Jeanne: Processing My Process

idea-2123972_640Last week I finished plotting out The Demon Wore Stilettos, the third book in my Touched by a Demon series.  In case you haven’t been following my progress with bated breath, I set this book aside in January after discovering I’d written myself into a corner.

(Note: when you create characters who cannot lie, be very careful about the situations you put them in. Being unable to tell a convenient fib may work well in Heaven, but it’s a major handicap on this messed-up planet.)

So I set it aside and started work on Book 4, The Demon Goes Hungry, and then set that aside to finish up Girl’s Best Friend, my contemporary that had been sitting in a virtual drawer for a couple of years.

Last week, after sending Girl’s Best Friend off to my editor, I reread what I had done on The Demon Wore Stilettos (approximately 150 pages) and realized it wasn’t terrible. I backed up to the point where I was no longer walled into a cul-de-sac, rewrote a couple of scenes, and I was good to go.

Then I spent the rest of the week thinking. My goal was to lay out the rest of the book, ensuring the events fit together with causal links, and to make sure I had things in the right order. I went for long walks in the crisp autumn air, taking notes on my phone as I solved various issues or had ideas about things that needed to happen. It all went splendidly, with ideas exploding in my head like so many Guy Fawkes firecrackers. 

My question is: why couldn’t I do this ten months ago? Continue reading

Jeanne: More About Amazon Ads

Kindle UnlimitedI’ve been playing around with Amazon Ads since my first book, The Demon Always Wins, released a little over a year ago. Here’s what I’ve figured out/read about/had someone teach me so far. These ideas may not work for you, but maybe some will.

1)  How many keywords do I need?

More keywords mean more opportunities.

You can have up to 1000 keywords, but they need to be keywords that will generate clicks and those clicks need to convert to sales or KU reads. So don’t go for glitzy keywords that really don’t relate to your book. You need strong, relevant keywords.

2) How do I generate a list of strong, relevant keywords?

The best way to generate a strong keyword list is to purchase a subscription to something like KDP Rocket, which provides suggested keywords based on data the proprietors have scraped from Amazon’s sales data. As well as suggesting keywords, it will tell you how often a specific search term gets entered. Continue reading

Jeanne: A Whole Different Kind of Writing

20817926 - vintage wooden door in the old part of jerusalemAwhile back, the preacher at my (teeny-tiny) church approached me about giving a sermon. He was interested, he said, in having different voices represented in the church, more than just white guys.

I declined, explaining that I’m not a speaker, I’m a writer. A couple of months later, though, he approached me again. We’ve been doing a series on the broken heroes depicted in the book of Judges and we were coming to Judges 11, the story of Jephthah. He knows how fascinated I am by the story of Jephthah. (In the early 2000’s, I wrote a book with this story as the underlying theme (though not the story).

The story of Jephthah and his daughter is the saddest story in the Bible. It makes Romeo and Juliet look like the pilot for a sitcom. I’ll spare you the theological analysis, but I thought I’d share my retelling of the story itself.

Jephthah was a great warrior from the land of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. His father had other sons by his legitimate wife and when he died. Jephthah’s brothers said, “You are the son of a whore. We are not sharing Dad’s estate with you.”

So Jephthah left Gilead for the land of Tob, where he gathered a band of ne’er-do-wells and malcontents and they lived off the land as bandits.

And life was good. Continue reading

Jeanne: What I Did on My Autumn Vacation

For the past two weeks I was on vacation, on a bus tour of the Canadian Maritimes. It

Green Gables

Green Gables, Prince Edward Island, Canada

was eye-opening, making me realize that I know almost nothing about the history of the country right next door to mine.

We toured Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, visited a ton of museums and parks and ate copious amounts of seafood. Aside from learning a little about the earliest colonies of our next-door nation, I also had a chance to observe a professional tour guide at work.

Rod was Australian, with an Aussie accent you could spread with a Vegemite knife. One of the popular tropes in romance is “competence porn” and Rod personified that. No matter what was thrown at him, he handled it élan. (Not to be confused with elan, the mysterious magical substance in Jilly’s soon-to-be-released fantasy romance series.)

Canadian bees

Even their bees are polite and cooperative

Example: A week before our tour started, Dorian landed in Nova Scotia as a Category 1 hurricane. Although that’s clearly less devastating than the number it did on the Bahamas, when it was a Category 5, it left much of the province without power for several days, which meant Rod had to re-book all the hotels and restaurants on the fly while keeping up with the ongoing, day-to-day work of the tour.

One evening over dinner, I asked him to describe the most difficult thing he’d ever had to deal with as a tour guide, figuring Dorian probably topped the list. Nope. He said the worst thing was a couple in their 80’s who decided, mid-tour, that they wanted a divorce—and expected him to act as their marriage counselor. The other issues he described were equally people-oriented.

Which made me think what a great premise for a romance series this could be.

Cape Breton fog

Cape Breton, Land of Fog

I’ve been wanting to write a contemporary series that would be more tightly linked than my demon series, which shares a few characters, and a common setting (Hell), but has no series arc to pull readers from book to book. So, with help from Rod and some of my fellow-travelers who have taken many, many of these tours, I devised an idea for a series about a family of siblings who grew up in the tour business in Sedona, AZ. Following the untimely death of their parents, they have to figure out how to go forward with the company, which is not only their livelihood, but their parents’ legacy, juggling all the dysfunctions and competing goals of any normal American family.

I have the series arc plotted out and a good handle on the GMC for the first book. I even managed to write about 700 words of a first scene on Friday at the hotel and on my flight back to the U.S.

