Annette's blog

Disposable or indispensable?

Recent headlines in The Seattle Times illuminate the importance of the American worker:

  • Microsoft shuts down last major piece of Nokia purchase, cuts 1,850 jobs (May 25, 2016)
  • Boeing plans hundreds of layoffs in local IT unit (May 25, 2016)
  • A few weeks ago, my employer reminded me of my importance. I received a text message that told me because I had not completed an annual competency, which I last completed in August of 2015, I was taken off the schedule and not allowed to work. I thought, this must be a mistake. My cellphone chirps every day with my supervisor asking me to come in on my day off to cover a co-worker’s shift who called out sick. Again. Or there’s a hole in the schedule: did I mind working extra? Now, with no warning, I’m told I can’t work. Hmm. I later found out I was one of 18 employees in my department who was made to clock out, finish the competency, and then clock back in.

    But this actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. Because this sudden “You’re off the schedule; we have no need of you,” spurred me to think about my future. How secure is my job? I wonder if employees at Boeing or Microsoft asked themselves the same question on May 24th.

    When I told my supervisor that her text made me feel disposable, she was quite surprised. But I recognize this as the harsh truth it is: for all the extra shifts I work and all the times I cover for co-workers, I am disposable.

    But I don’t want to be disposable. I want to be indispensable. Where can I be indispensable?

    Well, I think I’m pretty important to my husband and our little boy. And there’s one other place where I cannot be replaced: as the CEO of Baskethound Books, the small press I started in 2013. No one else can give life to the characters who inhabit my mind. No one else listens to their stories, cries with them and laughs with them. Just me. In my little office with Dean Martin crooning and my basset hound snoring, I do what no one else can do: I write my books.

    This got me to thinking: what are the obstacles to moving forward with Baskethound Books? Well, frankly, money. So, feeling bolder than I should, I took out a small loan and bought back the rights to my debut novel, Celebration House. I’ve wanted my rights back for a long, long time. Probably since I received my first three-month royalty payment of $31. Yep. That’s three months of royalties. And it was the biggest payment I received. So, last week, I did it. I made payment to Tirgearr Publishing and my rights are just that: mine.

    I also contracted with Melinda Wade, a professional actress, to narrate A Beautiful Day in Alaska. It’s really empowering to hear a professional storyteller tell you how much she loves your writing. I heartily recommend it to my fellow authors.

    I approved the sale of my third audiobook, Death Goes to the County Fair, and got busy fine-tuning the print version. It’s available now. The narrator, Daniel F. Purcell, and I delight in updating one another with sales figures.

    I’ve also decided to rename my novel, Bone Girl. For too long, I ignored all of the folks who told me the title dissuaded them from buying the book. Some would-be readers thought Bone Girl was a horror story; one reader suggested it was an erotic version of Gone Girl. Nope. Neither. So, working with the audiobook narrator, Darryl Hughes Kurylo, I retitled the book Trombone Girl, The Josey Miller Story. The new title and cover art will premier on July 1st. (Here’s a sneak peek at the cover. Beautiful, huh?).

    Cover by Elizabeth Mackey
    Cover by Elizabeth Mackey

    Can you hear the excitement I feel? Trust me: I never feel this excited when I trudge off to my day job. Maybe that’s the difference between disposable and indispensable.

    Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, defining the “romance” novel for myself.

    Annette's blog

    Amazon blocked my book. Why? I don’t know.

    Last Monday, I logged onto my Amazon author’s page and much to my surprise, I learned that my book, BONE GIRL, was blocked. Amazon refused to sell it.

    BLOCKED2I immediately emailed the company and received no response. I sent a second email on Tuesday and again, I received no response. Meanwhile, BONE GIRL could not be bought in e-book form on Amazon. It was and is still available at Nook, Kobo and iBook. Smashwords, the distributor I used for my books, had no qualms with BONE GIRL.

    On Wednesday, I received an email. Amazon demanded I prove I am the author of BONE GIRL. Okay. No problem. I publish the book via my own small press, Baskethound Books. I sent them an image of my business license. On Thursday, I sent them a copy of the copyright for BONE GIRL. This is the only book I have bothered to seek a copyright for, and I did it only so that I could submit it to a writing contest.

