Sunday, November 16, 2014

Marilyn Fierro and The Long Island Romance Writers

The Long Island Romance Writers had a special guest at our November meeting! 

Hanshi Marilyn Fierro, 9th Degree Black Belt and Chief Instructor at Smithtown Karate Academy,
 gave a terrific self defense presentation at Smithtown Library.

Long Island Romance Writers were spellbound as we watched Sensei take down her agile volunteer, Dennis Bader.

What better way to add authenticity to a fight scene than see a master at work!

 Author, Patty Blount, volunteered to demonstrate how a heroine might block an attack.


But Sensi reminded us that prevention is the best defense. Be aware of your surroundings and trust your sixth sense!

 It was an amazing day. I went home with plenty of ideas for my current work in progress.

Thank you, Sensei! We hope that you will come back again!

To find out more about Sensei Marilyn Fierro, visit her website at

See you next time!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Strange Times Indeed

For the past few weeks, I've been doing research on the reasons behind a phenomenon many of my contemporaries and myself have been feeling in the market... a decided downturn in full-price ebook sales. I've received many opinions on the matter and have formed some of my own through this process. I hope you won't mind my sharing some of my observations here today.

First, you have to realize that starting in about July, I noticed a significant drop in ebook sales. I attributed it to the debut of Kindle Unlimited, and at first, I thought I was the only one affected. I came to find out, by talking with many, many other authors, and surveying the author boards I belong to, that it was across the board. Everyone I've heard from, or have observed posting publicly, is feeling some kind of change.

Now, I've been expecting some sort of shake up for a long time. Like Californians expect an earthquake, I've been looking for that big Richter-scale-tipping change that seems to happen in this industry every few years. I've been looking for it, but I never expected it to happen in quite this way.

Let me go back in time a bit to mention that the first real ebook downturn happened to a more specific group of writers - those that write and package themselves more on the erotic side of romance. For them, the big change started when the controversy over the WH Smith website blew up last year. Apparently, WH Smith was streaming direct from Kobo, I believe it was, and the feed contained some stuff that wasn't suitable for younger viewers. They took their website down completely and Kobo reacted rather strongly, pulling many indie-published books. That same weekend, Amazon cracked down with some sort of "Adult Filter" that hid a lot of my friends' books from the search engine.

For example, if you searched for my friend, Mari Carr's Cocktail series using the names of the books - which are named after naughty mixed drinks like "Screaming Orgasm" etc - and her name, all you could figuratively hear were crickets. The book was still on sale, but you had to have a direct link to it in order to bring it up on the site. Many books that had covers on the risqué side were also filtered.

There was even a rumor going around that there was some kind of bot that was looking for skin-tone on a cover and if it was over a certain percentage, that book got shoved into the filter-zone. The story I heard gave an example of a cover that was a close-up of a baby's face. Supposedly it got filtered because it was basically all skin-tone, but there was nothing erotic or risqué about it at all. The Adult Filter controversy was seen as over-reaching by many. I saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to something that was a legitimate concern, but perhaps in their zeal to segregate rape/incest/dinosaur porn from legitimate romance titles, they might've gone a little too far.

Why? Because, from all I could find out, the process was automated. A bot did the work, making decisions that sometimes amounted to judgment calls that should probably have been made by humans. The better-selling authors who had this problem were able to contact their reps at the various etailers and get their books taken out of jail. Smaller fish in the ocean of publishing weren't so lucky.

So that's when the downturn started for many romance writers. I didn't notice it because I don't package my work in a terribly risqué way, I guess. But I did notice the sudden drop in July, which I am still trying to figure out. Some theories I've heard for this include:

1. The awful glut of free and 99-cent ebooks.

2. Kindle Unlimited is free for the first month and many people did that free trial in July.

3. Behind the scenes tinkering from the etailers to pressure publishers for certain concessions. The most heinous of these, in my opinion, is the so-called Gazelle Project that has been reported in the press, where Amazon allegedly put pressure on small press publishers (reportedly calling them "sickly gazelles") to pay increasing amounts of "co-op" money to them in order to have their books show up in the algorithms. I have heard what I believe to be evidence of this, and believe it to be taking place as I write this.

