What makes a quitter?

taken from Google search for quitter definition

There’s been a lot of talk about quitting lately, and it’s not just Simone Biles who withdrew from Olympic competition citing mental health reasons.

In the writing community, I’ve seen writers quit querying, quit writing on a certain WIP that wasn’t working, quit Twitter, quit blogging. Quitting has negative connotations, and it’s a terrible thing to be called a quitter. But what if that thing you’re trying is hard? What if it takes too much time, or you don’t have the energy to spare after a long day? Quitting is akin to giving up and giving up implies that you’re weak. When is it okay to give up? When is it okay to say that you can’t handle the thing you’re trying to do anymore and walk away? Is it brave to know your limitations or are you a coward for not finding strength to keep going?

My friend Gareth posted an interesting think piece on his FB Author page, and I’ll quote it here (with his permission) because I think it’s something worth talking about:

The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude is constantly leveled at people who are struggling. The general concept being: you struggle because you don’t work hard enough. This suggestion is often given unironically by people in privileged positions.

I don’t doubt there was a time when the opportunities were more readily available for a few hard-working souls to make enough money, not just to live on, but to be considered a successful person. Nowadays, I’d argue those opportunities are fewer and further between. People who become successful, often require luck, good timing, or a little help. This is even true of artists and creators.

As a sometimes writer, the whole landscape has changed in the world of writing and the belief is you just have to be talented, lucky… and teach yourself the skillsets of three or four jobs that used to be done by three or four different people. It’s a lot. To become a successful writer is very difficult, especially if you’re doing it alone. At which point JK Rowling is usually brought up. lol. No, it’s not impossible, just much harder than people think.

Beyond the obvious Trumps and Kardashians there are plenty of examples in the artistic and entertainment fields of those who perhaps had their bootstraps yanked up before they got started: Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift, Paul Giammati, Emma Stone, Rashida Jones, Lady Gaga, Carly Simon, Nick Kroll, Rooney Mara & Kate Mara, Lana Del Rey, Robin Thicke, Kyra Sedgwick, Armie Hammer, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, Salma Hayek, Adam Levine, Edward Norton, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Tori Spelling, Bryce Dallas Howard, Balthazar Getty, Chevy Chase… the list is long.

There’s no doubt that talent and hard work is important, but the bootstraps mantra is a poisonous misrepresentation of the real world. I doff my cap to those writers who have found some success; to all who achieve their goals, and wish good fortune to those who are still working towards them.

taken from Gareth’s FB post

I see this a lot in the writing community, and even have been a part of it myself. The unrelenting Go! Go! Go! attitude can get exhausting, and I take responsibility for my part in it. You don’t get anywhere without hard work, and that can be said with just about any profession out there, some more demanding than others, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers. But along with that hard work is the need for a little luck. You networked with the right person who featured your book in their newsletter, or you courted the right book blogger at just the right time, or you applied for a BookBub featured deal, and the guy going over the submissions was in a good mood that day and approved yours. Of course, this brings to mind the preparedness+opportunity=success equation, or as Christian Grey told Anastasia during their interview, “I’ve always found that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”

When it comes to publishing, or in Simone’s case, gymnastics, you do need to do the work. You can’t publish a book that hasn’t been written, and jokes aside that marketing is harder than finishing a book, finishing a book to some is the most daunting task. Then you hear that you shouldn’t publish until you’ve written a million words and who wouldn’t be discouraged? Gareth is correct in his author post, too. We do wear many hats–editor, graphic designer, copywriter. If we don’t excel in any of these areas, and we can’t afford to hire out to fill in the gaps of our own skillset, our books can fail. I may have spent as many hours learning what makes a good cover as I have writing because I can’t afford (don’t want to, and there is a lack of trust there, too) to hire out, and after watching tutorials and practicing I realize there’s potential for others to simply not be able to grasp those concepts. I’ve said many times before, if I didn’t write romance I’d have no choice but to hire a cover designer because my time is more valuable than learning how to do a to-market cover for any genre that requires more than what I’ve taught myself to do.

We can say that Simone Biles is a coward for dropping out of competition, but think of the hours of hard work she put into her practices just to make it there. If she had given up at any point in her career, did one hour less practice, slept in every morning she wanted to, she might not have made it as far as she did. Online, I’ve seen people use her withdrawal as an excuse to give up their own endeavors saying it’s brave to know your limits, and it is. But knowing what will break you mentally or physically is a lot different from stepping outside your comfort zone, something, it seems, few people are willing to do anymore. How can you find your best, move your career to that next level, if you’re not willing to push your boundaries? Giving ourselves permission to not do what we don’t want to do because it’s uncomfortable sets a dangerous precedence.

So how much bootstrapping do we need to do? I guess that’s up to you and your personal barriers. I’ve written through a divorce (I wrote All of Nothing during that time), I’ve written during carpal tunnel surgery (and I’ve admitted I probably didn’t give myself as much time to heal as I should have) and since December of 2020 when I contracted a disgusting, persistent, and painful case of bacterial vaginosis from dryer sheets, I’ve written three and a half books. If I had let ANY of that hinder me in any way, I wouldn’t be where I am right now–with a healthy backlist of 3rd person POV contemporary romance books, and a splendid start to a 1st person billionaire romance career.

I’ve worked my day job for twenty years, typing for the deaf and hard of hearing. When you think of your writing like a career–something you plan on doing and enjoying for the rest of your life–you make time for it. You show up whether you feel good or not, much like a regular job you count on to pay your bills. If you’re lucky, you like your day job. I like knowing I make a difference in someone’s life on a daily basis. I like my co-workers, and I like my supervisors. I’d have to, to show up 4-5 days a week for almost half my life. I also like writing, and I love every aspect of publishing–from editing my own books to doing the cover to writing the blurb. Loving what you do makes it easy to show up, and if you love what you do, the energy and the time you put into improving your business isn’t a task. I won’t say writing and publishing isn’t work even if you adore it because it is. It’s work to craft likable characters, it’s work to make sure they have a satisfying character arc. It’s work to nail your grammar and punctuation to give your reader an enjoyable experience.

Part of the problem with bootstrapping, especially in the indie writing community, is no one can tell you how long it takes to make it, how long you have to struggle (two years, five years, ten years?). In other professions, you can have a timetable at least. Night school will eventually lead to graduation, an internship will eventually lead to a paid position. No one can tell you when you’ll “make it” off your books, or what “making it” even entails these days. A living wage? Part-time earnings? $500 a month in royalties would get some authors I know into better living situations, or make it easier to put food on the table, or the vet bills for our cats easier to pay.

But I do know one thing, and it’s this: success won’t come if you quit. Simone didn’t get to where she was because she was a quitter, and the last thing she’d want is for you to use her choices as an excuse to quit. Simone isn’t a quitter, and if you want to see your book out into the world, you can’t be a quitter, either. It’s tough. I know how tough it is. Five years in the industry and all I’ve managed to do is spend money. I’ve learned a lot along the way–and knowledge is priceless–but it’s hard when I see authors who have been writing for less time than I have and are making it. They found a niche, they had their strike of luck, and they’re going gangbusters, making thousands a month on their books. I’m happy for them, but I wouldn’t be honest if I don’t say I’m waiting in line for my turn. That’s what Gareth’s post was getting at: success may never come my way, no matter how hard I work. Working hard without success is a quick way to find burnout, something I’ve been dealing with the past year–especially while I’ve been dealing with my infection.

Does it make me discouraged? Yes.

Does it make me work that much harder because I know it’s possible? Also yes.

The list of artists that Gareth shared all had one thing in common. They believed in their art and they didn’t give up. They kept producing, they kept putting themselves out there. I come from a generation where pop stars made their start at the local mall. I’ve seen videos of Britney Spears, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson all performing in mall foodcourts, Other artists sing in dive bars and in the streets, anything to get out there. We do the same with our books. We buy ads, we share snippets on Twitter and on our blogs. We do what we can to get noticed.

Bootstrapping isn’t easy, but Taylor Swift still wrote her songs, Simone Biles still practiced, and you still need to write your words. Maybe that means writing through life’s turmoils, and we all have them, some more serious than others, but no one said this was easy. There are days where I haven’t felt good enough to write, in a mental or physical capacity, but I never stopped. I took a break, but I never stopped.

It’s funny because everyone is looking for the magic bullet, not wanting to admit the only magic bullet there is consistent hard work and tenacity, and yes, a lucky break.

So what makes a quitter? I don’t know. I’ve quit some things in my life. You can say I quit my marriage rather than hanging in there. I’ve quit running in favor of writing. I’ve quit friendships that took more than they gave. In doing so, my ex-husband and I will never get back together. It would be impossible for me to run a half marathon anytime soon, and if I wanted to repair those friendships, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to. Go ahead and quit, burn those bridges if that’s what quitting entails, but be sure to measure the rewards and consequences because sometimes there is no going back.

Until next time!

Thursday Thoughts, Kindle Vella, and where I am right now.

I feel like I’m running on a treadmill. I’m making progress toward my health, mental and physical, overall, but hell if I’m going anywhere. That’s how this phase of my writing is going.

