December 7, 2015

Writing from the heart



So... that's my view all week long. I'm in Ojai, CA on a personal writer's retreat. I finally finished my outline for the next novel and I needed a change of scenery to get started on the first draft. Ojai brings out the best in me. Probably because it's so quiet compared to Los Angeles. And, well, trees. Lots of trees. I come up to the Ojai Retreat at least once a year to clear my head and reboot. This time around there's a little rabbit following me from place to place. It's good to be among woodland creatures.

These last two years of publishing my young adult book series have been a roller coaster ride of excitement, fear and joy. Authoring novels is something I've dreamed about since I was a little girl. No kidding, I used to do imaginary interviews on the Johnny Carson show about being one of the youngest authors out there. Definitely not the case now. It took me decades to step out of the shadows and follow my true passion. Putting off what I really wanted was a helpful cloaking device that seemed safe at the time, but eventually hiding from myself depleted my soul. Fear is such a bully.

I thought once I published my books, I'd be in hog heaven. But I soon found myself forcing solutions and ending up more and more miserable, I finally hit a rock bottom. My selfish ambition was killing me. My efforts weren't bringing me any additional joy, I just wanted more and more. It's our nature, us silly fallen creatures, to want more. To cure this ailment, I've been working hard to be grateful for everything I have and not looking at what I don't.

As I begin my next novel I don't have any expectations other than to do my best and enjoy the process. Learning to deal with my inner demons of wanting more and not feeling good enough has been one of the greatest gifts of writing. I'm happy to say that I'm finally able to move on with a grateful heart. Onward!

This guy.


 Keep writing. It saves lives. 

October 10, 2015

Six things to help launch your book

In October 2013, I published my first novel. As of October 2016, I'm about to publish my ninth. Over the years, I've done extensive research and talked to countless authors about the publishing industry. I love offering help to writers who are just starting out on the journey. First, I want to say, it's not an easy one. It has ups and downs, ins and outs, hours of isolation, grueling hours of solving what feels like trigonometry equations, moments of frustration and discouragement followed by limitless joy. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Whenever someone sends me an email asking for advice about launching a book, I have a go-to list of tips (which you'll find below). I'm also available to hire as your very own author project manager. I help organize timelines, work with you on the outline, share my vendors, and hold your hand until the first draft is completed. If you hire me, you WILL finish your book. As long as you're willing to commit.

For now, let's focus on getting some visibility in a highly saturated market. Let's say you already have a book and you're ready to get it out in the world. Whether you're looking for an agent or going the indie route, you'll need to do a lot of your own marketing if you want to sell books. That's just the way it is these days. There are SO many different approaches to marketing and it changes daily. The more creative and organic, the better. Below are a few things that have worked for me...


1) Get reviews

I try to get about 25 - 35 advanced reader reviewers before I announce the launch my book, but you can do this after it's launched. I email ebooks about a month before the book launch and follow up a few days prior with a friendly reminder to please post their review on launch day.

2) Announce your launch

On launch day, email friends, family, and your mailing list (if you don't have a mailing list - start one TODAY). Email every single person you know and tell them about your book launch. List your book at a lower price and let people know it's "on sale" for the first week. These folks get the ball rolling, and when they start buying your book, your Amazon rank increases, which will attract new readers and move you up the ranks in the "Hot New Releases" category. Also, announce your launch on every social media site -- but find a fun way to share this news with your followers. Try a Facebook book launch with some other authors, or by yourself. Exhausting, but has some benefits.

3) Advertising

When you do promos (free days or discounts), some sites will post your promo for free, others will charge a small fee. My favorites (and this changes): ENT, Ebook Hounds, BKnights, Awesome Gang, Bargain Booksy, Booksends, Fussy Librarian and Book Raid. If you can get a Book Bub ad, bless your heart. This has been a game changer for many people.

4) Publish more books

The more content you have, the more you sell. Just keep writing -- no matter what. 

5) Join some author groups on Facebook

Or start one with some like-minded writers in your genre. If you can get other authors to give your new release a shout out, that really helps a lot. It doesn't hurt to ask. And don't take it personally if they say no. They probably get a lot of requests.

