Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cover Art

As a reader of paperbacks, I would examine the cover each time I picked up the book. The cover was part of the experience. It helped set a mood. Those covers were not always successful. I have the misfortune of knowing a lot about historical costuming and it drove me nuts when I saw a zipper or a lack of undergarments. But the important part to take away is that I did pay a lot of attention to the cover. I have bought books based ONLY on the cover. In fact, I have copies of cover art framed in my home (the images featured to the right are from The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen, books I never quite enjoyed like I wanted to, with art by Michael Wehlan).

As a reader of eBooks, I only see the cover when I buy it, and even then it's usually a thumbnail. The cover has become less important than the blurb and reviews, whereas in a book store, the cover weighs more in my decision to buy or not to buy.

When I finished writing my first book, I fantasized about the cover. A candlelit glow with, the Elizabethan ruff undone to show the soft curve of her neck, a partially obscured woman with the center back of her early Elizabethan style dress loosely laced. I pictured specific models, gowns from specific scenes, and a subtle elegance more suited for historical fiction but with just a touch of sensuality (hence the laces).

The problem with my cover day-dreams is I am a writer, not a marketing expert or a cover designer. It was hard for me to give up my long cherished ideas and trust others to make the decision. Ultimately, whether I trusted the marketing people or not, I was not going to be the final word on the cover.

Throughout this process I have learned one important lesson about cover design: it doesn't matter how awesome it is if no one reads the book.

The most important thing about and eBook cover is that it catches the reader's attention in a thumbnail. All the nuances I imagined would be lost in that small image. It has to grab the reader in a split second so they'll click on it. There has to be a story in that single image and, for my books, the story needs to show that connection between the main characters, the physical chemistry in a moment of romantic fantasy. It's dream about happily-ever-afters. After the click, the book description will do the rest.

In my case, I trusted my publisher to represent my books in a way that will a) sell and b) do both me and my publishing house credit. After all, a successful book is in both our best interests and they wouldn't sabotage themselves with a crumby cover.

My point in talking about all this?

If you are a reader and notice inconsistencies between the story and the cover, don't blame the author.

If you are a writer and are either working with a publisher or are self-publishing and choosing your own cover, consider what will get the reader's attention rather than something that will be that perfect representation you've always dreamed about. That dream cover is for you, but the cover has to be to grab the potential reader's attention. And, on the off-chance that your publisher selects a cover that is not to your liking, be professional about it.

The cover featured to the left is not one of my covers. It is from a stock image online retailer, and a pre-made cover by Delle Jacobs. This is an image available for purchase. Do you think it would catch a reader's eye in a thumbnail? 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


On March 12th, Simon & Schuster announced they were closing Crimson Romance.

Crimson Romance, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is/was my publisher. While Simon & Schuster still holds the contracts on Courtly Pleasures and Courtly Scandals (released one week after closing), they reverted the rights of my third book, Courtly Abandon (which was scheduled for release on 7/2/18), back to me. This affected the entire staff of Crimson Romance (who got the news about the same time I did) and hundreds of authors.

What does any of this mean?

Courtly Pleasures and Courtly Scandals are still available at this time in eBook. Courtly Pleasures was supposed to available in print on 3/12/18, but that has been delayed and I'm not even certain if they will continue to support the print on demand for this title. Pre-order for the print version of Courtly Scandals was available until this morning, but that was probably just a matter of S&S having not gotten around to canceling it (which kept my hopes up). I am certain Amazon will be sending out the email shortly to any who have reordered alerting them to the cancellation.

My plan was to continue promoting my books as if nothing had happened. My husband is dealing with the next steps because this has been very difficult for me to process. I'll keep writing and he'll deal with the legal issues (which is a gift to me because, right now, I just can't). It's messy and I hate it. I'm only writing about this here to answer, calmly, like a rational person, the questions that will come from my friends and family having their orders cancelled.

The worst part, for me, was that I'd started thinking of myself as on a safe path. I've used the analogy of a race in the past, so I'll continue here: I thought writing a book, learning the industry, promoting my product, etc... was the first race with publication at the finish line. I have said that I never felt like I'd won, but that I'd just started a new race. Well, this has shown me that I'm still in that first race and, from here, it doesn't look like there is an end, just more hurdles. I was in a straightaway and lulled into a false sense of security. My publisher suddenly being closed was a major wake up call and I'm still reeling.

