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!

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!

Giving your books room to launch and living with your characters: an author’s befuddled musings.

When writers finish a book there’s a lull. We’ve finished what we’ve been working on, maybe for months, sometimes years, and there’s a . . . silence after we type The End. There’s a strange letdown even as we’re excited to finally finish. Sometimes that can lead to confusion because we don’t know what to write next, or we get excited to start a new project while that one breathes, or we love editing and jump head first into reading and rewriting.

No matter what your plans are, chances are you go through a period where you just don’t know what to do, and that feeling is even worse once you publish and that project is done forever. Multiply this feeling by 100 if you wrap up a series.

But how done is it?

Do you really move on when you finish a book? Do the characters let you? If you’ve established a fanbase, do your readers? I’ve been thinking about this lately as I try to figure out some kind of publishing plan for my books. “They” say rapid release can be great to keep the Amazon algorithms going in your favor and to keep readers happy. But based on my experience when I rapid released my series last year, that only works if you already have an audience who is waiting for the next book. That isn’t me or anyone trying to start a new pen name.

One thing I heard on the Six Figure Author podcast not long ago is the idea to give your books room as you publish because that gives readers time to build a community around your books. This makes sense and takes some of the pressure off to publish quickly. Posting to a Facebook reader group and giving out extras to your newsletter subscribers will keep readers excited, and it will give you more time to run ads and build book buzz.

But then I think, well, how long is an author supposed to linger over a series or readers’ favorite characters?

Authors like E L James and Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowling, and Sylvia Day keep getting sucked back into their bestselling worlds. Do you think that Erika ever gets tired of thinking about Christian and Ana, or do you think she’s just grateful they made her the bestselling author she is today? I mean, what happens when your readers are hooked on one book or series, but your author mind has already moved on to something else?

Granted, it’s a nice problem to have, and if it ever happens to me, I won’t complain, but it doesn’t give an author room for something new. Maybe if you have fans clamoring over your books like that, it doesn’t matter if they want short stories and more books and/or the same books and scenes from different points POV–you’ll be happy to give that to them. It’s just hard for me to wrap my mind around giving your readers all these extras from books and worlds that you, as the author and creator, might have already moved away from.

That brings me back to the beginning of the post when I talk about downtime between books. Is there downtime? I suppose it all depends on your mindset and if you can keep up the excitement for all your characters and their worlds and if you can, or even want, to whip up a short story or novella (2.5 anyone?) here and there or an extra bonus scene for a series or novel that, in your mind, is old, because you’re excited about a new project. Lindsay Buroker seems she can do this easily enough, even though she’s very prolific and has several series that contain several books for sale.

Slowing down and taking time to smell the insides of my books will be an interesting concept.

One I will be tackling soon because I just can’t keep writing without stopping to edit and publish one of these days. I don’t know how much time I want to wait between releases. How much is not enough, or how much is too much because we can say take all the time you want and do things the way you want to do them, but consistency is important and staying relevant with Amazon can make a big difference when you need exposure and discoverability.

I’m taking a mini-course by Mark Dawson about his launches. He has an established audience, so his launches are going to look a lot different from mine, but he pads a lot of time before the launch. He posts to his author page on Facebook regularly, months before the launch. He offers giveaways and changes the banners to all his social media to graphics that feature that particular release. I have never done that. I don’t recall ever changing my banner for a release of any book. He also changes the text on the graphic from a pre order request to a buy it now order when it’s live. But while he’s doing all that, I’m assuming he’s writing the next book, and maybe it’s just how I’ve functioned for the past few years, but I’ve only ever thought about one book at a time. And maybe, if I’m fortunate enough, I may need to start thinking about past books for years.

E L James first published Fifty Shades of Grey in April of 2012. Let’s not go into the history of the book as it was when she self-published it. It’s not really important unless you want to add even more time to how long Erika has lived with these characters. Fast forward to now of 2021, and she’s still publishing in that world, the last book in Fifty Shades with Freed coming out in June, in Christian’s POV. That’s nine years of living with Christian and Ana. Some readers might not even remember she published The Mister in 2019. (I still think she ended that on a slight cliffhanger and I’m waiting to see if it’s the first in a trilogy I think it is or if she’s going to write something different.)

We can do the same with Stephenie Meyer. She published Twilight back in 2007 and she just published Midnight Sun, Twilight from Edward’s perspective this year. Not to mention she did a few other projects based off Twilight such as The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (The Twilight Saga) and Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (The Twilight Saga). Someone in my NaNoWriMo group accused Stephenie of writing her own fan fiction, but I don’t know how that’s possible if she’s doing what the fans want. As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed the male POV more so than that of the female main character, especially when we’re talking romance, and it could just be both E L and Stephenie were giving fans what they wanted.