It’s tough feeling like you’re not going anywhere.

I’m finished listening to the first book I’m going to release–a 1st person billionaire. There is still a lot to do before I can even get my hands on a copy of the proof, and I’ll create a checklist for you all as I get them done. This book doesn’t have a title yet, something so simple that is going to give me hives. I’ve made plenty of mistakes naming my books, and now that I’ve learned so much in the past four years of writing and publishing, there’s a lot of pressure to apply all that I’ve learned. I’ll still make mistakes, but cover, title, blurb, metadata, keywords, pricing, and everything else that goes into putting the book up for sale, those areas don’t give you a lot of leeway for error. Anyone can tell you who has had to make changes to an already published book, it’s just easier in the long run to get it all right so you can enjoy the launch rather than worry about having to fix the interior or change a typo on the cover. Yeah, that is a lot of added pressure, but slow down and don’t panic, and it will be okay.


There’s been a lot of talk about Kindle Vella, and this can cause its own kind of FOMO and anxiety. To be honest, I never cared about Kindle Vella, and once I heard someone break it down, it really didn’t entice me to want to try it. What she said is this: Writing episodic fiction is more than just sitting down and splitting up a novel at mini-cliffhanger-type scene breaks. Writing episodic fiction is a skill, in work you can see for yourself such as writing soap operas, telanovelas, and podcast fiction. You have to write with intent. You have to know the story you want to write and how to write it. I have no knowledge of writing episodic fiction, nor do I want to learn simply to try a new platform where I may or may not find success. I know how to write books, that’s it. Short stories, novellas, novels, and episodic fiction all have their own rhythms and nuances, their own reader expectations. Once I heard her say this, it made so much sense that I was glad I didn’t let myself get swept away in the hype.

If you do want to try Kindle Vella, or want to learn more about it, look here:

What is Kindle Vella? And Should You Join as an Author? (Reedsy Blog)
Amazon Kindle Vella for Serialized Stories Launches in the US
Kindle Vella Authors Facebook Group

As with any piece of writing, if you don’t write it correctly, with skill and talent, keeping reader expectation in mind (why are readers reading your work, what do they want to get out of it), you won’t go far. That’s true for anything from blog posts to articles on Medium, to submitting to a literary journal, to writing a book. Rather than jumping on the next big thing, ask yourself if your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to find any success. If you don’t have time to learn how to write episodic fiction, but you can crank out a novel in six weeks, ask yourself which is a better use of your time. You may decide after you break it down that it’s not right for you after all.


I wasn’t able to go to Georgia this week. My SO caught COVID and I had to cancel my trip. He’s doing okay, a little tired, a little achy, but I wasn’t able to go. In a small way, I was relieved. I don’t like flying. It’s not the flying so much as how so many people lately have had poor experiences with the airlines. Canceled flights, sitting on the runway for hours on end only to taxi back to the airport. It’s terrible, and I’m not sure if things will get any better. I never had a good experience flying before COVID (the Fargo, ND airport has never been able to get me to my layover on time) and it seems the pandemic made dealing with airlines that much more troublesome. We’ll figure something else out–he may come visit me in October. I’m just thankful he’ll make a full recovery after a few days of sleep.

So I’ll keep plugging away at my books, setting them up and seeing how I can optimize my launches. Making my books the best they can be, looking forward to fall, and trying to enjoy life on the hamster wheel.

Until next time!

It’s all about genre.

Happy Monday! It’s almost the end of July and then we have just a few more weeks of summer left! While fall is my favorite season (woodsmoke! crunching leaves! cooler weather!) I don’t like to rush my time along, and I’m going to make the most of August and the lazy days still ahead.


At any rate, I love being plugged into the indie industry, listening to what other top indies are doing, and where their heads are at right now. Mostly, at least last week while I was consuming information, it seemed the subject was choosing genre.

Choosing genre can be really hard for some writers, reluctant to settle on one thing for fear it will stifle their creativity, or they choose not to do it all together, claiming to be multi-genre authors with “something for everyone.” While I agree that we should write what we want to write so we never lose that spark of wanting to create, I’m still of a mindset that if we want readers to consume our work, then we need to figure out how to deliver that work into the hands of the people who will enjoy it most. A friend of mine writes in several genres, never publishes under a pen name and she spends a lot of time on Twitter directing readers to books she thinks they’ll enjoy. That’s great, and if she’s willing to network and “show people to their seats” like a theatre usher, then she should have at it. But while she’s curating her own library for her readers, when is she writing the next book? “Something for everyone” is hell on marketing.

I was listening to the Wish I’d Known Then Podcast for Authors with Jami Albright and Sara Rosett, and they interviewed guest Lee Strauss. I haven’t read any of Lee’s work (she doesn’t write a genre I read) but she had some great advice about choosing genre and figuring out what you like to write best through trial and error. (Hint: what you LOVE TO READ BEST is probably a good starting point for figuring out what you’d like to write best. And don’t @ me and say you read everything–I read widely as well, but if you take an honest survey of what you read, you’ll find a genre that tips the scales.) I commented on their FB page for their podcast that while this kind of information is great, the writers listening probably already know settling on a genre is the best way to go. Jami gentle corrected me and said you never know who will need to hear something like that. I agreed, but, on the other hand, a listener also has to be open to hearing the information, accepting it, and willing to apply it to their own careers.

Back when I started writing, if someone had told me to focus on one genre, I would have said, “But I am.” Little did I know that contemporary romance isn’t a genre. Contemporary romance is the ocean. Thriller is the ocean. Mystery is the ocean. Women’s fiction is the ocean. Drilled-down subgenre is a pond, a little pond where you can specialize in what you want to be known for to your readers. A duck can get lost in the ocean. Probably eaten by a shark. A duck is cute and safe in a pond. Lee’s interview proves my point–she settled into historical (1920s) cozy mystery. Can’t get any more drilled down than that.

If you want to listen to her interview here it is. She also goes a little bit into character attachment and what that means to a reader. I found it really interesting and may write a blog post about that another time.

I think talking about genre is interesting. There are so many people who think that choosing a genre will pigeon-hole them they refuse to do it, yet they try to query. Agents don’t want a book that’s a mix of three different genres. Your agent wants to see your book on a bookshelf at Barnes and Noble just as much as you do, and if you’ve ever gone into a bookstore, their shelves are still divided by genre. If you’ve got a romantic fantasy horror just waiting to get out, where is the manager of that Barnes and Noble going to stick your book? Romance? Fantasy? Horror? (Never mind what that cover is going to look like :P)

I like writing romance, I’m always shipping couples who don’t need to be shipped. I look for romance everywhere. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out that’s what I wanted to write, but when I say contemporary romance isn’t a genre, I mean it’s too big of a genre to write in, too many subgenres and tropes, and like my friend who writes everything, my readers have to pick through my books to figure out what they’re going to enjoy most. That’s not a way to keep readers and, while it isn’t difficult, doesn’t have the return on investment that it could.

I think we get a little confused because when we publish on Amazon, or Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Google Play, we no longer think of shelves. There aren’t any shelves in the Amazon store, no end caps featuring the latest deal or overstock stores want to get rid of. Because of this, browsing is a lot harder for a reader, and they need to search for what they like, such as Vigilante Justice, or Small Town Romance. Then, if you have your keywords and categories correct, your book will show up on the results page. But, you’re saying, you can genre-hop and this will still work.

It will. When someone wants small town romance, maybe my Rocky Point Wedding series will pop up. (Likely not since my books are old and they don’t have many reviews, rending me useless to Amazon.) But say they like your Women’s Divorce Fiction you wrote under the Women’s Fiction genre–and they want more Women’s Divorce Fiction. Oh, you only wrote the one book, too bad, and they move on. Chances are really really good that they might read another one of your books anyway, but if you had more Women’s Divorce Fiction for them to choose from, you just caught yourself a reader who will read your entire backlist. Think of your Amazon Author Page as a store, and your list of books as a shelf. Do they all fit on that shelf? My books fit in Contemporary Romance, but with a sports romance trilogy, enemies to lovers, age gap romance, close proximity, then a four-book small town romance series, you can kind of see why a reader would like to read my enemies to lovers then drop off from the rest of my backlist. They aren’t similar enough to hold a reader’s interest. I wanted to be like Nora Roberts–able to write everything. I’ll never be like her. Her career and mine will never be the same.

I can see why you’d be balking, even to me it sounds extremely limiting, but the secret is to choose a subgenre and then have fun with the tropes. I chose Billionaire Romance to start up my pen name, but I can do anything I want with tropes. Enemies to lovers, fake fiance, my brother’s girlfriend is off limits, even a little mystery suspense. I’ll grab every reader who wants billionaire and more importantly, keep them because they know that’s all I’ll offer them. Had I known that, maybe I would have focused all my other books on small town romance. I am from a small town, after all, but it actually wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me to even write to trope. After four years of writing, you’d think that would have clicked into my brain a long time ago, but like many new authors, I was just writing the stories as they came to me and assigning the genre/subgenre/trope after the book was written, if there was even a trope after all was said and done. My sports trilogy and my Rocky Point Wedding series don’t follow tropes very well. It’s no wonder the ten books I have out never really did anything. I didn’t have a direction. Maybe all those who wander are not lost, but my books now are out in the weeds and there’s no pulling them back.

