In June, Danielle Barclay of Barclay Publicity was the guest speaker at my RWA Chapter meeting. She talked about how authors can build a strong digital footprint to support their marketing efforts.
Hearing her made me realize it’s time to put on my marketing hat. Before her presentation, I hadn’t given any thought to hiring someone to help publicize the release of my debut novel, The Demon Always Wins, which will release on Amazon on September 1st. I'd figured on a more grassroots approach:
Releasing two more books within six months of my debut to keep myself visible to the Amazon algorithm.
Asking for reviews via my newsletter and my FB author page.
Entering the book in every published-book contest I can find. It did well on the unpublished-book circuit, so getting it in front of potential readers in the form of judges seems like a good way to gain visibility.
Being patient and trusting that my funny, satisfying, off-beat book will gain an audience.
Then I listened to Dani Barclay talk about the things one should do to promote a release (and a career) and realized how naive I was. The above list wasn’t going to be nearly enough to give my book any chance of being seen and read in a world where thousands of books are released on Amazon every day.
The thing is, because I’m busy working on the next two books, doing the things I need to do to promote The Demon Always Wins will be a challenge. Especially since I don’t actually know what those things are. So, after some conversations with Dani and with the Keeper of the Budget, aka Old Dog, I decided to hire her firm to do a single title release campaign. This includes:
Two week review and excerpt tour on book blogs to include no less than 30 genre-appropriate blog sites.
A Rafflecopter giveaway campaign to promote social media likes/follows and newsletter subscriptions.
Three to four additional “first look” promotional dates at high profile sites like USA Today’s romance blog and other notable women’s romantic fiction reader-author-centric sites.
Media buys and ad designs
Facebook and Amazon advertising support as needed (ad costs extra)
In addition, she gave me tips on growing my following on my Facebook author page and my Twitter account, so that when I use them to promote my book, there are actually people there to hear the news. Using their suggestions, I expect to double my author page likes/follows before my book is released.
All of this may or may not be enough to gain traction for my book. Given that approximately 5,000 new titles are released each day just on Amazon , probably not, but I still have Plan A (being patient and trusting that the universe holds good things for me) to fall back on.
The real reward I expect to reap from this effort is mastering the basic promotional learning curve more rapidly than I ever would on my own. During this engagement, I will learn how to structure book release promotion and also, I hope, the base skills to set up ads on Amazon and Facebook.
The contract is set up to run from September 3rd to 14th. I’ll let you know how it goes!
DONE! I was waffling about this, because it required spending a chunk of cash for something that’s not that fun, and that’s never easy, but then a friendforwarded me a promotional email offering 10% off if I bought them that day, which was just what was needed to spark me into moving.
Study up on how to load a book to Amazon.
Um, not yet.
Finish this draft of Girl’s Best Friend and hand it off to some beta readers.
I got to the finish line, only to realize I didn’t buy the ending. And with release dates looming for The Demon Always Wins (September 1st–eek!) and The Demon’s in the Details it was time to put GBF down for a nap and focus on my main goals. I have since (I think) figured out how to fix the ending and if I get a couple of free days, I will.
Figure out how to address the issues my editor raised with The Demon’s in the Details. (I said she had fewer edits. I didn’t say they were easy.)
I am, as of this writing, just shy of being halfway through the manuscript, and several days ahead of schedule. There may, of course, be more surprises to come in the second half, but the way my editor generally works, the most difficult stuff usually shows up early.
Get ready for the RWA® National Conference in July. As a Golden Heart® finalist, I will be attending a reception with agents and editors, as well as the luncheon where the awards will be presented to the winners. Since my post-retirement wardrobe doesn’t have a lot of fancy clothes, this requires some planning and, possibly, shopping.
What this actually required was taking a dress I bought 25 years ago at a vintage clothing shop (that’s right–it was old when I bought it a quarter of a century ago) and replacing the ostrich feathers around the hem, (that’s right, it has ostrich feathers) which had turned brown with age, with new ones. I’m as certain as a woman can be that no one else will show up wearing the same dress.
Goals for July:
Complete my revision of The Demon’s in the Details and send it off to my copy editor on August 1, as scheduled.
Get The Demon Always Wins loaded into Amazon for pre-orders before I head for the RWA® National conference, so that I can invite people to pre-order.
Get through the RWA® National Conference. If fortune smiles on me and I happen to be the lucky writer, out of the seven paranormal finalists, who wins the Golden Heart® this year, have a speech ready so I don’t look like a clueless ditz.
Work with Barclay Publicity (more on that next week) on my release campaign for The Demon Always Wins.
A couple of weeks ago, I was still happily piddling around with Girls’ Best Friend, the contemporary romance I’ve been working on for a couple of years. Then, one morning, I suddenly realized that if I want to release The Demon’s in the Details, Book 2 of my Touched by a Demon series, on October 1st, I was in trouble.