6) Ongoing sales/price pulsing

You'll want to monitor your sales and when they start to drop, you might want to lower your prices and do a promo to announce the sale. This will breathe some life back into your book.

7) Giveaways

I used to do free ebook promos, but after giving away about 60,000 books, I'm no longer taking this approach. If you're new, I recommend enrolling in KDP Select so readers can borrow your book through Kindle Unlimited. These days the only free books I give out are for my exclusive readers on my mailing list. Goodreads giveways maybe. I haven't done one in a while. But they're good if you're a new author.


8) Study the industry and stay on top of the trends

Below are some great websites; some offer free PDFs with marketing tips:

www.kboards.com  (go to the Writer's Cafe forum)
www.thecreativepenn.com/
www.writersdigest.com/
www.thebookdesigner.com/


Hopefully this is enough to keep you very busy as you research your next steps! Writing is the easy part (ha!) -- it's the marketing that hurts. I suggest having fun with all of it and trying out different things to see what works best for you.

Best of luck to you in your writing career!


Keep writing. It saves lives.

August 18, 2015

Friendship, forgiveness and staying gold

This is guest post by my dear sister-friend Stefanie Timpke. I could say all of these words back to her (but probably not as eloquently or heartrending). Stefanie taught me how to show up for a friend and stay there - no matter what. Also, I want this read at my memorial one day. 

      1985                                                                                                                2015



It happens all the time, this crazy love of mine…

…wraps around my heart, refusing to unwind:

Simone and I have been friends since we were about 10 years old. I'm not sure how it started, logistically speaking, but we were neighborhood kids. She lived two streets away, which I predict prolonged our union by about five years. It seems you have to be at least ten before your world grows beyond your immediate block.  It may have been Erika that introduced us; maybe Adrienne and Erika—but either way—Simone and I always had something special; a language we spoke that was ours alone. We were always tirelessly trying to perfect the art of being as cool as humanly possible--and sometimes that caused us to fight.  And we had some blow outs.  But we always made up.  Simone and I always made up.

These days we don’t fight. We have earned this sweet spot. And it has been worth every single bad break and misunderstanding. This is friendship gold. And you can’t get here without putting in the time and staying the course. This kind of thing is not a rite of passage—it’s an earned mosaic that not everyone will have; only the brave ones with the courage to continue and, when the truth calls for it, admit they’re wrong, will have a thing like this.

When I opened my hotel door at Farmers Daughter Hotel in LA (I highly recommend this spot) and saw Simone, I felt 12 years old again. I always feel somewhere between 12 and 16 years old when I am with Simone.  Not because I feel especially immature—but because my heart feels courageous and youthful and unfettered by any of the shit storms that have hardened it a little as life has happened. Simone’s presence melts that away, and I have the eyes of Rusty James from S.E. Hinton's Rumblefish. She can remember vivid details of the past because she has a shockingly sharp memory. And I rely heavily on her to tell me about things from back there because my memory is spotty.  I have some crystal clear Polaroid's in the archives that I can access and scan if I want to—some diamonds for sure--but there is not much in the way of entire events. Simone has all that, and she can jog my memory as if she’s been trained to do it. I used to get upset about the blank spots—but I think God does what’s best for us. 

It always seems unfathomable how time has stood still when I see her. Whenever I'm with her, I tell her how young she looks. I don’t think she believes me. I think she hears that platitude kind of sentiment you say to someone in their 40’s that you’ve known your whole life—that “Oh my God, you haven’t aged” kind of thing. But to me, Simone legitimately still looks 20.  Maybe when you've gone through your formidable years side by side it’s the face that prevails. And maybe when you’ve looked up to that person and they have shown you the kind of love that involves giving you their coveted Matt Dillon poster because they knew how bad you wanted it, or have written songs with you and given you the courage to sing them on a stage because they knew it was a dream of yours, or took the risk to open their arms wide to hug you when you were charging towards them in rage--maybe when you have that kind of history—maybe that face is just always the face of youth. Or maybe the youth and beauty in the face comes from the spirit that shines through it.