As for readers of blog posts like this, and listeners of podcasts like Jami and Sara’s, and even writers and authors who watch YouTube videos by indie authors like Derek Murphy who extol the idea of writing to market and writing to trope, maybe you aren’t ready to do things this way. Maybe you never will be, content to be a theater usher using social media and marketing to direct readers to that one book in your backlist they’ll enjoy. That’s okay. I don’t think my friend will ever change how she does things–she says she enjoys writing whatever she wants. Maybe you enjoy the creative freedom so much that you’ll take worrying about where your readers will come from in exchange. Or maybe in a couple years you’ll think back on this post and realize you’re in the same spot you were in when you read this and you’ll be open to a new way of doing things. And maybe Jami is right after all–maybe there are writers out there who don’t know there’s a better way to do things.

If you want to watch Derek Murphy’s latest video, here it is:

For me, this kind of content is interesting. While I was listening to Lee, I kept nodding, smiling even, because what she found out, I too have found out the hard way by way of little traction and no audience.

If you’re interested in trying it my way, and the way of other indies who have built and audience and are making a livable income off their books, how can you start?

  1. Pick an ocean genre. Contemporary romance, thriller, women’s fiction. The biggest umbrella you can find. Because while I said most readers don’t hop around, some do, and this wide net will catch a lot of fish. But then–
  2. Choose a subgenre. Subgenres are not tropes. Subgenres are niches within the larger genre such as billionaire romance, small town romance, vigilante justice, hard-boiled detective, family saga.
  3. Then choose your tropes. You might think that Billionaire Romance is limiting, but I’ve written 11 books so far, and I haven’t run out of ideas yet. It’s kind of like the idea “free as a bird in a cage.” You have boundaries and you know what they are so you have more fun playing. If you feel safe, you’re more secure in your story, and your confidence will come out in your writing.

Of course, coming from me, it would make more of an impact if I could say, see, my Billionaire Romance has made me $100,000 this year (God, that would help me with so many worries!). Of course, I can’t, but you can take a look at any indie author making it to see they stuck to a certain subgenre and used familiar tropes in their writing to see that I’m not wrong.

As far as genre and subgenre and tropes as buzzwords, I guess they’ll always be around. No matter how much you want to brush them off for the sake of your creative freedom, they are there for reasons that may we not understand let alone want to accept. That will have to be a choice you make, and I wish you the best!

Here is a good list of Genres and Subgenres from Writer’s Digest. I can’t help but note what the start of the article says. 114 Fiction Sub-Genre Descriptions for Writers

I didn’t find a list of subgenres or tropes for Women’s Fiction. Indie publishing has drawn hard lines when it comes to romance, something it took me a lot of time to discover. Women’s fiction is blurrier, but if you look women’s fiction authors, they still tie their books together, like Pamela Kelley and her Nantucket series, or Elizabeth Bromke and her family sagas. I did find a list of themes, and I think the article explains women’s fiction well and worth a read if that’s what you’re looking to write: Themes in Women’s Fiction


This is it for me this week. You can think of this blog post as filler, if you’d like, because I’ve blogged about this before (I hope it will be the last because I’m even starting to bore myself), but I’m spending the week in Georgia and my mind is already on vacation. I think genre, subgenre, and tropes are important though, they are the core of each book we write whether we want to admit it or not. Something clicked with me when I decided to write to trope, and maybe it will for you, too. Have a great week ahead!

Monday Musings, Fear of Success, and Where I’m at Now.

Happy Monday! It seems a little crazy to me that summer is half over. Time is flying by and I hope that you’ve all been productive! Not only is summer half over, we’ve past the halfway point of 2021 as well (which was July 2nd). What have you accomplished in the first half of the year, and what do you still want to get done before we say goodbye to this year?

This year, so far, I’ve written three and a half books. Well, maybe three and three quarters as I started one in December of 2020, but I don’t need to get too picky about it. I have slowed down and started (finally) editing these, and I’m going to release one, if not two, this year. I think I’m going to release my fake fiancé trope first, as I feel that is a stronger book than my ugly duckling trope. I just finished the second read-through of it and I’ll listen to it this week to check for typos and syntax issues. After I do that, I’ll format it in Vellum and start working on the cover. The cover and blurb will take the longest because I don’t have a team and I workshop these in various Facebook groups for feedback. Formatting, editing, and cover always take longer than I think they will, but I’m hoping for an October release.

I don’t have a Christmas story to publish this year, so I may wait to release again until after the New Year, though I always have to keep Amazon’s 30- 60- and 90-day cliff in mind. Next year I’ll begin releasing my six book series and after that, the third standalone I just finished up. It’s nice to be able to look ahead with a tentative plan, but I also want to keep writing new material and I don’t know how the more prolific indies can work on three or four things at a time to keep their production moving along. It seems almost crazy to me that authors can write and publish four books a year, though in some FB threads I’ve read the authors who do this the best are about 6 months to a year ahead of their own schedules. That makes sense and I could get my six book series ready. If I publish them two months apart, I would have a whole year of a buffer to write more books, but that seems to call for more organization than I have, especially since as I said, I don’t have help and need to keep all the details of my business straight on my own.

I was listening to the I Wish I’d Known Then podcast with Jami Albright and Sara Rosett, and they interviewed Lucy Score. Lucy is a 7-figure author and has created her own mini publishing empire. While I admire her and she’s a very motivational figure, her success scares me in some ways, too. I wouldn’t feel equipped to deal with it. I don’t have a team, or a circle of people I trust, really, to help me. Her husband works for her, her brother, they have friends who help, and she pays these people. To think about people depending on my writing for their livelihood gives me anxiety and while I too, want to be a 7-figure author, the idea scares the crap out of me.


That does bring to mind something I’ve been thinking about lately, and that is fear. We all fear being a failure in our writing, releasing a book and having it fizzle out the second we hit publish. Our books can fail in a myriad of ways, and it’s tough to determine which hurts more. Maybe we publish and we get zero sales, or maybe we publish and we have a great first week only to sink and never recover. Or maybe, and I think this scares all of us, is we publish our book and no one likes it. No one likes it, and they aren’t shy about letting us know–usually in the form of a scathing review.

Fear comes in other ways, too, like success. We fear success because we don’t know how to handle it, or we’re afraid we won’t be able to replicate it. The second book syndrome is real, and even if it’s not your second book, any book you write on the heels of a successful one could cause you some fear and anxiety. Nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder.

And so we do nothing. We put off writing, or in my case, we put off publishing, thinking if we just do this one thing (write another book, wait for a life event to finish, wait for a new month, wait for a new year) then we’ll start. If you’re putting off something, like writing, publishing, querying, ask yourself why. Are you afraid to fail? Or are you afraid to succeed? You can hide behind your fear, but at least be honest about it. You can always carve out writing time–1,000 words a day will net you a decent sized book in two and a half months. If you’re not doing that, if you’re saying, I need to wait until…. that’s a huge red flag that you’re scared. I’m scared. For the past year I was telling myself I’ll publish when I finish the next book, then the next, then the next, and if I keep writing without publishing, I’ll feel like I’m drowning in the books I have on my computer. Maybe if you’re not writing you’ll suffocate on the words that are supposed to be there but they’re not. The only person who can fix that is you.

So, anyway, that’s where I’m at. I may need to learn to work on more than one thing at a time if I want to be able to write while I have books in the production phase of publishing. My mind kind of took that fake blurb I wrote for the fake cover I did for my blog post on how to create a full wrap paperback cover in Canva and ran with it, and I have an amazing romantic suspense novel stewing around in my head that won’t let me think about anything else. I love writing standalones, and the interview with Lucy helped me come to terms with that. She writes standalones as well–it isn’t always about series all the time–and it made me feel better about the standalones I’ve been writing lately. The six-book series I wrote last year during the COVID lockdown will be my shining star–I’ll never be able to do it again–but I have a less complicated series that I started (I’m two books in) and I should finish those before I lose the thread and the want to finish them up.

I’m supposed to be going out of town next Monday, a trip to Georgia, but we’ll see how things go. I’ve had bad luck traveling lately, and my daughter just informed me she has a cavity that I would like to get taken care of before I go but my dentist has a busy office and that may not be possible. I don’t know if I’ll have a blog post for next Monday. Summer has slowed down for everyone, and at this point in time, I wouldn’t know what to blog about. It wouldn’t hurt to take a week off, but since I’ve started this crazy publishing path, when have I ever done that?


Coincidentally, Craig Martelle did a 5 Minute Focus on the price of success. He just streamed it today, so i will leave you with that, and a reminder of a couple things going on this week. Make the most of the rest of your summer!

Until next time!


Bryan Cohen started his Amazon ad challenge today. Amazon thought so highly of it that they featured his challenge in their blog. If you want to learn the basics of how to put together an Amazon ad for your book or series, check out his challenge. It’s all free, and if you join the FB group attached to the challenge, he, along with some of his staff at his blurb writing business and some of his successful students of his Amazon Ads school are around to help you out. I learned everything I know taking these challenges, and if I keep my eye on my ads dashboard, I never lose money.
If you want to check out the Amazon blog post, click here.
If you want to sign up for his ad challenge, click here. (This is not an affiliate link.)
If you want to join his Amazon Ad Challenge Facebook group, click here.
If you don’t want to join a FB group, he expanded this challenge to a slack group, and you can click here to join.