Let’s work backward through the schedule.
October 1: Make the book live on Amazon.
Last week of September: Load the book onto Amazon. Set up any ads I’d like to create to promote the book.
First three weeks of September: Have the book proofread and formatted.
August: Have the book copy-edited and work through the copy-editor’s recommended changes. (My first book had literally thousands of recommended changes, so I need a couple of weeks after I get the book back before I can pass it on to the proofreader.)
Are you feeling panicky yet? Well, I am.
That leaves me with seven weeks to do the revisions recommended by my developmental editor. That should should have been enough time, but unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re not looking at it from a schedule perspective), one of those weeks I’ll be in Denver for the RWA® National Conference.
What I really have is about 40 days to complete my revisions. I calculate that if I manage ten pages of revisions every day, seven days a week, I’ll have a handful of days leftover to review the whole book before send it on to the copy editor.
And once its winging its way to the copy editor, I need to immediately buckle down and finish Book 3, The Demon Wore Stilettos, so that I can release it in the first quarter of next year, before my readers have had time to forget I exist.
This is the first time I’ve ever had deadlines to meet for my writing, other than getting small chunks ready for contests.
I don’t like it.
One of the reasons I decided to go indie was that I know I don’t write fast enough to keep a traditional publishing house happy.
Now it appears I don’t write fast enough to keep myself happy, either.
My journey toward publication has been loaded with new learning opportunities. One of the biggest was choosing a content, or developmental, editor. This is both because this selection has the most impact on the quality of the book(s) I will put out, and because it’s the single biggest expense in the self-publishing journey.
The problem was, I didn’t really understand what a content editor would do. I knew they weren’t the same as a copy editor, who would look for problems with grammar and wording. Content editors work at a more macro level—they’re concerned with characters and plot.
But I still didn’t understand exactly what that meant.
Were they just a glorified (and paid) version of the critique group I’d had for so long? Or something more? What should I expect? How would I even begin to tell a good one from mediocre one or even a bad one?
A.E. Jones, who won the 2014 Golden Heart® for her paranormal romance, Mind Sweeper, did a series of blog posts on choosing a developmental editor. The posts are smart and incisive and will take you through a well-defined and repeatable process to make a smart hire. The first post is here.
I read A.E.’s posts, and I’d like to tell you that I followed her well laid out process, but I didn’t. I still felt unqualified to make a wise selection. Once I got the sample edits back, they’d probably disagree with each other. How would I know which editor was right?
Meanwhile, one of the 2015 Golden Heart® finalists, Arlene McFarlane, self-published her novel, Murder, Curlers and Cream. It’s a comedy/murder mystery/slow-burn romance. Arlene had problems finding a home for it in traditional publishing because it straddled sub-genres. Since this is also true of The Demon Always Wins, it occurred to me that maybe Arlene’s editor might work for my book, too.
So, I read Murder, Curlers and Cream. It’s a fun read and I recommend it, but for purposes of this discussion, what I was looking for was plot holes and inconsistent or poorly-motivated characters. I didn’t find that. The book was solid. And Arlene had nothing but praise for her editor, Karen Dale Harris.
So, without getting so much as a sample edit, I hired Karen. I got a little frustrated that it took longer to get the edit back than I expected (more on that next week when I talk about the perils of scheduling a release in the self-pub world), but when it arrived I was completely satisfied.
Also, a little overwhelmed.
Karen’s edit came in two pieces: a thirty (30!) page edit report and a markup of my 400 page manuscript. The markup included some copy editing as well as Karen pointing out plot holes and inconsistencies.
The edit report, though, was what finally helped me understand what a really good editor can do for you. Karen went through and summarized all the plot holes, all the weak (or non-existent) motivations and all the inconsistencies she found while combing through the manuscript. She also offered suggestions for addressing them.
She also spent some time explaining some really basic things about what romance readers look for—like, a book that’s primarily about a couple falling in love, rather than the nuts and bolts of how one might run a free clinic. (Setting is important, but it can’t be allowed to overwhelm the story.)
In particular, I knew that the book wasn’t as sexy as I wanted it to be. Karen offered very practical (and mostly subtle) suggestions to correct that.
I’m sure that once the book is out in the world, my readers will tell me a thousand things that could be better about it, but I’m thrilled with where I wound up, with the help of my editor.
I just got the second book in the series, The Demon’s in the Details, back from Karen. The edit report is only half as long, in part because I took a lot of what I learned from working with her on the first book and built it into the second one from the start.
So, what would I recommend for a first-time author who is going the self-publishing route and needs to hire a content editor?
Don’t skip the developmental edit. Neither you nor your critique partners know enough to create a strong book that is worthy of asking someone to spend money to buy it.