Sylvia Day didn’t have to write completely different novels in Gideon’s POV when she wrote the Crossfire series. She wrote three books in Eva’s POV only, then incorporated Gideon’s POV into the remaining books. I’m betting because fans wanted his POV and her publisher told her to start writing in his POV. Unless she started just to round out the remaining books, but I doubt I’ll never know the real answer. She, too, was unable to leave behind Gideon and Eva so easily when she wrote Butterfly in Frost, where the female main character is friends and co-workers with Eva. We get a glimpse of how, seven years later, Eva and Gideon are doing, and what happened to Cary, Trey, Tatiana, and the baby they were going to have together. The first Crossfire book was published in 2012 and she came out with Butterfly in Frost in 2019.

I’m only bringing this up because I can’t fathom still being interested in a world I created seven years later. I may need to get over that as backlist books are bread and butter to a lot of authors, both indie and traditionally published, and doing promotions on older books, particularly first in a completed series, can bring in a steady stream of sales. I’m not going to stop running ads to my 3rd person books, but I know that not taking a personal interest in them any longer won’t help sales. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my books and all my characters, but when I give them their happily ever afters, their stories are done in my mind. Bad thing? Good thing? I have no idea.

How do you feel about looking back? As readers, it’s natural to have a favorite book, I’ve read The Sun Also Rises several times, but I wonder how often Ernest Hemingway thought of it after his career took off and he was immersed in writing other books. I’ve read several of Nora Roberts’ books over and over again as well. Nora’s publicist is in charge of her social media, so it’s Laura (or her assistant) who pulls quotes and makes graphics from Nora’s backlist to keep the buzz going. Nora, with help, has her mind free to always be thinking forward. To me, and to many other authors who can’t afford a virtual assistant, that’s a luxury.

Anyway, you have sat through 1600 words of musing, and for that, I thank you. I was thinking of going into a personal update, but I’ll do that on Thursday. Have a great week everyone!

Until next time!

Pricing Your Book: Who is your reader?

My local mall doesn’t have a lot to offer. You might think that’s crazy–why would the city mall in Fargo, ND be lacking? Joking aside, there aren’t many stores in the mall anymore. “Back in the day”, there used to be something for everyone: toy stores, candy stores, bookstores, clothing and shoe stores for every family income range. Back to school used to be an exciting day-long event.

Now, not so much.

The other day I noticed they are putting in a Sephora–that’s expensive makeup to anyone who doesn’t know.

Last month they opened an Athleta to replace Gap. That’s an expensive workout clothing store to anyone who doesn’t know.

I wondered why they put in an Athleta when we got a Lululemon last year. That’s more expensive workout clothes if you didn’t know. Pair those stores with a Dry Goods and a Francesca, and the only affordable place left is JC Penney with customer service so bad I don’t bother to shop there. I don’t want to go through the hassle of paying for something if I find something I want.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this, and my point is, if you’re financially challenged, you’re not shopping at my local mall. You’re going to bring your limited spending money to places like Kohl’s (don’t forget your coupon!), TJ Maxx, Old Navy, and Marshall’s.

This made me start thinking about where the mall finds their customers, and how indie authors find their readers.

Whether my mall has intended to do so or not, they are shutting out the little shoppers. Shoppers who can’t afford $100 dollars for workout leggings. Shoppers who could spend $100 at Kohl’s and buy three or four pieces of clothing–maybe more.

When you price your book at launch and you choose if your book is going to be in Kindle Select to take part in the Kindle Unlimited program, or wide (on other platforms like Books and Nook) you are consciously deciding where your readers are coming from and how much money they have.

In KU, readers pay $9.99 a month to read an unlimited number of books. Granted, not all books are in KU–a lot of traditionally published books are not, so a reader is sacrificing selection for value (though with the number of books published every year, month, and day that’s not much of a sacrifice if you ask me).

Anyway, so KU readers are one type of readership. They may be whale readers and read a book a day, or every two days, and their subscription fee pays for itself in a week and the rest of the month really is “free” for them. They may love indie authors and binge every book that author has written before they move on to another author. No matter how or what they read, they have limited income and $9.99 a month is a bargain.

Being wide cultivates a different readership, though you do have more flexibility with your prices and sales–if you choose to use them and many indies do not. When indies are wide they expect readers to pay for their books (duh). They can’t be borrowed like the KU model (unless you’ve enrolled your book in the program Kobo offers, but if I’m not mistaken you have to publish directly to Kobo instead of using an aggregator for the option to join).

