Hello…My name is Annette Drake

After driving more than 1700 miles, I stood in front of an audience of four and said those words. This was my first presentation about Celebration House and marketing genius that I am, I decided there was no better place to do this than Lexington, Missouri, where the book takes place. Thus the oh-so-long drive.

I hoped to have an audience of 10 people. The Lexington newspaper printed a small article about Celebration House. Sure, it was nearly word-for-word from the press release that the library gave them and it was on page 4. But, hey! I was in the Lexington News.

As the day approached, I tried to decrease my anxiety by telling myself that no one would come, but I was wrong. Tucked downstairs in the basement of the Lexington branch of the Trails Library, I had an audience of four. Two of those were my husband and our son.

Mary, the first audience member to arrive, was a print journalist who just helped publish a pictorial history of Lexington. I bought a copy of this amazing book, and Chris and I poured over its pages the rest of the trip. We history nerds loved it!

The other attendee, Larry, was writing a genealogy of his family. He and I talked about the pros and cons of self-publishing, and he told me that Lexington actually had two Civil War battles, though the second one wasn’t of much consequence.

Larry made me laugh. When he saw my cover and the ghostly soldier outfitted in blue, he said, “You know Lexington was pro-south, don’t you?” I did indeed, but I quickly explained the hero of my book served under Col. James Mulligan from St. Louis. Larry nodded a curt approval.

Both of these attendees were a delight. My 30-minute presentation stretched into an hour and a half. The woman was determined to buy my book, and we spent the last 10 minutes of the session trying to navigate the Tirgearr website so I would receive the most money. I gave up when the Amazon page she’d been directed to asked for payment in English pounds. In all of my interest in these two attendees, I forgot to actually read the first chapter from the book. Oops.

A huge shout-out to my amazing husband, who drove nearly all of those 1,700 miles and stayed up until midnight the night before the presentation to change a flat tire. Thanks to my mother-in-law who bought us an AAA membership for the road. And of course, thanks to the staff – Carol, Donna and Mardeana – at Trails Library for hosting me.    

But even after the library presentation, my book tour wasn’t done. At the Obermeier family reunion the next day, I saw my Aunt Mary Rose. This, truthfully, was one of the purposes of the trip – to see and talk with this amazing woman who played such an important role in my childhood. I was also delighted to see my Uncle Jack, Aunt Joann, cousins Debbie, Bill and David.  

At the reunion, I showed my power point again and a cousin’s wife, Connie, told me she would buy the book. At the end of the reunion, I was approached by an older relative, Bill. He wanted to buy my book because, like me, he suffers from insomnia and reading books on Kindle helps him through some long nights. I was delighted to show him Celebration House.

The next day, I met my father’s new significant other, Margaret. She saw my book and bought a copy, then posted it to Facebook and told me her friends were buying it.

We spent a few days invading, I mean visiting, my sister, Barb. On our last day at her house, Wilda, the clerk at the Prengers grocery store, told me she’d gone looking for me on Facebook and had stumbled onto my book. Why hadn’t I told her I wrote books? I explained that self-promotion sometimes felt awkward to me. She told me she had already bought and downloaded Celebration House.

Perhaps the event at the library in Lexington with my audience of two wasn’t worth driving 1,700 miles. But reconnecting with my family and meeting these new readers was.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: More treasure from the long road trip.

Ode to a hound

Hour after hour, I sit at this desk, promoting Celebration House and sometimes, for a few stolen minutes of bliss, working on my next book, A Year with Geno. My family leaves me in peace. They know I get cranky with interruptions. But I’m not alone: my faithful basset hound, Eeyore, is asleep by my chair.

Recently, I reconnected with my uncle, Jack Obermeier. We’re Facebook friends now. I laughed when I saw his portrait photo: a beautiful long-eared hound. At least I know I come by my passion for the breed through genetics. Here, then, is a humble offering to my Uncle Jack and those in my audience who cannot imagine life without a hound:

Ten things a hound may hear from his owner:
10. I’ve already fed you today. Three times.
9. Why is there a string of drool on this picture frame?
8. You look guilty. Why do you look guilty?
7. How did you get two pounds of raw hamburger off the countertop?
6. You. Smell. Bad.
5. Stop baying. Someone rang the doorbell on the television.
4. How did you get the Easter candy? It was in my bedroom closet.
3. You’re living proof that chocolate does not kill dogs. But right now, I wish it did.
2. What’s in your mouth? Ew, it’s a mouse! I can see the tail…
1. Drop it! Drop it! Oh, you swallowed it.

The land of book blogs

Finish writing my book: Check.

Find a publisher who believes in it: Check.

Promote it: Huh?

My journey into the world of published author continues. Next stop: the land of book blogs.

