Queen Takes King’s Cover

The good news:  I have the cover for King!  The bad news:  I didn’t get it uploaded to Amazon in time for Monday’s release.  *weeps*

We had some difficulty getting the King just right and one thing led to another. I got the final files last night, but the preorder was already locked, so I couldn’t upload it. Nothing I can do about it now, but stay up until midnight Sunday night and see how quickly Amazon will unlock it so I can upload the finalized cover.

This guy looks more like Shemar Moore than Idris Elba to me but who’s complaining?!?  Not me!

 

 

NaNoWriMo Update

I was so so close…. Just under 44,000 words.  I should have been able to get just 6,000 more, right?!?  And I planned to – but I had some stuff come up for the Evil Day Job that took priority.

I finished Queen Takes King, which was my primary goal.  And I started Queen Takes Queen. Although the 7,000 words I thought I was going to use to open Queen ended up getting pulled into King…  So I’m behind of where I want to be, but you’re getting way more with King than I planned!

So now the big thing to watch for is the cover for the King.  I can’t wait to see what Marissa comes up.  And of course I need another NaNo style month in December, because I intend to release Queen in Jan.

Annnnddd, I’m going to get a short piece put together for an anthology some other RH authors are working on. Due Feb.

So it’s going to be a crazy start to 2018!!

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.

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!

Book Business Blather

If you don’t care about numbers and math and publishing talk, feel free to go pick up a free copy of Letters to An English Professor or The Horse Master of Shanhasson and skip the rest of this post!

I’ve always been pretty honest about sales and my numbers – which have never been fantastic, other than a really good year in 2010. That was my best year ever. I actually made more with books than That Man did at his full-time job that year.

But despite publishing many more books since then, my income has halved and halved and halved… again and again.  Of course the Samhain debacle last year put a huge crimp in my sales across those 10 books.  One Cut Deeper did really good (for me) at Carina, but follow-up sales of Two Cuts Darker were disappointing enough they declined to even consider Three Cuts Deader.  The Bloodgate series was already dead.

The Billionaires did pretty “okay” at Samhain in the beginning – but nowhere near my expectations.  I don’t know if it was the covers, their generally declining sales across the boards that forced them to close, MY generally declining sales…  All of the above, likely.

So I had a lot riding on the re-release of The Connaghers, and especially Mine to Break in July.  First and foremost, I needed to make back $1200 in covers alone.  I’ve been experimenting with Facebook ads and they are NOT cheap.  Even $5/a day (their min) to explore audiences ads up quickly.

I’ve invested $20/month in Instafreebie to build my list. Just under $40/month for my newsletter service.  Since I started last year, I’ve managed to increase my list from 100 to 2200.  Not bad.  My open rates are between 45-50%.  I’d like to keep growing there, and building connections with those subscribers, so I’m experimenting with some polls and small giveaways.

So where am I at right now with the business end of things?  The good news:  I’ve almost made back the cover expenses.  Now all of that isn’t in my needy little hands.  As money comes in, it goes right back out the door for newsletters, giveaways, and advertising, and royalties come in 60-90 days after the fact.  But it IS coming back and I feel like it was a good investment.

Comparing January sales to what I made in July:  I saw a 676% increase in sales.  That sounds great, right?  But 676% of not much is still… not much.  July was a release month, and already those numbers are decreasing.  August was a release month for the Billionaire books at Entangled, and they did pretty well at first with the $.99 prices, but sales have quickly dropped off again (according to Amazon rankings).

So I need more books out, in those series, to keep the numbers. And of course I don’t have anything. Yet.

The bad news:  I’ve decided to pull the Connagher books back to Kindle Unlimited at this time.  So far in September, I’ve only sold 10 books across all of Draft2Digital’s venues.  TEN. For five books.  Yeah.  It’s just not worth it right now – and while the KU payout is small, I need any advantage I can get for visibility right now.  If you primarily buy at B&N or Kobo or iTunes, I’m sorry and if you reach out to me (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com), I’ll make you a copy that you can read on your device.

Returning to KU will allow me to do more creative countdowns and free days. I’m doing some promotions with Love Kissed Book Bargains that have really been outstanding (nearly 1500 downloads of Letters to An English Professor when I listed it) and will continue to do some targeted free day and $.99 bargain deals.

