Thursday, July 31, 2008

An evening wasted is a calorie retained...

...perhaps with a few more added to keep the first one company.

I'd feel better about myself as an acquisitions editor if I had just slightly altered the way I do things. Anything to remove one ounce of stress from my shoulders helps. Once a week I read submissions to Phaze - had I more time, I could add a day to that schedule and whittle the queue down to a manageable number. Alas, the pile is a bit slushy but I have a nice pair of waders, and do my best to keep turnaround to about 60 days. Believe you me, this is pretty good for most publishers, when you consider some NY houses can take up to a year getting back to you on works. I could swear it's been ten years and counting with some places on a mystery manuscript that has since been published and taken out of print. Or maybe it was rejected, who can remember?

So this is my procedure for reading potential Phaze works:

1) I read the work. Usually I can tell right away if the work suits our house. I've heard some authors' frustration with certain houses rejecting their books because the hero and heroine weren't screwing by paragraph twelve - that's not a dealbreaker with us, but I do look for a certain amount of sexual tension and activity. The story also needs to draw me further, too, and make me want to read more. What is challenging here is that I have to look at the book two ways - as an editor and as a third-party reader.

As an editor, is this book going to require a huge chunk of my time to polish? Is the first chapter so riddled with errors that I'm wondering if the author didn't proof it before sending it over? What does that tell me about the author's willingness to work at completing a salable product?

As a reader who has purchased previous books from the house, is this something that would interest me? Are the characters likeable, and is the subject matter to my liking? Is the sex hot and emotional, passionate and real?

Sometimes a book will not pass the test, and I must unfortunately say no. Hurts to do it - I've had it done to me and it's not fun. It's why I try not to send rejects on holidays, which are normally good days for me to read. Who wants a day off spoiled like that?

2) When I read a book I think I'd like to contract, I Google the author to study the depth of his/her online exposure. Is there a website (surprisingly, sometimes there isn't), blog, MySpace, Facebook, etc.? Are they published elsewhere? Yes, some authors do send supporting information, but it is at the sites of other publishers where I can find supplemental clues to the potential they can bring to us. Are they listed among the bestsellers with their pubs, with Fictionwise, etc.? Now, if they are not, it doesn't mean I'll pass on the work. I just like to have a good idea about the author who may become a part of this house, and how we can mutually contribute to each other's success.

Now, the reason for this post: Sometimes I'll look up an author and discover the very book I've read has been contracted elsewhere...and I have no record of the author e-mailing me to let me know. It's a slap in the face to learn I spent time reading and evaluating a work that is no longer available to me. My time is precious. Since taking on publisher duties, I have had to sacrifice my own personal writing time to build this house. Depending on the length of a work, I could invest several hours reading and deciding if I want it. To discover that time is wasted makes me very upset - I could have used that time editing a contracted work, fixing our website, or working on my own book.

I don't know if this bothers the authors in question who do not, or forget to, extend the courtesy of informing other publishers their works are taken, but consider this: some publishers have long memories. Were you to submit again, do you think we won't take that into consideration? Also, when your previous book is released, do you think I'll buy it? I don't have to, I read it for free!

I admit, I could research authors before reading the submissions, but it's not a guarantee things like this will cease. Some authors may remain mum about announcements, or perhaps I might not find anything on the author to know what's happening. All I request of authors is that if you submit something to me that is simulataneously sent elsewhere, let me know if you accept another contract before I contact you. You will save me time and energy, and I need both very badly. Don't think, either, that if you write to withdraw a work that it means I'm going to write you off for good. You might be surprised.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Excitable girl, they all said

A response came back on Excitable Gals from a publisher - a renowned house in romance circles. Outlook appears to be positive, but as I had anticipated there is concern about taking on a reprint from a non-house author. Do I have anything new, I'm asked. Well, there is an M/M novella in progress that, while not related to past works, features a minor character from Surveillance. The character maintains a minor role as a go-between for the two heroes in the tale, and might even reference some Dareville folks given the themes in the story. However, I don't anticipate finishing it immediately, but it appears I might have to.

I don't mind, I prefer to clear the inbox as much as possible, but I still have to work on Daringly Delicious which has a set deadline, and I really want to get back to work on my mystery. Then again, doors like this don't open every day.

So I will tread cautiously and see what options are available to me after RWA, which is when I should expect to hear more. In the meantime, a bit of Hawaiian chocolate will calm the nerves.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Today's Chocolate

Today's chocolate is the Vosges d'Oliva Bar - 33% cocoa butter white chocolate (single origin Venezuala) with kalamata olives. I love white chocolate, if it's done with the right consistency of cocoa butter so as to taste creamy without being too sweet. I also love kalamatas, the salty tang and chewy texture of the skin. I could pop them like grapes. So it should be no surprise that I've been looking to try this Vosges variety. I about shrieked with joy when I found the bar at Biagio in DC.

The texture of the bar has a nice sheen to it, and the buttery aroma releases nicely - not too pungent or sweet. Kalamata bits are speckled throughout - from a distance one might think it a cookies and cream bar, of course the first bite tells a different flavor. The kalamata is generously spread, providing the right amount of saline flavor to complement the cocoa butter. It's not an overpowering olive taste, either, and it doesn't linger. It will make you thirsty, however.

This is the only white bar in The Stash right now. For the sake of comparison I'll have to pick up an Endangered Species white from the bookstore on campus, or maybe see if the Heritage store has anything good. An organic white would be very interesting to try.

Monday, July 28, 2008

That kind of day

With apologies to Snoopy:

I feel ev'ry now and then
That I gotta bite someone.
I know ev'ry now and then what I wanna be.
A fierce jungle animal crouched on the limb
Of a tree
I'd stay very very still

Till I see a victim come.
I'd wait knowing very well ev'ry second counts.
And then like the fierce jungle creature I am
I would pounce!
I'd pounce!

I'd punce!

You know, I never realized it was so far down to the ground from up here.

