough white space in the margins for me to do so, although you might have to turn the paper several angles to read everything.

On the bulletin for New Year's Day, one of my comments at the bottom of the page was: "This is where my heart is leading me. Trust that there's a reason."

Those two lines referred to my concerns about moving away from being a psychotherapist and corporate crisis and grief counselor to becoming a REAL writer. The challenge for me was (and still is) my deeply held belief that I'm a healer--that's my purpose in life. As a psychotherapist and crisis counselor, I touch many lives. I make a difference. And while I know my nonfiction writing also makes a difference, especially The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, I'm not sure my fiction does.

Yet, the doors to my former life seem to be closing. My practice is down. I haven't been getting as many crisis calls. And I don't care! I like having a small practice and only one or two crisis jobs a month. I like having more time to write. And my self-publishing income has made that possible.

On January 1, 2012, I couldn't know that in two weeks I would receive a call from Lindsay Guzzardo at Amazon Montlake, wanting to acquire the Montana Sky series. I couldn't know I'd say yes. I did know that in mid-January, I'd self-publish Stormy Montana Sky, but I didn't know how well the book would do, and that having a third book would lift the sales of books one and two.

On that New Year's Day, I didn't know my sales on Barnes & Noble would finally take off, that my self-publishing income would double and some months even triple, or best of all, that Wild Montana Sky would make the USA Today Bestseller List in April.

At that time, I hadn't conceived of writing a collection of Christmas stories. I didn't even know I could write short stories. But I self-published Montana Sky Christmas on August 27th.

I didn't know I'd make some changes in my personal life, such as breaking up with my boyfriend of six years, which would impact my writing career (more time to write.) Or that my young cousin would be hit by a car and killed, sidelining my writing for several weeks as I dealt with my own and my family's grief.

I didn't realize how much I'd absolutely love the wonderful team at Montlake who worked so hard to make my books a success. Publishing with Montlake has been a dream--so unlike the horror stories I often heard (or hear) about traditional publishing. For example, I never even conceived that the series could have an ad like they made. Wow.

My print books arrived yesterday, and I teared up as soon as I realized the boxes were from Montlake. Even though I've sold about 140,000 ebooks, holding my own print versions was a special experience--a dream come true. Here's the boxes as I've opened them.

The decision to self-publish my books has taken me on quite a journey, more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.

I've followed my heart all year. Sometimes, that's led to some bruising, but for the most part, I think I'm on the right path.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Self-Publishing: Making Mistakes

Recently, I had an author write me that she wanted to self-publish, but was afraid of making mistakes. I wrote her back that she probably would make mistakes--that's part of life. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes.

Even as I wrote that email, I was in the middle of coping with my own mistake--probably the first one (at least in my opinion) I'd made along the self-publishing path.

To give the backstory to the mistake...

For the last six months, I've had a series of unexpected life events that interfered with my writing time. When I could write, I concentrated on a collection of Christmas short stories--Montana Sky Christmas--that I wanted to self-publish about the time Amazon Montlake launched their versions of Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky on August 28.

I started writing these stories in February, and gave each one to my developmental editor, Louella Nelson, as I finished them. I knew she's busy teaching writing classes and working to self-publish her backlist, so I wanted to give her plenty of time.

As my schedule freed up in August, I was busy writing the last of the seven stories and revising them as Lou's edits came back. I also wanted a copy editor to look at the final version, and found one in a student of my online self-publishing class, Linda Caroll-Bradd. For the last three weeks before the launch of Montana Sky Christmas, Linda also edited the stories, sending me her corrections. So I was doing original writing, developmental edits, and copy edits, right up until a few days before the launch date.

Lou, Linda, and my new formatter, Amy Atwell, went above and beyond to make the book happen by my deadline, and bless them, they succeeded. Montana Sky Christmas went live on August 28. I immediately downloaded it to do a final read-through, and MY KINDLE DIED. I went back and forth with Amazon tech support before they determined this, and then I had to buy a new Kindle. So it was two days later before I read the stories, and of course found some errors.