I will probably pull the Shanhasson books to KU too at some point – but they need some formatting work.  (I originally uploaded them in 2011.)  I’d rather get some new material out there than do this kind of busy/admin work, so that’s not high on my priority list at this time.

My take away at this point is positive – but needs improvement.  I’m going the right direction. The best thing I can do for my numbers right now is keep growing, keep giving away books, and write another Connagher book, and write another Billionaire book or spinoff. AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.  That wasn’t in my wish list right now – I have so many interesting shiny ideas I really want to do, but from the numbers game, it makes the most sense to capitalize on where I am right now.

I am still working on the vampire series — but I plan to release three books close together in back-to-back months, so I’d really like to have them written, or close to written, before I release the first one.  The cover artist doesn’t even have slots for the other two covers until Dec/Jan, so it’s going to be a little while yet before I can share that new world.

I would love to work on Three Cuts Deader – but while Carina still holds the rights for the first two books, I’m limited in what I can do. I have covers purchased, so I do want to work on them – but I can’t run the same kind of growth plans as easily when I don’t control the pricing.  So I’m still working on a plan for that series.  The longer it takes me to come up with a decision and plan, though… the less it will benefit me sales-wise to write them.  Two Cuts Darker came out well over a year ago.  Few people are going to remember Charlie and Vincent at this point except for a few beloved friends and family and a few dedicated readers (hugs, I love each and every one of you).  The general Amazon reader isn’t going to care about a third book in a series that came out 2 years or more ago, by the time I actually get the book written.

And of course, Lady Wyre is (not so) patiently waiting for me to decide what to do with her and her men.  My Entangled (former Samhain) editor would love them, and that would give me the more immediate opportunity to write another book(s) in that series.  I just hesitate to put too many eggs in a publishing basket when my last basket rotted and fell apart on me.  I’ve priced polishing those covers (not starting over from scratch) and am looking at $600 plus $250 for the third Lady Wyre book.  It’s going to take some time for me to get that much built back up.  So Lady Wyre is in a holding pattern until I decide for sure what I want to do.

I do have one last proposal out to Carina under a new pen name and entirely new genre. That could be a game changer and anything I plan now could get thrown out the window. I should know in the next few weeks (it’s been under consideration for 2 months now).

The bad thing for me is that I hop around too much. I can’t make a decision and stick to it.  I think, Oh, I should work on this! It’s so cool and I have a great idea for a giveaway! Or I hear about a great boxed set opportunity, that would let me write another book in the Nightgazer world. Or the Zombie Category Romance world. Both worlds I love and want to work in.  But I can’t hop around back and forth. I’ve got to focus. But focus is NOT my strong suit in the writing game.  (Picture horse kicking down her stall and running out into the blizzard again.)

And things at home aren’t the best. I can’t get into details but it’s not easy, it’s never easy, and carving out MY time to write is a constant battle.  I type this while facing a THIRD trip to the high school this afternoon/evening to pick Littlest up from marching band. Both she and Middle are in Geometry this year and I help them with homework several nights a week. Of course they can’t begin said homework until Mom’s ready to go write…

Anyway, that’s my long-winded blather post about the state of the union.  Onward and upward!

Mine to Break is out now!

He’s bringing war to the Mistress of Dallas’s bed.

Mal & Colby are finally out in the wild!  Retailer links are below.

This book got me writing again after the darkness of the past few months.  Mal and Colby gave me hope and reminded me about all the things I love. I got to visit with old friends, fix a few things that I left unfinished or didn’t get quite right, and hopefully lay a few threads down for the future. There’s also an Easter egg – a character makes a brief appearance from a different series.

And blackberry cobbler will never be the same!

Experimentation

Is it possible to fanfic yourself?

It sounds crazy and full of hubris, I know. *cringe*  But here’s what I’m working on while waiting for Mal to hit the world.

I’m on several Facebook groups for pre-made cover artists. Mostly I’m just watching for sales, deals, and getting a taste of each artist’s work to know whether I want to hit them up in the future. All of them are new-to-me artists that I personally had never heard of.

One day, someone posted a cover that literally made me gasp out loud.

It was so ME. The old me, the core me, the original Dreamer. The person who wrote the bloody Shanhasson stories. Blood, menage, it screamed ME ME pick ME.

But it was clearly contemporary.

I could not shake that cover. It haunted me. Within hours, I had to buy it. Even though I’m seriously strapped right now after remaking all the Connagher covers and generally having very little royalties coming in since I haven’t had a new release in ages.