Follow A.E. Jones process. You may be able to shoot from the hip and get lucky, but there’s a better chance you won’t.
Recognize that there’s a learning curve to this, just like there has been with every other step along your writing path. You may not get lucky and get a great editor right out of the box, as I did, but even if you don’t, you’ll learn something from the experience.
As far as the sample edits, since the first pages of the book are the most important in terms of hooking your reader, see what your prospective editors have to say about those. Ideally, at least one of them will say something that will give you an ah-ha! moment. If she does, grab her!
Recently, a friend and former schoolmate wrote a blog post about her decision to publish independently. One of the factors, she said, was watching me win the 2015 Golden Heart® for Paranormal Romance, only to fall short on getting a publishing contract.
Just for the record, I have to confess that I sent out a grand total of 12 queries. That included two requests for full manuscripts that I received via contests I entered in preparation for entering the Golden Heart®. From conversations with other GH finalists, I gather 12 queries constitutes a pretty lame effort. One of the 2015 group told me she made over 400 queries and/or pitches before she secured a contract.
Four. Hundred. Attempts.
By that standard, I gave up without a struggle.
I have to tell you, though–I found the querying process soul-destroying. The crazy hope when someone likes your work enough to request to see it, followed by dwindling confidence as months and months tick by in silence. Once, after a year, I got a note from an editor saying she was cleaning up her files and “thanks, but no thanks.” No explanation of why she decided against it, or why it took her a year to reach that conclusion. One agent said she really liked my voice and found the premise of the story intriguing, send her the full. A year later I followed up. It’s now been two years and I’ve never received a response.
After working in business for many years, I found the level of rudeness in the traditional publishing industry appalling.
As all this was happening (or, more accurately, wasn’t happening) I observed the publishing industry essentially implode. It became clear that publishers had no idea how to deal with a paradigm shift on the scale they were seeing. I watched as they tried stupid stuff–getting into wars with Amazon, doubling-down on pricing strategies that make no sense (e.g. pricing ebooks as high or higher than paperbacks; pricing ebooks for debut authors higher than titles for superstar authors). Several times I’ve seen statements from major traditional publishing figures suggesting that ebooks were a fad that are now on their way out.
Haven’t any of these people seen Singing in the Rain?
There was one (sort of) bright spot. One agent requested a full from a chapter contest. I sent it, she read it, and a week later she sent me a very nicely worded rejection, saying the book lacked sexual tension.
I knew that. What I didn’t know was how to fix it. After putzing around with it for a while, knowing it still wasn’t right, I bit the bullet and paid a substantial amount to a freelance editor to help me understand how to address that problem.
And then I read the statistic that was the coup de grace. Once I signed a contract, my publisher would keep approximately 90% of the revenue from my work. Out of my 10%, I would pay my agent, if I had one. If I was smart, I would plow every remaining penny back into marketing my book.
In law, there’s a term for contracts formed between two parties with vastly different levels of power: contracts of adhesion. It was increasingly clear that if I signed with a traditional publishing house, I would be signing a contract of adhesion, giving up nearly all rights to my work in return for whatever crumbs they chose to toss my way.
So I was faced with a choice: I could try sending out my new-and-improved manuscript, hoping for a nod from an industry that had given up nodding at debut authors, or I could take the project management skills I honed during my working years and build a plan to publish my own book.
When I was a kid, my mother used to quote the poem, “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley to me and my sisters.
“I am the master of my fate,” she would declaim, “I am the captain of my soul.”
No one other than a handful of friends may ever read my books. I don’t have any control over that. But it feels like, with this approach, I’m at least the master of my own fate.
Sometime last month, I realized I completely skipped my April progress report, so this update will stand in for both April and May.
Goals for April:
Write 15,000 words on The Demon Wore Stilettos.
That manuscript is currently sitting at 11,275, so even now, two months later, I haven’t hit that goal. There’s a reason for that, which is that I got distracted cleaning up my Contemporary romance, Girl’s Best Friend. It’s currently about a week’s work away from being ready for my beta readers.
Being ADD (undiagnosed) does not help in meeting project deadlines.
Prep my first-ever newsletter to go out May 1. (If you’re interested in receiving it, you can sign up here.)
Okay, so that didn’t happen either. It would have gone out June 1, but when I looked at my MailChimp account, I realized it included my home address. And while I realize that anyone can Google my name and find my address, just sending it out felt like a bad idea. So I arranged with another local author to split a PO Box.
It went out today–to a grand total of 21 people, two of whom I don't actually already know. (Fans!). All the experts assure me that a newsletter is the best way to grow my mailing list, and that may be true, but the best way to grow my fan base is to actually start publishing books.