Readers on other platforms may have more disposable cash and will buy your $2.99 book if they really want to read it. They won’t blink an eye at spending $11.97 for a four-book series at $2.99/each. Sometimes indies will do a permafree book, meaning it’s free everywhere, usually the first book in a long series to draw readers in, or they’ll run a .99 cent sale, but when you’re wide, you have to figure out your marketing strategy or no one will know you’re having a sale.

I’ll scroll through Twitter and see a book promo that makes me interested enough to click on it. Sometimes I’ll click on that link and see the book isn’t in KU, but the author hasn’t added any other store links to the tweet to indicate they are selling on other platforms, too. That ends up wasting my time, and other readers’ time when they have a KU subscription and are looking for books to read in KU. What’s the point of going wide if all you’re going to do is promote your Amazon buy-link?

This isn’t a blog post about enrolling into KU versus selling your books wide. There are plenty of those, and I don’t need to add my voice to the noise. But what this blog post is about is knowing who your reader is and guesstimating how much money they have to spend on books. With all the free content out there, and sales, too, a reader with a KU subscription or limited funds isn’t likely to spend $4.99 on an ebook. Especially if that ebook is only 50k words like a lot of romances out there. My opinion may be unpopular, especially with indies being told these days to “know your worth.” I know my worth, and I also respect my readers’ pocketbooks.

So what exactly am I proposing?

*If you’re wide, promote your books and all their platforms. You can use Books 2 Read, a universal link creator that will create a link to your book that will point your reader in the direction of their favorite retailer.

*Make your reader aware of sales. You can use social media for this, and your newsletter, but also use promo sites that let readers know your book is on sale. Some readers who like you when your books aren’t in KU or Kobo Plus have to wait until your book is on sale, and that’s the choice you’re making not enrolling into one of these programs.

*Read Wide for the Win by Mark Leslie Lefebvre. This is a great resources for reaching all the readers you can while publishing wide. Which is why you went wide in the first place, right?
Joanna Penn interviewed him recently on her podcast, and you can listen to it here:

*Research how to sell books at regular price. More often than not you’re asking readers to buy a book at full price. Some readers still have a hard time swallowing the idea of parting with money for something they can’t hold in their hands–like an ebook. Check out David Gaughran’s video on how to sell your book at full price:

*Research how to reach wide readers with ads specifically for wide books. David Gaughran also has a really awesome book on how to use BookBub ads, and you can find it here. Mal and Jill Cooper has a fabulous book out on how to use FB ads, and you can find it here.

*Make your books available in the library system. This is one of the sad things about having to be exclusive with Amazon while my books are in KU. I can’t add my ebooks to the library system. When you are wide, aggregators like Draft2Digital will enroll your books in library systems like Overdrive and bibliotheca. Ask readers to request your book from their local libraries.

*Go wide with your paperbacks too. Clicking expanded distribution on Amazon with your paperbacks is limiting and earns you less royalties than if you publish with IngramSpark. IngramSpark will distribute your paperbacks to all the online book retailers and also enroll your book into the library system.

My local mall has lost sight of who its customer is. Unfortunately because of what they offer (or don’t) I can no longer be one of them. I can’t afford to shop at most of their stores, and the one or two that interest me aren’t worth the hassle of finding a parking spot, navigating down the corridors to the store and then leaving again. Customers with money can browse the high-end selection from Lululemon or buy games and other computer/gaming equipment from Best Buy–an anchor store that replaced Sears when the chain went out of business.

When you sell anything, you have to know who your customer is so you can tell them about the products you have. Probably the most profound piece of marketing advice I ever heard was this: Don’t force customers come to you, you go to your customer. I don’t know who said it first, I think Craig Martelle said it in one of his YouTube videos–it could have been anyone in indie marketing space, honestly–and it’s true. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to books. My mall needs to show me they want my business by offering me stores I can afford to shop at. Since they aren’t, they’re telling me they don’t care about my business, that the customers who can afford to shop there are enough for them.

When you’re wide and you only put your Amazon link in a tweet, you’re telling a potential customer that a) you don’t care if they have a KU subscription or you’re hoping they don’t and b) you don’t care if they like to read on a different platform.

I don’t care if you’re wide or not, your business plans are not any of my concern, but if you are, I can’t buy your book, not unless you somehow let me know your book is on sale. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of reader my income has turned me into and there are a lot of readers like me out there.

What’s really interesting is that just this morning I was listening to Andrea, Lindsay, and Jo on their newest podcast episode of Six Figure Author, and Andrea polled her newsletter subscribers. She asked them why her newest series hasn’t done so well, and the resounding answer was that readers lost a lot of disposal income due to COVID. Also a lot of people just weren’t in the mood to read because the past year has been so stressful. If you want to listen to the podcast you can listen here:

Find your reader, market to them.


Coming up, I’m going to have an author interview with Barbara Avon and maybe a giveaway too! Have a good week, everyone!