I HAD TO HAVE IT. Even though I didn’t have a story for it.

It already had a story. I just had to write it.

After payment, I made that cover my wallpaper. I also printed out a small version and taped it to one of my notebooks. And I started writing down my dreams, because yeah, I dreamed the book right away.

It’s been a long, long time since I dreamed a book.  (This is Dreaming in Rhyme, after all, but I’m generally too tired nowadays to dream a book that I can actually remember the next day.)

It’s basically the Shanhasson premise, copied into a contemporary setting. With vampires.  I mean, I already had the blood, the biting, the whole bonding thing in Shanhasson. It was always vampiric without actually bringing out the fangs.

I condensed a couple of characters into one. I set clear boundaries for myself, that this would be ROMANCE only. No major character deaths. But otherwise, it’s Shanhasson in a modern world. With vampires. Did I say vampires?  I swore I’d never write a vampire book but there you go.

All first person.  So you get first person Dharman/Rhaekhar scenes. First person Sal scenes. First person Shannari scenes. AND I CAN’T WAIT FOR FIRST PERSON GREGAR scenes. Sorry, I’m shouting. But I can’t fucking wait – though that will likely be book two the way I have it set up in my mind.

And now, I’m more confident in a BDSM setting too. When I wrote Rose, I had no idea that was the direction I’d eventually go. (It was my first book.)  I had no clear understanding of masochism and submission – just what the characters needed and wanted. I didn’t have the labels.

I didn’t know the significance of a Blood kneeling before his queen and offering his throat, yet still being fully alpha and tough.

Yeah.

Oh, and this menage won’t cheat the boys either. It’s all MMF, baby. Then some MMMF.

Another oh, I think this will be my first MMMFF too. Yeah, I will go there, a first for me, in book 3. I’ve had a certain somebody ask if I’d ever do FF and the right character and book world has arrived.

The only cramp in all this will be purchasing covers for books 2 and 3 because she’s $$$ if it’s not premade. The chances that she’d do another premade exactly like what I need are slim, so I’ll need to set funds aside for custom. Ideally I’ll release these close together, but it depends on how quickly I can get covers turned around. She’s already booked into December, so by the time I raise the funds, it might be 2018 before I can get the covers made.

I’m a damned fast typist, but this is the kind of book that I literally cannot type fast enough to capture. I’m planning to blow through these 3 books as quickly as possible and have them written, ready to release close together. Then see what I can do for covers. And no, I won’t show you the cover that started all this until I have everything lined out.

But I promise. It’ll blow your mind.

It sucked to be twenty two years old and still afraid of the dark.
Bad things always happened in the dark. I’d learned that at an early age, when my father was brutally murdered in front of me. My mother met the same fate when I was seventeen.
Waiting for the sun to set, monsters were real and they were always hungry. Always hunting.
Demons with pasty gray skin, wasted bodies down to skin and bones, with red, glowing eyes. Mom always said they were hunting her, but after she died, I kept seeing them.
They were still hunting… me.

Mal and Colby, Favorite Lines, ARCs, and more

It was a long time coming (snerk) but Mal and Colby are finally finished and ready to share.  If you’re able and willing to post an online review, sign up to receive an ARC here.  I’ve automated this process as much as possible to get the book in your hand quicker.

Mal is a damned fine Mistress (her words) so hopefully I did her justice. I don’t know that I could have written her before Lilly (The Billionaire Submissive), who taught me so much about femdom. So many layers, so many ways a scene can unfold. So many ways it could go wrong, or so very very good. It all depends on the Mistress and how she controls the scene.

She reminded me of all the things I love about writing and got me back into the headspace I needed to find my words again. She may have lured Colby with blackberry cobbler, but she lured me with her confidence and effortless control. A reminder to trust the process. To sink into it and let it be. Let it happen. Because…

Her hand locked on his nape, her grip strong and unyielding. He closed his eyes, soaking it in. Peace. Everything would be all right. Everything would work out for the best. Everybody was safe. He could close his eyes and rest. Because his Mistress had him by the neck and wasn’t letting go.

Some other favorite lines without spoiling too much…

The hell if he could think with his dick tied up in a bow.

 

“If BDSM is like this… Why doesn’t everybody do it?”
She choked back a laugh and tucked his face against her throat. “The hell if I know, sugar.”