    On Thursday, I made the mistake of publishing my experiences to a writer’s board called KBoards. I asked if other authors had the experience of Amazon suddenly and without warning blocking their book. The replies soon came and with them, the venom of my fellow writers. Here’s what those writers had to say: Of course Amazon blocked your book: it has the word “bone” in the title; it must be erotica. Of course Amazon blocked your book: you are copy-catting the best book of 2014: GONE GIRL. It’s obvious: just compare the movie poster to your cover. How dare you? I expressed my innocence: I’ve never read GONE GIRL. I didn’t even see the movie. My book cover features a horse; the movie poster features Ben Affleck. How similar are those? In the end, I asked that my profile be removed from KBoards.

    Some writers think Amazon doesn’t help anyone but itself. I don’t know if that’s true. But, I’m foolish enough to wonder if Amazon blocked BONE GIRL with no warning and no explanation, what is to stop them from blocking A YEAR WITH GENO or any of my other books? Will I just log on one day and see that they are not for sale? Maybe.

    Some authors publish their books only on Amazon, and I have chosen that route on occasion in the past. But now I’m asking: is it possible for me to publish my books without using Amazon at all? Well, maybe. For example, my readers love print books. Okay. What if I choose – and I do love that word – to publish CELEBRATION HOUSE and its two sequels only in print? I could do it via Ingram Spark. Then, if readers want a copy, they visit Barnes & Noble in person or online and buy one there. Or they could go to their local independently owned bookstore and request the book. It’s not like I’m a bestselling author. Not yet.

    As for ebooks, what if I publish with Smashwords only? Readers could buy it from Kobo, iBook or Nook. It’s still available, just not on Amazon. This idea intrigues me: is there life without Amazon?

    One last thing: what really bothers me about Amazon and its decision to block my book is that there’s no accountability. I queried them three times to ask why. Why did they block my book? But they do not tell me. They have no phone number. I have only the option of sending emails. It’s kind of like KBoards. The people who post there, especially the venomous ones, do not have a public profile. They like to remain anonymous. That way, they can say whatever they want and there’s no accountability. Hmm. Does that seem like cowardice? I don’t know. What do you think?

    Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, still trying to learn how to manage an event venue

    P.S. I forgot to say: Amazon removed the block yesterday. Why? I don’t know.

    Annette's blog

    2016 – what a year you’re going to be

    Have you ever heard the phrase, “You get what you focus on?”

    This is Stanton Hall, an antebellum mansion in Natchez, MS. I keep a photograph of this magnificent home by my computer. It's how I envision Stratton House. Beautiful, huh?
    This is Stanton Hall, an antebellum mansion in Natchez, MS. I keep a photograph of this magnificent home by my computer. It’s how I envision Stratton House. Beautiful, huh?

    I think there’s a lot of wisdom in those six words. And in 2016, I’m applying them to my writing career.

    Ever since Celebration House was published by Tirgearr Publishing in August of 2013, I’ve been talking and blogging and blabbing on about the sequels to it. Well, this is the year. This is the year of Celebration House.

    I’ll admit there are some hurdles. To begin with, I signed a contract with Tirgearr Publishing in April of 2013. According to the contract, they have exclusive rights to the book for five years. That means, I don’t have the right to publish my own creation via Baskethound Books in any form – audiobook, print or e-book – until August of 2018 unless I pay them $500. Okay. $500. Got it. Let us shake hands and wish each other well.

    Then, there is the task of writing the two new books. I’ve started and stopped several times. I’ve had a few diversions, such as writing a novella, A Beautiful Day in Alaska, and my first cozy mystery, Death Goes to the County Fair, as well as the screenplay adaptation for Bone Girl. But those projects are done. Or perhaps I should say done enough for now.

    But there are some structural problems with Celebration House. I wrote that book years ago, and I don’t write that way anymore. So, I’m adding new scenes and deleting the passages where I tell and don’t show. I’m reworking the book so it’s clearly a romance and not women’s fiction.

    And I’m having a blast! I love revisiting my heroine, Carrie, as she fights to save a falling-down antebellum mansion that was built 100 years before she was born. I’m happy to be back among the cast and crew of that book, including my hero, Maj. Stewart, who still looks so much like Hugh Jackman; they could be brothers. I love catching up with the other ghosts who demand Carrie’s attention, like Col. Stratton for whom the house is made, and his wife, Virginia. Violet is still my favorite.

