Monday, March 21, 2016

I Write for Twenty

This is another episode of the "Mid-Life Crisis Series"...enjoy!

It seems like most writers are always trying for "more." Once they accomplish one goal, they're moving onto the next one. They want to sell more books, make another bestseller list, get a bigger contract, add more followers onto social media. I actually don't remember the last time I heard an author say, "Gee, I'm super content with my career exactly how it is. It's perfect."

Stop snickering.

Yeah, no one ever says that. As soon as you achieve one level of success, you're already looking at the next level. With barely a breath to enjoy that one shining moment.

I guess this sort of goes with the territory of working in a creative and highly competitive field.

Several things have happened recently that made me appreciate what I have, and not focus so much on what I don't have.

1. I saw a post about hate mail. Some poor author posted a hate email she received from a reader. I guess when you hit the "big time"--and have thousands of readers invested in your books--they can get ornery if things don't go just right...according to them. I've seen plenty of authors talking about hate mail.

Benefit of being small fries: No hate mail. I get very sweet thank-you notes from grannies (just got one this week!). So far--knock on quirky wood--I've only received kind and supportive notes, via email, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. I've received home-made gifts in the mail. I have a small posse of fans, and they are gracious and lovely.

2. Pressure of trad contracts. I've seen this happen repeatedly over the last couple of years, and it's heart-breaking. Newbie authors attain the writer's dream...agent, publisher, contract. But sales are lackluster, and eventually--after a humiliating rocky road--the authors lose their contract. The pressure to sell squashes all creative excitement. Their writing careers are about numbers and money. It's depressing as hell, especially since many of these authors are extremely talented.

Yes, being indie is a huge amount of work and fraught with the unknown. But at least I'm the only one concerned or not with my numbers. It's my choice.

3. Out-of-control fan girls/street teams. I've heard horror stories about crap going on with big reader loops, street teams, fan girl groups. I've also seen review comments that make me think restraining orders are not far off.

My little group of fans are refreshingly normal. We chat about gardens, glass, and Tom Hiddleston. I love my little posse!

4. I wish I could find the link for this, but alas, I cannot. Somewhere on social media I saw a post that said something like...Even if you only have twenty readers, that's fabulous. Don't be disappointed, be thrilled with those twenty.

It can be incredibly frustrating to publish a book and feel like we're floating in a sea of the unknown. Lost at Amazon, swimming in a pool of Stepbrother books and Motorcycle guys.

But I thought about this sentiment for a long time.

What if you only had twenty readers?

Only twenty.

Would you keep writing?

What if they adored your books. What if they sent you sweet thank-you notes and recommended you to their friends.

What if you got comments like this...

"It will be bittersweet [to read your final book]...I don't want the series to end."
"Find some Klaus cousins and write more Klaus books. That is all."
"This series is so unique and interesting...hope there is a way to continue it."
"What she said."
"This was my very first Penny Watson book and turned me into a fan of your quirky, unique stories."
"Loved these books!"
"I freakin' love these books so much."
"I reread your [Klaus books] every Christmas season...they're my favorite Christmas reads."
"I am addicted to Penny Watson's quirky romance stories...shortly after my son was born, my husband gave me an e-reader and the very first book I bought was Sweet Inspiration...On a constant watch for her next release..."

These are comments from eight readers. Lyn, Nanci, Regina, Rita, Kathleen, Stacey, Elizabeth, and Wendy.

Thank you, ladies.

I write for eight.

I write for twenty.

I write for one.

5. I will never make the USA Today bestseller list with this strange, quirky holiday series. I will never make six figures. I won't get a traditional publishing contract for the Klaus Brothers.

But I will make some readers happy.

I will make myself happy...writing something that is old-fashioned, creative, and sweet. Romantic. And one-of-a-kind.

For the first time in a very long while, I am appreciating my small niche. I have a wicked loyal posse of author friends, who are bright and funny and talented. I have a non-trendy, nichey group of books, with older characters, elves, and old-fashioned love stories.

I appreciate my place in this world, and I embrace my uniqueness. And my supportive readers and colleagues and friends.

I Write for Twenty.

All my best,

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Four Mini Reviews: Mail-Order Brides, A Tsunami Mystery, Filipino Power, and a Rock Star for the Win

Valentine's Rose by E. E. Burke

Oh, how I love a mail-order bride! This is one of my favorite tropes in romance, so I decided to take a chance on a new-to-me author, E. E. Burke. What a breath of fresh air. This short novel made quite an impression. It is beautifully written, the characters pop off the page, the romance is sweet and satisfying, and the story was chock full of fascinating details about the history of the railroad industry. Also, just look at that gorgeous cover! My only disappointment was that the sexual tension between the well-to-do British hero and the poor Irish heroine was fantastic--but without any relief since the book is "sweet" (kissing only). E. E. Burke also writes a sexier series called Steam! which I am definitely checking out. There will be more books in this series, and I'm looking forward to them since the secondary characters were promising, too.

Highly recommend this if you're looking for a quick, satisfying read with excellent quality writing.