More later.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Today's Chocolate

Today's chocolate is a good sized portion of Charles Chocolate 65% bittersweet with mocha java pieces. I've had this bar for a while, and have sadly neglected it. On opening, I noticed it had tempered at the ends. If you have a bar you've not touched in a while and notice lighter brown streaks, that is the cocoa butter separating from the sugar, I believe. Whatever it is, you don't want it to happen. Whether the tempering has affected the flavor of the chocolate I can't say - the chocolate isn't very bitter, but the large bits of coffee bean are enough of a distraction to take away from any damage to the taste. To be honest, I needed this earlier in the day when I was about to doze off from sitting in this temperature-impaired office.

Of course, now I'm worried about The Stash, and if tempering stands to threaten anymore of my goodies. If so, I may have to start taking home bars on the weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Red lines, dead ends

We have quite earth-shattering news forthcoming from the kingdom of Phaze (nothing bad, sorry to scare or disappoint, depending on what you think of us), but hopefully it's something that will shake things up a bit for the better.

A not-so-flattering review of a Phaze title crossed my radar today. If this job has given me anything, it's the ability to grow thicker skin. Not that I'm pleased to read meh reactions to our books, and hopefully this won't be an ongoing series of events, but I do take every bit of criticism received into serious consideration. Whether or not I can quickly implement changes is still an ongoing concern, but rest assured I am not the type of publisher to engage in public hissyfits. Not everybody is going to like everything, and not everything is perfect, but I can promise you I do my damnedest to beat the odds.

For the most part, I choose to remain silent on certain issues not because I'm uncaring or uninterested, but because I am trying my best to minimize ensuing Internet drama. It's much easier to tackle any problems within an organization with a clear head and on a smooth schedule than waste time bantering on blogs and digging deeper holes. If I get an e-mail from an unsatisfied reader, I don't pout or sniff, I do something to prevent another e-mail. I don't let criticism get me down, either. Neither should any author or editor. Some critics hated Star Wars and Titanic - not that I am comparing my books to these things, but I mention it to illustrate the diversity of tastes in this world.

I can pout that a reader didn't like one title, or I can pick myself up and make sure the next title out is better. The latter sounds like a more satisfying proposition.

Enough of the soapbox now. :)

One of the four publishers I queried requested a full on Excitable Gals. I'm curious to see where the process leads. It's been about 1-2 years since I submitted a work - that was Love's DoMINion to Liquid Silver - and it feels strange to be back in this territory. That I'm submitting work while acting as a publisher is odder. A part of me feels like I'm an unfaithful wife, yet I know eventually I will return to mystery writing and then I'll have no choice but to place my work elsewhere. Well, we shall see.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To Twit, to wit

Twitter will be the death of me. It isn't enough that my days are filled with work, child, husband, edits, formats, publishing, authors, readers that I barely have time to write. Now I twit, or tweet, whatever it's called, and it's taking time away from stories that need to be finished and started.

As it stands now, I am about six thousand words into Daringly Delicious. I suspect it will end up being around ten, so another $2 short from me. Daring Red, I plan to be longer and a bit more complex, as the story centers around multiple characters. Dare Devils may be category length, I'll try for it anyway. Somewhere in the midst of this, I have to make room for my long-neglected mystery, the working title of which is Lerxst in Wonderland. More on that later

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thank you for being a friend

Very saddened to hear the actress Estelle Getty has passed away. I grew up on The Golden Girls, and it may sound strange to hear it, but I identified with Sophia. Yeah, how does a teenager identify with an octogenarian fictional character? It's hard to explain. I'm of Sicilian descent, and grew up around Sophias for much of my youth. She reminded me so much of my grandmother and great-grandmother - the speech, the mannerisms...everything from dismissive hand gestures to stories of the old country to some incredible ziti and zucchini. Years later, my husband and I would watch reruns and laugh the exchanges between Dorothy and Sophia.

Once Malc turned to me and said, "That's you and your mother in about twenty years." God, I hope so. And I hope in fifty years that's me and Geneva.

God rest you, Estelle. Thanks for the laughs.

Of Chocolate and eBooks

Per my previous blog about Biagio Fine Chocolate of Washington, DC, I submit the latest additions to the Stash. Pay attention, there might be a quiz.

Waialua Estate 70% Dark 5-Pack - Grown in Hawaii, made by E. Guittard of San Francisco, and distributed by Dole. This is the only single-origin chocolate to come from American soil, and you can buy these .35 ounce slivers (each stamped with a gorgeous design - I'll be sure to take a picture before I eat them all) in a pack for about $7.50 at Biagio. Online prices may vary.

The gentleman at Biagio recommended Waialua for a nice dark experience, and suggested we might detect a faint pineapple finish. Well, the chocolate itself is just amazing, flavor-rich with hints of red berry - maybe a bit of currant or raspberry, too - but if I hold the taste long enough there is the smallest clue of citrus there. I'm enjoying this now and wishing I had a nice glass of red to go with it.

Vosges Naga Bar 41% Mini-Bar - Sweet Indian curry powder and coconut flakes in deep milk. These go for about $2.50 online and in stores, I think that was the price we paid. The aroma of curry is very evident on peeling back the sealed foil. Flecks of coconut are just visible in the medium brown bar, which is stamped ethereal. Good description of the taste, too. The curry lends a flavorful spice that well complements the sweet of the chocolate, while the coconut provides a nice accompanying background taste. Very smooth with a pleasant milk finish. Of the Vosges I've tried so far, this is the one to beat.

Ithaca Fine Chocolates Art Bar: Dark with Hazelnuts - Actually purchased at Teaism for close to $2-3. Ithaca prides themselves on being the first American chocolate company to offer fair trade organic chocolate.

Kshocolat Orange and Cardamom (72% dark) - A Scottish chocolatier. I keep hearing Mike Myers' Scottish character in my head when I look at these bars. If it's not from Scotland, it's crap! I guess we'll soon find out, eh? These go for about $4-5.

Kshocolat Honeycomb and Vanilla (Milk) - See above.

Vosges d'Oliva Bar (white) - At last, we found the elusive white chocolate/kalamata olive bar. I can't wait to tuck into this one. I liked, too, that we only had to pay $6 for this one. I've seen Vosges near me go for as high as $9 a bar. Of course, Biagio had more expensive bars than that. One customer ahead of us paid $12 for a single-origin Ecuadorian bar.

