Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Serious Question About Series

Disclaimer: I'm going to talk real numbers here but am admittedly bad at math. I'm rounding the numbers a little bit to make it easier, but I'll try not to screw it up nonetheless.

A BRIT COMPLICATED, the third book in my Castle Calder rom com series came out last week. I use the term "series" loosely -- the books are connected by setting (which is the castle, but I bet you guessed that). There are cameo appearances by characters from other books, but each book can be read as a standalone. All three books are centered around different romance tropes and have a mix of British and American characters. They were all super fun to write, and not only for all of the British slang I learned. "Bugger me with a fish fork" is still my favorite and yes, my British heroine in book 2 (A BRIT UNEXPECTED) says it exactly how it's intended. :)

So yay for fun and inappropriate slang, but at the end of the day writing is my job. I'm in week two of my newest release, comparing Amazon numbers and, puts my plans for this series into serious question.

Book 1 -- A BRIT ON THE SIDE -- released August 2016
Month 1 sales = 2000
Month 2 sales = 1555
Month 3 sales = 1200 
Total first 3 months = 4755

I was thrilled with this! I am thrilled with this. A BRIT ON THE SIDE exceeded all of my expectations. Bring on book 2!

Book 2 -- A BRIT UNEXPECTED -- released April 2017
Month 1 sales = 900
Month 2 sales = 200
Month 3 sales =  46
Total first 3 months = 1146

Umm... Okay? You don't have to be good at math to realize that's more than a 50% attrition rate. Bring on book 3? Even if I was having second thoughts, I'd already contracted the cover and written it, so, sure. Bring on book 3.

Book 3 -- A BRIT COMPLICATED -- released October 2017
All I basically have is one week's sales data for this one so far. In a week, I've sold about 370 books on Amazon, which is GREAT. But it also included my $0.99 release price, which accounts for about 300 of those sales. Since raising the price to $2.99, I'm still gaining sales, but I'm not sure I'm going to hit even 900 sales by the end of the month. I might hit 500, which isn't quite 50% attrition, but not far off.

Benefit -- I have been seeing sell-through to the rest of the series -- which is a super side effect of having a series. BUT, is it enough to warrant continuing the series? And how do you know when to say when? I have plans for a free novelette next month, which I'm giving away to my reader group and newsletter subscribers, and I'm 100% committed to this. But after that? Does it make sense to continue as planned, with more books in this series that feels like it's waning, even though reviews are good?

I went to a panel at RWA this past summer where some big-name authors said that most series don't take off until about book 5. Then I heard another big-name author say, just today, that connecting books as series on the Zon is a bad idea because readers feel like they can't commit to series and prefer standalones. I also read something in a romance author group I belong to that contemporary romance is dead.

And that's when I decided to stop reading. Because I'm a romance reader, as well as a romance writer, and I can tell you, I'm eager for my next read. Looking for it right now, in fact. Which the business side of my head evaluates and says, "Yes, there is room in the genre for more of my books." I just need to decide what those books will be -- whether they'll continue my current series? Start a new one? Write a few standalones in 2018 and compare? At the minute, it could go in any direction, but I'm super curious what your thoughts are about series, both as a reader and a writer? Do you read series, even if they're interconnected standalones? What about as a writer? Has your experience been a similar rate of attrition or have you found a way to make your series a succession of stand outs? I'm so curious about this and really look forward to your input.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Interview with a YA author: Kara McDowell

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Welcome Kara McDowell to the blog! She's a YA author whose debut novel, JUST FOR CLICKS, will be published by Amberjack Publishing in 2019. She's a mom of three, and a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan (everyone should be a CEG fan, just sayin'). Kara also has stellar advice for writers in both the drafting and submission trenches, so listen up.