Amy corrected them for me, and I uploaded the new version of the book. Or I tried to... I had problems because I had set a different price for Amazon India. This had NOT been a problem on the first upload, and I didn't realize it was now. I kept getting an error message that I was missing inputs.

Unlike the normal error messages which give you the section you're missing in red, I couldn't find anything wrong. Amy checked the book file, and she felt sure that wasn't the problem. I tried several times to publish the book, but nothing worked. None of my self-pubishing friends had ever heard of this error, although one suggested re-entering the book data. I did so, and still an error. I went over and over each box to make sure I wasn't missing anything, and couldn't see where I'd left something out. The time grew later, and I grew more stressed, frustrated, and tired.

Finally, I decided to change the India price to match the others. That worked. I grabbed the book file to upload it again. All okay. Relieved, I went to bed.

The next day, I started to get returns on the book, very unusual especially since I'd only sold about 30. I had three good reviews, but no one gave me a bad review. So I shrugged it off. At five returns, I checked the book product page and saw that Amazon had put a notice on the page saying something was wrong with the book and they were working with the publisher to fix it. That was news to me.

Of course I was upset and embarrassed. And it was the holiday weekend, so I couldn't contact anyone I knew at Amazon directly. (A nice thing about being a Monttlake author is I know people.) So I talked to customer service, who of course, didn't know anything about what could be wrong. But while I was on the phone with the customer service rep, I checked the book in the preview and saw that I HAD UPLOADED THE WRONG BOOK! OMG! I couldn't believe it. I quickly uploaded the correct version.

I told the rep what was wrong. She never really got what the problem was, but she drafted an email to send to KDP, telling them the error was fixed, to take the block off the product page, and to send a new version of the book to the people who'd bought it. She promised a response in the next 24 hours. It was hard to wait because I wanted it fixed NOW.

For the next days I kept getting various emails from KDP that they were working on the problem. At first I could tell that they didn't understand what the problem was. They kept focusing on sending out new books, while I wanted the block to come down first. Secondly, they could deal with sending new books out.

I was very relieved with Tuesday morning came and I could email and call Dan Slater at Amazon, asking for his help. But unknown to me, Dan was buried in work for the launch of the new Kindles and didn't have time to work on my problem.

So more days went by with several "we're researching the problem" emails from KDP and no response from Dan. My frustration level remained high. I couldn't be mad at Amazon because the mistake was my fault, I still fretted about how long the fix was taking.

Thursday, I put another call to Dan, and that afternoon he called me back. He told me about the launch of the new Kindles. (GGGGRRRR because I just had bought one to replace the one that died.) I explained the whole tale, and he said he'd get on it. By late evening, Montana Sky Christmas was again available for sale. This morning the book began selling again.

So.... what's my lesson? Perhaps it's not to push so hard that I'm trying to accomplish something when I'm tired and stressed. Or maybe realize that because I'm in that state, I have to be extra careful.

Since I'm not a person who usually makes stupid mistakes, when I do, I know means I'm over-stressed. I need to relax, unwind, and recharge--something I was able to do yesterday when I knew my mistake would finally be fixed.

So there you have it. Stupid mistake? Yes. Cost me some sales? Yes. Upset me? Yes. But in the long run, it's not a big deal. Under normal circumstances, I'd probably have been able to focus on the fact that the book would eventually be for sale. But I had enough other things in my life last week that upset and stressed me, thus I wasn't as centered as I would have liked. Maybe that's my lesson.

But I can pretty much promise...I'll NEVER upload the wrong book again. I hope other self-published authors learn from my mistake!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Self-Publishing, Hybrid Author, Dreams Coming True

I become a hybrid author today with the launch of the Montlake versions of Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky, the first two books in my originally self-published Montana Sky Series. Here's the ad Montlake designed. It went out on a Writerspace blast today.

