I’m in SPFBO7: Take Deep Breaths

I keep lists of ideas for new ways to promote my self-published books and I seldom follow through on them. Too much work. Too expensive. Probably won’t make a bit of difference. It’s easy to get discouraged in the world of self-publishing.

One idea got moved from list to list.  I became aware of a contest a few years ago that looked promising called SPFBO (aka self-published fantasy blog off — not bake off.) But every time I saw it, the contest was in progress and I never could figure out where to find the schedule or the rules. Oh well, it probably costs a fortune anyway. And if it doesn’t they won’t let me in.

Then late at night 3 days ago, I skimmed a post from a blog and I saw it. The contest, the SPFBO, was opening the next day! More amazing, it was free and would accept the first 300 people who signed up. This was unbelievable. It didn’t surprise me to discover that last year it filled in under 24 hours.

However, there was one small problem. That same day, the next day, Friday the 14th, was the release day for my latest book She’s the One Who Gets in Fights.

I had three different book release things happening  plus a slew of other related promotional ideas to pursue. Could I possibly get myself entered into this SBFBO thingy as well? Of course I could.

I went to bed determined.  I’d get up and find a way to do it all.

I woke up at 6:59 am to the sound of my wave noise generator stopping. That’s weird. It’s never shut off before. I opened my eyes to see the ceiling fan slowing down.

No!

I live in the mountains of Western North Carolina and every once in a while we lose power up in these hills. Like once every year or two… Not today. Please not today.

But yes, the gods of stress were having a small chuckle at my expense. I found a way to make hot tea (no coffee!) No shower (our well runs on electricity.) I started doing what I could from my phone. Dim that screen. Make that battery last.

However, entering SBFBO was one thing my phone couldn’t do. Did it have enough oomph to be an adequate hot spot for my laptop? Was my laptop well enough charged? If I’d just known this was going to happen …

Entries opened at 2 pm my time. I watched the hours pass, considering a drive into the nearest small town. Since Covid hit, I didn’t know of a single place offering inside space and free internet. Had that changed? Could I make it over to Asheville? Surely they had something.

I must have become boring to watch, for at about 10:30 the gods of stress released their hold on our power lines and  the refrigerator began to hum.

Okay, I can do this now. I can do this. Breath. Slowly.

And of course I did do it because in spite of all my panic it was remarkably easy to enter. I even managed most of my promotional book release stuff, too.

When I woke up Saturday to plenty of wonderful power surging through my home there was also excitement surging through my veins. Someone put all the entered books on Goodreads. Someone else made a list of all the judges. One entrant asked what we all did for a living and the answers were pouring in. This looked to be an exciting thing to be a part of!

Encouragement poured in as well, especially to us nervous first time entrants. I’d read that one of the joys of this endeavor was a sense of community and it looks like no one was joking about that.

So, here I am, in touch with 299 other self-published fantasy writers. Some have have far more success to their names than I do while others have only begun their journey, submitting their first novel. I’m humbled to be in this group and grateful for the whim that led me to read the thing that clued me in to the timing.

Isn’t life funny, in so many ways?

Isn’t she beautiful?

I understand cover reveals can be a big deal, but it’s just not my style. I’m happy to get an attractive cover I like and one that represents my books well. When I do, well, I want to share it. Like right away.

So …. here is the gorgeous cover for book 5 in the Seven Troublesome Sister Series.

It really is beautiful, isn’t it?

What is she holding? It’s called a psaltery, and it’s a stringed instrument that was quite popular in the 1200’s.  This 5th sister is a musician. (It’s one of the reasons she can’t keep quiet.)

Like it’s predecessor (cover 4) this was done by the fine folks at Deranged Doctor Design and arrived almost perfect. The way it showed up is on the left. I had a few minor concerns. A psaltery is too heavy to be held the way she holds it. The lighting effects made her hair look like she was going gray. She seemed rather too tall and thin to be a real woman and her arms, in particular, looked off.

Most if not all of these, of course, were artifacts of the sort of photo manipulation DDD does to make their stunning but still affordable covers.