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 1. First, and foremost, welcome! Can you tell us a little about your debut novel?
Thank you! JUST FOR CLICKS is about a teen social media darling who begins to question the cost of internet fame—especially when she unearths the secret her mother has spent the last seventeen years hiding. I was inspired by popular mommy bloggers who are raising a generation of children on the internet, and the question of what will happen when those children become teenagers. While writing, I was also able to draw on my own experience working as a mommy blogger after my first son was born.
2. Also, congrats on your sale to Amberjack Publishing. That's incredible. As any author on submission knows, the process can be grueling and demoralizing (no joke). Any advice to authors currently in the submission slog?
I’m the worst person to be giving advice on this subject, because I found submission to be a special kind of hell. It was agonizing to be so close and so far from achieving my dream at the same time. That said, I have two pieces of advice, and they are conflicting. First, write something else. Focusing on a new project stopped me from pinning all of my hope on one book. My second piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Some days, writing will feel impossible. That’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad, to wallow, to worry. You will still be a writer if you take a few days (or more) off. It’s also helpful if you seek out friends who have been in your shoes. People don’t tend to talk about submission publicly (a separate, frustrating topic), but you will need to talk, to vent, to cry, and probably to eat ice cream.
3. You're a mom of three. How do you write and stay sane at the same time? 
Ha! I’m not sure I do? But honestly, writing is what keeps me sane when I’m surrounded by tiny people all day. Because my kids are so young, I’ve long since accepted the fact that I won’t get huge chunks of time and silence to sit and write. Because of that, I’ve gotten good at working with what I have, whether that’s nap time, while the kids are watching cartoons, or simply writing a sentence or two with my right hand while I stir dinner with my left. I’ve found it’s helpful if I leave my laptop open in a place I can see it. That simple act keeps my brain engaged in the story while I’m doing other mundane, necessary tasks. At the end of the day, I’ve often added hundreds of words to my count simply by squeezing in whatever I can.
4. Who are your favorite YA authors? Is there a published YA book that you wish you wrote?
I would not be the writer I am today without Stephanie Perkins. I’ve always dreamed of being an author, but I didn’t realize I wanted to write contemporary, romantic young adult novels until I read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. That book is like a giant hug. I could read it one hundred times and never get tired of it. I also love Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Nicole Yoon. I will read anything they write.
5. Are you a TV binge watcher? Or binge reader? And if so, what are you bingeing right now?
Yes! On both accounts! Admittedly, I binge watch more than I binge read these days, because my husband and I can do that together at the end of the day when the kids are asleep. We recently watched the first two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix and we both loved it. It’s hilarious, and smart, and feminist. Plus, it’s a musical! What more could you ask for?
6. Is there a line from your work-in-progress that you'd like to share? Either something that you adore, or something hysterical out of context.
My WIP is another standalone contemporary. I’ll share a snippet from the opening chapter. I love this section because everything that happens in this book stems from my character’s belief about this one subject.
“I have this theory that every person is a boat person. Or, they have the potential to be. Some people will deny this fact, will insist that they prefer the supposed safety that comes with having two feet on dry ground. These are usually the same people who spent one muggy summer morning digging through a Styrofoam box of worms in their grandpa’s fishing boat. They haven’t done the thing properly, is what I’m saying. They have no idea what they’re talking about.”
7. Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are simply trying to get words on the page?

Quantity over quality. Truly. Anything you write now can be fixed later. Finishing your first novel is such an empowering experience. And if you’ve done it once, you can do it again. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I’m discouraged about a terrible first draft.

8. What take-out food would pair well with your novel? 

Amberjack Publishing’s homepage says they “have a knack for finding binge-worthy books.” With that thought in mind, I’d pair my book with chips and salsa. If you eat one, it’s hard to stop! Plus, my main character Claire, loves Mexican food. She’d approve.

Thanks, Kara, for stopping by! 

