Catching Up

(I’ve been playing with making lots of graphics. Isn’t she pretty!?!?!)

I’ve taken a bit of time off lately to refresh and get my mind back in shape for Queen Takes Rook.  Switching gears to The Treasurekeeper (Shamrocked) was a fun change of pace. But now it’s back to blood and steam and vampire war as I tackle Shara’s next book. I’m behind of where I wanted to be by now, but the time off was nice. I even got some pleasure reading done!

I took two of my kids to my dad’s farm over spring break last week. I intended to get allllll the words, but ended up resting (good), saw my sister (even better), and did something else shocking. I rode horses! When I was in high school, I rode ALL the time. But after getting married at 18 and going to college, I probably only rode 2 times in nearly thirty years. Now I really feel old.

When all 3 daughters go to the farm, Papa doesn’t have enough horses and saddles to go around for me to ride too, but since Middle stayed home to work (yes, she’s old enough to have a job now!), we had the available horse, and the saddle… and my girls begged me to ride with them. They took it easy on me and only rode the 4-mile loop…. hahaha yeah my entire lower body was miserable by the time we got home.

But it was sooo much fun that I rode again (the 4-mile loop backwards!) a few days later and wasn’t nearly as sore. It’s definitely something I want to do more of and I’m hoping to make lots of trips to the farm this summer.

I upgraded my laptop and finally splurged and got EXACTLY what I wanted: a new 15″ Macbook Pro! I’ve drooled over Macs forever but couldn’t justify the cost. But I want to format with Vellum (the Cadillac formatting software that only runs on a Mac) and I had the money, so I walked in and told the guy exactly what I wanted. No dillydallying or settling for something cheaper. It was very empowering. I rarely ever spend money on something for “me” even when it’s writing income, so I’m trying to change my mindset and make smart investments. This time it was also a smart splurge and I love it so much the girls keep telling me I love it more than them. Of course I don’t. (pets the new laptop)

Business wise, I’ve been playing with a lot of new techniques. I’ve started some AMS ads, fine tuned my mediocre Facebook ad knowledge, read some books, and signed up for some classes.  I’d like to maybe open a store eventually and sell books direct, at least signed print ones, but the amount of work is daunting. It’s the sales tax that makes me hesitate the most. I am also interested in moving my website and newsletter to Wix, so I’ll be doing some research and testing out some possibilities.

This writing gig isn’t just stringing some words together and calling it good. At least not any more. I’m hoping that I can build my ad skills (especially AMS) and keep my income up in between releases, or at least somewhat steady, so I don’t kill myself trying to release every 30-45 days. That’s a brutal pace I really can’t keep with the Evil Day Job and everything else.

I’m far from an expert, but learning all the time.

On Writing: Process 2

This is an update to this Process post.

Stephanie Christine asked if I was still using a bujo for writing and the short answer is YES.

I actually filled up an entire notebook!  Okay, this might seem like a dumb thing to be proud of — unless you saw how many notebooks I have with 10% (or less) of the pages used and then it’s stuck on a shelf, never to be used again.

Here’s proof that I filled up an entire notebook! You can see the word count stickers I continued to use all the way to the end, plus random notes to myself as I needed it.

My only complaint with this method was cutting out the word count stickers. They were just a hair too long to fit into my notebook without hanging out, and it annoyed me when it hung off the side or got crooked.

The Etsy shop where I bought the Tomoe River notebooks (Paper Penguin Co) had a new notebook they intended to be used as a monthly calendar/planner. It was so colorful and artsy with the watercolor splashes that it inspired me to give it a try, even though it’s not the super nice paper I like. I got the grid version, and now instead of having to cut out the word count stickers, I just color in the grids under each day’s totals. It’s not dated, so if I want to skip days, or need to go over to another day, it works perfectly.

(You can see those massive weekend counts I had in order to finish!)

My only slight gripe is that it bugs me that each day isn’t symmetrical. But I’m trying to just go with the flow and not be anal about one day having more space than another. It’s actually great (if I’d just get over my appreciation for symmetry) because I can’t write as much during the week as I can on the weekend, assuming That Man stays out of my hair.