Even though I've seen the ad for over a week now, I'm still moved every time I look at it. I never even DREAMED I'd have something like this. I can't believe it's true.

I'm also looking forward to having print books because I didn't bother to make print versions of my self-published books.

Today, I also launched my self-published anthology, Montana Sky Christmas, a collection of seven short stories set in my small town of Sweetwater Springs, in 1894. These stories take place after Stormy Montana Sky, Book Three in the Montana Sky Series, but they can be read as a stand-alone volume. The stories have both familiar and new characters.

I'm hoping to have the best of both worlds--Amazon's promotional efforts drive people to the series, and thus to this book. And, as the holiday's approach, and people look for Christmas stories, readers pick up this anthology, love it, and jump on the Montana Sky Series.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes! Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I'm teaching an inexpensive online class about self-publishing. It's the kind of class where the lectures drop into your in box. You don't have to be present in real time. :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Self-Publishing: One Year's Results

April 29th, 2012 was the official one-year anniversary of self-publishing Wild Montana Sky, followed the next day by Starry Montana Sky. In July, I published Sower of Dreams, and in August, Reaper of Dreams. Twinborne Trilogy: Lywin's Quest was published at the end of December, and Stormy Montana Sky in January. All of the books except Stormy Montana Sky were written long before I self-published them.

When I started self-publishing, my hope was to make $3,000 a month on my books. I was friends with several self-published authors who were making this amount, and it seemed like an impossible dream to match them.

One year later (and a month as I'm writing this late) I've sold almost 100,000 books (see numbers below.) Wild Montana Sky made the USA Today Bestseller's List, and The Montana Sky series was acquired by Amazon Montake. (The changeover happens August 28.) I've made FAR more than $3000 a month, and have been able to cut back on my psychotherapy practice and corporate crisis/grief counseling at a time when I was feeling somewhat burned out by that work. And my creativity, which I'd boxed away when two agents couldn't sell my books, has exploded. I have lots of ideas for other books. This week, Romantic Times magazine mentioned Wild Montana Sky as a top indie read.

WOW! I'm amazed, touched, excited, and humbled by my year of self-publishing. The journey has been far more than I dreamed possible. What's been a wonderful bonus is all the self-published authors I've come to know. My circle of friends has grown by hundreds, and I've learned so much from them. (And read some great books!) I've had the pleasure of encouraging other authors, both published and unpublished to think about self-publishing their books.

In January, I blogged about my sales numbers for 2011. For a brief recap of that blog

Wild Montana Sky: 27, 069
Starry Montana Sky: 10,207
Total: 37,272

Sower of Dreams: 556
Reaper of Dreams: 243
Total: 799

Here are my numbers since my last sales blog from Amazon and Barnes & Noble combined:


Wild Montana Sky: 5297
Starry Montana Sky: 2045
Stormy Montana Sky: 921

Sower of Dreams: 122
Reaper of Dreams: 65

Lywin's Quest: 7


Wild Montana Sky: 8543
Starry Montana Sky: 3103
Stormy Montana Sky: 3253

Sower of Dreams: 82
Reaper of Dreams: 52

Lywin's Quest: 2


Wild Montana Sky: 6712
Starry Montana Sky: 3198
Stormy Montana Sky: 2997

Sower of Dreams: 86
Reaper of Dreams: 55

Lywin's Quest: 4


Wild Montana Sky: 13, 861(This is the month the book made the USA Today List.)
Starry Montana Sky: 4461
Stormy Montana Sky: 2463

Sower of Dreams: 84
Reaper of Dreams: 46

Lywin's Quest: 4


Wild Montana Sky: 61,482
Starry Montana Sky: 23,014
Stormy Montana Sky: 9,634

Total for Series: 94,130

Sower of Dreams: 1,628
Reaper of Dreams: 461

Total for Series: 2, 089

Lywin's Quest: 17

Total books: 96,219

I didn't include books sold at Smashwords or sold in Europe in 2012. If I did, the total would be closer to 97,000.