John

John, the evangelist, represented as an eagle, seen in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Unfortunately, I arrived home with the cold from Hell—or, more accurately, from Oklahoma, since the nice couple who so generously shared it with me hailed from the Sooner state. Expect to hear more about this series once I’m back on my feet.

In the meantime, enjoy a few pictures I took in the Maritimes.

Jeanne: The Ladder of Inference

The following is based on a workshop given to RWA Chapter Leaders at this year’s national conference in New York.

Take action

Adjust Beliefs

Draw conclusions

Make assumptions

Add meaning

Filter input

Observe stimuli

Human perception functions like a ladder:

Observe stimuli—We are bombarded by millions of stimuli—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches—at any given moment.

But the human brain possesses the bandwidth to process only about five to nine pieces of data at any given moment. This forces us to filter out the extra stuff, keeping only the 5-9 bits we believe, based on our current interests and priorities, to be useful.

Then, based on past experience, we add meaning to the observations we decided were worth keeping.

Next, again based on past experience, we make assumptions about what we’ve perceived.

Then we draw conclusions.

Then we adjust our existing beliefs to take into account this new data we’ve experienced.

Finally, we take action based on the perception arrived at in the previous step.

Much of this processing takes place in the basal ganglia–an older part of the human brain that has evolved to process information swiftly, based on past experience. The basal ganglia is very efficient and requires minimal energy to do its job.

As we reach the top of the ladder, though, there’s an opportunity to re-inspect and rethink our conclusions using our pre-frontal cortexes, a more recently-developed part of the brain that’s designed to handle new and unique situations. The pre-frontal cortex requires a lot more energy to do its work, which is why solving complex problems (or developing plots!) is so exhausting.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of room along this ladder for things to go awry, causing us to react in a less than optimum manner.

There’s a great video on YouTube on this Ladder of Inference.

I suspect that Add Meaning is where the conflict lies in most stories. It seems to provide a whole lot of opportunity for a character to completely misjudge what another character is doing, based on their own back story.

This happens a lot in my demon books. Demons have witnessed Bad Behavior from humans (and Satan) for so many millennia they tend to always assume the worst.

 

Jeanne: Things I Learned from Publishing My First Book

1. Rely on others

I’m not a very visual person, so when I got my teaser ads back from my publicity agency, I asked other more visually gifted friends to look over the ads. They came back with issues I never would have seen.

Takeaway: Rely on your posse. (And plan to be their posse in return when the time comes, with whatever you have to offer.)

Even though I’m not very visual, because I’m less emotionally invested in their stories than they are, there’s still a chance I’ll notice things they didn’t.

2. Give yourself more time than you think you could ever possibly need.

Once you get a final draft completed, it feels like most of your work should be done. While that’s probably true, there’s still way more to do than you realize, especially if you’re going to give your book a sendoff that will allow it to sell well.

3) Give yourself plenty of backup. Don’t rely on any one arena to promote your book.

I have a couple of friends with upcoming releases, one a debut. A couple of weeks ago their web host ghosted them. Their sites are down and they can’t get support from the hosting company.

4) Make sure you know your target market and the comps for your book.

After The Demon Always Wins came home with the Golden Heart, I kind of expected agents and editors, maybe not to flock to my door, but at least to be interested. So it was really disappointing when they weren’t.

Now, four years down the road, I understand why they weren’t. Paranormal romance wasn’t selling well at that time and the demon sub-genre was almost non-existent. When asked for comps for my book, I didn’t know of any. I wasn’t sure why it mattered, since the book wasn’t likely to wind up on physical shelf anywhere.

Then I tried running an Amazon ad. Amazon ads live and die by your keywords, and your keywords are mostly going to be a list of comp authors for your book.

These days I can list half a dozen off the top of my head.

5) Understand the conventions for your niche.

We’ve covered this in some detail in other posts, so I’m going to keep this brief, but my covers were all wrong. Very cool, but all wrong for romance. Your cover should not be weird and exotic and intriguing. It should be similar to the covers that sell those comps we just talked about.

6) Recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know.

There’s a learning curve to the book promotion game.

You can bypass some of it by hiring people to do some of it for you, but the fact that you don’t know how to it very likely means you won’t know how to hire the right people either.

You can bypass some of it by reading books and taking courses in book promotion. I read some books, but I didn’t take the courses. I have a friend who did. Her first book will debut later this year, and I’m waiting to see how well she does before passing judgment on the value of the course.

Jeanne: Anatomy of a Killer Debut—An Interview with Suzanne Tierney

Scandal6_RGB301Today I’m talking with Suzanne Tierney, who released her debut novel, The Art of the Scandal, on August 28th to great Day 1 sales–she ended the day in first place in Jewish Literature, in 16th in Classic Romance Fiction and 28th in British Historical Literature! And broke the top 5000 in Kindle Paid Sales.

That’s partly because it’s a great story. The Art of the Scandal provides a fascinating glimpse into the efforts required to seat the first Jewish Member of Parliament,. It also include intriguing tidbits on how counterfeited paintings are discovered and the romance between Simon Cohen and Lady Lydia, the quintessential English rose, is both challenging and ultimately satisfying.

But a lot of great books get released on Amazon every year and very few make it to number one in their category. Since a lot of 8LW readers are also writers who do or plan to publish, I thought it might be useful to find out more about the approach Suzanne took to achieve her great debut.

Question 1: I know you originally had a contract with a small press. What made you decide to go indie instead? Continue reading