I’m still using my other Tomoe River notebook that I customized a bit. For example, when doing my first pass edits, I make a scene list, a timeline, and a fresh character list, along with a master list of any questions or things I want to consider changing that involve more thought. It also has all my research notes in it. I know a ton of Maya mythology after the Bloodgate series – but did not know quite as much Aztec mythology as I needed for Queen and I had to look a bunch of things up.  There are *many* similarities, but unique items too that I had to document.

I’m also using a combination of several planners at the moment – but I haven’t settled into a routine with them yet.  I picked up both the New Release Planner and the Book World Domination planner from Nicole.  There are pieces of each one that I like a lot and have printed out, but I keep forgetting to use as much as I need to.  These are especially helpful for planning out release schedules.  I need a calendar to do that – and I don’t want to have to draw one in my bujo.

That’s one thing I’m still adjusting to:  lead time.  I have pre-order dates to set, coordination with the formatter, cover artist, editor, beta readers, etc.  It’s not just MY date I need to keep track of. I’ve already had one release go out with my crap temporary cover and it was my lack of enough cushion in the schedule to get other people’s things in place.  I’m also struggling with the best way to keep track of the various promotions I try, for which book, how much it cost, and what the ROI was.  I’m getting better at this with the New Release Planner though the sheets provided are for a single book – not across all my spending each month.

AND yes, I bought a different downloadable planner that is focused on tarot: The Biddy Tarot Planner. This one is more weekly and monthly focused with spreads to help you tap into your intuition. I’m behind on it already, but I’ve been trying to pull a card each day and think about what it may mean. It came with a cool printable tarot card set that’s the perfect size to stick into the planner for the card of the week. I printed them on sticker paper!  However now I’m back to having to cut things out, which yeah, I find annoying (I can’t cut straight and back to the symmetry thing again).

For each of these downloadable planners, I printed out the pages I liked and used an ARC system to make my own pseudo 3-ring binder. I’m reusing the cover I made ages ago because I love how it looks – even though I get annoyed because things slip around.

 

So what has all this tracking accomplished, you ask?  The numbers speak for themselves and you can see exactly when I started to shake things up and get some traction after a disappointing 2016.

  • May: 2,324 words
  • June: 49,281 words
  • July: 19,888 words
  • August: 3,589 words (a bit of a hiccup here with school starting, Princess went to college)
  • September: 29,851 words
  • October: 38,265 words
  • November: 41,194 words
  • December: 17,711 words (this would have been way larger if That Man hadn’t planned an Eureka Springs trip on my week I’d taken off from the Evil Day Job to write)
  • January: 61,434 and the month isn’t over yet.

Writing in 2017

2017 was a stinking pile of burning trash in a giant Dumpster for many reasons that I’m not going to rehash or get into here. I’m going to concentrate on only WRITING and mostly GOOD stuff. 

Between Samhain drama and my Carina series getting canned, I wasn’t in a good place. In 2016, the only new material I’d managed to finish was a short novella. I felt stuck in many ways. Then I had surgery at the end of the year. Up until May of this year, I wasn’t writing in 2017 either (at least not with my normal drive and determination). It was looking like another really bad year and I thought about walking away from publishing for good. Who would notice, honestly? (That’s what my brain was telling me. I hadn’t had a new release in so long I might as well have dropped off the face of the planet.)

But a few things happened in 2017 that set the wheels in motion for bigger and better things.

I could write paragraphs about how each of these bullets cascaded into new opportunities and challenges but I don’t want to write a book in this post! So I’m going to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Achievements/New Challenges in 2017

  • Set up my first pre-order in KDP (and met it).
  • Set up my first print book with CreateSpace.
  • Set up my first boxed set.
  • Re-released 4 of my old Samhain titles as an indie.
  • Re-released 3 of my old Samhain titles with Entangled.
  • Finished 3 new books (just under 200,000 words) and started a 4th.
  • Submitted a different proposal (3 chapters + synopsis) to Carina. Ultimately it was rejected but I’m still glad I went through the motions and I fulfilled a promise I’d made.
  • FINALLY hit #1 bestseller in an Amazon category!
  • Tracked all my sales across all channels and all books that I have control over for the entire year.
  • Created 3 graphs to plot out the optimum release schedule for the rest of the QUEEN books.

Here’s the GOOD STUFF – the numbers.