Wednesday, July 14th, Jane Friedman is hosting Elizabeth Sims in a Zoom webinar about writing dialogue like a pro. I’ve signed up for it, and for $25, all the information is worth it. There is a replay if you can’t watch it live, and Jane sends you the files afterward to download to keep. It really is a great value, and as far as I know, everyone can use a little help with their dialogue. If yours is stiff, doesn’t sound natural, or if you have a problem with dialogue tags, this class is for you. Click here to read more about it and to sign up. (This is not an affiliate link.)

Enjoy your week!

6 Things I Learned While Creating my Newsletter through MailerLite

I did it. You can finally stop hearing about it . . . after this post. I took the time to watch a few YouTube tutorials and set up the sign up for my newsletter. As with anything when you’re diving into things you don’t know, you learn as you go and sometimes that means taking a step back before you can move forward. Here are a few things I had to figure out during the process. I hope maybe I can save you some headaches. Please check the resources at the end of this post–I’ll direct you to what helped me set this up.

Attach your name/pen name to the correct website. Way back when I was thinking about my newsletter, I didn’t have a pen name on the horizon, or maybe I did, but didn’t understand the technical side of creating a newsletter. When you set up an account through MailerLite you can’t run your newsletter through Gmail, Yahoo, etc and they ask for an email connected to a website. I bought an email account through this website vaniamargene.com and when I did that they assigned my email address as vania (at) vaniamargene.com. I thought that was fine and never thought any more about it. (If I had it to do over again, I would have used vaniarheaultauthor or something like that. I don’t know what possessed me to use my middle name, but here we are.) But now since I did decide to to use a pen name, VM Rheault, I noticed that since my MailerLite account is attached to this website, my emails are going to show up like this in the from field: VR Rheault from vania (at) vaniamargene.com. That’s not such a big deal because I’m not hiding who I am–I couldn’t put on a different persona full time, and I didn’t want to distance myself too much from my books because I’m proud of them and billionaire romance isn’t that different from the contemporary romance I used to write. This would have been a big setback had I chosen a completely different pen name. So if you’re looking to set up a newsletter, make sure the website and business email you choose is going to be connected to the newsletter and everything will be one name.

Think about branding before starting your newsletter. I didn’t think this was a big deal either until watching a couple YouTube videos and learning just what a landing page is and how you can customize it. Brand is such a vague concept to us authors anyway, but when I say brand in this context, you’ve already got the font down you’ll want to use for your author name, maybe a tagline. You know the genre you’re going to be writing under this name, and the images you choose will reflect that. This is my landing page and thank you page after they’ve signed up:

How my sign up page looks on a desktop.
How my sign up page looks on a cell phone.
The thank you page.

Billionaire romance is usually set in a huge city with penthouses, limos, elegant events, private planes, etc. This is where it’s important to know your genre and what readers are going to expect. Any reader who consumes billionaire romance is going to to be familiar and recognize the big city lights. (There is even a Big City fiction category on Amazon.) I make up all my big cities mainly because I’ve never been to New York and I would never be able to set my books there with any degree of believable detail. I’ve been to Chicago a handful of times and of course, Minneapolis/St. Paul and I can write the vibe of a big city but as far as landmarks and restaurants and famous hotels, not so much. It’s easier for me to make up cities and then I can do what I want. Anyway, I had to make this graphic on the fly, but luckily I had already decided what font I wanted for my author name (and it will go on the my book covers) and it didn’t take much searching through Deposit Photos for an appropriate skyline. This skyline will look nice on bookmarks if I ever wanted to make them, or magnets, business cards. I didn’t by the extended license, so I can’t sell anything, but swag I make using this graphic to give away will fit right into my brand.

You don’t need a website. I thought you needed at least a page on a website for sign ups, but that’s what your landing page through MailerLite is for. Once you create a landing page for your sign up, they give you a link that you post around social media and in the back matter of your books. The only reason you would need a website is if you wanted to add a pop up box for newsletter sign ups. This is good news for me as I didn’t really want to start a new website for my pen name, but I did add a page to this website where I’ll list all my books as I start to publish. To give credit where credit is due, a while back, Liz Durano told me I didn’t need to start a new website and because I had no idea what a landing page was, I didn’t understand what she meant. Now I do. You don’t need to spend time or money setting up a website, though if you’re going to write a lot of books under your name it may be better in the long run to have one. Eventually I’ll end up creating a new website for my VM Rheault books, but I won’t do it solely to have a pop up box for a newsletter.

Chances are you won’t need the business plan for your website, either. When I thought I needed to add the MailerLite plugin to my website, I upgraded my WordPress site for a whopping $200.00/year. That’s a lot of money to me, but I would have paid it out for the sake of my business. Then after I paid, I got a cute little notice saying that they would take away the follow button that allows people to follow me through the WordPress Reader. I’m going to be blogging on this website over anything else I do (I don’t try to sell my books on here anymore, not that I tried to do that so much anyway) and I wanted to keep the button. After I realized I didn’t need to integrate MailerLite with my WordPress website for sign ups, paying that was even harder to swallow. I contacted WordPress customer service through chat and they refunded me and put me back on the plan I had before–they give you 14 days to change your mind. When I get around to making another website for my books, I won’t pay for a business plan then, either. I’m so used to being directed to a landing page for email sign ups, that I’m sure everyone else is, too.

After you have the sign up link, it hits home that you need a reader magnet. When I created my sign up and the thank you page and created my welcome email they’ll receive upon signing up, I realized that you don’t have anywhere to put the link if you’re not giving anything away and you’re not publishing at the moment. Of course, I’ve heard the sign ups you want come from the links in the backs of your books, known as organic sign ups–your true fans. But you only get those when you’re publishing, and I’m working on my books right now. So I have the link but nowhere to put it, and no, I’m not giving it to you because chances are 99% you don’t read billionaire romance and don’t need to sign up for my newsletter. I need to work on my welcome email a little bit more, too. Make sure it sounds how I want it to sound and details what my books will be about and what readers can expect from me down the road. That being said, I need a reader magnet so I can at least put my link up on a site like BookFunnel and maybe join a promo or two for sign ups. Advertising your newsletter looks a lot more attractive if you can give something away, though I know you can be adding freebie seekers to your list. Maybe though, if they read your reader magnet, you will make them a fan. You won’t know until until you know. And by that I mean you won’t know until you release a book readers are expected to pay for.

The writing community is not your reader. You’ll figure this out when you tweet your newsletter link or put it in a post on Instagram. Other writers don’t care about your newsletter–at least if you’re writing fiction. I have subscribed to several non-fiction newsletters that pertain to indie publishing from authors like David Gaughran and Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur, but hey, guess what, I have never read any fiction by those authors. (Some indies are surprised to learn they write fiction at all.) Just like I consume anything Joanna Penn does for the indie author community, but I have never read one of her thrillers she writes under J. F. Penn. The only newsletter sign up link I would share here is if I wanted to start collecting emails for a potential non-fiction book. I don’t think I have anything to offer in way of a how-to book that you can’t find other places and I’m content to blog about my mistakes and successes. You’ll save yourself a lot of weeding down the road if you only give out your sign up link to readers of your genre. You may not grow your list as fast as if you gave out the link to everyone, but most newsletter aggregators charge you based on the number of sign ups you have, and if you’re paying for people to be on your list who are not going to buy your books, they are dead weight and will cost you money.

This begs the question though as to where you can put it, and here are my ideas:
Your Amazon Author Page. You can put the link in your bio.
Your Goodreads bio if they allow it. I tried to Google it but didn’t find any information. Never know until you try.
Add it to your FB author page and/or reader group.
Run ads from your FB author page for sign ups. This will probably only work if you have a reader magnet to give away and want to throw a little money at building your list. (Some advise against this so research for your own conclusions.)
Your books’ back matter.
Promo sites like BookFunnel and StoryOrigin if you use those services to build your list.


I didn’t realize how much I would need to know and while I was setting up my newsletter, it was one step forward and two steps back. Luckily, as I said, I already had an idea as to what I wanted to do with branding, and I was familiar with expectations of the billionaire genre. It’s probably not that big of a deal, you can always go back and change anything, but part of building a brand is brand awareness and for some subscribers, your landing page and thank you page will be their first impression of you.

There are other things I’m still going to have to learn as I begin to collect email addresses. Some authors split their lists between readers who signed up organically and readers who signed up for a freebie. Some have split their lists many different ways, and I don’t know if I’ll do that or how to, at this point. Curating my list and offering them content will be a continual learning process–at least until I’ve done it for a while. But even after publishing for four years, I don’t think you ever can really learn it all. Probably the one thing I can say I did right from the get-go is research the newsletter providers. I’ve heard good things about MailerLite and so fair their platform has been easy to navigate. Unless for some reason down the road I can’t afford them, and have to switch, I will probably always stay with them.