Not bad for an unknown, unpublished author, eh? This last year has been a dream come true. :) Thanks to all my readers and fellow authors who have supported me.

For year two, I'm hoping to find more time to write, something that still seems to elude me. I think when I finish Harvest of Dreams, the last book in The Gods' Dream Trilogy, my sales of all three books will increase considerably. Right now I'm aiming for a Fall release of that book. I'll also have a collection of short Christmas stories set in my Montana town coming out in August so I'll still have monthly self-publishing income derived from that series. I'll receive quarterly royalties from Montlake for the big books. Hopefully I can also finish the next big book in the Montana Sky series by Christmas.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Lucky One, The Surprise Hero

I saw The Lucky One last night and haven't stopped thinking about it. The movie was so beautiful and romantic that I didn't mind a few plot holes.

About a third of the way through, I started feeling a sense of familiarity to Zac Efron, that became strong enough to pull me out of the movie. I couldn't figure out why. I'd never seen him in anything, wouldn't be able to pick him out of a line up. But I became more and more drawn to him. At some point it struck me that he looked like an old boyfriend, Mike, the young cowboy who I had used for my hero Nick in Wild Montana Sky, although Zac's eyes are bluer, and he doesn't have a broken nose.

Ah, it all came to me. Not only did Zac look like Nick (who looks like Mike) he played a similar character--the strong, silent, supportive, adoring hero. And like Nick, Zac had trouble communicating what was on his mind, and had fallen in love with the heroine because of a picture (for Nick it was a portrait.)

The heroine, played by Taylor Shilling was also similar in looks to my heroine, although Elizabeth is a more classic beauty.

Figuring out the connection to my hero and my book gave an added dimension to the movie. Not only did I fall in love with Logan, but I fell in love with Nick all over again. Watching Zac play Logan, made me wish to see to see him play Nick. It made me remember that I have the screenplay of Wild Montana Sky gathering dust in my computer. Even though the screenplay has finaled in some contests and won an award, I've never submitted it anywhere. Maybe it's time to dust it off and send it to a friend who acquires scripts for a producer.

Anyone know Zac Efron? Maybe he'd like to recreate a similar role, but this time play a cowboy instead of a former marine.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Self-Publishing: USA Today List!!!

I had the shock of my life on Wednesday, when my friend, author Tessa Dare, emailed me congrats and the link to the USA Today Best Seller list. Shaking and disbelieving, I opened it up. Sure enough, Wild Montana Sky was #137! I was stunned, excited, and moved to tears. I started calling and emailing friends and family with the news.

It had NEVER crossed my mind that Wild Montana Sky would make the USA Today list as a self-published ebook, although I had a vague wish that it might happen someday when I became an Amazon Montlake author.

The congratulations came pouring in. The wave of acknowledgment was amazing.

So many of my self-published friends were especially excited because it gave them hope that someday, they, too, would hit the list. (My wish for them too!)

I emailed my Montlake editor, and she called. Lindsay was so excited for me. In her opinion, making the USA Today list was a better achievement than the New York Times list because USA Today List takes real numbers from booksellers, while the stores the New York Times list pulls from are a secret.

What a way to wrap up my one-year anniversary! I'll be posting a blog in a few days that discusses my year long numbers. But I have some number crunching to do before then.

What did change this month was for some (unknown) reason Wild Montana Sky started to sell well on Nook. The numbers kept escalating, double and even triple the amount I sold on Amazon. I hit the top 100 Nook list and dropped as low as #20. I've been on the list for about two weeks. Currently I'm #40. The sales for Starry Montana Sky and Stormy Montana Sky were less than Amazon all month, but increased as the month went on and readers came back to buy the second and third books. I've ended out-selling Amazon in total numbers for the Montana Sky series.