 

Now all I can do is sit back, watch the Mistress of Dallas unleashed in the world, and hope for the best. I’d love to write more of the extended Connagher family (there are some developments with Elias, Vicki and Jesse that you learn in this book, and I’ve got an idea for Mason brewing), but a lot rides on how Mal does.  It wiped me out to get all this redone after Samhain closed, in more ways than one.

So we’ll see. In the meantime, I appreciate anything you do to help spread the word!

Overcoming Inertia

So it’s been a pretty long drought.  But I can finally say… I finished another book.  Mal’s book, MINE TO BREAK, is finally going to release on July 25th!  You can pre-order it for $2.99 on Amazon here, but I will be uploading this book wide to other retailers if Amazon is not your jam.  (It just may not be up for pre-order, though I’ll see how it goes once I get edits completed.)

So how did I finally grow some words in a barren, cracked earth?  It took some doing, that’s for sure.

The number one thing that helped me was a class I took in May at the Margie Lawson Writing Academy, called Write Better Faster with Becca Syme.  It’s a little pricey for a class ($75) but highly recommended and well worth your time.

But don’t go into the class expecting some secret handshake that suddenly helps you write 5K a day. It’s not that kind of class. First off, she had us take personality and strength quizzes.  What makes you tick as a writer and person? Once you delve into personality, she helps you tap into the proven tactics that increase productivity and performance for your unique situation.  This includes an hour on the phone with her talking through the results and things to try.

For the planner lovers, we even had a session on which planners tend to work best for your personality.

But for me, none of that was as illuminating as the class on essential pain. That’s the idea that sometimes change and growth and work can be painful. It’s a natural human survival tactic to want to avoid pain (unless you’re a masochist!), so sometimes we avoid doing what we know we need or want to do, just to avoid that pain, without even realizing it. Ironically, we end up causing ourselves MORE pain with that avoidance.

So I realized for a lot of reasons I can’t get into publicly that I had started to avoid writing, because I didn’t want to face that other pain.  As Jane Yolen says, a writer has to “tell the true.” And I was avoiding the true.  Which caused me more pain, because I lost the thing that was giving me sanity and pleasure when I most needed it.

Silly, huh?

The other thing that has really helped me this year, and especially this past week, is daily meditation.  I use HeadSpace, available in your app store. This week, I started the creativity track and WOW.  It’s so illuminating, literally.  When I was avoiding writing, avoiding the true, I ended up making myself smaller.

I was drawn up tight in a fetal position, just holding on for dear life.

At first, I was trying to protect myself – but when you’re small, you take up less space, and nature abhors a vacuum. Others start taking up that space, squishing you even smaller. And smaller. And smaller. Maybe intentional, maybe not, but it’s hard to gain space to breathe.

But as I started to uncurl and look around and push back against the crowded confines I’d gotten used to, I realized… hey. Why was I allowing myself to be made to feel so small? It wasn’t protection – it was prison.

The creativity pack starts with a visualization, that your creative energy is a spark inside your chest. Small, but bright. And then you visualize it growing. It fills your body, the room, envelopes your house, the world, the UNIVERSE. It’s not small, it’s HUGE and wonderful and you sit there imagining all this warmth and sunlight and energy all around you and I’m thinking

DAMN! WHY DID I GIVE THIS UP?

And then in the next heart beat, I’m thinking

I’LL NEVER LET ANYONE MAKE ME FEEL SMALL AGAIN.

Mine to Break Updates

Mal is coming soon! I promise!

I took a huge step (for me) and set up Mine to Break as a pre-order on KDP/Amazon.  I’ve never set a hard deadline for myself like this before. Now it’s real and I’ve got to meet my commitment. It’s a good test for me and should match up with my personality well.  I need the pressure to perform sometimes!

I’ve returned to Dark & Early, even though it’s complicated.  Luckily (?) I’ve been waking up between 4-5 with hot flashes anyway, so it’s just a matter of training myself to get up rather than falling back asleep for an hour. The book is almost at 30K already and I have a good skeleton for the last part of the book. I have a few sexual transformation elements to figure out first before I can say for sure how those scenes will unfold, and an unmet dream to discover. But the deep pasts and emotional wounds are playing out pretty well I think.

Kanaxa made the cover last week and it’s just as gorgeous as the others.  Join my newsletter if you haven’t yet, because later this month I’ll be sending the first chapter and sharing the cover there first.

Let me go make some words tonight before the late Royals game!