    And then there are my new heroines. Beth Kozera, the nurse who helped Carrie in Celebration House, stars in Volume 2. Beth, like me, knows nothing about running an event venue. She and I are going to learn together. We started by interviewing the manager of the Van Valey House here in Everett, Washington. That event venue is owned by the City of Everett, so now I’m querying owner-operated locales to ask my many questions.

    The third, and last installment, stars Melanie, Carrie’s older sister. Melanie is the most complex character I’ve ever written. She’s the villain in the first book, so how I turn her from criticizing shrew to the heroine is going to be a writing feat. Fortunately, I’ve got a mighty tool: I’ve got grief. Oh, the things grief does to us. I’ve already written the prologue to Melanie’s story, and I still can’t read it without crying.

    What? Tears? Oh, yes. Keep a box of Kleenex nearby. You’re gonna need them, my friend.

    Can you hear how excited I am about this project? Honestly, it’s the best antidote to the winter grays that descend upon me every year.

    I’ve got my cover artist lined up and my proofreader. I still need an editor who knows, really knows, romance. I haven’t found her (or him?) yet.

    Any sex scenes in my books? Nope. Sorry. But I’m going to create so much sexual tension that the reader will wish there were sex scenes. I’m honing my skills. I’m joining a local chapter of Romance Writers of America, and I’m either going to find a critique group or start one. I’m busy!

    And target reader, I know who you are. After almost three years since I first published, I finally know who my target reader is. How sad is that? You are my Aunt Mary Rose. You are my co-worker, Joelle. I’ll spare the demographics and just say this: Target Reader, you are going to love, love, love these three books.

    So, when will they publish? I don’t know the exact month and day. I’m still working out those pesky details. But I know this: 2016.

    Hands and arms inside the cart: Beth Kozera and I go looking for an event venue

    Annette's blog

    The mystery of writing a good mystery

    For the past few months, I’ve been toiling away on my first cozy mystery, Death Goes to the Ogallala County Fair.

    mysterywritingI read the most popular cozy mysteries. I spent way more time than I should perusing websites, like http://www.cozy-mystery.com/. I took an online course in how to write a mystery novel with Steve Alcorn. I’ve been busy, sometimes so much that more often than not, I failed to make my daily quota of 1,000 words. And here it is, one week from the deadline when I’m supposed to send the completed manuscript to my editor, Les Dunseith, and the book is maybe 50 percent finished. This is not good.

    So, what’s the problem? Well, I thought it was because I don’t enjoy killing off people, specifically my characters. But to be honest with you, all three men (and yes, they are all men) who die in my book aren’t nice people. The world is perhaps better off now that they are gone.

    I thought maybe it’s because my main character, Joni Harte, isn’t as talkative as other characters I’ve written about. If you’ve read my novella, A Beautiful Day in Alaska, then you know Charlie Land. Well, Charlie is a chatterbox. He talked to me (and still does) a lot. Or if you read Bone Girl, then you know Josey Miller. I’m closer to Josey than my own children. That’s how often she and I converse.

    The main character in my mystery, Joni, has a lot of insecurities (she’d hate me for telling you that) and a secret or two. Painful ones. At least to her. So, she’s been more reluctant to talk with me. But, we’re making progress. I know her deep, dark secret and discovered some important details about her, like that she drives a 1976 AMC Gremlin and has an older over-achiever sister named Monica who is super annoying.

    I know what I don’t like in a mystery novel. I don’t like it when the author doesn’t give any clues, and then somehow, when the book is 85% done, oh, here’s the villain. It was him all along. Really? Wow. Okay. Who knew?

    Or, also my least favorite, I don’t like it when at the end, the antagonist turns out to be crazy. He or she did all of these evil deeds because they were mentally ill. No other reason possible. I don’t like that. I feel like it’s a cheap way out. Like, the author says, “Oh, I’ve got to make my deadline, so the murderer is Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick, because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.” Fail.