Which brings me how this post relates, in some way, to eBooks. For years now, people have argued about the ideal price to put on something that is, technically, intangible. Yes, eBooks are books in that they provide information and/or entertainment, can be catalogued with ISBN numbers, and are distributed through major retailers like Companies like Sony are involved in the industry by providing handheld readers for eBooks, and publishers like Harlequin and Kensington have recently come to see the value in offering eBooks for sale.

Yet, there is still the price issue. Phaze Books range in price from $2 - $7, and I'll tell you now the $7 tag may be going away soon. (More on that later) This is about standard for other ePublishers on our level. Major NY pubs with eBook options may offer books at the regular hardcover price, with books ranging from $9.99 to as high as $24.95. A reader faced with the choice between a tangible book that sits on a shelf as opposed to an eBook which a critic might liken to "air", one might expect the reader to choose the former. To pay twenty-five bucks, one will want proof of it, and a book does just that.

Well, I ponder this, and then I think about my trip to the chocolate shop. I saw chocolates that started at $2 for one bar, and others that cost much, much more. The aforementioned customer who bought the $12 chocolate originally thought he only had to pay six - turns out he read the wrong tag on the shelf. Even so, he paid the $12 anyway because he knew what he was getting. The shop clerk told us that, even though they do their best to keep the prices down, customers don't blink at the price tags. When somebody pays $12 for a top-ranked single-origin Bolivian bar, he knows he is getting a quality chocolate.

Now, what do you do with a $12 chocolate bar? You eat it. Can't keep it too long or the chocolate will temper. Once you do eat it, though, it's gone. It doesn't come back.

Pay $6 for an eBook. Read it. Guess what? It's still there. You can save it to a disk or flash drive, return to it, and enjoy it again if you wish. Same with the $24.95 eBook. It is also virtual space that doesn't clutter your living room.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make here is that price doesn't necessarily have to be an issue when it comes to buying eBooks. Personally, I don't intend to raise prices on ours - we did once before and actually saw an increase in sales. Cost shouldn't have to be a deterrant when enjoying a good book...assuming you have the money for it. It's a tight economy here, yes, but I believe it will get better. So will the books and the chocolate.

We have a winner!

Congrats to A.Y., winner of the July drawing! A. gets the Lindt certificate and a free download.

Don't worry if you weren't picked. I have an August drawing coming up in...well, August.

Friday, July 18, 2008

New and Improved Dareville book trailer

As part of my advertising package with The Romance Studio, I get ad space for a book trailer. The Dareville trailer I've had on YouTube needed updating, so it's been lengthened to include the updated cover for Double Dare, and the covers for Dare to Dream, Daringly Delicious, and Daring Red. I figure it should me until the next wave of stories.

Some notes on the video: some pictures are royalty-free stock, except for the tree-lined street (which I took in Lompoc, California) and the house (which is a friend's house in San Francisco). I included them to enhance the small-town feel of Dareville. When I think of the setting, a more inland locale in Hampton Roads comes to mind, something like Surry or Smithfield. Next time I get to that area I'll take more pics to enhance the "travel guide" I'm working on.

The song, "Defenseless," was written and recorded by another friend and his now former music partner. Several months ago I'd dabbled in lyric writing, and this friend set one song to music. In the meantime, he let me listen to "Defenseless" and I just fell in love with it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Focus spelled backwards is "suck off"

Many years ago when I worked a corporate job for a southern US media giant, I attended a marketing retreat with other managers and marketing folk in the Internet branch. A guest speaker named Laura Ries spoke to us about the need for focus in business, and how companies that lose their focus and try to do a hundred different things at once tend to fail. Case in point: Toys R' Us. They did well just with the toys, but when they branched into satellite clothing and speciality stores Babies R' Us and Kids R' Us they lost their focus and their foothold. That's why you saw so many Babies R' Us stores closing over the last decade.

Laura spoke and we applauded politely, and after she left a few people sniggered. Oh, we'll be fine, our web portals are going to be everything to everybody in our respective markets. Focus, schmocus.

Four years later, our parent company decided to focus on print and TV, and lopped off a good chunk of the Internet branch, including moi. Meanwhile, Laura Ries is still doing her thing.

The point of this story? Focus is indeed important in every aspect of business, including promotion. As an author, I must make it a point to make sure my book is exposed to as many people in my target audience as possible. Now, there are two different way I can achieve this:

A) I can spread myself over a wide range of Yahoo lists, social networks, and other message boards promoting my work, or

B) I can keep to one or two places and devote the bulk of my promotion there

I couldn't tell you which answer is correct. I can tell you that Laura Ries had a point when she spoke to my company. To find success, you must find your focus and keep to it. Focus can work in writing, but for this post I will concentrate on promotion, since I have pretty much decided to maintain a focus on the books I plan to write.

So let's consider this an experiment of sorts to see how well I do. I will limit promotion to The Romance Studio, where I have a membership, this blog, and will contribute to RT BookClub ads where applicable. Yet, I will do more promotion at these places. If I detect improvement in my sales, I will report it here.

And hopefully I won't suck off.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stephen Colbert's mind is not for rent...

...but his studio is wide open. Rush is performing on The Colbert Report tonight. First time in 30 years they will be on TV! So much for a night of editing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Because I don't know if I'll see this again.

A watched book never sells...

...or does it? Why, Why, Zed? is up on Fictionwise this week - you can get it here for a discounted price. I must confess I'm a chart watcher, always checking the Phaze list there to see what is doing well for the week, and imagine my surprise to see YYZ at number one. Of course, as I have access to the back end of the site, I have a better idea than most about actual sales - when they are updated. A book can be tops on their publisher's list, yet the numbers reveal single digits. I won't be able to glean true success from Fictionwise until the end of the month, at least.

One author's success, too, is another's middling meh, and yet another's utter failure. In my exploration of writing sites and boards, there is a natural and expected concern for how much an author can stand to earn in royalties for a book. You will find some sites offer estimated sales figures per various eBook publishers, while others tackle averages for print houses. If you plan to make writing your career, it helps to go in with an idea for where to submit first. From what I have gleaned in my travels, I suppose it is safe to say the following:
  • Some authors published with ePubs are averaging 100-200 sales of a title in the first month of release
  • Some authors publisher with the more popular ePubs are averaging even higher sales in the first month of release
  • Some authors average close to 1-2K copies sold of one title within the first year (pretty good, since it is the common belief that the average number of overall sales hovers around 500 units.