  • I’ve given away 11,072 FREE books to increase my newsletter and KU pages read.
  • Jan – Aug I had 2,318 page reads (very few books in KU).
  • Sept – 12,208 page reads (when I moved everything into KU).
  • Jan – Sept I sold 664 books.
  • Oct was the game changer with QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS release.
    • Gave away 3567 downloads the week after release
    • Still had 125 sales
    • With 201,757 page reads
  • Then QUEEN TAKES KING continued to push the numbers up in Dec.
  • Bringing my 2017 totals (through today) to
    • 1987 sales
    • 554,097 page reads

These are not huge numbers for the big-time indie sellers. I’m not hitting any lists with these numbers!  But for ME, this is huge and means I can easily continue to fund new covers and books and even pay some other bills without depending on my Evil Day Job bonus to seed a new series. Comparing July sales (163, when Mal’s book released) to December (774, when King released) is a 375% increase.

It came down to THREE THINGS.

*   Not giving up when I really wanted to.

*   Not being afraid to give away free books to build my readership.

*   And stumbling across the premade cover that I fell so hard for, which went on to be QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS.

That cover inspired the entire series that turned the numbers around in a huge way.

So here’s to a bigger, better 2018!  My pie in the sky goals:

  • 1 million words written
  • 1 million page reads
  • 5,000 sales.

NaNoWriMo 2017

Let the race for words begin! Yes, I’m participating this year (you can find me as joelysueburkhart).

I wasn’t sure which book I was going to write for NaNoWriMo this year. I’d intended to start The Mummy’s Captive Witch, but Queen Takes King was flowing too well and all the stars aligned for me to just continue writing in that world. I had 32,000 words at the end of October and decided to just keep on going.

So my plan is to finish the King (guessing 60-65K) and then go straight into Queen Takes Queen. Ideally… I’ll finish both this month!  Though Queen might go a bit into December.

I’m taking every Monday off in November, plus the week of Thanksgiving. We’re not hosting this year, so I won’t have to burn days of vacation cleaning house and shopping and cooking.  So I should have plenty of 3-5k+ days to get both books done this month.  That’s the plan at least!

I’m still working out my release schedule for the next few months and beyond. I did finally hear from Carina and it was a no. The only remaining publisher obligation I have is a contemporary proposal for Entangled, but it’s not working yet and I’ve got other things cooking right now.

I haven’t decided if Queen Takes Queen will come in Jan or Feb yet.  I should have the cover early Jan, so it’s possible I could release that month. We’ll see.  I’ll firm it up once I see how this month unfolds.

For 2018, I’m really going to shoot for the moon. My ideal releases will include

  • Queen Takes Queen (Jan-Feb)
  • secret pen name release, books 2 and 3.
  • Another Queen book or two in a different queen’s POV.
  • Queen’s Checkmate or Endgame (haven’t decided which title I like best)
  • Three Cuts Deader
  • The Mummy’s Captive Witch
  • The Prince’s Beast under a new pen name
  • A spinoff of the Billionaire series for Entangled

I’m also working on

  • A Connagher boxed set. Have the cover–but need to get the formatting done.
  • Getting the Shanhasson trilogy into print
  • Getting the Connagher books into print
  • Getting Lady Doctor Wyre and her men back up for sale (new covers).

These all cost $$$ so I need new releases out to pay for everything. Hence the big push for words.

Words, all the words. My focus in 2018 is MORE WORDS.

Flailing

I’ve been doing some of this.

via GIPHY

And some of this.

via GIPHY

And a lot of this.

via GIPHY

Queen Takes Knights has been going like gangbusters! A HUGE THANKS to all of you who’ve downloaded a copy, dropped a review/rating anywhere, or just talked about it on Facebook.  I can’t even begin to describe how great this past week has been. I’ve never had a book take off like this before. Never. I’m completely blown away. Humbled. Awed. And so freaking excited to finish the King and get it out for you.

It was the right book, at the right time, and the right people found it and told their friends, and in the end, it’s like lightning striking. It’s been a fantastic week.

THANK YOU!

On Writing: Process

The only thing that seems to stay the same – is that my process is constantly changing. For me, that’s a good thing, though it can be scary at times when something I’ve done in the past just isn’t working.