Back came this version, which corrected most of my concerns, except for the oddly long and skinny arms. We had one more round to improve the arms, and then I decided I wanted the castle on her other side. I was all excited about how our brains are accustomed to going from left to right and felt that the castle on the left would better convey that she was leaving to go somewhere else. (See my post Better Covers: Does Your Brain Prefer Left to Right?) Flipping the castle didn’t make as much difference as I’d hoped, but I liked it okay and was happy to call it good with only these three minor revisions.

I’d love to know if other authors are more, or less, picky than I am about their covers. If any of you reading this self-publish, please speak up and let me know!

FREE: She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much

To celebrate and promote the release of the second novel in this series, I am offering the first novel, She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much, FREE today (February 18) through Monday (February 22) on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BY4RLX1. 

Those of you familiar with the ins and outs of self-publishing will know that I had to pull this book out of wide distribution for 90 days, removing it from Barnes & Nobel, Kobo, Apple and others in order to sign up for Amazon’s KDP program and offer this free promotion.

Those of you familiar with me will know how much it pisses me off to do this. Amazon already controls a vast amount of the eBook market, and has little reason if any for this petty requirement. None-the-less, it exists.

Because I really want people to give my new series a try, I’ve negotiated with my conscience and decided to put each of these seven novels into KDP one time only, around the time when the following book in the series is released. Then, I’ll offer one and only one such free promotion for each book. It seems like a reasonable compromise to me.

My point is, this is Thinks Too Much‘s onetime giveaway. Please give it a try. It’s free, and I think and hope you’ll like it. Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BY4RLX1.

Coral is Close

I’ve had such fun creating my magical seven sisters for my current series! One of my chief frustrations is that only one of them, Ryalgar, has seen the light of day. But that’s about to change ….

Over the next couple of weeks I will be putting the finishing touches on Coral’s story, checking it once, twice and thrice to make every little detail perfect.

If you don’t self-publish books yourself, believe me — the release of the new book is an exciting time. It’s also hard work, as an author needs to spend time on the promotional work that will get her story in as front of as many readers as possible.

I always like to try new approaches, and this time around I’ll be doing my first release day book blast with a new company (new for me that is). I’m quite happy with others I’ve used, and I’ll be using them too, but the more eyes I can get on this book, the better. So I’ve added Hot Tree Promotions to my arsenal.

They use something new to me — a promotional teaser — and I needed three of them. They gave me the option of designing my own or paying to have them made. I thought, I like messing around with graphics, so why not give it a try?

Above is my first attempt, and I’m rather pleased with it. Wish me luck — I hope it sells a lot of books for me.

Want to learn more about Coral and her story? Check out her pre-order page.

Georgian Romance Revolt

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Lucinda Elliot and her satirical/dark humor novel Georgian Romance Revolt.

Author’s description

Elaine Long is trapped in the body of the heroine in a warped cyber version of an historical romance. Something has gone drastically wrong, with the characters talking and acting outside the script, and her coachman is exactly like one of the author’s Golden and Reckless hero types.

Worse, the disgraced earl turned highwayman anti-hero – one of the author’s Dark, Mean and Moody hero types, has stolen the heroine’s betrothal ring, which just happens to be Elaine’s escape device.

Elaine, once eager to escape from everyday life and being taken for granted by her part-time boyfriend into this cyber version of her favourite author’s fictional world, isn’t even confident that this story can guarantee a happy ending, even if she does have three or four hero types in it with her…

A darkly comic, fast moving spoof on the tropes of  historical romance from four times BRAG medallion winner Lucinda Elliot.

My Review

This is a funny book. It’s funny in the sense of making you laugh out loud and it’s funny in the sense of being strange and hard to describe. I’ll start with the first.

Georgian romance novels are ripe for satire and Elliot does a fine job taking aim at all the easy targets like handsome heroes with perfect teeth and some of the more difficult ones like chaperones, forced seduction, and social inequities. She tells her story through the eyes of Elaine, a modern, slightly futuristic woman inhabiting the head of a romance novel heroine. Elaine’s take on this partially-sanitized fictional world provides another layer of humor.

But having two women living inside of one body, often fighting for control of it, is also where the story gets odd. Elaine is in eighteenth century England by way of a  virtual reality entertainment system that malfunctions, adding a sci-fi help-I’m-trapped-in-a-video-game subplot. Because even the best of satire is only funny for so long, I began to enjoy the get-me-out-of-here subplot more than the Georgian-romance-gone-wrong story.