Thursday Thoughts: Keeping daily word counts and other bits and pieces.

Keeping a Daily Word Count.

A couple months ago, a romance writer offered a Google spreadsheet to anyone in our romance group on FB. We could add our name and enter our daily word counts. This isn’t a private total–anyone who added their name can see (and be motivated by) others’ word counts, and they can see yours. I’ve never needed the motivation, but I’d never kept visual track of my daily word counts either, and I thought, what the heck.

It was addicting, to say the least.

I love(d) (the challenge isn’t over yet) adding my daily word counts and watching as other did the same. One author in a column close to mine does high numbers too, and subconsciously, or maybe not so “sub”, I tried to keep up with her. It was fun.

But keeping track in a public way like that was also hard. Here’s why:

  1. You are keeping score. You’re not supposed to compare yourself to others, or if you do, you’re supposed to do it in a positive manner. That doesn’t always happen.
  2. It can make you feel bad on the days you can’t write and you have to put in 0. That’s tough when the person next you logged in 5,000 that day. The problem is, you don’t know how another person’s life is. They can be a full-time author where 5,000 words a day is the norm for them and a 0 day means they had an emergency. Sometimes a 500 word day for someone else is a great day because they work a full-time job and have kids. I didn’t like my 0 days. Especially when I had a week of them between books.
  3. Added pressure. It’s addicting to enter in a number at the end of the day. This can make it so you don’t give yourself enough grace if you have a bad day. Some say bad words are better than no words, but I don’t agree with that. If something else is taking up headspace and I know I can’t sit down and write something decent, I won’t bother. I know I can make it up later. Because I do. Giving yourself grace only works as far as you putting in the work later.
  4. There wasn’t a way to claim editing words. I wanted to log in the new words I wrote for that challenge. There were a few days I put in 0 because I was rereading and smoothing out the first third of my book. I was working, but I couldn’t log in any numbers. Entering in that 0 made me feel like I hadn’t worked that day.
  5. Writing and publishing isn’t always about writing new words. We couldn’t modify the spreadsheet because there’s a formula that tallies up our words and entering anything else in the field makes the formula not work. But if I were to make my own spreadsheet, I would make room for days that I did something else so I could still feel productive.
  6. Seeing the words add up is a great motivator. There are some negatives when doing a challenge like this, but I like seeing my words add up. Right now since January 4th when she offered us the spreadsheet, to March 20th, I’ve written 141,826 words, and I’ll have more before the challenge is over (April 13th) because I have a book to finish. But I won’t be starting another project, so as soon as this book is done, I’ll be entering in zeros for the rest of the challenge. That will be hard for me, but i’ll just have to make peace with it because I know I’ll still be working.

Would I recommend doing this? Yes, if you can keep yourself from getting carried away and playing the comparison game in a negative way. Your fellow writers’ successes should bolster your own, not drag you down.


In other news, I’m still going through my infection issues. Eventually I’ll get better, but it may take another round of antibiotics (I’m on my third and I can’t drink while on them which is a real bummer!). I need to make another appointment but I’m going to take a small break so I can have a glass of champagne over the weekend. I want to celebrate the completion of my second book of 2021. I may already be done with it by the time you read this post, I’m not sure. I’m 61k into it right now, and I tend to drag my feet toward the end because no matter how eager I am to move on to the next, I’m still attached to my characters and hate to say goodbye.


I’m not the only one with medical issues, and I had to bring my cat in to the vet. She kept going to the litter box, and I’m glad I trusted my instincts–it turns out she had a UTI. They gave her an antibiotics shot and I think it made her feel not that great. She sleeps a lot and doesn’t have her usual spunk. I’m hoping once the antibiotics do their job she’ll be back to her old self, but I’ll probably need to make her a follow-up appointment just to be sure. I know all about lingering infections and I don’t want to her to suffer. Here’s a picture of her if you don’t follow me on IG or you’re not friends with me on FB.

Blaze is a two-year-old Siamese Ragdoll mix.

One more thing I’m excited to share with you–Savannah Cordova from Reedsy is going to guest blog on Monday, March 29th! When she first reached out to me, I didn’t think it was real! I’m happy she thought my writing and publishing blog was relevant enough to contribute, and I hope you get a lot out of what she’s going to be sharing with us.

If you don’t know what Reedsy is, they are a team writing/marketing/publishing experts and professionals that help you with your journey. They offer lists of vetted freelance editors and book cover designers. They offer a FREE book formatting feature on their website (similar to Draft2Digital’s) and I’ve often blogged about the free classes they offer right to your email inbox that allow you to complete them at your own pace along with a short quiz at the end of each course. They really are amazing, and Ricardo Fayet, founder of Reedsy, wrote and is offering his book How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market (Reedsy Marketing Guides Book 1) free on Kindle right now. I’m so honored to host Savannah on my blog!