It might have been premature to do this now when I don’t have a reader magnet or book coming out, but I think the hard part is over–starting is always the scariest part.


Resources

I watched a few YouTube videos, and I learned quickly that there are a lot of differences between the paid and the free versions of MailerLite. I’m working with the free right now and this tutorial was the best I found. She uses a free plan and starts from the beginning:

MailerLite has their own academy but the tutorial starts with a paid plan–that’s not so helpful.

If you’re worried about the content part of it, Tammi Labrecque’s Newsletter Ninja gives you plenty of ideas. I already had the book, but Liz also recommended it in one of the comments here on the blog. It’s nice to know when something is helpful to more than one person. Tammi also runs a newsletter FB group, and you can find it here.

I made my graphic using Deposit Photos and a website template on Canva. The font I used for my author name is Cinzel and Cinzel Decorative. They are free and you can download it free for commercial use here. (They come in the same zip file so don’t worry if you can’t find the decorative part of the font. It’s included when you download the font.)

Okay, this blog post is super long. I’m going to call it, and see you next time!

Monday Musings: Is Publishing Your Book like Letting a Bird Fly Free?

Happy Monday! This week is off to a great start! I finished my book yesterday, all 97,000 words of her. I know that will change in edits, and I’ll jump right into the first read through today! My characters have changed a little from the beginning to the end, and I want to clean up the discrepancies while they’re fresh in my head. After that I’ll let it sit, and go to work on the ugly duckling trope I got back from my beta reader/editor a couple weeks ago. While I jump into those edits I’ll get my MailerLite newsletter stuff up and going. It might take a couple of days to figure things out, but as Andrea Pearson says on the 6 Figure Author Podcast, once I take the time, I never have to do it again. Will I jump into a new book? Guys, I have 11 books on my laptop right now–all in various states of editing–from nearly-ready-to-publish to just-finished-yesterday. They include a six-book series I wrote last year during COVID, three standalones, and two books that will belong to another six-book series. Needless to say, all the standalones I’ve written, I’ve written with the intention of using one as a reader magnet, otherwise I never would have taken a break with the second series I’d started. But I NEED to start publishing these, so I’m going to try really really hard not to start writing another book, at least for a little while.


Taken from Jane’s website.

What else has been going on? There are a lot of webinars coming up in the following weeks, and one I’m really excited about is one hosted by Jane Friedman and Elizabeth Sims on writing dialogue. I love craft classes just as much as I love marketing classes and I’m looking forward to it. If you want to check it out, look here.


I came across this opinion the other day, and it kind of flummoxed me that a) someone could feel this way and 2) no one told her there are things you can do for your book and your business that won’t make you feel like you pressed publish and then walked away.

I’m an indie publisher, and never once have I felt like when I published a book it was like opening a bird’s cage and letting the little bird fly away, never to be seen again. Though I suppose that’s how it can feel to some authors when their book sinks in the charts and they don’t know what to do about it. My books may not be successful, and that’s my fault and my fault alone. Today I tweeted that you can learn just a good of a lesson from making a mistake as you can from making a choice that will bring you success. I know why my books aren’t doing well, and that’s why I’m starting a pen name and hoping to apply what I’ve learned these past five years into another five that are more successful.

What can this person do to make sure that when/if she ever self-publishes her book, it won’t feel like she’s letting a bird fly out her window? Here’s what I would tell her, and this is what I plan to do too.

Make sure your cover/blurb/title convey the genre you’ve written in, and make sure your story follows the genre guidelines that readers will expect when they pick up your book. This is more than just “writing to market.” If your book hits it out of the park with genre/plot/characters, readers of that genre will recommend your book to other readers. It all starts with the story and nothing else will get you word of mouth than a compelling story and characters your readers will care about.

Start a newsletter and put the link for sign ups in the back of your book. This was a big fail for me, and who knows where my career would be right now if I had started it years ago. Even if I had decided to go in an opposite direction, I could have asked my readers if they wanted to follow me in the new direction. Some may have, some might not have, but it’s better than starting at zero like I am right now.

Write the next book. Nothing sells your book like writing the next book. Don’t take a break (unless your burnt out, then take a vacation and celebrate all your hard work) and jump right into writing the next book, or if you’re like me and you’re stockpiling, get the next book ready to publish. I have found that rapid releasing doesn’t do much if you don’t already have readers hungry for your books. Until I find a fanbase, I probably won’t rapid release anymore. But writing the next book, or getting the next book ready, will keep your mind off your launch and it’s a much better use of your time than refreshing your sales dashboard every ten minutes.

Run promotions. I understand if you’re traditionally published this may not be something you can do or even something you’ll want to pay for with your own money (though rumor has it this is what your advance is for). You’ve given control to your publisher and what they will pay for is anyone’s guess. But if you’re an indie author, you can mark your book down to .99 or offer free days and buy promotion slots through Written Word Media like BargainBooksy or Freebooksy, or other promotional sites like Robin Reads and Ereader News Today. You can “stack” them (booking them at the same time) for a strong launch, or you can space them out and keep sales steady. Whatever you plan to do, booking promo sites is nothing like letting that bird go.

Learn ads. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can run low-budget, low-cost per click ads. While I don’t plan to write more 3rd person past contemporary romance anytime soon, I still run low-budget ads to my books. Without those ads I would sell nothing. Nothing. The two or three books I sell a day because of those ads are more than some authors sell in weeks because they don’t want to take a small risk to see what those ads can do for their book(s). If you’re confident in your cover/blurb/title/story, your ad spend will not be a waste.

Just to show you that I’m not spending a ton of money on ads here are my stats for June (as of the 23rd): I have ten ads going, a couple for each standalone and the one Amazon approved for His Frozen Heart. (That was a fluke and anytime I’ve tried to create more they always suspend them because of the cover.)

To date my royalties are:

I’ve made 7 dollars this month, but that’s 7 dollars more than I would have without ads and I’m finding readers. Maybe they’ll leave a review. Maybe they’ll tell a friend. Maybe the paperbacks I sold on the 21st will be passed around and a lot of people will read them. I could run more ads and I should refresh my ads with new keywords, but being that I won’t have a new title out under that name, I’ll just leave my ads how they are. That being said, if you’re actively promoting and writing, there’s no reason why you can’t learn an ad platofrm and see what happens. There are a lot of free resources out there and it won’t break the bank to do some testing. You never know. Your book could take off and your royalties will far exceed the cost of the ads. Which is the main goal anyway.

I don’t understand the mentality that once you publish your book is out of your hands. There are all sorts of things you can do to bring readers in. They may cost a little money, and some ideas, like starting a newsletter is a time investment as well. It’s why I’ve put off doing certain things–because the writing is always the fun part to me, and doing anything else is like going to the dentist. It’s a time suck but necessary evil.


Thank you for all the kind feedback regarding the Canva paperback wrap post I did last week. So many people found it helpful! If you know someone who could use the information, pass it along! I love to help!

I think that is all I’m going to post about for now. My carpal tunnel has flared up a bit, so a writing break will be welcome. I haven’t been sleeping well, either. Let’s say say three cats are two cats too many, but they are part of the family so there’s nothing I can do but take naps when I can.

I hope you all have a wonderful Monday, and let me know how you’re doing!

Until next time!

Doing a Full Paperback Wrap in Canva for KDP Print (plus screen grabs)

I’ve come across this question a lot these days, mostly I think because a lot of authors use Canva for their ebook covers and graphics for promos. Some bloggers have compared Canva to Book Brush, and while Book Brush can do many things Canva can’t, I feel that Canva is more versatile and I prefer to use it over Book Brush. Especially since Book Brush is more expensive and if you already pay for Canva Pro, you’re not looking to plop down another $146 (for their popular package) a year on another program.

I’ve never made a full wrap in Book Brush, though it is a feature they have available in their paid plans. I made my first paperback wrap in Canva not even knowing if it was possible. It was the old cover for Wherever He Goes and it was a complete experiment applying what I knew from making covers in Word before I knew Canva existed. I ordered a proof not knowing what to expect, but the cover came out beautifully, and since then I’ve done all my wraps in Canva and for a couple other authors too.

These days if there is trouble with a cover, it’s probably a KDP Print glitch. Their POD printers are overworked and underpaid just like all of us these days and I’ve heard reports of covers not printing well, interiors that are crooked, pages falling out of the binding, and even text of other books inside yours. That is a KDP Print problem, not a Canva problem. The only issue I’ve ever encountered doing a paperback wrap in Canva is that IngramSpark requires a CMYK color file while Canva saves in RGB as does GIMP. IngramSpark will still accept your file, but they warn you the coloring in the cover might be off. If this is truly a concern of yours, don’t use Canva for a full wrap. Learn PhotoShop or hire out. I publish with IngramSpark and in a blog post from a couple years ago, I compared the books from IngramSpark and KDP Print. While everyone insists IngramSpark prints with better quality, I did not find that to be the case, and Canva had nothing to do with it.

That being said, there are a couple things you need to know before you do a full wrap in Canva.