Here's the cake from my former writing teacher and current editor, Louella Nelson. She took me to lunch on Saturday.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Self-Publishing: Online Class

I'm teaching an online class about self-publishing for the Orange County Chapter of RWA. Go to for information and registration. I think you can sign up until Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Self-Publishing: Cleaning Out

I'm doing some necessary cleaning out and decluttering of my house, especially my office. I realized the time had come to part with my stacks of writing magazines. I have Romance Writers Reports (the monthly Romance Writers of America magazine) and Writer's Digests and some script writing magazines that go back about 15 years.

I tend to hold on to things, long past when I should. Part of that comes from being too busy to sort through and organize things that aren't important. But the bigger part is that I always think I'll need them again. The writing magazines are full of great articles, and if I wanted to reread any, there they are. If I need to write a blog post or and article, I have a lot of information available.


I haven't opened one of those magazines since I originally read them.

Today it occurred to me that that two thirds of the information in those magazines is out-dated or not pertinent to my current writing career. Basically, the only information that's still useful is the craft information.

The publishing world has changed so much that it's important to keep current, not stay bogged down in old thinking. Lots of previous advice no longer works any more, or it might work if you want a traditional publishing career, but not for self-publishing. (Especially not in this digital world of ours.)

I admit I had a pang parting with those stacks. One or two headlines caught my eye, and I set that magazine aside to reread. I didn't even take the time to sort through the RWR reports that had my Golden Heart finaling/winning announcements. I knew if I stopped my momentum, most of those magazines would find their way back to the selves. (Although they might be less dusty.)

I also included a few of my Writer's Guides. For example: I don't need 2007's. Actually, I don't need 2012's, either. Not that I have it. I don't even have time to write my newsletter, and barely blog. So I'm not going to search the pages of a writer's guide to find possible places to submit an article. Plus, I've let go of the dream of writing articles for magazines. Right now, I'm focused on my books. If I want to write for magazines in the future, I'll study whatever version of Writer's Guide exists then. (Probably online.)

I also tossed some of my college statistics books. If I haven't done any statistical research by now, it's not going to happen in my future. Not to mention, I couldn't do a statistic to save my life. I barely scraped by in those classes, anyway.

So I ended up with four bags to donate to the library for their used book/magazine sale. Hopefully, someone else can put them to use.

One of these days, I'm going to tackle the shelf of how-do writing books. (Most of which I've never read, or only skimmed.) But not today.

Sooooo, in keeping with your new ideas of your writing career, do you have some culling to do of your bookshelves?

Monday, March 19, 2012

From Self-Published to Traditionally Published

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I would have an announcement to make, and I've waited to go public until I signed the contract.

The good news is: I've sold my Montana Sky series to Amazon Montlake. I emailed the documents of the books to Montlake today, feeling like a parent watching a child go off to school for the first time. I waved goodbye and sniffed.

Here's the story:

In January, I received an email from Lindsay Guzzardo, an editor from Amazon Montlake, (the romance line) telling me she'd read Wild Montana Sky and loved it. She wanted to acquire the series. I took some time before I called her and left a message because I wanted to think hard about the decision and do a little research on Montlake.

My first reaction to Lindsay's email was ambivalence. I had my strategy for this series all mapped out. I planned to write a few novellas and self-publish a collection of Christmas stories. I also had three more big books outlined. I'd planned to price one of the novellas at .99 as my "loss leader" and then change Wild Montana Sky's price from .99 to 2.99.

My mind was so firmly set on the plan that I really had a hard time switching to other possibilities. My concerns were losing the control over the books and giving up the monthly income in the time between when I signed the contract and when I received the first royalty payment. This series makes a lot of money, and I've gotten used to the monthly payment from Amazon dropping into my checking account. (This last concern was based on misinformation. The agent of a friend who'd published with Montlake had told her to take down her self-published books once she signed the contract.)

I contacted everyone I knew whose self-published books had been scooped up by Amazon and asked about their experience. I also read several blogs on the subject. Everyone had positive feedback, saying that Amazon was attempting to be more "author friendly" in that authors would have input into their covers and the marketing for their books.