Lastly, even though I haven’t been feeling 100% and I’ve been dealing with a sick cat and I’m always going to the grocery store for milk, I am trying to spend time outside and this is the pretty picture I captured the other day on a walk. With spring coming almost a full month early, this has been beautiful, cool, crisp weather to walk in. These are the golden days in Minnesota–when the weather is warming up but the bugs haven’t caught on yet. I love an evening walk in weather like this.

Enjoy your weekend! May it be productive! Check in with Savannah on Monday…. hope to see you there! 🙂


Publishing Plan & Launch Plan: How they’re different and why you need both.

I’m struggling. I’m struggling for a myriad of reasons (some not related to writing–anyone know how to quiet an old cat at night?!), but the prevalent one for me right now is my publishing plan for the books I have written, and the launch plan I’m going to need to find readers for those books.

It’s tough because when you press publish, you aren’t guaranteed readers. It would be nice if we were, if we became overnight sensations, but that rarely happens and if it does, there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into it behind the scenes.

The difference between a publishing plan and a launch plan to me is when we talk about a publishing plan, I think about how many books am I going to be able to publish in a given year, two years, three? How far out am I looking when I plan how many books I’m going to be capable of writing? That’s different for everyone. How fast you can write depends on your living situation, if you have kids, if you have a full-time job. Obviously, if you’re single with no kids and you’re already a full-time author, you’re going to be able to write quicker than a woman with a husband and children, a job, and maybe a sick pet. It also depends on where you are with your craft. If you can write your first draft so that you consider it practically your last draft, you can publish books faster than someone who needs a few months of editing. It’s important not to over-extend yourself, especially since Amazon allows year-long preorders. Due to COVID they are giving you grace if you have to move your preorder date, or cancel altogether, but that might not always be the case. Before COVID, if you missed your preorder date, you were suspended from creating preorders for a year, and I would imagine that at some point, they will go back to those guidelines.

A launch plan for the release of a book can consist of a Goodreads giveaway, stacked promotions, newsletter swaps, and everything in between.

How to optimize those things will be different for everyone, and while you can grab tips for a great launch, genre, how well your book is written, cover, the size of your newsletter and the authors you swap with, your backlist, how much you can afford to pay in ad spend, even what’s going on in the world, and I have no idea how many other factors, can influence how well your book does on launch day.

Planning your publishing schedule while optimizing your launch can be a nightmare. When you look at your launch plan/publishing plan it’s important to know your strengths and your weaknesses.

Newsletter. This is definitely a weakness of mine. I don’t have one . . . yet. Not even one for my 3rd person books I can hit up on the off chance there would be some crossover readers. Some authors have a large enough newsletter their whole launch plan consists of sending out an email to their newsletter and that’s it. It’s enough to make them sticky in the stores and their loyal readers will leave reviews.

Networking/Swaps. This is another area where in the four years I’ve been publishing I have failed. I have writer friends, sure. But I had no idea how important it is to network with other authors in your genre. Without a strong newsletter I can use for reciprocation and without romance author friends who are willing feature my books in their newsletter, I’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers until I can pay those favors back with my own list.

Number of Books. This is one strength of mine, at least. Your launch plan will definitely look different if you haven’t banked some books, or if you don’t have a backlist written in your chosen genre. If you’re launching a new first in series, it’s better to have another book or two written so your readers know that more books will eventually come. Putting book two on preorder and linking the preorder to the back matter of book one can help. Fickle indie authors aren’t the only ones teaching consumers to be wary. Streaming platforms like Netflix can pull the plug on a new series before wrapping it up, and a lot of consumers now won’t try something new unless all the seasons (or books) are available. I know for me as a consumer, I was really disappointed when Amazon Prime released the first season of Carnival Row, but maybe because of COVID I haven’t heard of another season in the works. BUT as I have found out, rapid releasing when no one knows about you or your books doesn’t do anything and when I released my Rocky Point Wedding series last year, it didn’t matter how fast I released them–I didn’t have readers. I have this weird thing where I need to write a whole series first before I can even think about publishing. I many need to change my way of doing things to streamline my publishing schedule.

Ad spend. I’m fortunate that I have a little money for some ad spend. I can afford to book a promo with Freebooksy or BargainBooksy, ENT, etc. So far, if I put my first in series for free and pay for a Freebooksy with Written Word Media, I gain back my fee with sales and page reads. But that has never elevated my status or made my book “sticky” in the charts. I also play with Amazon Ads, but I’ve never worked with them to create second or third generation ads because I’d rather write more books than spend time playing with ads. Also, keep in mind that if you do plan to run ads at some point, your cover can’t be too racy. With stricter guidelines in place, Amazon has determined my Rocky Point covers are too sexy and they won’t let me run ads which could be a problem for you if you’re counting on an ads boost.