Your stock photo must be in 300 dpi. I buy my photos from Deposit Photos, and lately when I download a photo, the image size is huge but the dpi is only 72. You have to fix this or your cover will come out pixelated and you won’t know why. You can download GIMP for free and use the SCALE IMAGE (under Image in the menu) to fix this, or if you already have Photoshop, adjust the dpi and save. That is the photo version you want to upload into Canva.

This is the screenshot from a photo I used to make a mock cover the other day. You can see that the dpi is only 72. And if you take a look at the width and height, sometimes that is too huge for Canva to accept and they’ll ask you to fix the size. The width and the height doesn’t matter so much, and you can change the width to a lower number. This is a horizontal photo and I chose 3000 for the width. Press Enter and it will automatically resize the height. With the DPI set to 300, export it as a jpg or png, it doesn’t matter, Canva accepts both. (If I’ve lost you on this step, you’ll have to do your own digging. I rarely use GIMP and this post is by no means a tutorial on how to use it, because yeah, I don’t know how to do very much.)

You have to have your interior already formatted for paperback. That includes the front and back matter, the font you chose, gutters and margins and all the rest. Unless you want to play, it’s helpful if this is the final version of your paperback interior. It’s already been through betas and your editor. It should be ready to publish. If it’s not, you can experiment with your cover for practice, but you need the final number of pages for your spine’s width. KDP Print gives you ten pages of wiggle room. That’s not much and more often than not, they’ll make you resize your cover using an updated template.

Choose the trim size you want and page color you want. I see this question all the time in the FB groups, and most say it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Though if you’re concerned with printing costs, the more pages you have–250+–the larger the trim size you want (6×9 is best) because more pages means higher printing cost. My novels run anywhere between 70k to 90k and the only thing that I use as a yardstick is this: My series books are 5×8. My standalones are 5.5×8.5. I don’t know why I do this, but it’s a system I’ve fallen into. If you write epic fantasy and your books are 400 pages, choose the 6×9.

This is one of Lindsay Buroker’s epic fantasies. Amazon makes it easy for you to check out what other authors in your genre are doing. You can see that this book is 528 printed pages and she chose a 6×9 trim size. Her spine is 1.32 inches. It’s a thick book. When you publish and set your prices, KDP Print will offer you a royalty calculator and you can price your book based on the royalties you’ll make when you sell a paperback. Price too high and you won’t get many takers. Price too low and you won’t make anything on the sale. Try to find a happy medium and fit in with what other authors in your genre are doing.

As for the color, I always choose cream for fiction. Seems the standard is cream for fiction, white for nonfiction. There may be exceptions, but that’s what I go with.

When you have the number of pages from the formatted file, know your trim size and page color, you can Google KDP paperback templates.

This is only for paperback. As of this writing, they are rolling out a hardcover option. It’s in beta right now, but offering a hardcover is what you’ll need to decide based on your business goals. I write romance and I focus my marketing on readers in Kindle Unlimited. A hardcover edition of my book doesn’t interest me, and if I ever wasted the time to create one, it would be for vanity purposes only.

Download the template. It will come in a ZIP file. Open it up and save the PNG as a name you’ll be able to find later. You can’t upload a PDF into Canva, only download, so the PNG is the one you’ll want.

Now it’s time to do some math.

When you want to do a full wrap in Canva, you need to know the canvas size. This is where I think a lot of people get tripped up. How do you figure out the size of the canvas so your template will fit? Your canvas size has to be the size of your book’s trim, plus spine width, plus the bleed. These numbers will change based on the trim size you choose for your books and the spine size. You won’t be able to use the same canvas size over and over unless you choose the same trim size AND your book is the same number of pages every time. That’s going to be highly unlikely, so it’s best just to realize you’re going to need to learn how to do the math.

We’ll start with the template:

The template will tell you how wide your spine is. You need this for the math. There is another way to figure out spine if you don’t download the template first, but this is the easiest way so no use giving you more math.

Then this is how you figure out the size of the canvas:

For the width of the canvas: The width of the back cover plus bleed, plus spine, plus the width of the front cover plus bleed.

If we use the template above as an example, the template is 5.5 x 8.5. This is what we add together:

5.5 (back cover) + .125 (bleed) + .65 (spine) + 5.5 (front cover) + .125 (bleed) = 11.90 inches.

That is the inch width you put into the custom dimensions box in Canva. The default is pixels, you’ll need to change it to inches.

If you need to see it in a different way, I made this for a friend:

The height of the book is 8.5 + the bleed .25 = 8.75. This is the number you put into the height box in the custom dimensions.

Hit enter or click on Create New Design and you have the canvas for a 5.5x 8.5 sized book with a .65 spine. It might not look like much, but now you can upload the PNG of your template and put that into the canvas.

It will take a little moving around, but keep as much orange as possible because that’s your bleed line. Anything on the orange or beyond has a chance of getting cut off in printing. The spine guidelines keep your text from bring printed on the front or back covers. Make sure the template covers the entire canvas.

You might have noticed I didn’t tell you your template needs to be at 300 dpi, and it doesn’t. You’ll be building your cover on top of this template and you won’t see it at all when your book is printed.

When I say that you’ll be building your cover on top of this, I mean you’ll be putting the stock photo and all the text on top of the template. What you use for your front cover and the back cover is going to be up to you. Some authors use a horizontal photo like the woman on the dock above and use it to create a full wrap from the one photo, like this:

Woman in white dress sitting alone on the pier. Back view (purchased from Deposit Photos)

You can see I flipped her and used a filter, but I used the whole photo for a full cover wrap. I built it on top of the template using the transparency feature and it looks like this:

Using the bleed lines, you can put the font where it needs to go. It’s not perfect–the author name isn’t centered and can come down more. When you’re done with the bleed lines, change the transparency of the photo back to 0 and this is what you’ll download. Download the file in print-ready PDF for your KDP dashboard when you upload your files for publishing.

Lots of people say they don’t know what to put on the back of their covers. The sky is the limit, really, from just the blurb to reviews of the book to your author photo. I’ve only done my author photo once, and that was for the back of All of Nothing:

The only thing I would caution you on is you don’t need to make the blurb font huge. It was one of my mistakes first starting out. And if you don’t want to put a white box for the bar code, you don’t have to. KDP Print will add it when they print your cover. Google for more full wrap ideas.

For the woman on the dock, I blew up the part of the water giving the back cover a grainy texture that matched the photo but some authors like the full photo wrap. It keeps them from. having to worry about getting the bleed lines on the spine perfect for printing. POD printing isn’t an exact science anyway, so chances are even if your PDF is perfect, the spine will be a little off. No matter how centered my title and author name are, almost 100% of the time they won’t be centered on the spine when you order a copy. Now that I’ve done it both ways, I think I prefer the full photo wrap.

I added a white gradient (that you can find in Canva) to the bottom to white out the dock a little bit making Penny’s name more readable. When it comes to cover design you know your own abilities. I’ve often said I’m lucky I write romance and can find a cute couple and slap some text over them and call it good. It’s not that simple, obviously, but if I wrote in epic fantasy, or even thriller, I would have to hire out. I’m not interested in learning beyond what I know. I’m a writer, not a graphic designer.

Developing an eye for book covers takes time and a lot of practice. Sometimes what you think looks good on the screen won’t translate well to a printed cover at all and you’ll be back to the drawing board. If you’re tackling book covers for the first time, you may be investing in some proof copies just to see how your work looks printed. If your business model makes paperbacks important, then you’ll put a lot of time into learning how to make your paperbacks look amazing. Like I said before, my business model centers around KU readers and it’s more important to make sure my cover grabs attention at thumbnail size and indicates to readers the second they look at it what genre it is.

It might seem like I skimmed over the most important part: the math. We can do another book with a different trim size just for practice.

This is the template the first book in my Rocky Point Wedding series. The trim is 5×8 and the spine is .70 inches. If we do the math for the Canva canvas it would look like this:

5.0 (back cover) + .125 (bleed) + .70 (spine) + 5.0 (front cover) + .125 (bleed) = 10.95. That is the width you would need to put into the custom box.

The height would be 8.0 (cover) + .25 (bleed) = 8.25. That is the height you would put into the custom dimensions box.

This is the cover I did for the first book in the series:

I did most of it in Canva, though I added some transparent gradient in GIMP for blending the two photos. Everything I know I taught myself, and it’s not fair i’m trying to shove four years of practicing and learning into one blog post. You’ll have to do your own experimenting.

Some odds and ends I picked up on the way:

Don’t buy a bar code. You don’t need one. KDP Print and IngramSpark will generate one for you. I buy my own ISBNs though, and that will be a choice you need to make if you’re in the States and expected to pay god-awful prices.

Don’t use free photos from Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels, et al. Cover your butt and secure your business and use photos that you pay for from trusted sites like Shutterstock or Deposit Photos. Same with fonts. Not everything is available for commercial use. Be careful.

Use caution when choosing the models on your covers if you write romance. Amazon has gotten very picky lately, and the cover for His Frozen Heart disqualifies me from being able to run ads on Amazon Advertising to that series. Needless to say, that sucks.