I won't reveal my own numbers, but I will let you know that I fall into the first and third categories with two different ePubs, and this is figuring eBook sales combined with print. I know of some ePublishers that had a "hall of fame" of sorts where they would recognize titles that reached a certain sales milestone - presumably this is done to motivate others, but I don't know if it's something I would do because, honestly, authors promote in different ways. What a bestseller is doing for promotion might not work for everybody else. And, one must also consider that even in the higher echelon publishers, there will be dud sellers.

Now, I'm not discouraging authors from research publishers with regards to author sales. It is important to know, if you are considering a publisher, how well it performs overall in terms of sales and distribution. Just remember that if you learn an author at Spiffy eBooks sells 500 of one title a month, doesn't mean you will. I am only returning to the dance of submission and rejection/acceptance, and while I am targeting a few higher-end houses, I am more concerned for my book's potential performance rather than those of other authors. Not everybody at Stephen King's house gets the money he gets - it's a nice number to aim for, but I have to do it.

With this in mind, the author will want to place his/her work where it stands the best chance of selling well. Naturally in eBookdom you'll hear the same 4-5 houses recommended over and again. Good places to start - your name attached to a reputable house will garner some attention from readers. However, if a reader has in mind a particular book or genre to buy, you want to be sure your name, cover, and title are within sight.

Do you write a specific genre - M/M, interracial, vampire? You might find Spiffy eBooks, while popular with readers, can't seem to corner your specific market. They come for the hot westerns and romantic comedies, but M/M falls flat. Does it mean you should skip them in the submission process? Not necessarily. You might find, if you are accepted, that you have the opportunity to carve that niche with the house. You may find, too, your chances of being published with Up-and-Comer eBooks are higher if you write a genre that does well for them.

If your target ePubs list monthly top sellers, study the lists. See what is selling month after month. Do you see a theme? If it matches your style, it would be worth a look if you think you can attract readers.

I'll say this, of course, and add my own caveat that pubbing a hot genre with any house isn't always a golden ticket. I've seen it at my own house, where we have released works in our biggest genres that didn't do anything. The waltz continues, with dance cards falling to the floor like puzzle pieces. I'm still collecting them, trying to figure out the whole picture. If I find the answer I'll let you know. In the meantime, you can read Why, Why, Zed? while you wait.

Romance Junkies

I was guest blogger at Romance Junkies today. Mostly information you've read here, but here it is.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's raining men?

I may end up appealing to Phaze's art director for assistance on this one. I have the concept for Daring Red, which is moving slowly along. Want to finish Daringly Delicious before I get any further with this one, though both stories are set concurrently. Red is the wholly M/M Dareville work, and will focus on the other Marbury brother and an old friend from Truth or Dare, Jared. You'll see some of Jared in Dare to Dream, and this story will also feature some backstory when our friends were preparing for college. Kind of like The Wonder Years, only everybody's legal and there's condoms.

Anyway, I want the cover to convey the difference in the two heroes. Where Red is an uptight businessman, proper and impeccably trimmed, Jared is laid back and casual. Red represents old media (he owns a newspaper) and Jared is new (he's a web genius). I got the idea, interestingly enough, from this cover:

In Her Day was one of Rita's early works, in my opinion a disappointing follow-up to Rubyfruit Jungle but not a bad story. The back cover bills it as a "lost treasure," revived presumably to capitalize on Rita's overall success - the way these old Janet Evanovich romances keep popping up. The protagonists, IIRC, are an older professor and a young waitress who enter into a tenuous romance. Throughout the book you're wondering what do they see in each other to make it so far, and if you're like me you might be satisfied (and not surprised) by the ending. I may have to pick up this one again to reacquaint myself with it.

As for Daring Red, the ending will be much happier, hopefully enough to please all the Dareville readers and M/M lovers out there. More later.

Chocolate Frosted Backlash

Today's Chocolate

This week I cracked open one of the many Endangered Species bars I have in the stash. This would be the Rhino bar - 70% cacao dark with hazelnut toffee bit. I do mean bits, they are quite tiny and don't offer too pungent an aroma or flavor against the richness of the single-origin chocolate. Maybe it's because I've had this bar a while, too, but I don't detect the sheen I'm used to seeing with darker bars. In a three ounce bar divided into fifteen pillows, there is an ease in breaking and a satisfying snap with each bite. Ten percent of net profits from sales of these bar go to help various species and habitat causes, so it does alleviate some of the guilt of a sinfully delicious snack.

Frosted Hearts, Sweet Backlash, Green Clovers, and Blue Diamonds

New stuff at Phaze this week. Frosted Hearts is Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks' sequel to Collared Hearts, a seasonally delightful story re-pairing two artistic lovers with an eye for color and kink. Sweet Backlash is an ambitious story by a newcomer to erotic romance, Violet Heart. Imagine walking into the wrong place at the wrong time, and everything turns out all right. That's how Chip sees it when he unexpectedly becomes Melony's new slave.

Also, Unexpected Connections is the latest in print from Jade Falconer. This is a collection of all their top contemporary shorts, including the Fictionwise bestseller Cold Hands, Warm... among others. I guess you could say it's Kink Week here at the Starlight Lounge, since this collection has a few mild BDSM themes to it as well.

Be on the lookout for my blog tomorrow at Romance Junkies. I'll talk a bit about Why, Why Zed? and maybe you'll get a surprise for visiting. Also, I received a nice review for YYZ from Rainbow Reviews, so be sure to check that out. Daringly Delicious is in the home stretch now, I hope to complete it by tonight or this week, barring more distractions.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Edgar Cayce

Today's thought came to my inbox this morning, worth sharing:

But the less one thinks of self's opinions, and the better listener one becomes, greater may be the opportunities for being of help or benefit to those about the entity.

Edgar Cayce Reading 2612-1

In other words: mouth shut and ears opens, and you'll be more valuable.