So, here’s my dilemma. First of all, I’m banking books as is my usual custom. I have six books in a series (serial, meaning no entry point except book one) that are completed. They’ve gone through a couple editing sweeps by me, and unless I’ve missed something, they sound strong: no plot holes, complete character arcs, etc. I spent the majority of 2020 writing and editing those. I needed a break, so I…

…wrote what I thought would be a standalone novel just to publish for the sake of hitting that publish button, but then I realized it could be a really cool book one of a series and while a paid beta reader read it and made her notes, I wrote book two of what will be another six-book series. That one has since been edited by me a couple of times, and is just sitting on my computer while I…

…thought I was writing a reader magnet for this newsletter I need to get going this year. The problem is, it’s a good book. It’s going to be a really good book, and I don’t know if I want to “waste” it by offering it up as a freebie. Obviously building up a newsletter is not a waste, and offering a full 85k book will be a good incentive to sign up for my newsletter. But, even though eventually I can put it up for sale, I would then need a new magnet anyway. So what difference will it make if I sell it now or later?

I’m at a loss, and while having 8.5 books on my computer almost ready to go (besides covers, formatting, and blurbs) is a good problem to have, I’m tired of publishing to crickets. I’m rebranding, writing new books under my initials instead of my first name, and if I can’t figure out how to make things better than the last four years, all I’m going to be doing is releasing books to no one. And let me tell you, I’m getting real tired of that.

Y’all, I’m tired of starting from zero. At some point, an author shouldn’t have to do that.

Another problem I’m having is that this is a new direction for me, and stockpiling books before I know if my style and voice are going to resonate with readers is ill-advised at best. Because now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I can’t find readers, then ALL the books I have on my computer I may not have a use for. I doubt that will happen–I don’t write in a vacuum and someone has looked at all the books in some way, shape or form–but it’s something to think about (like there isn’t enough to worry about, right?)

That’s why I’m interested in releasing one standalone just to see how readers react. While it wouldn’t be a huge release, I know a little bit to at least get a few readers and if I add a cookie to the back, it might not be a bad way to start building my list with organic signups. On the other hand, if it makes more of a dent than I expect, I would want something to publish next in the not so distant future.

The uncertainty is enough to give me a headache, but I appreciate you listening to me brainstorm. I mean, there are things I can do. Hire a consultant for one. There are a few indie authors out there who will chat for an hour for a fee. I can ask for opinions in my FB groups, and I think I will be doing that. Maybe an experienced indie author can give me a few pointers.

I know one thing–I need to publish something, soon. I need the high. But like a drug hit, it may not be the best thing for me. Or it could change my life. You just never know.

Here are a couple things that can help you with a publishing plan:

This is printable! Save it and print it for your own use.

A Book Production Schedule for Indie Authors: IngramSpark Blog

As for a launch, I’ve never had a successful one. I’ve never put the time and the effort to set up blog tours, newsletter swaps, promo stacking, the list goes on with what you can do. Normally I press publish, run some ads, and then feel sad when my book doesn’t make the splash I was hoping for.

Since I’m starting at zero, this is worth another peek:

Screen grab taken from his website.

David’s course is free, and if you want to sign up, click here.

He also has an updated list of Promo Sites and you can find that here.

As for what else you can do for a launch, the resources can be it’s own blog post, and this is already a lot longer than I wanted it to be. I hope you find this useful, and thanks for tagging along on this journey with me!

Until next time!

Reader Magnet Prep Work

A reader magnet is also known as a cookie to bribe, I mean, encourage readers to sign up for your newsletter.

During the past couple of days I’ve been plotting the novel that is going to be my reader magnet for my newsletter. A reader magnet, or a “cookie” as some refer to it like Tammi Labrecque and David Gaughran, (though I think David borrowed it from her as they’re friends) is something free to entice readers to sign up for your newsletter. Authors give away a whole gamut of things from little short stories to full-length novels. Something Zoe York said in an interview on a podcast I listened to a long time ago (I forgot which one, I’m sorry) said that as an author who writes novels, giving away a story that is less than novel-length doesn’t make sense, and I took that advice to heart. It would be more time/cost effective to write a novella, since I could probably write 20k in just a few days, but I don’t write novellas, nor do I sell them, so skimping on my reader magnet doesn’t make much sense.