Then it starts to get weird. Without giving away too much I’ll just say the 1960’s author of the original novel gets involved along with Stonehenge, reality and maybe multiple dimensions. Then Elaine’s own personal life enters the scene as well.

Balancing all this is quite a feat. I think Elliot pulls it off but by the end I’d have preferred a good bit less of the Georgian romance, and a more thorough resolution of everything else.

The author says in her bio that she loves a good laugh. She certainly provided me with several and for that I am thankful. I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading something different and who enjoys satire.

About the Author

Lucinda Elliot, four times winner of the BRAG medallion for outstanding self published fiction, was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. When she was growing up, her family lived in various large, isolated old houses in various parts of the UK as they used to renovate such places  in the days before it became fashionable. She lived for many years in London and now lives in Mid Wales with her family.  She loves a laugh above anything.

Find the Author

Visit the Author on her blog at: https://sophieandemile.wordpress.com/
Find her on her Amazon author page at: https://www.amazon.com/Lucinda-Elliot/e/B008YU9B58
Find her on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ElliotLucinda
Find her on Goodreads  at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/6469356.Lucinda_Elliot

Buy the Book

Buy Georgian Romance Revolt on Amazon. The book will be on sale for $0.99.

Yes, there is a giveaway

The author will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt

Aurelia wrinkled her well-shaped nose at inside of the carriage. The floor littered with rubbish, including a filthy boot, the broken handle of a dagger, a blood stained handkerchief and wisps of straw left over from the winter.

A false nose lay on the seat. It was as grotesque as that worn by the messenger the day before. To lighten Betty’s mood, Aurelia showed it to her. “They have stolen the idea from Earl Lawless’ band.”

The man guarding her scowled thunderously. “That is a scurvy lie. We never nab their tricks; they does ours.”

“I am happy to hear that you are so scrupulous,” returned Aurelia. “Do not fret, Betty. This is an adventure such as comes to  a few.”

“Then I wish I wasn’t one of them few, Miss Aurelia!” The girl burst into tears, and Aurelia took her hand.

 

Hard Luck Girl

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Topshee Johnston and his mystery/thriller novel Hard Luck Girl.

Author’s description:

Hard Luck Girl is a mystery about prostitution in a location better known for gardens than gangsters — Victoria, British Columbia.

Rose’s life has never been easy. When she finds her pimp murdered it gets a whole lot harder. At first, she sees it as an opportunity but discovers the status quo has been disrupted and she’s not at the top of the food chain, not even close.

Avoiding psychopaths, police, and friends like thieves, there is no one she can turn to for help not once she discovers a pimps life is cheap, a prostitute’s even cheaper.

Stuck between the desire for a better life and holding on to hers, is a needle she’s not sure she can thread. But maybe Hard Luck is better than no luck at all?

“A gritty novel with a surprising and strong female lead. Johnston offers all the expected hard-boiled elements in this mystery—including shady characters, near misses with the police, rampant sex, drug use, and violence.” – Kirkus Review

My Review:

In Hard Luck Girl, Topshee Johnston tells the story of a young prostitute who finds her drug-dealing pimp dead on page one. More importantly, he manages to  keep the reader (or at least this reader) cheering for this unlikely hero as she deals with the body, the customers, the other girls, the rival dealers, the cops, the slimy hotel manager, the nosy cleaning lady and the real money behind the entire sordid mess. No small feat, Mr. Johnston. Well done.

I appreciated how this book contained enough description to make it seem as if I was there, riding on the ferry, or there, in the run-down lobby of the hotel, and yet it never bogged down. The initial characters were all believable and their actions made sense, giving the plot an urgency that felt like real life. Honestly, I had trouble putting it down.

The book stumbles when it nears the end, however. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll only say the major villains didn’t ring as true as the other characters, and their motivations remained murky to me even after the last page. Parts of the ending were were confusing, and threads that mattered (to me at least) were left hanging.

Yet, it was a heck of ride up to that point. So, I recommend Hard Luck Girl to to anyone who enjoys hard-boiled crime novels and to other mystery fans willing to be a bit morally flexible with their story’s hero. This book will also appeal to those who like novels about women finding inner strength they didn’t know they had, and to people who enjoy tales of the downtrodden triumphing over those with more advantages. That’s a pretty good market share, I think.

