Recently I attended a writer’s conference and one session addressed crossing genres and how to market yourself. What I took most from this informative talk was that we as authors can find a common thread when we cross genres…or stay in the same genre.
Then a friend asked questions about my writing and it got me thinking.
What is my common thread?
A thread is hard to define. It’s your “brand”: what readers expect when they pick up one of your books. It’s not just your voice or your style, but it’s what makes your books uniquely yours. Your footprint. Elements, revolving themes, character types, etc. And once you have a handle on it, you can grip that brand/footprint/thread and take it through each book. My threads came about organically, subconsciously. Does this mean we are boxed in by predictability? No! It’s just our signature…our footprint. Each story is unique.
My writing is spiritual, emotional, as well as a form of therapy and healing, all tied up nicely with bow blooming with hopes and dreams. I take difficult aspects of my life (grief, loss/death, experiences) and weave them into my books. I love hope.
I write romance (historical and contemporary) and women's' fiction. Toss in travel magazine articles.
With my wheels turning, I dug for my threads. What did I find?
Love (parental, partner, or sibling),
spirituality, hope, journeys & nature.
Note: A few spoilers below but I won’t give away plot twists!
Love, Spirituality, Loss of a mother, Hope, Journey:
In A Hundred Kisses I delve into different religions (medieval Christianity and a "pagan" one of the isles). The heroine's mother is deceased and Deirdre misses that maternal connection with her kin. She wants a mother and to find her roots, get answers, figure out why she has this special ability. My mother passed away when I was 25 and I never had that adult-maternal connection a daughter yearns for. Furthermore, in the book, the hero and heroine learn that even though they have different beliefs, they are still on the human experience and can appreciate the other's journey.
Spirituality/Religion, Love, Hope/Healing, Nature:
The prequel (release date TBD, early 2019), A Hundred Breaths, tells the story of the mother of the heroine in A Hundred Kisses. I took a big leap into her family's religion, one that relies on nature and the gifts they’re bestowed by their deities. Her family uses the power they get from the earth and natural elements for good. The hero is a firm Christian, so enter a collision of beliefs…but they also begin to see how their beliefs and spirituality can overlap. Throw in some ruthless, exploiting Vikings/Nordmen and their gods (and a villain with a complicated, wounded past—oh how I enjoyed writing him!), and there is a boatload of spiritual exploration in this book. It's also a story of healing for the hero, as he has guilt over something that happened to his mother. The heroine also seeks protection for her brother. This is a big story of redemption, healing, and acceptance (of others).
Spirituality, Love, Hope/Healing, Nature, Journey:
My contemporary women's fiction (also early 2019 publication date) is a journey of a grieving widow raising an autistic son, on a road trip across the country to find her other missing son, in the wake of a natural disaster. She also struggles with anxiety. I took care to include the point of view of the autistic son. She meets a man along the way struggling with his own inner demons. I don't want to give away the twists, but her journey brings her to a point of learning to forgive, heal, and accept/embrace. It's an emotional book. It delves into philosophical questions about why things happen, too. Why autism? Why the natural disasters? Why pain or suffering? Why do we make the decisions we do? Why death/fate? It’s laced with spirituality, love, and hope.
Spirituality, Love, Hope/Healing, Loss of sibling, Nature:
The final book in my examples (I’ve been a busy writer this year!) is set to publish early next year. It’s a contemporary romance novella. The woman, divorced from an abusing ex, has extreme guilt over her sister's death while hiking (my sister died in an accident different than the type of accident in this book). The heroine meets a man who feels like an outsider in his world and misses home. For her, it's a story of healing and moving past her past (guilt and trust), and for him, it’s journey of self-acceptance. There are also overlaps of spirituality and the hero opens the heroine’s mind to exploring answers to life’s big questions.
I really love the emotional (and physical) journey and the spiritual elements in all my work. We all have emotional wounds and are on our own journeys of healing, growth/hope, and spirituality. So those are my threads.
Even if you write consistently in ONE sub-genre, you have a few threads in your writing, too. We all have unique footprints.
I’d love to hear from you. What are your threads?