The good news? I have readers, I have two books out that are selling, and I have a completed third book (the best of the three, imo). I'm ready to pitch to publishers again, but I'm a better position than before. I may not be a featured author signing at a convention, but I'll be there with a viable product, sales numbers, and a little more faith in myself. I did it once, I can do it again. And maybe next time around the covers will be set in the right century (I can dream, right?).

In the meantime, if you look up Courtly Scandals on Amazon, it does not have any matches and asks if you meant "courtly sandals" but does suggest Courtly Pleasures as an option. But if you select Courtly Pleasures, it doesn't suggest Courtly Scandals as book 2. You can see both books if you go to my Amazon author page. This wouldn't have happened if Crimson was still supporting my titles.

I wrote this blog for two reasons:
1. So it's all here in a nutshell and I don't have to explain it any more.
2. The purpose of my blog has always been to document my experiences and life lessons along the road to publication. When I signed with Crimson, I decided to keep up that aspect of myself. Publication is just another part of that journey and, if you're a writer trying to figure all this out, my little babbling anecdotes might help you feel less alone in this mess. I started querying with the expectation that my book was the BEST BOOK EVER and I'd be the exception to the long haul of rejections I'd heard so much about. Well, I wasn't. I'm not. I just keep trying. I'm a better writer because of the rejections. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I'm not dead yet.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Mistakes in Print

Typos happen. The author reads through and gives a clean manuscript to the editor only for the editor to show just now messed up it still is. The author and editor fix the mistakes and it goes to a copy editor who finds even more. Then the galley edits come along and everything should be fixed, right? Nope.

And this is just about story inconsistencies, grammar, and flow.

I am solely responsible for the history and REALLY prided myself in taking that seriously. I researched saint days and weather patterns, period dress and beer recipes... I took the time and felt like a credible source when it came to history. Even if a reader doesn't like my story, at least I could say the history is sound.

When I discovered that I mislabeled Katherine Howard (I called her the third wife of Henry VIII) I cried. It's embarrassing and, regardless of everything I did get right, it completely destroys my credibility. It was something that didn't catch my attention in edits because this is an area of history with which I am ridiculously familiar.  I didn't double check the big facts the same way I, for example, looked at period inheritance law for a peer who was not yet an adult because I trusted myself. In the edits, I didn't notice. This is, perhaps, an example of not seeing the forest for the trees (if cartridge pleating and such are the trees, the Tudor dynasty is the forest).

So let me put this out there:
I hope to republish this title and actively want to fix any errors for the next draft. I'm keeping records as they've come to my attention. If you notice something, tell me. I'll appreciate it, I swear. It will all go to making a better book. You can email me on Goodreads or leave me a comment here on my blog.

Just for fun, here's a graphic from a Horrible Histories book I picked up at Hardwick Hall years ago.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Courtly Scandals Inspirations

Happy Ides of March!

I introduced Mary Montgomery in Courtly Pleasures. She was Frances LeSieur's no-nonsense friend, both practical and nurturing. She was a problem solver and a little bit of a meddler with a suppressed wild streak.

Courtly Scandals (due to release 3/19/18 - 4 days!) is Mary's story. Courtly Pleasures ends with Frances heading back to the country and Mary staying behind with her old friend, Anne Cecil, the Countess of Oxford. Mary stayed because she thought Anne needed her, but isn't there long before she realizes there's a world of resentment and judgement within Anne and the friend she was making sacrifices for is a soul sucking harpy not worth the effort.

As I was writing, I realized I was missing something. Without Frances and Jane, Mary seemed so very alone and her romance was so fresh that she needed someone to turn to, someone who would slap any self-doubt or sense of worthlessness out of her.

And that's when I saw this (some mild language):

This is what I was missing. Mary needed a sassy gay friend to redirect her when she was being stupid (and there was a plot line with Oxford that this balanced out perfectly). So I built up Girard, a minstrel of the Oxford house, devastatingly handsome, a true friend, honest, non-threatening, but vulnerable due to his very nature and the world he lived in. I realize Mary has a very modern approach in that she does not judge him the way the traditional Elizabethan would -- however, she'd been at court and was familiar with the fact that that the rules are different for people with money and power.

Girard is not the flamboyant stereotype featured in the video above. I like to think I gave him depth and, though he has a sense of humor and constant twinkle in his eye, there is a gravitas to him.