I envy people who can make up a week’s worth of meals and eat the same thing everyday. My horse would be kicking that stall down in a hurry. Writing is the same way for me. I have a hard time setting a flat, even number of words for every day. Even though I *want* to be able to say “write 1K a day to finish the book” – I know it’ll be more like 500, 200, 1000, 0, 2000, 1000, 0, 3000, 8000, etc. until the book is done.

I’m hoping that certain parts of my new process stay, though, because I really love it. You’ve seen me post all kinds of worksheets, spreadsheets, etc. over the years. Some books I plot. Some books I just know. Some days I get a couple of hundred words. Others I’m fighting to stop before my wrists give out at 5K. Sleep? Who needs sleep anyway? When the words are pouring…

I don’t want to stop.

Right now, I’m not using any of those old tools. At least not in the form I’ve ever used them before. If you haven’t been around me long, there’s a few things you should know about me.

  • I love the smell of leather. LOVE.
  • When I’m stuck, I like to write things by hand.
  • I think purple pens are magic.
  • I can’t draw a straight line (even with a ruler) to save my life.

So while I’ve done the bullet journal thing several times – I never got into the cool layouts that people draw, because I can’t. They look awful and I won’t use that notebook again because I’ll cringe every time I see the pages I ruined. I did buy a leather traveler’s notebook that smells DIVINE though, and I kept trying to use it. I bought some small colorful notebooks, but…

It took me awhile to figure out how and what to put in the notebook in a way that I could live with and find useful too.

I thought I needed one for each book, so that all that book’s info would be in one place. And yeah, that would certainly be easier. But my muse doesn’t work in a linear fashion like that. I might be plotting one book, and writing words on another, and running edits or formatting something else.  Or I might be writing book 1, and get an idea for book 3. So where do I put that, if I need to keep space for book 2 in between? What if I run out of space and have to put book 2 somewhere else?

Worse — what if I started a notebook for one book, but didn’t have it when I got a brilliant idea? I don’t want to forget it, so where do I write it down? I can’t physically carry every single idea notebook with me because DUDE. I have a TON of ideas. And one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that once words are working, and I can dip into the well and touch story at whim…

I don’t get words only for the story I’m doing. I drop that bucket down in the well and haul up all kinds of stuff – and I can’t hold it all in my head.

So what I’ve finally adjusted to doing is using one bullet journal style notebook for ALL stories.  I have an index at the beginning and I start with what I’m doing now. So my current notebook has a list of characters for Queen Takes Knights. Some pictures of the actors/actresses I cast for roles. Notes about characters. Then I got into the scenes I wanted to do, brainstorming etc.

But then I also started keeping a daily log of word counts. And it’s okay if the word counts break up pages of notes about plot or book 2. I don’t set any rules. I just use the next page, and if it’s something I want to be able to find later, I add it to my index.  If it’s really really important, I create a little washi flag so I can find it quickly.  I’m using a word count sticker I got from Bree and having a blast coloring in the little squares.

Combine this with my Kanban board, with the 20-25 min timer, and I can easily track how many words I get in each session (I use a different color).

And I don’t switch notebooks. I’ll use this one until it’s full. Right now, it has Queen Takes Knights info, including my edits and chapter outline. Future scenes I want to do in Queen Takes King. Future character sketches. And they’re not all in order. That’s okay. I’ve also got an outline started for the next zombie story, with the research and worldbuilding I’ve done. Smack dab in the middle of my daily word counts for Queen Takes King.

Once I finally let go of “everything has to be in order” – then the bujo process really took off for me.

Some pics below if you’re interested!

Cover Reveal: Queen Takes Knights

The queen is here!  Cover by Marisa at Cover Me Darling

This single cover inspired an entire series.  It was up for sale on a pre-made facebook group I’m in, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I had to have it.

It’s so ME.  All the blood. All those hands.  *shivers*

Writing this series has helped bring me back from the darkness that was 2016. It’s over-the-top sexy fun menage with MMF and planned M*MFF* too in future books.

The book is up and available at Amazonbut if you don’t have Kindle Select, wait until Monday, when the book will be FREE all week!

Long live the virgin vampire queen and her many sexy Blood.