I find words like this can be applied to the work I do at Phaze. A good percentage of that work involves listening to authors and readers with concerns. I've done quite a bit of listening over the last two years, and as result have made changes which I hope did us some benefit. If you've been following us, you know our website design has changed a bit - a few times - so that we look more like an online publisher. It will very likely change in the future because I want the buying process to be as simple as possible to more readers. This may involve bringing in a new cart, which I dread because of the time and work involved. Switching to King Cart wasn't so bad when we didn't have so many titles. As we grow, so will the work load. Joy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How do you like it, how do you like it?

Score one for Debi, the multi-talented Phaze art director! I had the concept for More, More, More! - our upcoming BBW anthology - but couldn't quite execute it myself. She took what I had in mind and did an awesome job.

This will be an exclusive print featuring two of our biggest (no pun intended) eBook sellers: Sammie Jo's Diet Another Day and Meg's Devil's Night, along with Daringly Delicious and Vick's upcoming Christmas Cake. BBW titles are among our more popular, and I'd love to see more sent over to us for consideration.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Today's Chocolate

After a few days of repeats, I broke into my E. Guittard single-origin 61% Tsaratana bar. This is semisweet, and I can readily detect it on the palate. It misses the sharper tang of darker chocolate and the cream texture of light milks, but the flavor is remarkable and mild at the same time. I don't feel overwhelmed by aroma or flavor here - the taste seems to stay only as you eat, than fades into a nice memory rather than leave a sticky aftertaste. So, it's a bar to enjoy in the moment. Perhaps with the next giveaway I'll offer up some of these bars as the prize.

You have entered the Chocolate Giveaway, right? Deadline is July 20. Don't delay in sending an e-mail entry form or commenting on the blog.

When the Muse calls

In an earlier post I mentioned my standalone novel with Phaze, called Muse. I don't think any of us need to see the cover again.

Here's a little history about the book: I actually started on Muse before I began the first Dareville story. It was the spring of 2004 and I was pregnant and nauseous and fighting writer's block. I couldn't tell you exactly how the original story idea came about, but I had been reading a number of historical fantasy romances at the time, and eventually the image of a beta hero came to mind. I saw him constantly in my thoughts, this long, lanky farmer adopted into a well-to-do household of three daughters. He was a gentle man, a confidant to his master, and deeply in love with the youngest. The daughters were well off enough to marry rich men, but the youngest returned his feelings despite the difference in age.

He even had a name: Boone. I don't know if it was his first or last, but that's what I called him, and for weeks I'd sit in the back room of our cramped condo on the bay, Traffic's Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys playing over and over in my Windows Media Player, typing snatches of Boone's story. There would be conflict - for a young woman of means to marry a peasant in this world I created was unheard of, and there would be retaliation from spurned suitors, commentary from jealous sisters.

But as I wrote, I kept hitting walls. This made no sense, and neither did that. Yet Boone wanted his story told, and I couldn't tell it just yet. I shelved it, then Truth of Dare got my attention and I wrote that. In the back of my mind, though, I yearned for Boone. At one point it got so frustrating that I ended up writing in a different direction. I wrote about a writer, trying to tell a story. As I progressed, that writer became Tania, and her story became Boone's. I wrote of her frustration for telling a story, and about a handsome neighbor who moves in below her, and inspires her to write more. His name? Boone.

Before I realized it, I had a 90K word novel which combined the original book with a book about writing the book. Some writers talk about having a book of the heart. This was the book of my womb, since I was mostly pregnant through writing it. In the beginning it was not erotic, just heavy sensual. I think it should have remained heavy, but I suppose the condition of the market pressured me into heating it up at bit. Cerridwen Press had turned it down on the basis that they were oversaturated with contemporaries at the time, and Tigress Press held onto it, and held onto it and eventually stopped answering my follow-up queries. By this time I had a foot in the door with Phaze, and my editor loved it enough to contract. However...

She wanted to pare down the instances of the book within the book. That bothered me, because to me the original historical fantasy aspect of Boone was the story. It was what kept the contemporary heroine motivated enough to keep writing. My editor's suggestion was to pare down those passages and create a second book with them. Reluctantly, because I wanted to see the book out, I agreed. It was difficult to do, however, and at times I question the logic of editing what would become Muse.

Then there was the debacle with the cover. The editor, also my cover artist, couldn't quite grapple a good concept for it. I actually didn't see the finished product until I met her at a booksigning in Virginia Beach and she handed me the discs of the finished product. By this time I was just so happy to have the story out that I didn't care anymore. I promoted by heart out, and was greatly surprised when the month's reports came back.

Truth or Dare and Dare Me, both out by this time, did extremely well. Muse did not. I couldn't understand it. All three came from the same house, featured the same humourous style on which readers complimented me, and I equally promoted all three. Was it because Muse was not a Dareville story? Was it the cover? Was the level of sensuality uneven due to my attempts to heat up the book? I still ask these questions three years later, now that the expiration of this contract is looming. The "sequel" book, which I would have called Boone, should have been written by now, but in truth my heart isn't in it to finish. Sales of Muse don't inspire a sequel, and I do feel the Boone parts I cut should be in the first big book.

So what do I do? Pull Muse, restore the cut passages, and republish? Do I do it through Phaze, or go somewhere else? Do I leave Muse to languish? Do I just slap a new cover on it and hope for the best? Is it going to look like self-indulgence if I do anything to this book? I would eventually like to see it in print, but it won't happen through Phaze. The more I think about it, it may be time to let Boone rest in peace, and move forward. Perhaps once again I can revisit him in another incarnation.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Points of Courage

It is what the gals (and guys) of Romance Divas call the baby steps toward publication - the grunt work of crafting queries and partials and making preparations for some serious hoop-jumping. On the board there is a point system involved - you get so many for doing certain things. Not sure what the winner gets at the end of the year, hopefully a contract somewhere nice.

Because I am only coming back into writing mode, I opted out but am now playing silently along. Keeping to my promise to write only Dareville for Phaze going forward, I will attempt to nurture my writing career with other houses. As I progress, I'll keep records here.