The thing I remember most vividly about my last visit with Simone in LA, was when we were in the pool at the Palomar and she pushed off the bottom into a dolphin-like back flip; our signature childhood move.  I knew when she did it I had one of those priceless Polaroid's in my mind that I would be able to access forever. And I believe this image of Simone, and others like it compiled over time, will be the things that will continually strengthen my character. These things make me brave. This kind of love gives me the courage to continue. And, oh man, the laughter . . . so much laughing . . . all the time with the laughing. 

What a gift to have a friend where there is no such thing as linear time.  And how remarkable it is that we have stuck by each for well over 30 years, and that at every sad time when it was hard to breath—like when my dad died, or that God-dang wedding disaster -- she was there somehow. And she has always told me the same thing in the toughest times -- she says, “Stefanie your spirit is bigger than this and your heart is stronger.”  Simone will walk right into the dark and bring the hope right there to you. That is friendship gold. And she is a friendship warrior.

Some days you just need to sit with someone who understands about how you went to that weird alternative high school because you just couldn’t stay awake in class or stay at school, and how much you truly loved that boy in Colorado and how bad it hurt when he left us, and how it felt to pretend I was her when she was too shy to call the boy she loved, and what it’s like to have the cops chase you away from another perfect night at Parkwood Elementary, and how much we love our parents, and all the times we fell and got up—just all of it . . . every bit of your life is understood.  And you don’t even have to say a word. Sometimes you get on a plane and you fly to a person like that. And you just sit with them. And you are braver for it.

When Johnny told Ponyboy to stay gold we knew he was talking to us.



Thank you, Stefanie, for your beautiful words, your love, your light, your soul and for being here for me -- through it all. I love you, Simone


Keep writing. It saves lives.

May 26, 2015

Interview with My Amazing ACX Audiobook Narrator

I'm super excited for the release of my audiobook for The City Center! I worked with the incredibly talented Sarah Zimmerman. She really brought the story to life. I wanted to share her with my readers, so below is my interview with Sarah.



What was the inspiration behind becoming a voice actor?

Reading aloud has always been something that fascinated me. As an actress, it was a form of exploration vocally. I would even read my college textbooks aloud - as if teaching a class. (I realize the nerd-status that statement just gave me.) It gave me another level of understanding and, beyond that, made it way more enjoyable for me. It was a pretty natural transition going from acting to audiobooks. They’re cut from the same cloth.

What does your work environment look like?

My recording booth is a room-within-a-room. It’s very high-tech and provides the beautiful sound of silence. Like, really silent. Once the door is shut, it’s surprisingly peaceful. It’s a seemingly simple set-up... desk, monitor, mic, favorite pen... I love going in there. 

How did your upbringing shape who you are today?

Fortunately, my upbringing was loving, secure, and supportive. Everybody rallied around each others' endeavors and pretty much everything was a reason to celebrate. There was a lot of hope infused into everything. The real, honest-to-goodness kind of hope that changes the way you see the world and your place in it. A hope grounded in reality which makes it all the sweeter.

What’s the best piece of acting advice you’ve received?

No joke - “Stop moving your feet.” I heard that when I was about 13 and it helped me to just stop trying to act and start the process of learning to pay attention and to listen. Pretty basic stuff - but at 13 it blew my mind. It proved to be the beginning of a real understanding into the power of stillness and reacting honestly.

What is the most powerful challenge when it comes to narrating a novel?

Finding the tone; kind of like finding the author’s or protagonist’s voice - where they’re coming from. I have trouble getting through even a page if that’s not discovered. Once that tone is found though, everything else tends to fall into place.

What’s the best part about narrating a novel?

When it’s really working - when it all feels right - it’s thrilling. There’s something deeply satisfying about communicating in this way - collaborating with the written word to create something that is consistent with the original intention. I love that.

What’s your favorite way to spend your time?

Any minute I have with my husband and son is golden.


The City Center Audiobook is available on iTunes and Audible and Amazon

 

Keep writing. It saves lives.