Which will happen September 1. I’m 95% sure of that, because The Demon Always Wins currently sits with the proofreader. From there it will go to the formatter, who has promised me it will be ready to load onto Amazon for pre-orders by July 15.
Design updated business cards with my branding to take to Denver for the RWA national conference in July.
Decided not to do that. I’m not sure how much value business cards really have these days, and I have existing ones (that aren’t my branding). I decided not to spend the time and money.
Decide on some swag to put in the Goody room at the RWA national conference.
In addition to these accomplishments, I also received The Demon’s in the Details back from my editor, Karen Dale Harris, who had surprisingly few edits. By “surprisingly few,” I mean her edit report was fifteen pages, compared to the thirty-pager I got for The Demon Always Wins.
Goals for June: (there should be background music with drums thudding louder and faster as we move toward the wire.)
Finish this draft of Girl’s Best Friend and hand it off to some beta readers.
Figure out how to address the issues my editor raised with The Demon’s in the Details. (I said she had fewer edits. I didn’t say they were easy.)
Get ready for the RWA National Conference in July. As a GH finalist, I will be attending a reception with agents and editors, as well as the luncheon where the awards will be presented to the winners. Since my post-retirement wardrobe doesn’t have a lot of fancy clothes, this requires some planning and, if I can't figure out an alternative, shopping.
Diana and I met back in 2015, when we were both finalists for RWA’s® Golden Heart® award for unpublished romance fiction. Last summer, I got to sit beside her at our annual meet-up and was thrilled to learn she’d received a three-book contract from Sourcebooks.
Question 1: Your debut novel, I Am Justice, released on Tuesday, May 1st. (squee!) Tell us about it.
The novel is about a secret group of female vigilantes that attempt to take out a sex-trafficking ring in the Middle East. More specifically, it’s about one of the members of this vigilante group, Justice Parish. I love this description:
She’s ready to start a war…
Justice Parish was rescued from a brutal childhood and adopted into a loving family and their not-so-loving covert sisterhood of vigilantes. Trained as a skilled assassin, Justice vows to protect and avenge others who haven’t escaped the cruel hands of injustice. Her next target: a sex-trafficking ring in the war-torn Middle East. She just needs the perfect cover to get close and take them down.
He just wants peace…
After years of witnessing the destructive nature of war, Sandesh Ross leaves the Special Forces and puts his heart and soul into founding a humanitarian group. Saving the world isn’t cheap, and when Justice walks through his door, claiming to be a PR agent who can help with donors, he thinks his prayers are answered. They’re both too busy saving the world to get involved with each other. But they might not be able to help themselves…
Question 2: You chose to go the traditional publishing route. What made you choose that over self-publishing?
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do all of the legwork involved with self-publishing. And now that I’ve been through the process—editing, production, marketing, design—I’m even more convinced it was the right choice for me. I’m incredibly happy with the team at SourcebooksCasa.
The crew at Sourcebooks has been professional, responsive, kind, and informative. They’ve gotten the word out about my novel. I’ve feel blessed by and blown away by the marketing. I also couldn’t have asked for a better editor than Cat Clyne. She did an incredible job. It was an absolute pleasure to work with her. As it was with my copy editors and production editors.
Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone organizes all of this on their own. Those writers are superheroes! Of course, I’m not ruling out anything for the future, but I’m more than satisfied with how everything has worked out so far.
Question 3: You have seven kids. How has the experience of raising a large family played into your fiction writing?
The novel is about a large family of covert vigilantes, so some things are definitely different. But my experience with a large family has definitely played a part. I think that one of the most interesting parts of having a big family is group dynamics. And I’m lucky, not only do I have a big family, but I also have a large extended family. And this group—somewhere around 34 of us–travel together at least once a year. This year we’re going to Montana. Last year we went to Colorado. All of those personalities are sure to make for memorable experiences. I guess it helps that I not only love them but that I also like them.
Another family that I really love is my romance writing family! I am inspired and buoyed by them in so many ways. From the moment I stepped into my first RWA convention, I was changed by the professional, talented, ambitious group of women I found. And kind. I can’t forget kind. My sisters in writing have taught supported and nurtured me and made me feel welcome. So thank you, Eight Ladies, for your incredible work educating and entertaining and granting opportunities like this interview to all of your fellow writers!
Diana Muñoz Stewart is the award-winning, romantic suspense author of the Band of Sisters series, which includes I Am Justice and I Am Grace and I Am Honor (Sourcebooks Publishing). She lives in eastern Pennsylvania in an often chaotic and always welcoming home that—depending on the day—can include husband, kids, extended family, friends, and a canine or two.
When not writing, Diana can be found kayaking, doing sprints up her long driveway—harder than it sounds–practicing yoga on her deck, or hiking with the man who’s had her heart since they were teens.