I am submitting work again, so far to four publishers. As I hear - positive or no - I'll reveal them. Hopefully good news first. :)

Equal Time

I dearly need to pound the virtual pavement to plug Why, Why, Zed?, yet duties as a publisher compel me to give equal props to the other wonderful releases at Phaze this week. It is a rather diverse collection of titles in terms of length, from the super short to the epic novel. Fantasy, contemporary, and anthology are the topics of the week as we introduce the latest additions to the catalog:

A Change of Pace - Michelle Houston: Michelle is perhaps one of our most prolific authors. Her diversity shows in the selection she has with Phaze - stories range from hard F/F science fiction to mythology/contemporary mash-ups, to simple reunion romance. Change represents the last - it is a short-short about a woman bored with her routine, looking to shake things up a bit. An unscheduled stop by a police officer for speeding seems to be the ticket to changing everything.

Seasons of Blisse - Victoria Blisse: I had a similar idea for the Dareville universe - a collection of short erotic works, each set on a different holiday and season. While Victoria beat me to it (and did it rather well, you'll have to check out the Halloween stories for some chillingly delicious romance), I might revisit the project later. For now, this is a great collection celebrating the change in seasons, in passions, for women of all sizes.

Last Chance for Love- Brenna Lyons: Fans of the Kegin series by Brenna will be happy to know it is coming back in style. This is an epic story to keep you enthralled for a while, but don't worry if you go through it too quickly. There are more stories coming soon after it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Who Wants Chocolate????

To celebrate the release of Why, Why, Zed?, my latest M/M short from Phaze Books, I'm having a free drawing! Winner receives one download of any of my books with Phaze, Samhain, or Liquid Silver Books, and an online gift certificate to Lindt Chocolates.

To enter, just drop an email at kspatwriter (at) yahoo (dot) com with the subject JULY DRAWING, or if you have a Blogger profile you can leave a comment on this post. Deadline to enter is July 20 and winner will be drawn on the 21st. 18 and older, please. Good luck!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Now Available - Why, Why, Zed?

I'm pleased to announce my first original work in nearly a year is now for sale through Phaze Books! Why, Why, Zed? is part of the Urban Phaze lines, stories set in big cities with big passions, and mine is Toronto. Books usually go up for sale late Saturday, but I finagled an early buy link just for you lucky ducks. Click here to order this sizzling M/M short for only $2.

And while you're here, how about an excerpt?

A cryptic phone call to Cameron "Zed" Zedmore's cell reveals a plot to steal away Zed's live-in love, Nick. Devestating the thought of infidelity is, Zed realizes he can't blame Nick for being tempted to stray, as Zed's work has kept him in the lab, and out of their bed, for long hours.

Nick loves Zed, but isn't crazy about being a "house husband" anymore. He has needs Zed won't meet, and when another friend offers help in that department, Nick is tempted to accept. But then Zed comes home early...

* * * *

Just in time.

Across the living room, through the feathery, fake plant strands in the vase on the back couch table, he could see two heads poking up from the patio loveseat. They bobbed and rolled in the unmistakable synchronous rhythm of an intimate act. Zed detected no other activity beyond that—he couldn't tell if Nick had a hand pressed to Danny's alleged bulge—or vice versa. Were that the case, it would end now.

A pang seized his heart, and he swallowed the bitterness rising in his throat. To see the actual infidelity, or at least the beginnings of it, bothered him more than expected. He didn't think he could stomach the scene had he arrived ten minutes later, assuming progression to something more hardcore would take that long. His first instinct to charge forward, like the lover scorned, faded quickly. His indifference toward the relationship caused this—Zed knew he had no right to be completely angry. He brought this on himself, and it was up to him to make amends.

He backtracked silently to the open front door then guided it forcefully to a foundation-shimmering slam. "Nick?" he called out in question, trying not to sound too eager, "You around?"

He knew, of course, where to look and what to find. Those resting heads, once joined at the lips, had now positioned themselves on opposite ends of the couch. Sotto voce, curses filled the closing gap between him and the patio along with the sound of a foot scraping the concrete—no doubt, a last minute attempt to hide any visual evidence of the pungent smoke filling Zed's nostrils.

At least, it seemed, it was good stuff.

A large, opened bag of tortilla chips rested on Danny's lap. Zed wanted to snicker, thinking of the surprise crinkling the bottom of the bag, inward. Nick crossed his legs tightly and blinked several times, but Zed could tell his lover was clearly riding the high that encouraged his earlier, and potential, behavior.

"Hey, you," Nick's voice cracked with worry. "I didn't expect you back so soon."

"I had a sudden change of heart," Zed said pleasantly. He chose to ignore the lip of the bong, peeking from the ruffled dust skirt of the ottoman, and moved around so he could face the two men. They resembled guilty teenagers with their heads bowed, caught red-handed, red-eyed, and purple-cocked. "Nice day to be sitting outside," he observed, gazing toward the spacious backyard.

"Yeah, I figured you'd be on the course all afternoon," Nick mumbled. "I called you at work when your cell was busy."

"I did too, but on the way there, I decided there are better things I could do with my time." He looked at Danny, narrowing his gaze. "Unfortunately… Danny, is it?" He should have taken more care to know the men Nick chose for friends.

Danny looked away in silent escape, as though affirming his identity might secure some kind of punishment. Finally, a short nod bowed his head.

"Danny, I had hoped to spend some quality time with Nick, alone. I don't mean to be rude."

"Not at all." Danny's response came swiftly, matching his sprightly leap from the love seat. Brushing off tortilla crumbs, he smiled at Nick and made a phone gesture to his ear with his left hand. "See ya."

Yeah, we'll be changing our phone numbers later tonight. Zed only smiled and waved. "Later," he said, a bit too placating. He waited for the front door to slam before turning his gaze on Nick, who cowered and hugged himself for protection. "Why are you sitting like that?"

"Are you going to hit me?" He sounded small and frightened. Had to be the weed enhancing his lover's paranoia, Zed decided. He had never raised a hand to anybody, especially Nick. The mere suggestion made Zed feel guiltier for his recent neglect.

He knelt before Nick and placed a hand on his bouncing knee. "Why would you even think such a thing?" he gently chided. "Have I ever done anything to suggest I could become violent with you?"