Follow Kara on social media, and look for JUST FOR CLICKS in 2019.
Twitter: @karajmcdowell
Instagram: karajmcdowellbooks

Monday, October 9, 2017

Google Search: From Head Transplants to Book Souls

The Beckort household had a head lice scare at the end of the summer. I suppose I should count my lucky stars that we made it 11 years without the kid coming in contact with the little buggers, but still. LICE {yuck} Well, I quickly went into full combat mode, and my first stop was Google. I had to know what I was looking for and what to do about it. As I typed in ‘head’ I was met with the following suggestions by the Google bots:

Even in my DEFCON 1 mode, I had to pause when I saw ‘head transplant’. I mean, what? As intrigued as I was, I didn’t have time to investigate further. My understanding is that lice multiply by the millisecond.

Later, once the house and all family and pet members were fully deloused, I did a legit search on head transplant. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised to learn that there’s a doctor who is actually trying to complete the first human head transplant. Technically it’s more like a body transplant, but head transplant must sound cooler. Apparently, this has already been attempted several times with animals. I’ll never forgive Google for putting me on this path after seeing the pictures of the two-headed rats... Why? Just, why?

I considered doing a flash fiction for this post, but with our Stephen Kozeniewski as the resident horror writer on the blog, I knew I could never produce something worthy of the topic. So then I started thinking about the ethics of a head transplant. It’s not surprising that there are people who think doing this is immoral. That it would be like separating the soul from the body or even attempting a mixing of souls. I believe we all have souls, but I never actually thought about where the soul resides. Is it only in the brain? Is it the heart? Is it the entire body? Or is the soul outside the body, controlling us like avatars?

Well, that’s all a bit heavy for this post. So like any good rabbit hole, my mind wandered to the soul of books. I’d qualify the book’s soul as the essential part of the story. That one part that would render the book useless if it didn’t exist or if were changed in some way. Is it in the characters? The plot? The setting? A combination of all?

I’m going to select my favorite multiple choice answer: All of the Above.

I’ve read some books where the character(s) carried the entire book. One that comes to mind is YOU by Caroline Kepnes. You could pick Joe up and plop him down in another setting or plot and he’d be just as intriguing. He makes the story.

When I think about the soul of a book residing in the plot, most murder mysteries and thrillers come to mind. The whole point of the book is to figure out who-done-it. An annoying protagonist can be easily overlooked if the plot offers up some good unexpected twists and turns. One of my personal favorites is SHUTTER ISLAND by Dennis Lehane. That book gripped me from the start and didn’t let go for a while after I had finished reading.

I’m not usually a reader who gets swept away by the setting. That’s just not where I like to get lost. However, once in a while a book takes me by surprise and I want to immerse myself in its world. My favorite has to be THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. The characters were great and I loved the storyline, but it was the setting that had me enthralled. I found myself wishing the Night Circus would show up in my town in real life. And I’m not even a circus fan!

Then there are some books that combine all three in a way that would make it impossible for one to exist without the other. I’m currently listening to the CHIEF INSPECTOR ARMAND GAMACHE Series by Louise Penny. These murder mysteries mostly happen in the small fictional Canadian village of Three Pines. Each of the three areas—plot, characters, setting—are so intricately woven together I’m convinced none could exist without the others.

All this got me thinking about the souls of my books. I’ve often thought through the ‘reason’ for each of my books (as in what I want the reader to get out of reading it) but I haven’t really thought about it in terms of where the soul lies. I suppose each book does and will have an individual soul, which will reside wherever that particular book needs it to be. But I also think I have a universal book soul that stretches across everything I write—emotional connection. I want to write things that make people feel something, anything—from happiness to hopefulness to anger to everything else in-between. For me, the worst possible reaction I could get from a reader is indifference. I believe my natural writing style evokes emotions, so my challenge comes in successfully attaching the characters, the plot, and the setting to the emotional conduit I’ve created.

What about you? If you’re a writer, where does the soul for your book(s) lie? If you’re a reader, which of the book soul locations mentioned above do you enjoy most?

~ Carrie

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Across the Board is 3 Years Old!

A Post By Jonathan

I can't believe it, can you? Across the Board is three years old! That's like 30 years in blog years. We make three look good, don't we...

Our first post was on October 9th, 2014 and we've been bringing our readers quality content every Monday and Thursday (just about) ever since.