But, as I write my novel, I’m going to have a hard time parting with it. As an author, I give away books all the time. I do a Freebooksy now and then, and if someone approaches me and says they can’t afford to buy a book, I’ll send the PDF at no charge. That doesn’t happen very often, and I only had one taker when I offered up Wherever He Goes in an exchange for a possible review. Writing a reader magnet for the sole purpose of attaching it to a newsletter sign up will be a different mindset altogether, though I know it needs to be done. Giving a book away in a newsletter is almost the standard these days, and you’re missing out on a newsletter-building opportunity if that’s something you’re not doing.

It’s frustrating, in a way, that indie authors have trained readers to give away their email addresses for a free book, and you sometimes will get only freebie-seekers when you do that. Curating a list of readers who are interested in your work and sign up to stay on top of what you’re doing can be time-consuming and one of the (many) reasons I haven’t bothered with a newsletter yet.

That’s why I decided to write a full-length novel and write it to be the best book it can be. I want readers to have a taste of what they’ll get when they read my future work.

The plotting is almost done, though I am missing a couple of the big things I need to make the book move. I always have something huge in the middle of the book to prevent saggy middle, and always the BIG BAD that breaks them up (momentarily) toward the end. I have their backstories ironed out for the most part and I had to do a lot of name research to name the male MC because I have a habit of reusing names.

I also had to figure out where the novel was going to take place–all my books, even the ones I wrote in 3rd person past, are set in Minnesota, usually a fake city so I don’t have to worry about details. I make the city how I want it, and no one can complain. A good setting can actually become a protagonist/antagonist in its own right. A long series that comes to mind is Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold, a fictional town in California with a mayor who appears to be able to do a little magic through some not-quite-believable coincidences. I chose a fictitious resort on a lake in Minnesota, and I’m using the Arrowwood Resort Hotel and Conference Center as my muse. It’s not that far from me, in true, physical distance, but I’ve never been there. Here’s a picture from http://www.planetware.com from the Arrowwood website:

This resort will have everything the characters need to occupy themselves, and hopefully get into a little trouble, too. With a spa, pool, waterpark, marina, and much more, there’s no lack of things my characters can do. Because we’re talking about a billionaire family, they’ll own the resort, naturally.

I’ve been doing the preliminary work for this book–but doing so taking some advice from Suzy K. Quinn and Elana Johnson. I’ve worked out the potential cover, the tropes, the tagline, and the subgenre. Keeping in line with the “Package is the Promise” idea, this is the working cover for I suppose what will appear on Bookfunnel (though I haven’t gotten that far in the research stages yet).

The plot is about what you would expect–he’s best friends with her brother and when she was in her teens, he made fun of her for her looks. She never forgot it, and now when they meet up ten years later, he’s a bit surprised at just how far she’s come. This is a fine line to walk because he has to love her for who she is or he’ll get skewered in the reviews for being shallow. That means I have to make sure they spend a lot of time together so he can get to know the type of person she is. They don’t work together. I had to think of away he wouldn’t know she changed. So she doesn’t work for the family company–she set out on her own to make a reputation for herself on her own merits. He’ll come to eventually respect her for that, but at the beginning of the book he hates she’s not working for the family. There are a lot of layers and I’m really excited to start writing this book.

Still not 100% sure if I’ll use my initials for my pen name. I’ve been told to use my real name and brand the books differently from my 3rd person stuff, and I’ve been told to find something romantic that is in line with the authors who write billionaire romance. Chances are pretty good that the readers who like my billionaire stuff won’t move over to my 3rd person books, and that’s okay–that the whole point of the pivot. I don’t want to distance myself too far from the real me, otherwise I’ll have a difficult time being authentic in my newsletter and other social media platforms. I don’t want to hide behind a pen name, but I want to make it clear these books are different. We’ll see what happens.

Writing a cookie and starting up a newsletter is an exciting (and long-coming) thing for me. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

Thanks for reading!


Publishing Predictions of 2021: Pricing

I love the new year! Not only for fresh starts, but because of all the publishing predictions that come our way. It’s so interesting to me how the publishing industry changes shape, like water poured into differently shaped containers. Authors and publishers will always be around in some form, but we have no idea what form it will take!

I was listening to the 6 Figure Author podcast last night while I was making dinner and cleaning the kitchen, and they broke down a few of Mark Coker’s predictions. He founded Smashwords, an ebook aggregator for authors who want to publish their book wide. He keeps his fingers on the pulse of the industry, and his hate for Amazon aside, it’s always interesting to hear his take.

If you want to read his predictions in its entirety, look here, and thank you to 6 Figure Authors (Lindsay, Jo, and Andrea) for discussing some of the topics, too! And if you want to listen to them instead of read me, that’s cool, and you can find their episode here. They talk about some of Mark’s predictions during the first half of the show.