You can use the same canvas size for an IngramSpark template. The one difference between an IS template and a KDP Print template is the spine for IS is narrower. The only adjustment you’ll be making is your font size for your title and author name on the spine will be smaller.

Elements (font, symbols ) can shift when you download your PDF and they will look “off” when you upload to KDP. I haven’t found a solution for this except to overcorrect, save, and re-download so the elements are in the place they are supposed to be. When you download the PDF, check the file before uploading to KDP. You’ll see if anything has shifted and you can correct it. The KDP Print previewer will show you exactly how your book cover and interior will print. If you don’t like ANYTHING in the previewer, fix it because printing won’t change it.


There are videos on how to create a full cover wrap in Canva–and you might find them helpful–but the few I’ve watched leave out important steps like making sure your photo is 300 dpi. This is going to take some trial and error. I remember being soooo nervous waiting to see if the cover for Wherever He Goes was going to look good.

I think that’s all I have. I know it seems like a lot of information, but blogs and videos won’t take the place of practice. If you have any questions, leave me a comment. I’ll answer to the best of my ability. If you’re making covers with my tips, tweet me at @V_Rheault on Twitter. I want to see what you’re doing.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time!


Resources I’ve found helpful:

IngramSpark’s File Creation Guide

KDP Print’s template generator

IngramSpark’s template generator

Canva Book Cover Templates

Guest Blogger Sarah Lou Dale: Choosing a Genre and Writing to Market

Special thanks to Vania for having me on the blog again. I’m going to dive right in and get to the heart of today’s post. When a writer enters this business, they are told to write to market and for some of us, that’s where we start to fail. I’m not being negative, I’m being honest. In light of honesty, I’ll say I hate the concept of writing to market, or what I viewed the term to mean which I’ll cover in a minute. When Vania told me to do this, I scrunched my nose up in distaste. It felt so cookie cutter to me.  

Until recently, I thought writing to market meant you write exactly in this mold all others write in. Take a trope and write a different take on it but still stay in the same mold.  For me, that’s boring. As a reader, I don’t read books like that at all. I haven’t been able to do a survey for readers to find out if this is in fact true. I hear it from writers all the time, but not readers outside of the writing community. So, is it true? Is that what readers really want? I believe that forcing yourself to write something you don’t want to, to fit into a mold you’re “supposed to” takes away who you are as a writer.

I believe I took the advice too literally and it gave me a bad taste in my mouth. Writing to a mold or formula ISN’T what writing to market means. I now believe writing to market is writing what the readers want because they are the ones who put food on your table. If you go about writing whatever the hell you want, you risk alienating your readers before they even become your readers. I fully believe this to happen. As I was brainstorming how to write this post where it wouldn’t completely piss people off, especially my host, I got to thinking about another angle: genres. 

I’m currently in this zone where I’m trying to pinpoint what genre or genres I should be writing. I have story ideas in at least 3-4 different genres. I’m too old and tired to be creating pen names and everything for each genre. So, this is where writing to market comes into play for me. THIS is what I believe in. As a writer, you want to first decide what genre or genres you want to write in and settle into it. Research the genre completely to make sure you know what is expected of that genre, because there ARE expectations and you have to respect that. No one wants to pick up a romance book and get a bloody murder scene, ya know?

This is where you write to market. Your market is your genre and the readers OF that genre. But, how do you find the genre you want to write? I’m told to write what you like to read. That’s not good advice for someone like me because I read everything from space operas to paranormal, to romance to psychological thrillers. Writing what I like to read has me where I am at this point in time. Not knowing my chosen genres. 

But, there is a way to find out what genre you do enjoy. I’ll list them below:

Three Ways to Find Your Genre:

1) Write Short Stories: During my big move/transition from Hawaii to Mississippi, I am taking a small break from my crime fiction novel and working on a series of short stories. It’s easier to focus on a handful of 2,000-5,000 word short stories than a 70,000+ word novel right now. Plus, the practice is phenomenal to my growth. What am I doing exactly? I won’t dive into the whole project, but I’m writing 3-5 short stories in genres I know I have story ideas for. I just finished my first romance short story and already know it’s not likely I’ll be joining the romance club. I still enjoy reading it though. I call this strategy a process of elimination. Not only will you get a feel of the genre, but you’ll get the practice too. These don’t need to be published and can be used to practice the genre, editing, and formatting. 

2) Research: There are LOADS of articles online about each genre; including information about word count and the model in which to write as well as the must haves. Read in each genre you think you may like to write in and decide if you want to join those clubs. 

3) Listen To Your Heart: I know, it sounds cheesy but it’s true. Writing for me is such an emotional journey. At some point your genre will stick out to you and won’t let you go. Embrace it and guess what? It’s okay if it’s more than one. DON’T WRITE for a little bit and actually listen to your inner voice and see where it’s leading you. You’ll be surprised what you find out about yourself in the process. 

Regardless of what you choose to do, just know if you are a new author, it’s a good idea to figure this out before you start. One of my biggest mistakes was writing and publishing my debut novel before I really knew anything about genres. It’s a small part of what made that book a flop, which still breaks my heart today. 

Writing to market now has a new meaning to me and I believe in it 100%. Readers expect, when they find an author they want to read more of, a certain story, a specific genre. If you change course from writing domestic suspense to a contemporary romance without showing any indication that you’re a contemporary romance author, you’ll quickly lose readers. 

Writing is a gamble. You have to be careful how you run your business. Take risks…they are there to be taken, but be aware of your own abilities and really consider your readers or future readers when you start your writing business. Sometimes you’ll have to do things to readjust, but it’ll be so much easier if you know what you’re wanting for your business in the beginning. 

Jeff Elkins’ post on The Write Practice (https://thewritepractice.com/write-to-market/) gives some great advice on how to change your perspective when you hear the term “write to market”. It’s so good to know I am not the only one who heard that term and thought negatively about it. 

Jane Friedman is an author I respect and adore. Jane’s article (https://www.janefriedman.com/genre/) about genres and defining your genre is spot on and I didn’t realize we used the same term when it came to finding your genre: a club. It’s true. Once you find a genre you enjoy and write in well, the peers you encounter along the way will be just like being a part of the club. You’ll connect with other writers and together you will be able to navigate this crazy writing business. 

Special thanks again to Vania for having me on the blog today. I have my website back up and running. If you’d like to bookmark the page, sarahloudale.com is the web address and there you can sign up for my newsletter and receive a complimentary short story. I can also be found on Twitter (@MrsSarahLouDale) and on IG (@sarahloudale). Until next time, Happy Writing/Reading.

Writing Themes: What do you want your books to say?

teal background with quote: if theme is the soul of a story, then characters are its beating heart by karen azinger

This isn’t really a craft post, more like a, “let’s dig into the messages of your writing and explore where they come from” post.

I listened to Lyz Kelley speak on Clubhouse the other night and she gave a really great talk on finding the messages in your stories and how you can build your brand and market your books off those themes.

Sometimes we don’t even recognize the themes we’re putting into our books until we go through our backlist and can pinpoint the themes and messages that have come up over and over again. Recognizing themes can help us when we have writer’s block and show us the way to new stories, plots, and character arcs.

Where do those themes come from?

Usually we put a little bit of ourselves into every one of our books. Our characters have our flaws and our dislikes and likes, or we give them stories that we wish we could have experienced in our own lives. When it comes to crafting characters we dig deep into our own emotional wells and create characters that are just as injured and damaged as we are. Sometimes they get a happy ending, such as if you’re writing romance, or sometimes they learn a life lesson that maybe you learn with them as they go along, like women’s fiction, or the hero’s journey in an epic fantasy.

What Lyz pointed out though, is that a lot of times our themes come from a trauma that we experienced, usually in our early teens. Unconsciously, that trauma pops up in our writing. When that happens frequently over the course of many books, you are finding the “why” of why you write. Not the generic why, such as you want to make readers happy or forget their problems for a while or give them a good beach read, but more of a deeper “why.” For example, for most of your life you’ve felt unloved and you want readers to know it’s possible to find love despite the odds.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Anyone who’s read my books knows that my characters have issues with their parents. They were abandoned, or their parents passed away when the character was small, or their parents are demanding and my characters scramble for parental approval. No matter what happened in the past with their parents, it affects who they are today, in their story. I write contemporary romance, so my characters’ relationships with their parents almost always affects their romantic relationships. Maybe if they were abandoned they don’t feel good enough to be loved, and that’s part of their character arc–learning they deserve love. Or they want approval and will do anything to get it, and that includes betraying their love interest or choosing their parent over the person they’re falling in love with.

teal background with quote: a very powerful theme is that of loss by alexander mccall smith

It’s easy to pinpoint my why: When I was fifteen I knew my parents weren’t going to make it. They fought all the time. I was an only child and my mother experienced severe empty nest syndrome. She went on to have two more kids (sisters I’m very close to despite our age differences), but that didn’t save their marriage. In fact, it made things worse, and because of this, I have never touched the “a baby will save our relationship” trope. My father started having an affair with a woman he met at church and my mother took my sisters and moved to Florida, where she was originally from. She was very angry when she asked me to move with her and I said no. I’d met the man who would become my husband and didn’t want to leave Minnesota. She didn’t talk to me for over a year.