"No," Nick said, looking somewhat remorseful for having asked the question. Zed could sense, though, the next words forming on the man's lips. At least if you hit me, you'd be touching me. Wrapping himself in his own concerns at work really had put the burden of loneliness on Nick if negative attention was preferred over none at all.

Zed smoothed the palm of his hand down Nick's bare calf, then back up his thigh, to the cuff of his shorts. His touch left a visible trail of raised flesh and Zed watched the skin quiver. Farther back, the bulge tenting Nick's shorts increased. A few minutes later, that delicious cock might have been in another man's mouth.

Just in time. He'd come home to stop to Nick from making a mistake and to rectify his own.

"I love you, Nick, from the day we met. I'm sorry for shutting you out like I have these last few months."

Nick straightened a bit, his features softening.

Zed squeezed his eyes shut, mentally forcing back his next words. He wouldn't blame any of this on Nick. He wasn't going to ask Nick why he hadn't made his feelings known. Lost in his fog, he wouldn't have noticed any signals from his lover. Most assuredly, Nick had said or done something, but he just didn't acknowledge it.

He would enjoy making up for lost time and see that Nick did the same.

"Let me see that gorgeous body of yours," Zed whispered.

Nick looked unsure of himself at first, as though surprised to hear such a proposition. Zed bit back a laugh when Nick apparently recovered from his shyness and let his shirt slip over his head, flying to one side. The rhythmic rise and fall of Nick's bare chest—tanned and smooth—hypnotized Zed, and his mouth watered at the prospect of taking one of those taut, pebbled nipples between his lips.

"That's all?" he teased. Nick retaliated by easing slowly to his feet and undoing the button and fly of his cutoffs. Off came Nick's underwear then, and Zed was pleased to spy a patch of dark hair concealing Nick's reddening shaft.

"Turn around."
* * * *

Hope you'll pick it up today.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Love is Murder, War is Hell, Food is Good

Many moons ago I applied to be a panelist at Love is Murder, an annual romantic mystery conference held in Chicago. It's an event I've been trying to get to for a while, since my sister lives close by and it seems like a good place for me to hawk the Ronnie Lord books. I applied and had forgotten about it until yesterday when I get a call from one of the organizers inquiring about my interest. So it appears I will be putting in an appearance in Chicago this coming February. I'll pack warm.

I was asked how I heard about the con, and explained my sister tipped me of when she saw some flyers in a local mystery bookshop. I also noted that my sister works for a three-initial government agency, and now they want HER to be a speaker! Taken aback, yes, but then I got to thinking about the great promotional opportunity here. An expert in the field and a publisher looking for such works...we could tour the country in a van!

Heh. Anyway, here is how my 2008-2009 is shaping up:

August 2, 2008 - Mechanicsville, VA - Hanover Book Festival BOOKED

August 29 - Sept 2, 2008 - Atlanta, GA - DragonCon BOOKED

September, 2008 - Norfolk, VA - Town Point Book Festival PLANNING

September 26-28, 2008 - Baltimore, MD - Baltimore Book Festival PLANNING

October 4-5, 2008 - Collingswood, NJ - Collingswood Book Festival CONFIRMED

November 8, 2008 - Williamsburg, VA - Fantasies By the Sea Conference PLANNING

February 6-8, 2009 - Chicago, IL - Love is Murder Conference INVITED

March, 2009 - Las Vegas, NV - EPICon 2009 CONFIRMED

March 12-15, 2009 - Los Angeles, CA - Romance Slam Jam TENTATIVE

April, 2009 - Orlando, FL - Romantic Times Convention PLANNING

April, 2009 - Los Angeles, CA - Romance Slam Jam TENTATIVE

May 28-31, 2009 - New York City - BookExpo PLANNING

I'll attend some as a conferee, some as a guest/publisher. Gonna be a busy year no matter what.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Bestseller Code

Building on my previous post about a fellow author's frustration with promotion, maybe now is a good time to consider what other elements make for a strong-selling book. Naturally, a well-written and polished manuscript is the prime ingredient, but when it comes to selling it you may need to do more than set it up for sale and hope the crowds coming calling.

As a publisher I have witnessed different results with different releases and continue to digest what I have learned. We have published incredible works that bowed to "meh" sales. Of course, I personally think everything with a Phaze logo is wonderful in its own way, yet when I release certain books image certain results (based on what I know of our readership, the author, and the sales period), and some books I think will do modestly exceed those expectations. I try to find a definite answer for the success, however, and find it a challenge to pin it down. So, it must be a number of things that contribute to the whole.

It's the Cover! Once at a Phaze signing I mentioned how one book of ours was doing particularly well, and that I was amazed by the sales. "It's the cover," asserted my art director, who had designed it. She had a point. An attractive cover can fortell of an engaging read, and I have talked to many a reader who claim that covers have prompted them to buy books in the past. Covers have also made for massive megabytes of blog fodder in the "cover snark" category, where everybody gets a turn playing Tom Servo and Crow as the show scrolls the worst in Poser art and used-to-death stock photography. If you've followed Phaze from the beginning, you'll know we didn't start out with photographed artwork. Our main cover artist at the time was skilled in graphic programs and turned out some very nice work, winning an ARIANA in the process. And, there were a few head-scratchers, too, like this one:

The artist agonized over this one. I had the concept in mind, and she tried the couple in various positions before settling on this one. The book's release was in limbo because of the cover, and when it was finished I was surprised when it came out. Muse remains one of my favorite stories, but sadly it's one of my least performing titles. I don't know if the cover played a role in that, or because it wasn't a Dareville story. The contract for Muse expires soon, and I'm thinking about what to do with it. More on that later.

Back to topic: catch the eye with a great cover, that's one number in the combination. Your genre should show on the cover. Interracials should have interracial couples, M/M should have two men, etc. The original cover for The Healing did not have two men, as that was Venus Press' policy. Not a very good one, I must say. I'll also note that the story has done better at Phaze than it did at Venus Press, and I promoted it more through Venus Press! The Phaze cover has two men, so readers have an idea what to expect.