Courtly Scandals was also influenced by Virginia Henley's The Hawk and the Dove. I read this many years ago, long before I developed my love affair with Elizabethan England and Queen Elizabeth herself. In this book the main character disguises herself as Queen Elizabeth so disrespectfully as to be almost heretical in the period -- but then her version of Queen Elizabeth is very different from mine. While Ms. Henley's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth was somewhat shrewish (not wrong) and mine is more benevolent, if a little capricious (also not wrong), I nodded to the scene in my own way. Without going into too much detail (no spoilers), the revelry at court over the 12 days of Christmas gives an author carte blanche. Anything can happen.

Courtly Scandals is the story of a damsel in distress who figures out how to rescue herself. Sir Charles is the knight in shining armor that discovers he needs rescuing too. The story unfolds with a series of what-else-could-possibly-go-wrong-? moments that bring them together in a bond that begins with attraction and ends in trust. 

If you enjoy Mary's story, I look forward to reintroducing you to Jane in Courtly Abandon, due to release in July of 2018.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Busiest Time of My Year

Courtly Scandals is due to release on March 19th, 2018. My first book, Courtly Pleasures, was released on my mother's birthday, which made the release date that much more special. March 19th, specifically, is not personally significant to me other than it is the spring equinox. While I find that a little magical, what March 19th is, for practical reasons, one of the busiest times of my year. Why? St. Patrick's month.

My daughters have been active in Irish dance for 7 years. Most of the time that means practices in the evening and competitions here and there on weekends. It means wigs, shoes, dresses, and sometimes a fake tan. This is so normal for me that it's not hectic (although dance moms at their first feis might disagree). St. Patrick's day, however, means multiple performances, sometimes two in a day. THIS is hectic. The driving (So. Much. Driving.), the hair, the costume prep, and trying to get them to eat in between point A and point B - it feels like a race where I won't win anything but I'll be letting everyone down if I fail. At least this year I'm not making dance costumes as well.

That said, it's wonderful for the dancers to perform instead of compete. We go to retirement facilities, medical centers, churches, fundraisers, and wineries. The girls love it, the audience is always left in awe of the dancer's skill, and we moms can sit back and enjoy the show.

It's a busy time of year, but, more so, a joyful one. My second book release adds both to the stress and the joy.

While I am not able to post video images of our dancers, I will include here a video of a St. Patrick's day flash mob in Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Courtly Scandals, Book Two of Courtly Love

Courtly Scandals, book two of Courtly Love, is due to release on March 19th, 2018. It's an Elizabethan historical romance set in the same world I built in Courtly Pleasures. Though it's in the same series, it is a stand-alone story. In Courtly Pleasures we met Mary and she decided to stay behind with court for Christmas. On the first night of Christmas Mary meets Charles, a Yeoman of the Queen's Guard and a true gentleman in character if not in title. Courtly Scandals is their story.

Circumstances surrounding them throw up ridiculous obstacles, one right after the other, but their biggest internal conflict is that both Charles and Mary are givers. They think about other's needs first. They're just too nice. Neither of them are alpha personalities and both would be really annoying to go out to dinner with. It might go something like this:

Charles: Where do you want to eat?
Mary: Oh, I'm happy with anything. Where do you want to eat?
Charles: I want you to be happy. I'm happy if you're happy. What are you in the mood for?
Mary: I'm happy just being with you. What would you like?
Charles: I really have no preference. I know you like that Italian place. Do you want to go there? Or you were talking about cheesecake yesterday, so if you would prefer we could go to Cheesecake Factory. Or Red Lobster has those rolls you like. It's up to you.
Mary: We can go there if you want to. I do like cheesecake. I love that you remembered that. Do you want cheesecake?
Me: For the love of God, choose already!
Them: *look at me, conciliatory*
Mary: I hope you aren't upset, Erin. What do you want for dinner?

Thankfully, through both Mary and Charles's growth (as individuals and as a couple) they get to a point where they can acknowledge what they want. It's not easy for either of them, but if they want happiness, they have to acknowledge their needs and that they deserve it.

Courtly Scandals has a damsel in distress trope, but the truth is they are both broken and rescue each other.

Do you have a favorite romance trope? If so, how do you feel when a writer takes a beloved trope and turns it inside out?

Friday, February 9, 2018

New Release: The Wind Reapers, Book Two of the Blackburn Chronicles

I'm excited to announce that book two of the Blackburn Chronicles, The Wind Reapers, has been released today.