I didn't speak to Lindsay until the next day, and I was grateful for the time to think and formulate my questions and comments. I found speaking to a editor as a successful self-published author was VERY different than as an unknown unpublished author. :)

Right away I liked Lindsay's enthusiasm for my books and for Amazon new publishing program, which she described as cutting edge. (The program, not my books.) I felt reassured to learn that I didn't have to take my books down until the 24 hour turn around, and I get to keep the money in the meantime.

I talked to her about how I love my covers and my titles, which she also loved. She said they'd just polish up the existing covers. I also said I had a very strong vision for the series. It wasn't that I wouldn't take editorial direction, but that I didn't want an editor telling me, "That's not your next book, or that's not your hero." Lindsay said that she would respect my vision. Obviously it's working for the series, and she didn't want to change that.

The tipping point came when Lindsay said, "We know where the historical readers are." So I told her that barring issues with the contract, I was on board.

There are a few more reasons I chose to let Amazon Montlake acquire the series. (These are taken from an email I wrote to someone who asked me about my choice.)
1. My sales are mainly on Amazon.

2. Montlake will able to target the UK market, which I think is an untapped market for me, which I haven't cracked. For example, currently for the month of March, I've sold 19 books in the UK and 1 in the rest of Europe. In America (on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) I've sold 8,686.

3. I'll be able to work closely with the marketing team.

4. Stormy Montana Sky (book #3) is my option book, thus I'll be able to keep it self-published for a while, giving me a chance to see how the program will really work.

5. I'll be able to have print books, without the hassle of doing them myself. Granted, those print books won't be in most places, but with Borders gone, I don't think that not having print books in Barnes & Noble is that big of a deal. I'll still be able to have ebooks there. Apple people can download the Kindle app and buy Amazon books.

6. Montlake only wants my big books, so I will stilll self-publish novellas and short stories set in my series.

7. When they do the switch over of my books to their's, it will be seamless. I'll still keep all my reviews on their site. (Although I wish I could dump a few. :)

I realize I'm taking a risk. I have the belief that the books have already done far more than what I ever dreamed and have made far more than if I'd traditionally published them in the first place. (I'm SO thankful for all the rejections over the years. :) Therefore, going forward, everything I achieve is a bonus and a blessing. If it's less than I'm currently making, so be it.

I have already experienced the rollercoaster of self-publishing sales. After having a steady increase of sales for my first four months to an amazing amount, I had a steady decrease until Christmas. Still great numbers that many would envy, but a third to half of what it had been. Christmas popped me back up, and publishing book three made a HUGE difference. So I know and accept that there will be ups and downs, whether I'm self-published or with Amazon.
Unlike other authors who've chosen to have traditional publishers acquire their books because they think self-publishing is too much work, I have a completely different view point. I like having the responsibility and control over my books. I farm out the hard parts like formatting and cover design (although the covers are made to my specifications.)

I DON'T spend time on promotion beyond writing a few blogs (and guest blogs) from time to time and sending the book out to a few reviewers. I realized I've been very blessed in that readers are managing to find the books in this series without any effort on my part. (I wish they'd find my fantasy romance series as well!) That's not the case for most authors--whether self-published or traditionally published. I'd probably sell more if I did more promotion, but I'd rather put that time into writing. As I said in a previous blog, I think a new book is the best promotion.

The self-publishing journey is unique for every author, and I'm definitely enjoying the experience. I'll blog about my experience with Montlake, so stay tuned.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Self-Publishing: Thinking Ahead

I'm going to write a collection of Christmas Stories set in my fictional Montana town. Since I came up with the idea, the story ideas have been flying at me. So far I have ten. All the stories involve love and Christmas, but not all of them will be romances. One is about a girl. One about an old man. Some will be about current characters, others will star new ones. But the familiar townspeople will make an appearance.

I also hope to include some Christmas stories from other authors. I'm going to try to do a story swap with them.

Here's the cover. Isn't it beautiful!