Because of other reasons that I don’t need to get into here, I haven’t been on good terms with my dad for many many years and my mother passed away from breast cancer eleven years ago this month. To say I had a poor relationship with my parents is an understatement and that comes out in my writing.

I can use those themes in marketing and branding my work. When I was writing my 3rd person books, my tag line was “Find Home.” My characters didn’t feel like they had a home a lot of time because of their relationships with their parents–in their past and in their present–and when they fell in love, they found the acceptance and love they were looking for that didn’t come from their mom and/or dad. I still carry those themes with me while I’m writing my billionaire romances. In the story I’m writing now, my male character, Dominic, has a very sticky relationship with his parents. His mother has never loved him, and it’s part of the plot as he finds out why. Because he grew up without his mother’s love, he’s strived to earn his father’s all his life, even doing things that are against his moral compass because he knows his father will approve of them. Most of Dominic’s character arc is going to be realizing that his father’s love shouldn’t have to come at a price–and that price is the woman he’s falling in love with.

Knowing what kinds of themes and messages you use in your books can help you from repeating plots and backstories. Not every character is going to have mommy and daddy issues, and I need to make sure I explore other areas for my characters’ development.

When you’re struggling with finding your themes or messages you want to convey in your writing, take Lyz’s advice and think back to when you were younger and what happened that molded you into the person you are today.

teal background with quote: the feeling of being an outsider, an the identity theme, are hardwired into me. If there's anything really autobiographical in my fiction, it's that feeling. I always feel that way by dan chaon

It’s funny because depression hit me when I was about thirteen. Mental health awareness wasn’t as prevalent as it is today and my mom didn’t know where to go to get me help (okay fine; she didn’t even acknowledge I had a problem). I cut for ten years and tried to commit suicide three times. I say it’s funny because even though depression affected my life for many years, my characters do not struggle with depression. My relationships with my parents have more weight in my writing than my mental health. I wonder if it’s because I’m no longer depressed, yet I still feel guilty for the way I treated my mother and for not moving with her when she asked. I often wonder how my life would have turned out if I had moved with her and not stayed in Minnesota. I’ll never know, but I put that melancholy and wistfulness into my writing.

So when you’re looking for themes or messages that you want to convey, look at your childhood. Maybe you didn’t have friends and now all your characters grapple with a friendship issue: they struggle to keep friends or their “friends” betray them. Maybe you have a disability and an event shaped your life and now your characters share that same disability. In Lyz’s example, an author’s theme is all her characters are curvy and her tag line is “Curvy girls deserve love, too.” Maybe as a child one of her parents told her to lose weight, or a boyfriend broke up with her because she wasn’t skinny. Things have a way of simmering in the background and manifesting in our writing in ways we never thought possible.

What are your themes? Why do you write? What kind of messages do you want to send to your readers? That it’s okay to have a mental illness? That it’s okay to have one best friend than a hundred okay ones? That you don’t need your parents’ love to be a functioning human being and that you yourself can be a good parent despite how you were raised?

I find self-exploration fascinating, but it’s difficult for some to face the demons of their past. Especially if they still affect you right now. I think though, that the more self-awareness you have the deeper you can explore your characters wants, needs, motivations, and in turn recognize what their stakes and consequences and rewards are. And knowing what ties your characters together will help you brand your books and market them to the readers who will want to read those messages.

Do you have any reoccurring themes? Let know!

Until next time!

Thursday Thoughts and grabbing ideas from big-time indie authors.

Happy Thursday! I can’t believe it’s already June 10th. I have a feeling this summer is going to fly by. Last Tuesday night I went out for my usual dinner with my sister and the restaurants were packed! I think that with summer, the COVID vaccine, and most places lifting the mask mandate, more and more people are going to be to out and about. That’s not a bad thing, but our businesses here haven’t caught up with demand. So many restaurants need staff and have signs out front. Fargo, ND, is also getting an Amazon distribution center soon, and it’s going to take 500 jobs away from local businesses that look like they already need help. I’m not against Amazon and I think it’s great we have a distribution center coming here, but it will make for some interesting times ahead and the push/pull it will create in the job market. Maybe I still have a little human resources in me after all.


As for a personal update, I’m 57,500 words into this new book, and I should be done with it by the end of the month. It’s going to be longer that my other standalones. Usually I’m just about getting to the “big bad” or it’s already happened, and I still have a few more scenes to write before I get there. While that rests I’ll get working on my newsletter (no more about that or your eyes will start to bleed) and maybe look through my list of tropes to find something simple to offer as a newsletter magnet. You know, I like writing and can write 50,000 words in about three weeks (according to my document information, I created my current WIP on May 15th). So whether I want to or not I will write something to use as a magnet, and the fun part will be figuring out what that is.

I’ve been feeling okay lately, though I’m far from kicking the infection I’ve had since December. I’m writing a side project on how I’ve been dealing with it and what I’m doing on my own outside my doctor’s help to get rid of it. I’ve done quite a bit of research and let me say that in this area of women’s health, the advancements are sorely lacking. When it’s done I’ll put a link up to it so you can take a look if that’s what you really want, but this blog isn’t the place for that type of thing. I’ll probably put it up on Amazon and other platforms for free as I don’t want to make money off it–just offer awareness in all the places that I can. It will be about 10,000 words, and formatted that might be enough to put it into a hardcopy form but I’ll have to look up KDP Print’s minimum page number count.


You all know I’m on Clubhouse and over the weekend they had an Indie Author’s Conference. They had a variety of speakers, and one evening a 7-figure author spoke about how she launched her books. Of course the “room” was packed and I sat with a notebook and was prepared to take a million notes. I have launches come up too, and I am soaking up a lot of launch plan information right now. Quickly I learned that her launch plan was going to be very different from my launch plan and I left the room discouraged. This author has been publishing for years, has a giant newsletter following, has a lot of books across four pen names and the information, while great, didn’t contain much I was going to be able to use. I am so grateful to the indie authors who are making it who are willing to share their information, but when you’re starting from zero like me and my new pen name and the only information I have is what I’ve learned on my own publishing the last four years, the information they share you may just not be ready for. There were little things like the promo sites she uses (David Gaughran has a great list here) and of course, everything I hear these days is to start a newsletter to keep your readers engaged, and she does reiterate that your book has to be ready to launch. Edited, good cover, good blurb, back matter up to snuff with the call to action of your choice (preorder link for next book perhaps) otherwise it’s not going to matter how you launch, your book will be DOA. I understand all that, but it is still a shame that authors giving advice have to remind other authors of that. At any rate, I will keep scrounging for information first, second, third, or even fourth time launchers can use. Here are the top items in my launch plan that I will start using and keep using going forward:

  1. Start/keep up a newsletter, though I’m not going to be able to participate in swaps until I can get something going and have something to offer in return.
  2. Use promo sites like Freebooksy/Robins Reads/ENT. Every once in a while you hear of a name that hasn’t been shared before that I forget too, like Red Feather Romance, part of Written Word Media specifically for romance authors.
  3. Use Amazon ads. Once I get my pen name up and going I may try Facebook ads again. The few times I have they haven’t worked very well, sucking up my money with no conversion or sales on my end, but that could be an operator issue and not a machine issue. Also, I think that what I wrote in my last blog post is absolutely true: ads work when your book is already selling well. I’ve learned you can’t press publish and walk away. I dropped the ball many times when I should have been working harder than ever to use that new release energy.

When you’re absorbing info from other authors you have to decide what you can use and what you’re not ready for. There is no shame to admit that some of the information you’re hearing is over your head. I understand why organizers of these events ask the big-time authors to share what works for them because the info they provide is invaluable. Not only do they show us the technical/business side of the writing, they show us that it is actually possible to make a living, to create a reader following.This author has been writing and publishing for years and has built an audience and more importantly, keeps that audience fed with consistent releases. You may not be ready for the information for different reasons. You can’t release that fast, or you can’t afford all the things she’s doing, or maybe you don’t even know what genre you want to write in yet and you’re exploring your options. There’s no shame in admitting you aren’t at someone else’s level. In fact, it’s smart or you’ll get overwhelmed and you’ll just go crazy trying to keep up with someone you have no chance at keeping up with. And possibly spending money you don’t have. This isn’t comparisonitis, it’s simply taking what you can, if anything, and moving on to an author more your level who is killing it in their own way. I kind of came to this realization too, while listening to Mark Dawson’s launch plan mini-course I purchased from his SPF University. He’s so far from where I am, all I can do is take bits and pieces and hopefully twist what he does into what I can use for my own purposes.

I like listening to Clubhouse chats, and there are so many people out there who are willing to share what they know. Maybe one day I’ll be sharing what I know on Clubhouse too, but I’ll definitely be starting from zero.

What I’m liking now:

David Gaughran Starting from Zero course graphic. Blue with author photo.

Speaking of starting from zero, David Gaughran has a free course that takes you through exactly that. You can find it here. (Image taken from his website.)

The Six Figure Author podcast did an episode where the hosts talked about what they did wrong at the beginning of their careers. This episode is especially interesting to listen to if you haven’t published yet, and you can listen to it here.

That’s all I have for today! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!