Now that my cover art is done and while the editing process winds down, I’ve begun the daunting task of promoting my book. My hope is that readers with $2.99 burning a hole in their pocket will know of its existence and buy it.

My publisher sent me a list of 315 blogs that review books and recommend or condemn them. My task is to write to these bloggers and ask them to review my book or consider an author interview.

Some bloggers say yes. My first was Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews. Some say no, like Jennifer Vido. Her blog spotlights well-known authors like Karen White. Not little-known authors like Annette Drake.

But I find myself taken aback by some of these blogs. For instance, many of them feature romance novels with lots more heat than my humble offering. Spoiler alert: there’s no sex in Celebration House. My main character can’t even touch her love interest until the part where… Oh, nevermind. I’ll let you read it for yourself. 

My goal is to write to five bloggers a night. Unfortunately, this begging of bloggers takes up my precious writing time.

Here’s how it works: I tuck my 6-year-old son, Jack, into bed. Oh, hell, let’s be honest, I beg my husband to put him to bed. Then I sneak up to my office, quietly close (and lock!) the door behind me, and I enter a world I didn’t know existed.

Some of these sites I’ve stumbled onto are hosted by women younger than my daughters. These bloggers are much more skilled at designing a blog page than I will ever be. Their sites sizzle.

My book has a paranormal element, so I thought it appropriate to query the blog Paranormal Book Club. Holy buckets! Is that blood splattered all over their home page? Are there three characters on that book cover? Jack isn’t seeing this, is he? I think you get the idea.

So I posted something on Twitter about looking for blogs to promote my book. A family friend told me to check out the blog, LadySmut, by author Liz Everly. Okay. You’d think I would glimpse the subject matter by the title, right? No. I’ve never been that quick. One of the books she reviews, Venus in Furs, features cover art that made me scratch my head and wonder, what part of the human body is that? I did learn a thing or two. Did you know there is breast milk erotica?

Now, if you will please excuse me, I still have my daily quota of five bloggers to write to and ask if they will review Celebration House. Hmm…there’s a blog on this list called “Pages of Forbidden Love.” Wonder what that’s all about?

Hands and arms inside the cart, please: Next, my final edits are done! Oh, my final edits are done…

Music that moves me

The first step for me when I sit down to write is to click on Pandora and choose which station I’ll listen to as I create. The music I choose varies with which book I’m writing.

For Bone Girl, I prefer bluegrass, from the joyful fiddle playing of Mark O’Connor to the fast pace of the Barn Owl Band. Throw in a dash of Adele and top with the soulful duets of the Judds. All mixed together, these are the themes of my middle-grade novel, Bone Girl. . Here’s a few tunes that fit this novel best:

  •  “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele,
  • “Emily’s Reel” by Mark O’Connor,
  • “Road to Spencer” by The Three Pickers,
  • “Johnson Boys” by The Barn Owl Band,
  • “Love will Build a Bridge” by The Judds,
  • “Home” by Phillip Phillips,
  • “Squirrel Hunter” by The Wilders,

If I’m working on A Year with Geno, a contemporary romance that takes place in Anchorage, I leave my bluegrass stations and head straight to the music of Ella Fitzgerald and crooners like her. Lately, I’ve spent most of my writing time sculpting the rough draft of this novel, so I have quite a few songs bookmarked:

  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday,
  • “All Right Okay You Win” by Joe Williams,
  • “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy,
  • “Smile” by Nat King Cole,
  • “The Very Thought of You” by Harry Connick, Jr.
  • “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” by Arethra Franklin,
  • “Many the Miles” by Sara Bareilles,

For my paranormal romance, Celebration House, it’s pure Norah Jones. I wrote the rough draft of the book when I first fell in love with this blues singer. Even my hunky hero, Maj. Thomas Stewart, remarks on Norah’s voice: “She sings as though she’s courting me.”

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, I post my book, Bone Girl, on Authonomy. Quick! Go to www.Authonomy.com and read the first few chapters of my book. Tell me what you think.

The siren’s call of giving up.

Now that I have returned to working full-time as a nurse, I’m tempted to quit writing.

First thing in the morning, I head to my little office, AKA the spare bedroom. I turn on Pandora – which station depends on which novel I’m working on – and I start to write, to lose myself in the tale I’m trying to weave. A few minutes later, I hear the words that signal the end of my writing time: “Mommy…”

It’s my six-year-old son, calling me to come and rescue him from his bed. He’s ready to get up and start his day. It’s not even 6 a.m. But for him, the day cannot wait (Which by the way, is the title of one of my picture books).

So I promise myself, I swear an oath, that I will write after he’s asleep. Later that night, with my early-morning riser tucked in bed, I head for the office. But I’m so tired. Is there a new Stephen Colbert episode to watch? Maybe I’ll just read tonight. Because everybody knows that writers are first and foremost readers. I have a Julia Quinn novel that I’m getting ready to dive into. Did I mention I’m tired?