On the heels of the 2018 Writer's Digest conference in New York City, I returned home rejuvenated, riding that post-conference high. I had networked, conversed with talented writers (shout out to #5amwritersclub on Twitter!), participated in informative and motivational sessions, and listened to inspiring keynote speakers. Writer's Digest offered a commendable conference and it was 100% worth going [plus a few days in NYC with no kids, yup!]. At this stage in my publishing career I chose to attend mostly business and motivational sessions rather than craft (though we could always hone craft and I swapped notes with other writers).
I left also feeling a bit meh. Why meh? Because not one session in the dozens offered addressed small press publishing. There was plenty of information on the agent to big publisher route (the dream of many an author) and the indie/self-pub route. But the hybrid in between the two? Nope. Shaking off my self-doubt and negative self-talk (hey, there was a session on that!), I decided why not share a bit more about the small press experience. I've had a wonderful journey with The Wild Rose Press and I've learned in life to turn struggles into opportunities. If I was feeling a bit down, I guarantee there may be others who felt the same way OR don't know that small press is an amazing route for publication. So here's my take on it! (Keep reading, it's good)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...oh, wait. Not that. Leave that to Chuck Wendig, one of our keynote speakers. Okay, a long time ago, in years far, far away (circa when I was ahem, 20, uh like twenty years ago)...
I had just written my first two manuscripts. Not knowing much on the biz, I researched and jumped into the querying trenches. Back then, it was mostly by snail mail with a SASE (anyone remember those?). I dabbled in querying agents and directly to editors at publishers (at a time when that was a more common method). Got some rejections, feedback, and a few requests. Ultimately, it went nowhere. Enter my blooming science career, parenting, and on and off writing for a decade. I finished a third manuscript. Did the same, but this time, email was the way to go. I even met with agents at conferences. I honed my craft, took in feedback from agents/critique partners, and filed away more research on the biz. Despite more queries and more requests, that book was still not "there" yet.
On to manuscript #4. Rinse and repeat the above, but at a more intense level. I was wearing my game hat by now. I had skills, was refining my craft, learning, growing. I got so close I could taste the offer! Still after close to 40 rejections (a small number, I know), I grew frustrated. The traditional route of agent to big publisher was not in my stars (yet...there is always a yet, for we don't know our future). I'd gleaned knowledge through the rejections/feedback but was still not capturing the eyes of agents. Yet, in the words of my always-first-to-read beta, "this manuscript was IT!" Yes, she texted that after reading my polished, revised version number 100 (or it felt like it).
I took a leap and queried two small press publishers. The Wild Rose Press, a publisher with a very good reputation and who has been around for over a decade, said yes! That book, A Hundred Kisses, is now out in print, e-book, and audible/audio book.
What is a small press and what do you get working with one?
I will tell you because I did a lot of web-searching on indie vs. self vs. small press. Even Google searches lead to conflicting definitions.
Small Press highlights:
Direct queries to editors, deleting the middle person (versus finding an agent).
No agent fees/percentages (you get your full percentage of royalties).
You earn royalties on sales, but with some you may receive advances, too. Royalties vary, and as a new author, don't expect a bestseller. Publication and developing readership is a marathon, not a sprint.
Quicker turn-around time on all aspects of publication from query to release date. The Wild Rose Press prides itself on publication within a year from contract date.
Niche markets -- many small presses specialize in and cater to one or a few genres. Those romance readers are dedicated and loyal (and I read a stat somewhere that romance is nearly 35% of the fiction market). The Wild Rose Press started as an e-book/print book publisher for romance, but has now branched out to other fiction genres, and audio book formats.
You build a network of like-minded and cheerleader authors (I've established great relationships with many of the authors at The Wild Rose Press).
Personalized support from the editors ( = TLC!). The Wild Rose Press has writer/promotion forums, weekly author chats (open to public), and makes efforts to meet with the authors at conferences or meetings. No question is too big or too small to your editor.
Cover design, copy-edits, assistance with promotion.
A team of editors and staff that are quick to respond and support you in your publication needs. Okay, this is like #7, but I just had to say it again.
No-up front out of pocket expenses.
Though supportive, be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing and promotion (this is even expected from big publishers, as I've been told). But also be prepared to have a team ready to support you in those efforts.
Numbers of books published per year vary by publisher. The Wild Rose Press has published thousands of books by hundreds of authors in its 12-year span.