    So that’s what I don’t like in a mystery. What do I like? I like it when the main character (and there should only be one) has fun, quirky friends. I like mysteries that take place in a small town. Maybe I should start there, working with the things I do like:

    • I want my book to take place in a small town where the reader would want to live.
    • I want my main character to have warm, funny, forgiving friends who I would want in my life.
    • The villain – and I know the identity of that person – is not crazy. She (oops!) has a specific purpose, and for her, the end always justifies the means.
    • I want to grab my reader. I want to hold onto them so tightly that putting my book down is an impossibility. I want to own my reader. (That kind of sounds weird, doesn’t it?)

    Okay. Those are my goals. But there’s one other thing very different about writing a mystery than the other four books I’ve written: I have to keep secrets. And I stink at that. No, I do. I cannot keep a secret to save my life. I’m as obvious as the nose on your face. But if I give away my secrets, then I’ll lose my reader, right? Ugh! No wonder I’m not done yet.

    Okay. Enough excuse making. I must write 1,000 words today. Now. And send an email to my editor, asking to push that deadline back two weeks.

    Hands and arms inside the cart: Next: Baskethound Books proudly presents the first chapter of Death Goes to the Ogallala County Fair.

    Annette's blog

    The good, the bad and the amazing of 2014

    As the final hours of 2014 tick down, I take a few minutes to reflect on the good, the bad and the amazing of this year.

    The good.
    I published two books this year via my small press, Baskethound Books. The first, Bone Girl, is a middle-grade novel that tells the story of a young girl and a rescued stallion who together, save their world. The other, A Year with Geno, is a contemporary romance about two single parents who find romance amidst the chaos of single-parenthood.
    Both books have sold tens of copies. I haven’t broken even financially, but I still have the delicious pleasure of going to my local library and seeing my books are available to be borrowed, but are checked out.
    Also, much to my delight, both stories found their voice: they are available as audiobooks via Audible. Many thanks to Darryl Hughes Kurylo Darryl Hughes Kurylo Audible 2014for narrating Bone Girl and Julie KerrJulie Kerr for her tireless efforts on A Year with Geno. You are both amazing. Thank you.

    The bad.
    My relationship with the publisher of my debut novel, Celebration House, continued to deteriorate. My plan: buy back the rights to my novel, wish those folks well, and continue on my journey. Enough said.
    As part of those plans, I launched a Kickstarter campaign. My goal was $2,500; pledges totaled $135. Wildly unsuccessful. But I learned how to make a promotional video, started a YouTube channel and began to brainstorm about promotional swag. Coffee, anyone?BHB mug

    The amazing.
    Rowan2Earlier this month, I spoke on e-publishing at my county library. During my talk, one of the attendees asked if I was comfortable making myself so public, so vulnerable to readers. I can’t remember my exact words, but I hope I conveyed this sentiment: “I LOVE hearing from readers.”
    In May, a young girl reached out to me to ask a question about the setting of Bone Girl for a school book report. I wrote back and told her about Bennett Springs, Missouri. We made a deal. I would send her a Bone Girl T-shirt if she would send me a copy of her book report. Receiving this photo of her was the high point of my year.
    A few days before Thanksgiving, A Year with Geno was spotlighted on Romancing the Book, a well-known blog for romance novels. I had all of my ducks in a row, sort of. I hadn’t made the time to promote the promotion. So, I turned to fellow authors who I had featured in my Author Spotlight on my blog and asked them to help me spread the word. Of the 20 or so authors I queried, nearly all said yes. They told their readers about my meager $25 Amazon gift card giveaway and about my book. Thanks, guys.
    What’s next in 2015? I don’t know. My first novella, A Beautiful Day in Alaska, premiers on Feb. 1st. I’m working on the creation of a print and audiobook version of my picture-book manuscript, The Carwash Dragon. And I have aspirations of publishing the two sequels to Celebration House, but there’s a teensy problem: I’m spending most of my writing time on my cozy mystery, Death Comes to the Ogallala County Fair. I can’t help it. It’s so much fun.
    Hands and arms inside the cart. Next: the mystery of writing a good mystery.

    Annette's blog

    Is it too late to blog about Thanksgiving?