And so it happens: another day goes by and I have not written a single word.

I know I’m not alone in my desire to throw in the towel. At a SCBWI conference a few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing a keynote speech by Jay Asher. I didn’t know who he was before this conference. Jay is the author of a young-adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. The book spent 65 weeks on the New York Times children’s hardcover bestseller list. There are currently 750,000 copies in print in the US alone.

But success didn’t come easy or early to Jay. At one point in his writing career, Jay told his wife he was quitting. She convinced him to do otherwise.

In April, at this year’s western Washington SCBWI conference, successful authors shared their experiences. The journey to publication is a hard one; it’s not for the faint of heart. All agreed that at one time or another, they wanted to quit.

I’ve got to figure out how to make time to write. Perhaps the answer is to forget any fantasy of a one-hour window of quiet and take my solitary moments in whatever time increments I can get them. Or maybe it’s to ask for help. I live with two other people who could take care of my little guy for an hour. Maybe it’s to move my writing up on the priority list. Or perhaps it’s as Deborah Hopkinson says, “You’ve got to want it more than sleep.”

I don’t know how I’m going to accomplish my goal of 1,000 words a day, but I do know this: writing makes me better. It makes me smarter and funnier. It’s exercise for my soul.

And I have to think that I’m not the only person who needs to hear the voices in my head, the ones that say things like, “Celebrate your life,” (Celebration House), or “You have all of the answers within you” (Bone Girl), or “You are beautiful and deserve to be loved thoroughly” (A Year with Geno). I sincerely believe that others need to hear these voices too. But they won’t if I quit.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, music that moves me.

A student of the genre

As part of the mission given to me by my editor, Maudeen Wachsmith, I’ve been reading  romance novels so that I might better understand how to create sexual tension. To that end, I turned to bestselling author, Teresa Medeiros, and I dived into two of her more recent releases: The Temptation of Your Touch, released this past January, and the book that predates it, The Pleasure of Your Kiss, released December, 2011.

The Pleasure of Your Kiss tells the story of Ashton Burke, the black-sheep brother who leaves his childhood love, Clarinda, for the life of an adventurer. When Clarinda is kidnapped and sold to a sheik for his harem, Ashton rescues her and in the process, reawakens their romance. She dumps her fiancée at the altar to marry Ashton. The dumped fiancé, Max, is Ashton’s older brother, and the main character of The Temptation of Your Touch.  

Both books are engaging reads, but I found myself drawn more to the characters that live amongst the pages of The Tempation of Your Touch. In this book, the main female character, Mrs. Spencer, looks after not only Cadgwyck Manor, but also her father, two half-siblings, and a gaggle of girls she rescues from the London streets. She’s a caregiver. I get that.

By contrast, Clarinda is not a caregiver. To some extent, she watches over her friend, Poppy. But by and large, Clarinda’s focus is Clarinda. I personally don’t have that luxury, although there are many times when I wish I did. For that reason, I didn’t connect with this main character.

Also, unlike Clarinda, Mrs. Spencer has a purpose: she’s hunting for a lost treasure, which she will sell to provide for herself and her charges. Meanwhile, she and the others scare away anyone who gets between her and that goal. I like that. I like characters who have a goal.

It might also be the setting. Sure, a lazy life in a sheik’s palace in the far-off desert sounds exotic, but I’m in love with the agrarian setting. I want to raise chickens. So, while Cadgwyck Manor sounds pretty rainy, I’ll take that over a harem any day.

Here’s my take-away: in my romance novels, my main character has to be more than a 20-year-old who thinks only of herself. She has to be a mother, a sister, a daughter or a mentor. She has to care for more than just herself. And she needs a purpose, not just to survive the situation, but a plan. I love a good plan.

I think these reasons are why I brought The Temptation of Your Touch downstairs on a Saturday morning. I buried my nose in it, allowing my young son to watch all the TV he wanted so I could keep reading. With this book, Teresa Medeiros had me. I couldn’t put the book down. Answers to my husband became one-syllable; I would say anything so he would leave me alone and let me read. I had to know what happened to Mrs. Spencer and Max!

Clarinda and Ashton, well, their book stayed upstairs on my nightstand. They could wait.

Right now, I’m revising my paranormal romance, Celebration House. I’m perusing lots of romance novels, not only as a reader, but as a student of the genre. I’m just getting started, but if I’m to be a successful romance writer, I need to know how these books work. What makes a reader choose to bring the book downstairs on a Saturday morning or leave it on the nightstand? That’s what I need to know.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: the siren’s call of giving up.