Up next:  QUEEN TAKES KING.

Kiss Me in Wescott Springs by Holly Cortelyou

I’m pleased to welcome Holly to my blog today!  Enter her giveaway here.


Kiss Me In Wescott Springs
by Holly Cortelyou



BLURB:
Escape with two enticing tales of love. Sometimes opposites do attract and just need a second chance love… courtesy of a raspberry puff pastry and an unexpected discovery. And then again, maybe all it takes is a little wine, truffles and a remodel to turn enemies into lovers!
Welcome back to Wescott Springs where it’s always a sweet and sexy romp to love!


KISS ME AT LAST
One tempting kiss will rock his world…
What’s better than wine, chocolate and a little renovation magic? A sweet and sexy matchup between a handsome, hammer-swinging contractor, Sean McMallory, and a flirty and stubborn champagne bar owner, Melinda York, who’s in a remodel pickle! Sometimes trusting your enemy is the sweetest victory of all.


KISS ME, TROUBLE
Why gamble on a second chance at love?
Six years ago, Cole McCaffrey shattered Alix Porter’s heart into a million scattered shards. But one lucky encounter with flying artwork lands Alix right back into Cole’s lap. With seven short vacation days, can Cole spark their sizzling chemistry and convince Alix of his love, despite the lie that tore them apart?


Available on Amazon!
(99 pennies from 10/16 through 10/23)



TEASER #1 from Kiss Me at Last


With a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth, Sean had been waiting for an eruption for the last ten minutes.
It was day three of construction, and Melinda had looked far from chipper as she’d schlepped into the wine bar at eight in a slouchy gray sweater, faded jeans, and nondescript running shoes. Her eyes were bleary, and she cradled her coffee concoction like it was the crown jewel in the queen’s tiara. She’d winced every time his hammer drove home a nail.
Sean grinned. Hangover, he supposed, and he pounded a few extra nails for good measure as she scuttled into her office. That ought to fix her little red wagon, Miss High and Mighty and her sexy British accent. Not that he’d noticed.
He glanced toward her office door, and there was Melinda, staring at him with a stony gaze through half-slitted eyes.
“Good morning, Ms. York,” Sean said in his perkiest voice. “Sun’s shining, and it’s beautiful out.” He fiddled with the chuck on the drill and idly revved it a few times for some bonus noise.
“Is there anything quiet you can do for a while?” Melinda said, her tone was pained.
“Not feeling well?”
“I’m fine. I have some phone calls to make to wine distributors and a little peace and quiet would be divine.”
“Go back to your coffee shop for those calls. Unless you want me to take a break already? That will slow me down.”
Melinda glared. “I’m trying to get some work done, too.”
“Well, ma’am. This is a construction zone, so there’s going to be noise. We’re not slapping on some paint and hanging a few light fixtures. We’re adding beams, ripping out floors. What exactly were you expecting? Should I bring a bowl of potpourri or something?”
“That might help.” Her tone was drenched in syrup. “Or do you have a silencer for that drill?”


TEASER #2 from Kiss Me, Trouble


As they walked side by side out of the restaurant, a noisy group of women jostled by them. Alix scooted to one side to avoid a passerby whose nose was buried in her phone. She staggered into a towering potted palm.
The palm fronds swayed ominously, and Alix’s arms flailed.
“Easy there. Don’t take out that tree.” Cole twined an arm around her waist and pulled her close. A herd of butterflies stampeded through her belly. His touch was familiar, but it dazzled her senses as if it was the first time they’d touched.
“I’m not usually so wobbly on my feet.” Alix smiled up at Cole and didn’t move.
Cole blinked and broke into a lopsided grin. “You were pushed.”
“Like Humpty Dumpty? Did she fall or was she pushed?” Alix wrinkled her nose.
“It was a conspiracy.” Cole squeezed her waist and winked.
“Did you pay them to bump me into your arms?” She inched one hip closer to his body.
“That would have been well played.” Cole’s voice lowered, but she could have heard him whisper, for the rest of the world had grown distant. There were no glasses clinking nor bar patrons buzzing with laughter.
“And risky.” Alix let her hands creep up his chest until she could feel the solid thud of his heart. It was strong. It was beating as fast as hers. Staccato.
“I work the angles and the gray areas.”
“But, I’m the straight arrow.”
“Opposites still attract?” Cole’s mouth inched closer, and his scent filled her senses. He was exotic like sandalwood but grounded like cedar. He was heaven.