February 13, 2015

YA takes a fresh approach

I recently read a YA novel written by fellow author, Emily Wibberley. I loved Sacrificed so much I was compelled to share the news of her launch (which is today, by the way). Emily takes a unique approach to YA by placing her characters in an ancient civilization and setting up an exciting adventure with twists and turns. I mean, there are oracles in this thing. Oracles. So cool. It is clear she has done her homework -- the details are rich and dialed in. Her characters are realistic, layered and perfectly flawed. And there's palpable tension coupled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, which I always enjoy. I was rooting for Clio the whole time and enjoyed experiencing her metamorphosis. Also, the cover is pretty badass. Emily's debut novel comes out strong and I'm looking forward to a lot more from this author.

I asked Emily what inspired her to write this story:

I suppose writing is in my blood, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to fall in love with it too. I grew up around writers. They taught me to cherish story in all its mediums and genres. But it’s YA that stole my heart and ultimately made me want to join in the writing tradition. There’s something so uniquely beautiful about a coming of age story, more so when it’s a coming of age story targeted at those who are coming of age in their own right. I insatiably read everything in YA that I could get my hands on, and still it wasn’t enough. Sacrificed came out of so many things in my life, but what it all boils down to is this bone-deep love I have for this genre.

You can buy Sacrificed today on Amazon!



Emily Wibberley graduated form Princeton University in June 2014. Today, she lives in Southern California with her two rescue German Shepherds. You can find out more by visiting her website: emilywibberley.com, or following her on Twitter: @Wibbs_Ink.


Keep writing. It saves lives.




January 14, 2015

Words are eternal

I haven't posted in a while because I've been too dark. I decided to drive up to Ojai — my favorite place on earth — to get right with myself, and God. There's something magical up here in these mountains.

I just read a post from one of my favorite authors, Hugh Howey, regarding the self-publishing industry. I was so inspired by his words that I had to write a new post. He's the reason I decided to stop torturing myself with trying to publish the traditional route.

A few years ago, I had been shopping around my memoir (the one that died a horrible death). I had just received my fiftieth "thanks, but no thanks" and I felt like giving up. Instead, I put the memoir down and picked up my fiction manuscript I had started a while back. A little scrappy thing called The City Center. While I was at a writer's conference I had spoken to an agent and she liked the first ten pages, but asked me why there were people living inside the city center and I didn't know. Yikes. So I started brainstorming ideas and rewriting my manuscript, but I just couldn't come up with a solid reason about why they were inside the damn center.

Until one day in church, I heard the answer. It came to me like a bolt of lightning. I scribbled it down on a piece of paper and from that point I was able to finish my manuscript. Once it was in a good place, I started drafting my query letter. Yes, I was going to start querying agents again. Surely I'd have better luck. This book wasn't about my depressing alcoholic life. It was a dystopian sci-fi in the same vein as The Hunger Games. It'd be a hit! But when I started writing the query letter I got sick to my stomach. I just couldn't — no matter how hard I tried — come up with a reason to put myself through that torture again.

That's when I started reading Hugh Howey's story about his self-publishing journey and I thought maybe I could take that route. I had already self-published a couple of humor books and a book of essays, and though they were more personal and not marketed, I knew I had it in me to give it a shot. Only I wanted to take a more professional approach. I realized if I wanted to have any inkling of success, it'd be like running my own business. I voraciously studied the self-publishing industry and marketing. When I finally felt like I kinda sorta maybe knew what I was doing, I published The City Center.

Two years later, I have three published works and all three have hit Amazon's bestseller list in their category many times. I still haven't hit my childhood dream of making the NY Times bestseller list and I'm not making a living from my royalties (yet), but the fact that I have published works floating around in the world — and that readers enjoy them — is the greatest joy of my life (I just wrote this to Hugh Howey). I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I started blogging in 2006 and wrote to a tiny audience. And I still do. But that doesn’t matter. Sometimes I get caught up in the world and read too many articles about building my platform, or how to reach a wider audience, or how to be the best friggin’ marketing genius ever in the entire world. And after I spin around in the cycle for a day or two, I dry off and get back to what really matters: writing. God gave me a desire to write. I’m going to fulfill that every single day of my life. Regardless if anyone is reading, buying or talking about my work. Success comes and goes, but words are eternal.


Keep writing. It saves lives.