How ereaders are changing the face of publishing

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, spoke May 2 at the annual Romantic Times Booklovers convention in Kansas City. He presented the results of a survey that studied the e-book market and he made this prediction: “I predict that within three years, over 50% of the New York Times bestselling ebooks will be self-published ebooks. It’s possible I’m being too conservative.”

I’m a novice when it comes to ereaders. In fact, I haven’t bought mine yet. So, I’m going to defer to Meghan Somers, a volunteer at Digital Alberta. Her article, The Rise of the E-Book, in the Nov. 27, 2012, issue of the Calgary Herald, reviewed some eReader basics. Here is her article in its entirety.

“In the beginning ebooks were written and published to a select audience, and in a limited run. Then, in November 2007 Amazon.com released the Kindle and the industry changed. In early 2011 the company announced that they sold more ebooks than paper books – and that number is constantly growing. As this article from TechVibes points out, tablets and ereaders are doing to print what the iPod and iTunes did to music: changing the way people buy and consume content. The numbers certainly reflect this.

In the US 2012 so far has seen $282.3M spent on ebooks in adult literature alone. This is up from $220.4M in 2011. Children’s/young adult eBooks saw an increase of 475.1% from 2011 to 2012. In Canada, while the number of ebooks sold has not overtaken traditional book formats, ebooks account for 16.3% of all book sales – a number which surpasses the expectations of industry experts.

Reading in general seems to be on the rise as a result of ebooks and ereaders. This may have something to do with the ‘I’ve got it so I might as well use it’ mentality people develop towards their digital devices. Research says that on average people who own an ebook device read almost double the amount of books in a year than people who don’t own one. But there are other factors to consider as well. Speed of accessibility, ease of use while travelling and access to content are the top three reasons people prefer ebooks. What is even more interesting is that 88% of people who read ebooks also read printed books. The rise of ebooks has also heralded a rise in readership of books in general – half way through 2012 the total sales (ebooks and print) for books in adult literature alone is up $17.1M from the same time last year.

The rise of the ebook has also seen a rise in self-published material. Perhaps the most famous example of success in the self-published ebook industry is E.L. James’ ’50 Shades of Grey’, but she was not the first to see success in the self publishing world. Amanda Hocking is generally agreed to be the first self-published author to reach over a million dollars in sales with her ‘Trylle’ series. With series like Trylle and 50 Shades opening readers eyes to new avenues for reading content more ‘serious’ subject matter is also being broached in the self-publishing realm. Renowned journalists who spend a lot of time crafting a piece for a major news outlet are often left with a lot more research and material then what ends up on newsstands. Self-publishing allows them to take that leftover material and get it out to the public.

What we can take away from this is that the traditional book industry is not dying – it is simply evolving. People prefer to have multiple ways to consume content, a fact that seems obvious due to the rapid adoption of tablet and mobile content, but until you see the actual stats it is sometimes hard to wrap ones head around the concept.”

Meghan is a volunteer at Digital Alberta. In addition to being a digital media enthusiast she is an Account Executive at The Agency, a boutique PR firm that specializes in the technology sector. 

 

What kind of tension?

The date has been set: Celebration House will be published on August 1st.

God help me!

I’m starting the editing process with my editor, Maudeen, who has sent me the first list of questions and instructions. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to create more heat between my main character, Carrie, and her love interest, Maj. Thomas Smithson. Sexual tension. Got it.

Um, how do I do that exactly?

To answer that question, I’m rereading some of my favorite romance novels from authors who know what they’re doing.

One of my favorites is A Knight in Shining Armor, by Jude Deveraux. Classic! Like mine, the book is a paranormal romance of sorts: the main character travels through time to right some wrongs done to the hero. At one point, she brings the hero to modern-day London. It’s so fun to read.

Or maybe I should reread Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray.* Like my book, this novel is a soft romance; there are no heaving breasts or straining biceps. But there is tension and humor. I burst out laughing when I read Julie and Romeo, especially during the scene in the cooler at Julie’s flower shop. The sequel, Julie and Romeo Get Lucky, was just as good.

I’m sure Teresa Medeiros* could teach me a few things. I found this author years ago. One of her first books, Touch of Enchantment, is still a favorite. Currently, I’m reading The Temptation of Your Touch.

But it’s Maudeen who comes to my rescue. She sent me a link to a page of The Romance Reader, where author Joanna Somersby, aka Marg Riseley, compares sexual tension to unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree on December 25th.

“Sexual tension can be anything that keeps the hero and heroine from indulging their instincts. It’s that ants-in-the-pants feeling of anticipation that keeps us peeling away the wrapping paper until the present is finally ours. It’s then up to the writer to make sure that present is a gift worth receiving.” – Marg Riseley

*Both Medeiros and Ray are nurses.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: Rethinking my relationship with eBook readers.