Anyway, so what I want to talk about today is pricing your book. The decision takes a lot more thought than just wondering if you want to sell your book for $3.99 or $2.99, and one of Mark’s predictions states that authors will lose more and more of their royalties. Here are a couple of his reasons:

Subscription service. Of course, this is a jab at Kindle Unlimited, and it’s a business decision if you want to enroll and be exclusive in Kindle Select or if you want to be wide (on other retailers besides Amazon). What a lot of authors don’t think about though is do they want the sale or the page reads? And do they want 70% royalty or 35% royalty. I price my books at 2.99, which earns me a 70% royalty. I earn a little over two dollars for a sale, but when someone reads my book from start to finish in KU I only earn $1.64 give or take depending on how long my book is. (My small town wedding series falls between 69k-72k). Mark says that the subscription service devalues our work, and maybe that’s true. On the other hand, on the podcast they talked about how a subscription service allows more people to read than ever before. A KU subscription is about 10 dollars a month, and Amazon is always doing promotions. Enrolling my book in KU could find me readers I may not find other places because they can’t afford to purchase books singly. Kobo also has a subscription service, but authors don’t need to be exclusive to Kobo to join. Of course, this is what we want from Amazon, too, but don’t count on that happening.

Paying for advertising. No one wants to pay for visibility and discoverability, but there is no business where you don’t have to, either.

And it only makes sense to advertise on Amazon when a customer is already looking at books and in the mood to buy and read. Mark’s problem with this is we’re already paying Amazon to sell our book, we shouldn’t have to pay them to advertise it, too. When you think about it though, indies who are making a lot of money off their books don’t rely solely on Amazon Ads. Like I said in my other blog post about why I left an Amazon Ads FB group, indies making a living wage aren’t agonizing over the price of their bids. The bulk of their sales come from their newsletter subscribers, newsletter swaps, and in general, publishing consistently and letting Amazon do a lot of the discoverability work on their behalf. To be successful, you don’t have to buy Amazon Ads. Craig Martelle put it best: Amazon ads bring in new readers–your newsletter keeps them.

What should you look at then, when pricing your ebook?

How new are you? When you’re new and you spent a lot of time on that first book, you want to get paid for it. That’s what I’ve come across, anyway, speaking with new authors. That makes them price their book too high, and in a world where readers, yes, are used to a subscription model, you are not going to find sales. I found this book when I was scrolling through one of my FB groups:

I’m sorry, but this is her first book, and the look inside is all telling. She’s not going to get $5.99 for this book. She’s also wide, not in KU, so she can’t even count on a few page reads to bolster her spirits.

How many books do you have out? If you only have one, you’re better off pricing it as competitively as possible and quickly writing the next book. Once you have a large catalogue you’re freer to experiment. Have a permafree first in series, create box sets and run promos on those. The author above can’t use free days that a Kindle Select participant can. When you have more books published, you can have some of your backlist a little cheaper and charge more for the new releases. All my books are $2.99, but my catalogue is in KU and I don’t think too much about my prices because I concentrate on KU readers.

What is your genre? Supply and demand is a huge consideration when pricing your book. I write romance where there is a huge supply, but there is also great demand. It makes visibility difficult and there is too much supply for an author to overprice their books. Readers don’t have to pay to find books to read. In fact, a romance reader could download free books and read for the rest of their lives. There is just too much free content out there. Whether or not that reader is getting what they pay for is something else entirely and I’ve talked to death about quality on this blog. That poor author above writes romance, and she will never sell a book for $5.99 when that is more than half a subscription cost to KU for a month.


Mark Coker is all about readers trained to devalue our work, but it’s not just the publishing industry that has this problem. Spotify has been known for not paying their artists, and Audible will only give you a higher rate for your audio book if you are exclusive with them. And who wants to be now that their gross return system is all over the news?

If you want to be paid for your work, there are only a couple things you need to do: put out a good product–no one likes to pay for junk, and that includes a poorly written book–and nurture an audience. If you have a group of readers who will read you no matter what, you can price your books accordingly and know your readers will pay because they enjoy your books.

Amazon isn’t the problem. Subscription models aren’t the problem. It’s indies who are impatient and don’t publish quality. They give their books away to whoever will read them (especially in exchange for reviews), and they can’t nurture an audience because they don’t publish consistently. Everyday in the groups I see the indies who are doing it right, and the indies who are doing it wrong, like the romance author above. Of course, it took me a few years to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and now I’m adjusting accordingly and hoping to learn from my mistakes.

My main point is, your readers will pay you.You just have to find them first.

Another interesting article about pricing and how much authors are paid. It’s not just indies having a tough time: https://mybookcave.com/authorpost/how-much-do-authors-make/

Do you agree? Disagree? With me or with Mark? Let me know!