About the Author:

Topshee Johnston, author of Hard Luck Girl, writes because it’s the only way to get his characters to stop talking to him. He lets them tell their story and trusts their voice. Once a story is finished, he moves on to the next in line.

He lives in Victoria, B.C with his wife and daughter and when he’s not writing, he’s skateboarding, playing guitar, or fly-fishing.

Connect with Canadian author Topshee Johnston on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or on his website.

Check out the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and Indigo/Chapters!

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Topshee Johnston will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

As I closed the door, the squeaky wheels of the cleaning lady’s cart came around the corner. A sound I’d heard many times, disregarded until now. In my rush to get here, I’d forgotten to put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the handle of my room. To run back upstairs and take care of it would look crazy. Instead, I shut the door, because to neglect Linden Aubrey for a second was a second too long. The door’s latch clicked shut, extinguishing the daylight, my chance to make it back to my room before the cleaning lady, and a clean way out.

A Personal Note:

Besides enjoying this book, I got a kick out of reading Topshee Johnston’s reason for writing. I have a similar problem, and a queue of people in my own head, insisting their stories be told.

I hope he makes his way through all of his characters before he’s done, and I wish him and the stories he’s compelled to tell the very best!

Murder at Eagle’s Nest

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Pat Duggan and her cozy mystery novel, Murder at Eagle’s Nest.

Author’s description:

Murder at Eagle’s Nest is a gentle mystery novel set in a peaceful vacation resort in Apalachicola on Florida’s Forgotten Coast. The area is still reeling after Hurricane Michael made landfall only thirty-five miles to the west, on Mexico Beach. It uncovers fraud, driven by greed and arrogance. However, everything changes when a body is discovered. The police detective brought in from Tallahassee, quickly enlists the help of two women staying at the resort, who have unusual insight. They ultimately uncover critical evidence, which unmasks the perpetrator.

 

Pat Duggan Tells Us a Little about Herself:

Originally from Manchester, England but moved to the U.S. over 30 years ago.  I have an accounting background in both countries.  Several years ago, I discovered an interest in writing.  My two previous books, Finding God in an RV and The Power Within, document my spiritual journey.  However, as a longtime lover of murder mysteries, with a passion to follow plots and figure out the perpetrator, it was time for a new direction.  I decided to ‘try my hand’ at weaving my own story, and true to my character, I had to tie up all the loose ends.  Murder at Eagles Nest is my first mystery novel, and I am already working on the next mystery for my amateur detectives, Hazel and Anna to solve.

Find Pat Duggan on Facebook.

Buy Murder at Eagle’s Nest on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Pat Duggan will be awarding a $10 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

Hazel remembered seeing the Comfort Suites Inn as they drove through the outskirts of Panama City.  The Airforce Base was located on the main highway and although it had clearly suffered damage during the hurricane, it appeared to be operational.  They pulled into the hotel parking lot and made their way to the front desk.

They decided to continue with the story of trying to find a lost friend and approached the front desk manager.  Hazel began, “Good Morning.  We are sorry to trouble you, but we are hoping you can help us.  We are looking for a friend of ours who seems to have gone missing.  His name is Randy Jacket and this is his picture.”  Hazel held up the photo, then continued, “A young man out at Dugger Field seemed to think he may have stayed here for a couple of nights last week.  Do you remember him?”

The manager looked at the photograph and answered, “You say he is missing?  Because we don’t normally give out information about our guests.”

Hazel said, “That’s right. And it sounds like he did stay here.  Is there anything you can tell us about his visit?  We are just trying to gather information.”

The manager, realizing he had been caught by his own words, said, “Well, yes, he was here.  Interesting gentleman.  He was telling us that his company is going to rebuild Mexico Beach.  They are going to build a super new, high class condominium complex, it is going to be the flagship property for his company, he said.  He was clearly excited by the whole thing.  They have bought all the land and he was going to check it out on the Thursday.  Must have been a big property to inspect, because he left after breakfast and didn’t get back until about three o’clock in the morning.  I just happened to be working the nightshift and saw him come in.  He looked exhausted.  I don’t think he even saw me as he walked past the desk.  He looked a mess too.  His clothes were all dirty.  But I guess if you have spent your day on a building site, it is to be expected. “

Where did all those genres come from??