I for one want to thank all my fellow bloggers for making Across the Board such a huge success:
                                                                                Carrie Beckfort
                                                                                     Mary Fan
                                                                            Kimberly G. Giarratano
                                                                                 Abigail Isaacoff
                                                                           Stephen Kozeniewski
                                                                                Cheryl Oreglia
                                                                                 Brenda St. John
Sometimes blogging once a month (that's what it works out to with the eight of us) isn't easy for some of us, but we keep on doing it "literally" (see how I did that?) year in and year out. We just reached 22,000 twitter followers the other day, so we know people like us. And we like you too, people...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our past Boarders. We "literally" (see how I... oh never mind) wouldn't be here without you. See the list below and follow them and their work vigorously.


Lastly, I'd like to thank my mom for birthing me, my wife for marrying me and my fellow Boarders for sticking with me. Here's to another wonderful three years-- and beyond!

Monday, October 2, 2017

True Horror

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

It's hard to write a blogpost about writing on a day like today.  And what can I even say about the tragedy in Las Vegas that Carrie didn't already say better here?

This is horror.  True horror.  The horror we live with every day.  The horror that you try to shove down and away and cover up with Netflix binges and Scrabble and trips to the Olive Garden.  Death could come for you suddenly, so suddenly you don't even see it coming.  You could just turn around and be shot in the back of a head at a movie theater, an elementary school, a country-and-western concert.

Not long ago I dreamt I was standing in a marble colonnade and the nuclear bombs started falling.  I realized how death could come at any instant, for absolutely no reason, and I wouldn't even get the chance to clean up the loose ends of my life, say, fill the gas tank or finish this blog post.  I woke up with a deep, mortifying, existential dread.  

You always think you're going to die when you're old and gray, after a long, satisfying life.  Or, barring that, maybe you'll get a cancer diagnosis and a year to live in which to settle all your accounts and say all your goodbyes.  If you go to war there's the cold comfort of knowing that if you die, you died for something.

But there's something especially horrible about sudden, meaningless death.  It's what madmen and terrorists prey upon.  It feeds them and satiates them.  The clown from IT is more metaphor than supernatural menace, after all.

I write horror.  I try to imagine terrible things.  I'm often asked why.  Well, there are a million reasons, but amongst them is that facing death is a special kind of exhilarating, and a special kind of catharsis, especially when you know you'll be safe.  It's like riding a rollercoaster.  

Real death and destruction, though, it's never fun.  I find no matter how hard I try to inoculate myself to horror and dismemberment through movies and books, the real thing still always has the power to depress and wound me.  No matter how many times I may watch "Re-Animator" for fun, seeing someone decapitated on the side of the road will still shock and sicken.  I guess it's the difference between having the safety bar down on the rollercoaster and driving drunk without a seatbelt.  

Not long ago a great horror writer gave the rest of us a challenge, and a warning.  He said that it was our task to entertain people in these miserable times, but also to comment upon what's happening.  Great art comes out of challenging eras, but it can also change them - think about UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, THE JUNGLE, or ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

I'm not a kook - at least I think I'm not - but I worry sometimes, more often as the clock ticks onward, that we're reaching the end of man's time on this planet, whatever that means.  I doubt a seven-headed dragon with seven diadems on each of its heads will descend upon us, but as hurricanes swallow whole states and islands, as nuclear war seems closer than it has since the '60s, as lunatics and terrorists blow up and shoot up every place we feel safe, it certainly seems like a wave of darkness is washing over us.