The Tremblers, book one of this steampunk/science fiction/post-apocalyptic/alternative history, action packed saga, came out last month. Reviews have been great. It became one of my new favorite books because it's different. It doesn't follow the steampunk cliches (which I also enjoy) of tea, parasols, witty repartee, and pointless goggles. She incorporates goggles, but they have a purpose, and that could be used as an example of the technology throughout the book. It meets the definition of steampunk in that it takes technology in the time of steam powered industrialism and turns it upside down, inside out, and imagines what could have been possible. Given that necessity is the mother of invention, how far would Victorians have progressed their technological prowess if their existence was on the line?

And author Raquel Byrnes made certain to threaten their existence: cataclysmic earth quakes, poisonous gasses, devastating storms, and a inexplicable sickness necessitated technological advancement. 

In The Tremblers, we meet debutante Charlotte Blackburn, living under the protection of a domed city state in the devastated post-Great Calamity (a series of earth shattering quakes brought on by on by irresponsible mining) remains of what used to be the United States. Through no fault of her own, she is soon a wanted criminal by the despotic leaders of the Peaceful Union. She escapes to Outer City, a community floating high above the wastelands of North America. This debutante learns how to rely on both her intellect and her heart in the face of extreme opposition. From ball gowns to leathers, opera glasses to guns, she goes from helpless girl to a force to be reckoned with, doing what needs to be done, no matter the cost.

The Wind Reapers is book two of the Blackburn Chronicles and brings us to the treacherous badlands outside the domed city states. Hosted and protected (sort of) by a nomadic community in a HUGE spider-like, constantly roaming land vessel, Charlotte learns of a conspiracy that will doom thousands of innocents.

From the back of the book:
Charlotte Blackburn—Hero, hunted, the unwitting symbol of a dark rebellion—she thwarted the deadly intent of the treacherous Order of the Sword and Scroll, but at a shattering cost. Now, she fights to survive among a tribe of fierce Wind Reapers who troll the wasteland aboard massive metal walkers. But a new storm is brewing and Charlotte is once again the linchpin in a deadly plan.

Sebastian Riley has one goal: Help the citizens of his floating Outer City to survive the Ashen Croup, a terrible affliction that drowns victims in their own lungs. But help comes in the form of the infamous Lady Blackburn, a woman wanted for treason who is determined to run headlong into destruction to prevent a coming war—even if it means reaching out to those who want her dead.

Pursued by the shadowy Order and hunted by the furious Reaper clan, Riley and Charlotte brave the monstrous hordes of decaying Tremblers and the terrors of the Wasteland to stop the bloodshed and secure a mysterious calculating engine—a device that can bring about the destruction of an entire nation.

With brutal forces gathering against the unsuspecting citizens inside the Tesla domes, a vicious scientist intent on capturing Charlotte for his experiments, and the whole of the country in deadly peril, one of them must make a sacrifice too terrible to comprehend.

My review of The Wind Reapers: 
This book is a non-stop adventure led by Charlotte, Tesla, and Riley. Technology can only do so much in the face of "blood storms" and a desert veined with fissures releasing searing gas and lava. Outside the dome there are a new set of obstacles and Charlotte doesn't know who she can trust. Having followed Charlotte's journey from naive girl to the point she is at at the start of this book, a competent and somewhat Machiavellian champion for what she perceives as right, this story follows her continued evolution. What struck me the most about this was that the author made the bad guys very real, not archetypal villains. I understood and sympathized with their motivation as well as I understood Charlotte's. This made the right and wrong of the matter very much a gray area. It was thoughtful and threatening, ruthless and emotional. I cried (when a book makes me cry, it has won me over) and cheered and gasped... I couldn't put it down. Wind Reapers is a heartrending adventure that full of hope and fear, a story that challenged me and made me question my own values. 

This is categorized as a young adult title, but the scale of this adventure and the questions it inspires will appeal to all ages.

Book three is (based on Amazon) due to be released next month. I can't wait.
In the meantime I just discovered there are a few freebies available now that go into the backstory of some of the main characters.

Of Books and Blades is the story of young Aston Wells and the events that brought him to the order of the Sword and Scroll.

This Perilous Path is the story of Lizzie and her life before and during The Great Calamity. These are the events that led her to be part of the rebels, fighting for social justice against the Peaceful Union. 

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