Enter manuscript #5. I had spent a year writing a contemporary Women's Fiction book, different from my usual historical romance. I queried the heck out of it with agents. By now, I knew my stuff (disclaimer: we are always learning and improving). I attended conferences and workshops, delved into the Twitter world, read books. I had my A-game. But over 70 rejections later, still nothing. And for the agents that did request it, the feedback was surprisingly vague. As painful as rejection is, getting specific, detailed agent feedback on a full request is gold in your hand! Though it's subjective, I find it to be the best information on what to do with my book: edit it more, change up the plot/characters, or follow my gut and leave it be? After another year of revision and input from countless beta readers and critique partners, I honed that baby the best I could. Feeling a bit defeated and hesitant, I sent it off to my editor at The Wild Rose Press. Though started as a romance publisher, they also publish other fiction genres, including Women's Fiction. I thought, "Why not?"
Guess what? My editor LOVED it. In fact, I need to go work on my first round of edits right now...
They are also publishing the prequel to A Hundred Kisses. So now I have one book published, and two more in contract. I have another manuscript pending decision. And you can guarantee that this fall, I am going to get working on the sequel to A Hundred Kisses, turning that series into a trilogy. My momentum is on...and it happened with a small press. Where do I go from here? I'm not sure. Can any author say where they will be in a few years? Just a few years ago I was in the query trenches. Now, I'm overwhelming satisfied and happy with the support and care I've gotten from my editor and fellow "rose" authors! Right now, I've found my publishing home.
I'd love to hear about your publishing experience.
It's here! I am ecstatic (yeah, okay that's a bit over the top, but hey I'm excited!) to announce that A Hundred Kisses is now released in audio book format through Amazon Audible and iTunes! Interested in a wee listen? Well, I have that for you: here.
It is my pleasure today to introduce Rosalind Ashford, Voice Actor and narrator of A Hundred Kisses audio book. It's been a surreal experience to have gone from listening to audio books in my car (while writing my own novels) to having my OWN audio book to listen to! It was a joy to delve into this process with Ms. Ashford, and admittedly, I squealed with glee each week when I received the latest chapter to review.
I enjoyed the process and the final product to the production of A Hundred Kisses, so I knew I wanted to invite Ms. Ashford to my blog. She is a Voice Actor and an Audible-Approved narrator and producer, member of both Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and SAG-AFTRA, the unions for professional performers. Having been my first experience with narration, I picked her brain a bit...
What drew you to this career choice?
I was born and raised in Worcestershire, England and trained in Dramatic Arts—dance, drama and film—in conservatory programs at Madeley College and Keele University, UK. I moved to NY in part to pursue a career in theater, in part to satisfy a strong wanderlust. Whilst I have, since then, performed onstage from Off-Broadway to regional theater and on film and TV, I also detoured into other fields over the years.
Microphone training and a great deal of valuable voice experience was acquired as a radio presenter, and for a number of years I read Books for the Blind live on the air—great on-the-job training for audio book narration! I have also done many voice-overs and radio commercials for national and international markets.
Author note: How interesting that I live north of Worcester, MA...funny, these things. Also, that my editor at the Wild Rose Press is Scottish and from the Scottish isles and has the last name that was the descending clan name of my heroine, Deirdre. Small world indeed...I love life's little coincidences and overlaps.
Did you need special training to learn various accents?
I received a great grounding in elocution in high school and had training in college, but it really helps to have a good ear for accents and dialects. I listen to people’s speech all the time and file away interesting patterns and dialects in my mind for later use when I’m developing a written character’s “voice.” It’s a fascinating pastime.
What advice do you have for people interested in this type of career?
Audio book narration is so much more than just reading. Many of the best voice actors are also trained stage and/or film actors. It is acting with the voice and requires well-honed technical and performance skills and excellent cold-reading ability, as well as specialized equipment and the knowledge to use it.
I would recommend mastering the basics first: microphone technique, proper breathing, voice control (timbre, pacing, emotion, etc.), plus acting technique, character development and so forth. Narration is the long-distance marathon running of voiceover work so it also requires great breath control and voice stamina. Like an opera singer, a narrator’s voice is his/her instrument and it takes a lot of practice to play it well.
Then, to produce as well as narrate means also becoming proficient at the editing and mastering of computer sound files using proprietary software. In essence, becoming a sound engineer in addition to being a good voice actor!