Sure, it was a refrain as old as the hills when the ancient Greeks predicted the end of days, but though we came through the ignorance and the slaughter of past centuries, never before has the threat to our society seemed so existential.  That's technology's fault.  Perhaps technology can fix it.  Perhaps not.  It's the job of the science fiction writer to imagine that future, and the job of the horror writer to help us confront our fears.  We do what we can, I suppose.  And it's all of our jobs to love a little bit, and bring a little bit of light into that ever encroaching wave of darkness.  Maybe seven billion little flames can drive out the night, even if a few powerful, small-minded jackasses seem determined to usher it in.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lagom with a touch of Hygge

By Cheryl Oreglia

I wanted to be a Hyggelist for about twenty-four hours but just found out that was so yesterday! This was the topic of a recent blog posted at Living in the Gap. Hygge is a Danish term, it requires consciousness, the ability to not only live in the moment, but also recognize it's gifts. For those of you who only write horror, the english words used to describe Hygge are cosiness, charm, happiness, contentment, security, familiarity, kinship, or simpleness. The very things you strive to shatter in a horror novel are currently trending in the United States. 

If I wasn't trying to disrupt the algorithm of Facebook ads on my social media accounts with fake google searches I would have never stumbled upon the term Hygge. How lucky are we?

Taking time to smell the roses, enjoy the moment, maybe even seize the day, this is what Living in the Gap is all about.  All very cliche, totally Danish, but nonetheless taking our culture by storm. As a writer I consider my life experience through a unique lens. Does it have relevance, deeper meaning, significance? Is it worth writing about? Hygge sharpens the focus. 

Larry, my husband, and I have very different interests. My passion is writing, his is riding (mountain biking), weird how they sound the same, although very different practices. He does not miss a Saturday morning ride if he's in town. EVER. So I tend to write on Saturday mornings but that's not enough to keep a blog going. I have to linger with my words, thoughts, feelings, #Hygge. He'll never admit it, but he's not a fan of watching me crouched over a computer, deep in thought, sucking down gallons of coffee. He's what you call a man of action. I'm not. Is there middle ground?

Last night we were invited to a private concert. A good friend of ours is pursuing his passion of performing in a band. He made it happen, organized a group of talented musicians, and lined up a few gigs. They are awesome, the name of the band is Knee Deep, and they are making their mark in the valley. 

Knee Deep was booked at a quaint theater in downtown San Jose, a crew was filming for promotional purposes, so a small group of close friends showed up to dance/cheer/clap in the background. At one point in the night my friend Jill said "I love that Steve (the one in the front of the picture) is pursuing his passion." She looked at me and said, "you are too with your blog." We looked up and down the row of spectators, all over fifty, and still working day jobs. We realized most of us have a passion we kindle on the side, be it writing, riding, music, yoga, fishing, hiking, wine making, running, wood working, philanthropy, etc. And we all agreed we prefer our passions over our day jobs. 

I thought this was interesting, but I put it aside, and continued my mad search for news of Hygge. This is when I found out Hygge was so 2016, Lagom is the new trend, and together they are defining American culture. You can toss that around at your next dinner party (#sointheknow). Lagom is a Swedish concept of "not too much, not too little." Did I mention I'm Swedish? 

Sounds a little like the Buddhist concept of the "middle way," which avoids extremes of deprivation and excess, finding comfort in the middle ground, an optimal place for enlightenment. Lagom translates to "enough, sufficient, adequate, just right." Where Hygge aims to capture a feeling, Lagom is an ethos of moderation. Coffee with cream is Lagom, a nonfat pumpkin spiced latte is too much, plain coffee not enough. Add a roaring fire and you've got Nirvana!

In staying with my new standard of Lagom maybe I should avoid extremes like Comnopanis or my disastrous ClosetApparently there is a thin line between following your passion and acting in a selfish manner. Striving for balance, learning to say no, focusing on what you need to be doing are all part of the Lagom lifestyle. It's your personal gift to the world, the one you were born to pursue. As Glen Campbell sings, "I might need you more than want you." Writers write, singers sing, athletes play, everything else is superfluous. The trend is to simplify, pursue your passion, and avoid excess. A soft throw, hot coffee, computer, now that's the ultimate Lagom with a touch of Hygge.

"You will always be a little incomplete. This is the beautiful frustration of being human. And it’s where all the best art comes from, " Jeff Goins. 

Drop a few thoughts on these new trends in the comments. I might need, more than want a simplistic lifestyle, how about you?

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.

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