Look for the collection in fall, 2012!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Self-Publishing: What Works--Writing a Series

Although I've heard from a lot of authors that writing a series makes for better selling books, I'm having a chance to experience the truth of that advice. I released my the first two books in my Montana Sky series at the same time, the evening of April 28, 2011. Book one, Wild Montana Sky, gradually started selling more and more books per day, until it reached it's current 150-210. Book two, Starry Montana Sky, began selling at a ratio of about 1:6. Gradually the ratio changed until it became about 1:2 or 3.

Wild Montana Sky is my weeding out book. If readers don't like it, they don't go on to book two. Therefore readers who buy Starry Montana Sky are predisposed to like it. That's even more true for book three, Stormy Montana Sky.

I'd written the first 50 pages of Stormy Montana Sky, way back when--probably 2003-2004--but I gave up on it because Wild Montana Sky couldn't sell. So it took me a while to finish it. Then another two months for my editor to give me revisions and for me to do them. Then I had to get it to those the people who did the copyediting for me. Then off to the formatter. So the book didn't go live on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, until January 14th--at the price of $3.99.

Day one it sold 30 copies. By the end of the first week, it was averaging 30s-upper 40s. Week two it headed into the 50s and 60s, and week three into the 70s, 80s, and 90s. This week, it started outselling Starry Montana Sky. Today Stormy broke through 100 sales to end up at 105, leaving Starry in the dust at 72 for the day. (Not that I'm complaining about 72 sales for the day. I've very grateful for each one of them.)

It took Wild Montana Sky (priced at .99) four and a half weeks to first hit 100, and Starry Montana Sky (2.99) four months (and it only happened once. It's been close, but not over 100 since.)

The sales pattern has also told me that I have readers who read the first two books in the months before Stormy was released, as opposed to reading the all three in the last three weeks. So somehow readers have found it, even though I haven't done anything (besides the last couple of blogs) to publicize the book.

In three weeks, I've made over $3,200 on the book, both because of the sales numbers and the higher price. I've been astonished and excited at how well Stormy is doing. It's definitely made me wish I had already written more books in this series!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Self-Publishing: Earning Back Expenses

Stormy Montana Sky went live on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on January 14th. As of yesterday, January 27th, the book paid for itself. From here on out, it's all profit, except for any money I'll spend on promotion. (So far in self-publishing I've spent almost nothing on promo.)

Here's a breakdown of my expenses:

Editor: $1500.00

Many will look at this and consider this a high amount, and it is. However, my editor, Louella Nelson, has been my writing teacher and was present while the Montana Sky Series was created. Therefore, she knows my books and my writing style (and flaws) inside and out. She does both a content edit AND a copy edit.

Formatter: $50.00

I had a new formatter this time around because my former one isn't doing it anymore. We did go back and forth a few times to get the formatting right. Although there is this one little place where we can't get the extra indents out...

Cover Artist: $75.00

My cover artist for the Montana Sky Series is Delle Jacobs. She's able to take what I tell her I want and create covers that I love. I also receive great feedback about them.

Copyright: $35.00

Although a copyright isn't necessary for self-publishing, I think it's a wise thing to do.

Total: $1660.00

As of last night, I'd sold 649 copies at $3.99, and I'm very grateful for everyone's who's bought my books.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Checking In

I've had a crazy busy week with several corporate crisis/grief cases, preparing Stormy Montana Sky for self-publishing, and involvement with my local writers organization. So I'm too tired to write a blog. However, I did want to say that Stormy is live as of last night. I went to bed and it wasn't live and woke up to five sales. How cool is that!

I have some great news about the Montana Sky Series, but I'm going to wait to reveal it until all the details are finalized.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Sales Numbers and Other Thoughts

Happy New Year to all my blog readers!