Finally, to record anywhere other than in a professional sound studio it is essential to invest in the best sound equipment you can afford. Being able to slowly upgrade to studio-quality equipment in order to record top-notch audio at home has been a game changer for my career. A few years ago I had the amazing luck of finding an uber-expensive professional sound booth going for a song on Craig’s List (who knew?!) which improved the quality of my audio output a hundred-fold. And oh, what blissful working conditions compared to the hours I’d previously spent stuffed into a tiny, hot and airless foam-clad bedroom closet, affectionately known as my padded cell!
How many books have you narrated?
I don’t know for sure but it must be scores! I started as an on-air reader and read many books live, so sadly they were not recorded for posterity. I moved to digital recording in 2006 with a series of educational audio books. I was later hired by Disney to narrate an interactive version of “The Aristocats” and then a re-recording of the BBC classic, “Muzzy in Gondoland” which was heard by a NYC audio book producer who hired me as a studio narrator for online audio books. Now I narrate for Audible Studios, Harper Audio and Brilliance Audio as well as Indie publishers and authors such as you. I currently have 56 books available on Audible/Amazon/iTunes and a very full recording schedule.
I feel grateful to be a busy, working actor in what is a VERY competitive and difficult business, and to have the ability to work from home—in my bedroom slippers, no less!
((as I also write this post from my desk while in pajamas and with coffee in hand...))
What are your hobbies and interests when you are not narrating?
I still perform onstage but when not learning lines I love to hunt for British antiques to buy and sell, and dabble in interior design. I enjoy gourmet cooking (and eating!) and entertain often. I play golf for exercise, although not very well, and rarely read for pleasure—a sad consequence of reading for a living!
Tell us something unique about you, an experience you've had, or a memorable place you've visited.
I’ve been fortunate in my life to have traveled all over the world, visiting every continent. I’ve listened to dozens of accents and dialects and wish I could master them all!
Favorite book(s)? The one I’m recording on any given day.
Coffee, tea, or wine? Wine. Definitely, wine!
If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Right where I currently am, which is on top of a mountain in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of SC.
Your work area, messy, tidy, or somewhere in between? Very messy, except inside my sound booth which is pristine.
You have a time travel machine, do you go to the past or future? And where? To a stately home like Downton Abbey (but upstairs not belowstairs) in early 19th century England.
Where can you find A Hundred Kisses?
Also available on iTunes.
Also available as e-book from The Wild Rose Press, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.
If you enjoyed A Hundred Kisses in audio, print, or e-book format, be on the lookout for its prequel, A Hundred Breaths, to be released in the upcoming months!
Self-care. We all need it. We hear it all the time. We ALL need to take some time to recharge our batteries. For myself, summer is especially difficult to take some R&R. I am fried. Even though I bask in the sunshiny weather (a welcome break from our loooong winters), I still have a packed schedule while the kids are out of school. There are activities, vacations, travel, appointments/errands/house erupting in Lego bricks and paper, camps/sports, teaching and volunteer work...
...oh, and yes, less time to write. When you work at home, there is quite a bit of juggling in summer! Did I happen to mention that I just signed TWO new book contracts and I'm working on edits, and my audio book to A Hundred Kisses just released?
That plate is full! And I need to take some me time. I bounced the question off fellow The Wild Rose Press Authors. What do they do for self-care? Here's what they had to say:
My number one way to TRY to stay healthy is to stay hydrated and to get off my butt regularly. One inevitably leads to the other since drinking a glass of water every hour pretty much guarantees a trip to the bathroom in the next hour. Just that short walk down the hall loosens my limbs. -- Luanna Stewart
Mary Morgan's helpful bullet-point list:
- Shut down all electronic devices (phone, laptops) by 7 p.m. It's too tempting to check social media and/or emails. Making this a firm rule has helped me tremendously.
- Exercise 5-6 days per week: Walking, Biking, or Yoga. It helps to stir the imagination, clear the cobwebs, and keep me limber.
- Make a 1-2 day retreat day each month to escape the work environment. When you work from home, there is no closing the door on your career. Mine surrounds me and I need a fresh perspective.
- Working in my garden. Tending to my plants, herbs, and vegetables eases the tensions and helps to center me.
- Sunday is a day of rest after one hour of line-edits from my current WIP. And I'm firm with the one hour. After I'm done, I'm lazy for the rest of the day.
- Meditate every morning. It doesn't matter if it's five or twenty minutes, I honor each morning with a positive approach.