I began this adventure in marketing my books armed with good advice and two how-to books literally walking me step by step through the process. I put one of them aside fast, when I realized I couldn’t afford my learning curve with Facebook ads.

My how-to book for successful Amazon ads had problems, too. It was written back when Amazon offered something called Product Display Ads, an option my source highly favored. By the time I got to following his advice, this type of ad had been discontinued. (Thank you Amazon.)

The replacement for product display ads was like handing a chain saw to someone who wanted to use a stiletto.  I could use the power of ads displayed on a kindle, but could only select my audience using broad genre types like Women’s Fiction. These are called Lock-screen Ads and I am selling books with them, just not nearly enough to be actually making money. At least so far.

Amazon’s other options for me is something called a Sponsored Ad.  My mentor/author didn’t think much of using these, but I bravely tried the concept of picking keywords from my books and bidding for clicks. Every time, it failed miserably, but the good news is if hardly anyone clicks on your ad, it doesn’t cost you much.

A little poking around showed me I had another choice called Individual Products. It involves picking products (books) similar to mine, and advertising to those who buy them. It took forever to seek out these books, although it probably was a good exercise for me to get to know more about what was out there. None-the-less, all this effort yielded even fewer clicks and cost almost nothing.

Then recently a new option emerged. I could bid to advertise based on genre, just like with my Lock-screen ads, but the ads would appear to all Amazon users. So I tried it. And oh my goodness.

The stiletto was back, just not on Kindle where I needed it. I still can’t pick my audience by demographics like gender or age, but I can specify my ideal reader using genre divisions I never knew existed. With Lock-screen Ads, my tale of a 40-something female telepath who gets involved rescuing a kidnapping victim gets advertised to readers of women’s fiction, fantasy, and adventure.

Here women’s fiction alone offers more options than I’d ever heard of.

So I’m trying it.  Will this turn out to be the magic bullet that sells my books at an actual profit?

There is no one in this world more hopeful than a self-published author.

So that’s what she really looks like?

My vision of main character Teddie was always ethereal, much like the triplicate vision of her on the first cover. She was 17 and attractive, with curly black hair and dark eyes, but that was about all I knew.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the main character, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Teddie really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

When we started the cover for Layers of Light, we’d just finished the long and sort of painful process of doing many iterations of the cover (and main character Alex) for the previous book, Twists of Time. Lucky for all, the fine folks at DDD had a way to deal with people like me, who didn’t know what they wanted till they saw it. They sent me six potential Teddie’s to choose from.

I ruled out the three on the right without hesitation. These young ladies weren’t Teddie, and in general they had a little more angst than I wanted. Model #2 was a little too glamorous, so I went back and forth between the sweet innocence of model #3 and the slightly more worldly model #1. In the end, worldly won out.

The brown haired, blue eyed model needed some changes in coloring. They turned out to be trivial for my book cover designers.

Teddie got high praise from my own personal focus group, though one critic pointed out she had a bit of a “Tomb Raider vibe” to her, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Teddie to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately many of them had to do with selling beauty products.

I needed the new tough Teddie, fully aware of her superpowers and ready to kick butt. The selection wasn’t promising. We ended up with a pose that wasn’t all that different from the one used on Layers of Light, but it was different enough and it worked.

When I saw Teddie standing there with the rest of her family, I knew I’d gotten it right. This was what Teddie really looked like.

 

A New Look

I’m so excited about this new cover. The original one was probably my favorite of the six, perhaps because I love the color green. And moonlight.

This one has taken it to a whole new level, with a beautiful new Teddie, an appropriately intimidating-looking Lhatu, and a Buddhist convent tucked into a cliff in the Himalayas. Just like in the book!

I’m also particularly pleased with the title of this one, and the way the fine people at Deranged Doctor Design added light to represent what Teddie insists on calling the world of mist.

Now, my job is to make sure the story itself is worthy of all this.

The first round of editing is complete and I’m pleased so far. It’s almost 15,000 words lighter and, more importantly, 15% better. (I’m joking. Obviously I have no way of knowing how many % better it is, but the point is I can see the improvement.)

It will get one more edit in March, followed by two passes at proofreading by two different people, then hopefully be released for sale around the middle of April. Wahoo.

But first I have to get Shape of Secrets out there this weekend, and Twists of Time next month. It’s going to be a busy spring.