The Kizuna Coast: A Rei Shimura Mystery by Sujata Massey

This is one of my favorite mystery series, with a really appealing main character who is half-Japanese and half-American. Sujata Massey masterfully blends art, history, and culture with compelling storylines (devastation of the Japanese tsunami and its after-math) and fascinating characters. Rei pulls us into her life straddling two cultures and gives us touching insights about both. The details about life in Japan--including food, art, cultural differences--bring these books alive. The mystery in this book was satisfactory, but once again it was the characters and the horror of the tsunami event that made me fall in love with this book.

Another winner. Loved it.

Under the Sugar Sun by Jennifer Hallock

This is an impressive debut by indie author Jennifer Hallock. It's also the first romance/historic fiction I've read set in the Philippines in the early 20th century. Since my husband/children are Filipino, I was super excited to dive into this story. Hallock's strengths include exquisite writing (especially considering this is her debut novel), and a rich attention to detail (this author has clearly done her research) that was blended nicely into the narrative. The pacing was good, and the nuance of this historical time frame was handled extremely well. The romance started off strong, but some questionable decisions by both the heroine and hero at the end of the book were frustrating. Overall, I still liked it, and I'm looking forward to reading the prequel novella, Hotel Oriente.

Hallock is definitely an author to watch. She has talent galore and a dedication to research that brings her historic fiction to life.

Young Teacher by Bobbi Ruggiero in '80s Mix Tape

I have a confession to make. I'm not too big on the whole "rock star trope" in romance. Nevertheless, when Bobbi Ruggiero had me beta-read her novella, I was shocked. This story--inspired by Don't Stand So Close To Me, the 1980s hit by The Police--is not what you'd expect with a rock star book. There is sweetness and romance and an adorable twist on the older woman-younger man trope. (She's the student, he's the teacher!). I loved this story. It's emotional and romantic, and Ruggiero's love of music comes shining through. Bobbi (who I affectionately call Bobbi Baby) is another new author-to-watch. Her writing voice is clean and modern and easy, and her fresh take on an old classic trope was fabulous.

Well played, Bobbi Baby. Well played.

That's all for now! I'll have some more reviews next week at Happy Heart Reads.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Romance is Dead

I've been thinking about the romance genre lately, and here's my observation.

I'm going to use a food analogy, since I love food. And analogies.

You can't clump all food books together into one category. Some food books are cookbooks, some are travel journals, some are fiction and some are non-fiction. Some are about baking bread and some are about restaurant life and some are about making sushi in Japan.

And if you insisted that EVERY book about food had to be categorized under the same umbrella term--FOOD--it would be confusing and ineffective and make no sense.

Some folks are looking for cookbooks about French food. And some folks want to read about Anthony Bourdain's experience as a sous-chef. And some want to read culinary cozy mysteries.

And so we have sub-categories, created by publishers and booksellers to facilitate sales and help customers identify the correct book for their "taste."

So what does this have to do with the romance genre?

At some point we need to realize that romance doesn't actually exist. There is no romance genre. You could argue that it must have a central love story and a happy ending, but even those parameters are no longer applicable.

The thing is...every reader has a very personal idea about what "romance" is--in general terms, and for the genre itself.

Some folks think books with criminal motorcycle club dudes who humiliate their "women" are romance.

Some folks think books with abduction, torture, and rape should be categorized as romance.

Should erotica and romance be clumped together under the same umbrella? Christian inspirational books with stepbrothers and stepfathers deflowering the new virgin in the family?

Just because these books have relationship arcs does not mean they belong in the same group. If your book has more than one person in it, it includes relationships. These relationships may or may not include love stories and/or sex.

Some "romance" novels have no sex.

Some "romance" novels have graphic orgies.

Honestly, erotica, erotic romance, and romance have no business being clumped together.

But it gets even dicier than that. Because the core concept of "romance" is now blurry.

This group is fragmented for a reason.

Simple, really.


We just don't.

Just like the reader who is obsessed with baking bread could give two shits about Anthony Bourdain's chef experience, the Christian inspirational "romance" reader is appalled by books with stepbrother orgies.

And the person who loves "edgy" NA books thinks the squeaky clean Harlequins are for fuddy-duds.

We don't belong together.

But the publishing industry knows one thing. ROMANCE SELLS.

Romance novels sell...A LOT.

And so, if you slap "romance" on a book description--with a generic cover and title and blurb--your sales will rise.

What does this mean?

It means that the term "romance" as a publishing tool is meaningless. It could be used on a porno book just as easily as an inspirational.

It means that readers have a more difficult time finding books, unless you're sticking with tried-and-true authors you trust.

I think arguing about what "real" romance is--as a genre--is a pointless task. Romance is a personal thing, conceptually and genre-related as well. There are readers who still point to Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood historicals and say "that's what real romance is supposed to be."

And there are new romance readers who have never heard of these authors. Their ideas about romance are totally different.

Trying to fit all these books into one category is ridiculous. It's not helpful for the reader searching for the right book, and it's certainly not helpful for the authors who are trying to find appropriate readers.

But I don't think the industry cares. It cares about making money. And "ROMANCE" sells.

So who cares if your romance novel doesn't actually include a hero or a happy ending?

I care, cried the dinosaur.