What a difference a year makes! Last January 1, I'd hadn't even considered self-publishing. In fact, I had a negative view of self-published books. I was deep the process of writing my nonfiction (traditionally published) book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving. At this point in the process, I'd had my two sample chapters accepted by my editor and was looking at writing 18 more in the next two and a half months. I had secret doubts that I'd be able to write a GOOD book by the deadline. I used every motivational trick I knew to keep myself positive and on track. It was the one of the most difficult things I'd ever done. But the book is out now, and I'm getting stellar reviews, so it was all worth it!

Around February, Delle Jacobs posted her monthly self-published sales numbers to our group of friends. I was blown away. I made a mental note to self-publish my novels (that two agents hadn't been able to sell) and wished I wasn't buried in the grief book so I could do it now. Once the grief book was turned in, I knew I had two weeks before my editor would get the revisions back to me. So I did a read through of each of my two fiction manuscripts, paid Delle to
do my covers, made a 10 minute attempt to format the first book, Wild Montana Sky, before giving up and paying someone to do it for me.

Wild Montana Sky went live on the evening of April 28, and the next day, Starry Montana Sky followed. Of course I had hopes for some sales, but I never dreamed that they'd catch on and I'd sell so well: 27,069 (Wild Montana Sky) and 10,207 (Starry Montana Sky) for the year. These numbers are a combination of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. There are probably another 100 or so sales through Smashwords, which reports quarterly. (Monthly numbers below.)

I've been flabbergasted, excited, and humbled at the success of these two sweet historical Westerns. After the grief revisions were done, I began working on Stormy Montana Sky (which I'd begun in 2004 and stopped writing after 50 pages.)

I became a self-publishing cheerleader, speaking to my chaptermates and writing this blog because I wanted other writers to know they had other options besides traditional publishing. I also began preparing the first two
books in my fantasy romance trilogy for publication.
Sower of Dreams went live on July 31 (799 sales) and Reaper of Dreams followed on August 7 (243 sales.) As you can see, they didn't take off like the Westerns did, but they are selling steadily at about 100 and 50 a month. The covers are by Lex Valentine. They've paid for themselves by this point.

I'm waiting for Stormy Montana Sky to return from my copyeditors, and then it will need to be formatted. Hopefully, the book will be available in a week.

In the meantime, I decided to self-publish my Romantic Space Opera, Lywin's Quest, (a 2005 Golden Heart Finalist.) I hesitated to self-publish it because it's EPIC at 140,000 words and the next two books in the trilogy are going to be a lot of work. Look for it
in a few days. I'm experimenting at the higher price of $5.99.

Here's the breakdown by month:


WMS 11 (.99)

SMS 5 ($2.99)


WMS 479

SMS 106


WMS 2454

SMS 638


WMS 5085

SMS 1842

SOD 3 (July 31)


WMS 5106

SMS 2180

SOD 97 (.99)

ROD 45 (Aug 7) ($2.99)


WMS 4348

SMS 1733

SOD 104

ROD 44


WMS 3975

SMS 1445

SOD 104

ROD 47


WMS 2386

SMS 1047

SOD 119

ROD 57


WMS 3232

SMS 1227

SOD 129

ROD 50


WMS 27,069

SMS 10,207

SERIES 37,272

SOD 556

ROD 243


During this time, I've done very little promotion. I've written some blogs and done some guest blogs. I've requested reviews from about 10 review sites and the books have been favorable reviewed by all those who said yes. I had a brief pop of sales in October from Pixel of Ink picking up the book. If you look back through my blogs over the last six months, you can read about other things I think work.

Barnes & Noble sells very few of my books in comparison to Amazon. I'm frustrated with that company because there's so much more they could do to improve sales for all their authors. (But that's another blog post.) However, in adding up the numbers for this blog, I was able to see how the consistent (although small) sales can add up over time.

I'm more grateful than I can express to all the readers who bought my book and to the authors who led the way on the path of self-publishing and to those who continue to support and educate me.

I hope you are all taking the time to reflect on the coming year and what you can do to make it the best year ever! Best of luck with keeping all your New Year's resolutions. Here's to a wonderful, healthy, and prosperous 2012!