    The leftover dressing and gravy are thrown away. The cornucopia is boxed up to make room for the ceramic village on the holiday shelf. All of the brown and orange linen napkins are packed away. Thanksgiving is over.
    thanksgiving-pilgrimI love Thanksgiving. For me, it is the calm before the crazy of Christmas. It’s the silence before the noise of shopping and school concerts and worrying about what to buy whom and how exactly do I pay for all of this stuff anyway?
    And for me, there’s just something enthralling about the idea of taking a day, just one day, to be grateful. Look around and think, yes, I have enough.
    This year, amazing things happened with my little business, Baskethound Books. In March, I published Bone Girl. I never thought I could self-publish a book. I dreamed of it. Actually doing it? That seemed crazy.
    And then, three months later, I did it again when I self-published A Year with Geno. It’s like this publishing of books is starting to be a habit.
    Of course, there’s the promotion of my books. It can be the greatest little novel on the planet but if nobody knows about it, nobody is going to read it. Ah, there’s the rub. How do I tell people about my book?
    So this Thanksgiving, I hosted a Rafflecopter giveaway. My first. I asked entrants to share their favorite Thanksgiving memory with me in exchange for a $25 Amazon gift card. You can see these stories on my website under “Thanksgiving 2014 giveaway winners,” including my own.
    There’s one Thanksgiving memory I didn’t share because the fellow to whom it belonged didn’t enter my contest. When I told him about my contest, he told me that when he was stationed in Vietnam and enjoying a diet of C-rations, the army surprised him and his fellow soldiers with a Thanksgiving dinner – turkey and all the trimmings. He still remembers that meal.
    The experts tell me Thanksgiving is not the time to run a promotion. People are too busy shopping and cooking to read blogs. I’m sure they’re right. But I’ve never been easy to dissuade once I set my course. My mom used to say, “Don’t confuse Annette with the facts; her mind is made up.”
    So…Thanksgiving of 2015, I plan an even bigger promotion for A Year with Geno, this one involving my YouTube channel. Here’s the idea: a dance contest. Whose husband is the worst dancer? I thought maybe I’d call it something along the lines of, “He dances like an idiot but I love him anyway…” That’s just a working title. Entrants send me a 20-second clip of their sweetheart dancing. I award the most entertaining dancer a $50 Amazon gift card.
    Hands and arms inside the cart: Next: the good, the bad and the amazing of 2014

    Annette's blog

    Have I gone too commerical?

    Last summer, overcome with more ambition than is healthy, I set up a page on my website where readers could buy books directly from me. My current platform, wordpress.com, didn’t allow this feature. So, because I am hard-wired with an abundance of optimism and scarcity of caution, I leaped onto wordpress.org. That’s a whole different and ugly blog post.

    After moving my website, I spent at least three minutes researching what different e-commerce companies offered and chose Ecwid. They allowed me to build a store of sorts where I can sell my books. But after perusing other independent authors’ websites, I decided to offer more. To that end, I had a logo designed for Baskethound Books, the small press I founded. It looks something like this:

    Logo version 3

    Taking the next step on the path to my own destruction, I decided to offer small items – I call it swag – with my logo or the cover for my books. For instance, I think the cover for Bone Girl is a piece of artwork unto itself, so I offer a journal with the cover replicated on it. I also sell mugs and simple things like phone covers and tote bags with the Baskethound Books logo emblazoned on them, with help from Vistaprint. You are invited to peruse the shelves of Baskethound Boutique for yourself.

    Speaking of, how are sales? …Uh, you know, a little slow. Okay. I’ve sold a total of two books and those to my biggest fan in Alaska. Thank you, Dianne. On the Saturday she bought the books, I was working an extra shift in the urgent care clinic. Ecwid sent me an email informing me I had sold two books, and I was so overcome with joy and entrepreneurial glee that I forgot to give a patient his tetanus shot before he left. Oops. Also, I spent all of my profits on business cards and labels for Baskethound Books that very night. No sense in letting that money grow cold in my Paypal account. Who knows? It might spoil or something.

    Okay, so if I’m not making tens of dollars, what does this little side business give me? A sense of accomplishment? Yep. And such hope. I look at the two books I have for sale now – Bone Girl and A Year with Geno – and I wonder, hmm…how many books will I publish in 2015? How about in two years? Will all three books in the Celebration House trilogy be on this shelf and ready for me to endorse and ship directly to readers?

    BaskethoundBooks warehouse

    I kind of think they will. This is hope. Its value? Priceless.

    Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, exploring the possibilities on Fiverr.com