It's the Title! Back in Athens, GA I used to work in the sub-basement of a library, receiving various annuals and subscriptions. The only radio station I could pick up was AM conservative talk radio, so I passed the hours listening to Rush Limbaugh (ech), Dr. Laura (meh), and G. Gordon Liddy. I preferred Liddy, at least he gave a dynamic performance day after day. Anyway, once a caller asked him how he came to title his memoir, Will. Liddy revealed that the publisher came up with the title, because the book was due in a time when books with super short titles were big. Jaws was a prime example. Well, it must have worked, because I understand Will became a bestseller, too.

Titles can be tricky when marketing romance. I think I've seen every combination of Passion, Desire, Pleasure, Seduction, and Sin out there. I have to be careful, too, going over our catalog so I don't inadvertently contract a book with a title that's been used by us - I have had to encourage authors to make changes to avoid confusion.

Me, I prefer shorter titles to sentence-long structures. For one, a shorter title is easier to fit on a cover, and if you are using small graphics on a website you want to be sure the title can be seen. Also, I believe shorter titles are easier to remember than longer ones. Take Barbara Walters' new book. Audition. It's to the point, indicative of the book's material, and you'll remember it long after seeing Barbara talk about it on Larry King. You'll go into your favorite bookstore and ask for a copy of Audition, and you'll get it.

I can relate to this somewhat. Years ago I worked in a bookstore, and at that time a very popular biography of Elizabeth Taylor was out. It was simply called Liz. Not a problem to find when people asked for it. Then we'd have customers who would call to inquire if we had that book about Lindbergh, or was it coconuts, and they heard the title on the radio but caught only two words: And and The. We'd discover the book was called The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Made a Pretty Good Movie But Nobody Saw It Because It Played Against Titanic. While the title is fairly descriptive, it's also as long as the actual book. In short, keep it short, and memorable.

It's a Series! James W. Hall is a best-selling author of crime novels set in South Florida. Similar to Carl Hiaasen's style, but not so much wackiness. He is also a graduate from the college I attended, and we have an English professor in common. While listening to him read at a Jacksonville Beach bookstore many years ago, he shared his experiences in the publishing biz. He had written one book which his agent sold, then was advised to write a sequel because the publisher stood to offer more money if they knew the book was part of a series. I can't recall if Hall did that, but he's done well regardless.

When Dare Me was released it had a respectable first month of sales. Phaze took a while in the beginning to generate buzz, and as we weren't releasing titles on a weekly basis like we are now, it took some work to attract readers. One thing I did notice when I got my first statement was that sales of the first Dareville book, Truth or Dare, improved. Nearly four years after that first book's publication, I can still see how having a series helps my sales. Each subsequent Dareville release stimulates interest in the backlist. People might argue that familiarity breeds contempt - it may be true for books, because even I get burned off of favorite mystery series - but I try to keep Dareville fresh by introducing new characters. Old friends return to visit, but they do not dominate. Dareville is a small town, but there are plenty of stories to tell.

Can you franchise that seemingly standalone book? Give it a try, you may be surprised.

It's the Publisher! Only in genre fiction I think, can authors benefit from a readership following for the publisher. I see it strongest in romance - when I was thirteen, my cousins would trade off grocery bags full of Harlequin and Silhouette novels to read. They liked romance, and they knew these publishers had it. Even now, readers flock to where the action is. I wonder how many buy each week's releases solely because each title has that familar ankh or lizard logo on it. If it's a lot, good for them.

It also puzzles me at times, too, to hear that some readers won't patronize a certain publisher based on an experience with one book. When you consider the diversity of authors, editors, artists, and proofers contained within a publisher, why would one bad apple put off you the entire tree? Now, if the publisher were actively screwing people out of royalties or engaging in dubious practices, I can see that. But why neglect the larger pool of talent based on one experience? I have been disappointed by books - small and large - but I don't see that as a basis for boycotting the people who put it out for sale.

Off track again. You might find in your research of publishers that a few sell exceptionally well. You may study online surveys of book sales among debut authors and backlisters and make decisions from there. Fine and good, it helps to be prepared. However, just because one author is selling well at Great Press doesn't mean you will. Just because an author is not selling well at Small Potato Press doesn't mean you won't. If you want to sell books, one of the best things you can do is not worry about how other authors are selling and concentrate on you. Now, you might read this and think, "Oh, she's just saying this to explain away bad sales." I'm not. Phaze has authors who do very well and authors who could do better. We aren't tooling to booksignings in BMWs just yet, but the year's not over.

It's the Genre! Remember a few years back when it seemed all the big books had Diaries in the title? Nanny Diaries, Princess Diaries, Bridget Jones, yada. A sub-sub-genre was born and soon I was getting submissions written in diary form. Then there was Harry Potter and the Legion of Imitators. Then there was the Something Something Social Dirty Girls Stockbroker's Club fad. Tomorrow, who knows? Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the genres, but knowing what's hot in yours can be helpful in your sales.

Who Knows What it Is? Honestly, who does? I can give you a ton of theories, and they all can be discarded with one upstart bestseller featuring a paper bag for a cover and no title. I'll let you know when I've finished writing it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Free or Not So Free, That is the Question

Today the rights to three of my Midnight Showcase stories return to me: Leading Lady, Excitable, and Blue Eyes. I've been thinking about what to do with them.

Blue Eyes, I think, will be a free read. I must confessed that it was hastily written to satisfy a deadline. At the time of writing I was transitioning to the job of Phaze's publisher, and that cut severely into my writing time. Blue Eyes, unfortunately, suffered as a result, and I was never happy with it. I figured since it was part of a digest maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but looking back I'm sorry I sent that story out when I wasn't 100% about it. So it may stay hidden until I figure out what to do with it.

The first two stories are connected, not quite a series but they feature overlapping characters. Leading is an alternate reality menage (MMF) and Excitable is a werewolf erotic comedy. I've fixed them up a bit and packaged them under one title, Excitable Gals, for submission. So far, it's gone to one publisher for consideration. I've already decided that if I can't place it anywhere, I will offer it for free. Yes, I have the Phaze option, but I'm not going to take advantage of my position there to bring home orphaned works. I've already moved two of my Venus Press titles there - partly because at the time we needed to fill our catalog, and because I hoped those stories would anchor series. The Healing may eventually have a prequel, it's been brewing in my head for a while.

Also, I have a number of new works in the cooker and would rather look ahead than back.