4. The economy.

5. The Mayans were off by a few years, but the world really is coming to an end. ;-)

As a writer who is both traditionally and self published, there's precious little I can do about most of these things. But wearing my self-publishing hat, I can at least make an effort to not add to the glut of free and permanently 99-cent ebooks out there, right?

As an experiment, I went out and bought a few 99-cent multi-author anthologies. I put my reader hat on and decided that I liked the savings. A lot. I could buy about 20 books for about $5. Neat. The author in me reserved judgment.

I read a bunch of the books and liked many of them. I made mental notes to look up the rest of the series from a few of the stand-out books, but did I? Um... well... I have to admit... I'm lazy. And there were still SO many books leftover to read. I put it off. And now I'm not sure which ones I wanted to pursue. Hmpf.

So as an author, I think there's still a potential to find new readers from such things, but if everyone is lazy or easily distracted like me, it might not be as great as you think. There are just SO many cheap reads out there, I can fill my reading addiction cheaply and never really have to go looking for a full-price book.

From the author standpoint, this sales tactic is backfiring big time! The only thing I can hope for is that most readers aren't as lazy/cheap as I am. LOL.

As for the rest... some of it is saddening, some is downright disturbing. But I have the suspicion that things will get worse before they get better for authors. We just have to hang on through the earthquakes and aftershocks and hope our house is still standing once this all dies down a bit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What is Nora Roberts?

At our bi-monthly writing meeting, the discussion turned to the trials and tribulations, the angst, and the periodic hair pulling of putting together a story. Somehow the talk moseyed over to the topic of Nora Roberts. For those who don't know, Nora Roberts, with the release of Whiskey Beach in April 2013, has written two hundred and five books.  Thirty-seven of which were under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb.

"I heard she's not human," said Hanna, whose eyes were still red from her breakdown minutes before after telling us about the battle she's been having with her present work.  

She glanced around the cafe.  Her voiced lowered to barely a whisper as she leaned forward. "She's an experimental android spy made by the military. NORA is actually short for Natural Observational Robotic Agent.  But all her reports displayed such creative flair  everyone wanted to read them and were trying to sneak copies out.  Of course the military couldn't have that. "

"They tried reprogramming her, but it didn't work and decided to let her run on her own, monitoring how long she could operate before malfunctioning.  They never expected her to be this good for this long. Plus the Department of Defense gets a percentage of the book sales, so they're real happy."

"But she smokes.  She has to be real," said Mary.

"They added that for realism," replied Hanna.

"I don't think so." Mary continued, "I read Nora's an alien from a literary planet.  She has two brains that work independently from each other and has two sets of arms.  That way she can work on a couple of stories at the same time. She just picked up the smoking habit while on this planet."

"And where the hell did you read that?" asked Cyndi, whose voice whipped with disdain.

"From a reputable newspaper."    

"Yeah, well I wouldn't call The Backdoor Inquisitor a professional journalistic paper."

"I didn't say I read. . ."  

"Oh come on.  I  know you grab that rag every time you go shopping and that bit of info is just their speed."

Mary's fingers tugged at the buttons  of her blouse.

"Okay ladies, let's calm it down here," Keira, always the peacemaker of the group, said as she flipped her hands up in a crossing guard gesture to stop them. 

"I heard she has some kind of magical power," interjected Debbie, her timid glance darted back and forth between Cyndi and Mary.

"What, she just waves her magic wand and poof there's a novel sitting in front of her?," Cyndi shot back.

"Well, I didn't say I believed  it," said Debbie, now wishing she'd kept her mouth shut.  

"You're all wrong," said Tawny.  "She has eight clones tucked away in a remote cabin, each turning out a different story.  Nora, herself, only writes one book every three years."

Cyndi quirked an eyebrow.

"Really! I heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend, who was made privy to it by her  sister-in-law, who got it from her mother, who heard it from her hairstylist, who happens to be the same person Nora uses."

"Did you breathe at all through that whole sentence?"  Cyndi stifled a chuckle.

Tawny's eyes narrowed.  Her hands, resting on her lap, clenched into fists as she drew in a deep breath  through her nose. 

"Admit it ladies, we're just jealous and wish we could be as prolific," Keira threw in before more could be said.  She sighed as she gazed at the sullen faces and nodding heads, then raised her coffee cup. 

"To Nora, whatever she may be."