AUTHOR BIO:
Holly Cortelyou pens sweet and spicy small town, contemporary romances that just may have a kiss of magic or a twist mystery.
On any given day, she’s likely sipping coffee and procrastinating on Facebook or organizing a closet. Holly’s living her own Happily Ever After with an uber-handy, broad-shouldered and delicious husband, a sweet silver lab and a fluffball kitty in sun-kissed Southern Oregon.
She has hazel eyes, a goofy sense of humor and all the rest is subject to change without notice.




SOCIAL MEDIA:


State of the Union

I’m always more talkative when I just finished a book. So I thought I’d take advantage of that!

Writing in general is going much better for me this year.  I’ve completed two stories (both 50K ish), completed a proposal, and have plotted/prepped at least 2 others. I have *too* many ideas again, which is actually a good thing for me personally.  I feel creative. I’m dipping into the wellspring daily and finding my characters and their words waiting on me.

I continue to grow in other ways too. I fine-tuned some of my formatting processes with Scrivener. I’m not 100% happy and long for a Mac and Vellum – but that will be a goal for another year. I’m extremely happy with the re-release of the Connaghers and the covers that Kanaxa created for them.

I’m trying new marketing and growing my newsletter again.  (I had turned it off several months ago because I felt I was growing too fast without the systems in place to feed and interact with my list.)  Promos I’ve participated in the last few months have increased my newsletter by almost 1/3 again. Granted my open rate has fallen a bit, but still respectable in the 40-50% range.  I’m on a schedule with my newsletter, rather than only sending when I had a release – which isn’t a way to build a rapport with readers.  I’m *finding* content to send to you, even if I don’t have anything to say about me, which is a good thing!  I’ve automated my welcome and delivery of free/newsletter specials and made it easier to send ARCs out too.

I’ve tried a few different planner systems the last year+.  I use the Passion Planner for family and work stuff, but I’m finding a simple traveler’s notebook with a Tomoe River paper insert the best for writing.  I love the paper, I love the leather smell of the wrap, I love using colored InkJoys, or just the thin micron black pen. Added in some stickers from Bree (@totallybree) and midliners to color my sprints, and I’m finally liking how I track my progress.  I just don’t like spreadsheets for word count.  Coloring the squares by hand is much more fun, and the stickers save me from trying to draw anything (I can’t do a straight line even with a ruler).  (Some examples)

I’m using the notebook as more of a story bible, edit tracker, and for research notes too.  I put all my edit notes on QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS into the notebook this time around, including a timeline, character list, and scene list.  It makes it so much easier to track down the correct file in Scrivener when I’m reading the file on Kindle and find a typo or paragraph I want to tweak.

I’m taking the last quarter of the year to try and push through as many new projects as I can to get my income back up to a respectable amount. That income will fund the new covers I need going forward to continue to grow. I owe one more proposal to Entangled that I’m working on, and still waiting on the other from Carina.

Otherwise, I’m trying to finish up books I already have covers purchased for to minimize my expenses and maximize my earnings.  That means you’ll see QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS this month, and if all goes well, THE MUMMY’S CAPTIVE WITCH. This was a Zombie Category Romance cover I purchased *years* ago and never wrote.  There’s no better time to work on a zombie/witch story than October, so that will be my push.  I also have a cover for THREE CUTS DEADER already purchased. I’ve been stuck on the plot though so I’ll have to see if things come together or not.

I’m intending to do NaNoWriMo this year. Actually – my goal is to NaNo every month from here on out until I get “caught up” in my mind. I haven’t decided for sure which book will be my focus in November.  My brain wants to work on QUEEN TAKES KING, the vampire follow-up story, but I won’t have the cover until Dec. at the earliest, and likely not until Jan. Funds trickle in too slowly.  It makes more sense to do THREE CUTS DEADER first, but my writer brain isn’t always smart about what project it wants to work on. If it comes down to things are working on project C or D but not A or B that I intended to do, I’m going with C or D.

I don’t intend to lose my words again.