We lifted our cups to meet hers.  "To Nora." 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Corn Mazes--The Secret Gold Mine

           If you have been to The Hamptons in the fall, you probably know all about Hank's Pumpkin Town. Maybe you went with your children to pick pumpkins, or $45 dollar baskets of apples. Maybe you got lost in the corn maze and had to call for help. Or maybe you were stuck in the traffic jam it causes on Montauk highway each October and shook your fist out the window. 

          "I'll get you, Pumpkin Town, " the man in the Range Rover swore.  He had five minutes to get to the Hampton's Film Festival. "One night I'll mow that corn maze down!"

Whatever the case, Pumpkin Town is a secret gold mine. Not only for Hank the Farmer, but for writers as well. Writers you ask? Yes! Some of my best ideas for romance stories have come from wandering corn mazes. It's true! 

So if you are suffering from writer's block, need a break from the computer, or simply want to enjoy the beautiful autumn weather, I highly recommend finding a corn maze near you. 

Have you been to a corn maze this year? I want to know!

Happy Writing!


Monday, September 29, 2014

When Real Life Interferes with Writing

What do you do when you've got a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise) and have something happen that stops you in your tracks? How do you deal?

This is an issue I'm working through right now as a matter of fact, and it's one I've dealt with in the past. So let me share some of my experience and let's just hope it helps some of you one day...

In Spring 2009 I signed a 5-book deal with Kensington. The deadlines were tight. The first novella was due in a month. The three novels were due only a few months apart. And then in late August of 2009, my mother - my best friend and business partner - got sick. She died right before Christmas of that year and I was still on the hook for more books that I had no desire to write.

I remember sitting with her while I was wading through edits, which actually brought about one of my fondest memories of that time. You see, her uncle had been a famous writer in the Netherlands and she said she remembered sitting with him as a child while he worked at his desk, doing what I was doing - working through edits. She was just a little girl, playing on the carpet at her uncle's house while the family visited, but she remembered that little, special fragment of memory that I'd never heard before. It touched me. It made me think that somehow, through the generations, we'd all come full circle in a way.

After she passed, I had to literally force myself to write those last two books. Kensington was wonderful. They gave me a bit of leeway and my editor was a doll. But I was still on the hook. I had to take myself away - literally making myself leave the house and sit in coffee shops, fast food places, etc. Anyplace I could sit for an uninterrupted hour and write a few words while my world fell apart. That was my strategy then, and it worked. I met my deadlines. I handed in the books. They may not have been my best work ever, but I fulfilled my end of the deal and did what I had to do.

Fast forward to earlier this year. One night I tried to go to sleep and couldn't. By the next morning, I was being taken by ambulance from my doctor's office to the E.R. I had emergency gall bladder surgery that night.

In the interim from 2009 to now, I've made the leap from traditional and small press to indie publishing. I'm a happy, so-called hybrid author, and loving every minute of it! So I knew my "boss" would understand if I was a little delayed on the rather intense writing schedule I'd planned for earlier this year. I did, in fact, have to switch a few things around as I spent time healing from surgery. I didn't write for about two solid weeks, but in that time, I kept track of my calendar and kept adjusting plans for the rest of the year.

I plan about a year out, tentatively. I'm more solid on the next six months. And I'm very definite for the next three months. I adjust my spreadsheets as I go, changing plans as the stories and the real world demand. I've learned never to commit to dates farther out than the next six months or so. If you're prolific, like me, then that'll be enough for your fans to chew on while you are busy producing the work. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.

So I recommend every writer keep a spreadsheet or some other kind of calendar that lays out exactly which book they'll be working on and when. Major events in your life should be noted and reasonable estimates of the number of words you can accomplish every day should be used. I have a spreadsheet that calculates how long it'll take me to write a book based on 2,000 words/day, which is about my average. Sometimes I'm faster. Sometimes slower. But I can usually average out to about 2k/day.

If I know approximately how long I want a certain story to be, I can calculate when I'll be writing it and when I'll finish. I suggest padding a week in there for unforeseen stuff that might arise and then adjusting as the work progresses. I look at my calendar spreadsheet every single day and adjust based on what I accomplished - or didn't - that day. But then again, I'm a planner by nature.

I mentioned that I'm facing a delay at the moment... You see, I've got a nasty cold. Enough so that I haven't written in three days and I still feel pretty miserable. I've had to adjust my writing schedule each day to account for the lost time and move the finish date back a bit. But that's what the padding was for and things will work out. The book will still be ready for my intended release date and all is well in my little world. I'm glad to see that I have at least learned from the past and am able to apply what I've learned to current events.

Hope you all can gain something from this little peek into my process. What do you do when you encounter an unexpected delay?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Love is in the Air - 10 Romantic Prompts

The last time I posted, I listed ten prompts for writing in several different genres. Today I decided to do one on just romance. The idea was suggested to me by fellow writer, Patty Blount, after she read the other article. So here are some I found online. Hope they get your mind whirling and your heart thumping.

1. Write a story that looks at the lives of many people from different backgrounds and cultures. How does the journey to romance happen differently for each couple?

2. It's Valentine'sDay.  A day of romance and love; too bad the hero and heroine despise each other (or do they really?) and are both locked in a closet, basement, or bathroom together.

3. Your heroine is looking through old photos of loved ones that have passed away. In one of the photos she sees something strange – something that shouldn’t be there. What does she see? She tracks down the photographer who has long passed away but his son or grandson offers to help her. What happens?

4. Your heroine has just been kidnapped and your hero is really the only person who can save her.
Why has she been kidnapped and who took her? Why is your hero the only person who can help her? Why is he reluctant? For example, maybe he thinks she’s better off with her kidnappers or maybe he doesn’t think he has what it takes to rescue her and he’s afraid to fail.
Does your hero know your heroine and if so, how does he know her? If he doesn’t know her, what happens when they first meet?
5. Allergic to love. What happens if your hero or heroine breaks out in itchy hives and is constantly nauseous when they fall in love?  Do they hope they will desire a dermatologist and have to live on Tums for the rest of their lives?
6. Mistakenly overheard conversation. What was the conversation about. Who overheard it?
7. Mind Linked Mates. Lovers share not just their lives and beds but actually their consciousness.  (my take - what if two people, who don't know each other, can "hear" the other in their heads?  How do they meet? Do they even want to try a relationship knowing what each can do?  Or what if a couple wakes up one morning with this special talent?  How does it effect the relationship? Can their love survive it?)
8. Somehow, two gifts cross paths and end up in the wrong hands. The recipients meet to exchange them. Who were the gifts meant for, and how did the mix-up occur?
What happens when the recipients meet? Do they take an instant disliking to each other? Is it love at first sight? Do they find that they are related somehow? Or maybe they knew each other years ago, and it took this mix-up to get them back together?Try to write this for different genres—you could write it as a comedy, then as a romance, then as a thriller.
9.What if… Friar Laurence’s plan had worked, and Romeo and Juliet had succeeded in running away together?     
  Finish the sentence.
10. She was expecting so much more but instead she got . . .
What did she expect? What did she get?  Did the thing she receive end up being much better in the long run? 

What prompts can you think of?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Do Multitaskers do anything well?

My mother calls me the ultimate multitasker. Yep, I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, as the old TV commercial used to sing, but I often wonder in a life filled with a book publicity business, writing, being a wife, mother, and holding down a part time job means I don't do anything well.

I'm not published in fiction yet. And, aside from kicking the dog and complaining, I wonder if my writing isn't as up to par as it should be because I'm focused on promoting other people's careers. Don't get me wrong, I love my clients, but running a publicity company wasn't what I sat out to do.

It just happened.

The whole wife and mother thing was a conscious choice. So, I don't slack there. At least, I don't try to.  I'm not Betty Crocker, and I don't do much entertaining, but hey, I've got five jobs!  I try to be there, for everybody, my husband, kid, mother, clients and co-workers included. But I'm not sure how I wound up with the reputation of being good at all things.  Maybe I'm not. Maybe, it's hype.

I use my ability to multi task to ward off depression.  The theory is I can't feel down because I have too much to do. And, believe it or not, it works.

I make lists.  I don't follow them so much, but I make them. And, I don't follow rules. Nope. Rules stand in the way of getting sh*t done. I've never stopped to see what's left in my wake, you know, what's left over after Hurricane Jennifer blows through. Maybe, I should.

Maybe, its time to stop doing ten things at once and focus on the matter at hand. Maybe, a little focus might put me as my own priority. Maybe, I can learn to just be a tasker, and shave off the multi.


What do you think?

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