Monday, May 26, 2014

The week you all became booksellers

A couple weeks ago, I got some great news about my new romantic comedy Frisky Business: The book has one of the widest distributions of any book I've ever published, with copies stocked at WalMart, Barnes & Noble, Fred Meyer, Meijer, and a variety of independent bookstores around the country and in Canada. Amazing, right?

Then I got some not-so-great news from my editor.

The sell-through for the first week wasn't so hot. Less than 20%, to be exact. There were tons of copies out there, but they weren't flying off the shelves and into people's shopping carts.

I kept that news to myself, content to tuck my tail between my legs while crossing my fingers for luck (a feat of dexterity, if I do say so myself).

But then something happened.

It started with a few Facebook and Twitter friends sharing pictures of my book in the wild. Since I adore seeing these kinds of photos, I gathered a few of my favorites and made this little collage in Photoshop:

Click to make it bigger and see all the cool locations people found Frisky Business.

That led to more readers sharing photos of Frisky Business. Apparently, the book is quite popular with pets:

One reader shared her plans to take Frisky Business with her on vacation to Greece and Italy. She's been sharing photos of the book at major landmarks along the way:

Frisky Business goes on vacation in Greece and Italy with one fabulous reader.

Then the photos really started to pour in:

Indiana, PA (WalMart)
Portland, OR (Fred Meyer)
Bastrop, TX (WalMart)

Cape Coral, FL (WalMart)

Chicago, IL (Meijer)
Northern KY (WalMart)
Rogers, AR (WalMart)
I offered to mail a handful of signed bookmarks to anyone willing to stuff a few inside the copies they spotted at their local stores. A number of readers took me up on it:

Saginaw, MI (Barnes & Noble)
stuffed with signed bookmarks.

Other readers got creative with sticky notes:

Hays, KS (WalMart)

Now here's where things get interesting. The more photos people shared, the more I started to see messages like this one:

So if readers were snagging last copies, that had to mean other copies had sold, right?

I checked my Author Central account at Amazon, which gives me a very, very fuzzy look at sales numbers. Sure enough, Frisky Business sold more copies in its second week than it did in the first.

But how? Surely a handful of Facebook and Twitter pals weren't moving the needle that much, were they?

Well, maybe. Here's how:

Besides the fact that this Facebook pal prompted a total stranger to buy my book, I love that the comment thread here connected two readers who didn't previously know each other, but realized they lived near one another. They proceeded to have a lengthy comment exchange about where to find my book in their local area.

So Facebook friends taking pictures of my book at their local stores were prompting bystanders to buy the book? Not only that, but total strangers were forging connections with one another over social media and helping each other to locate and purchase my book?

I wish I could say this whole thing was some brilliant marketing scheme I came up with based on calculated data and savvy strategy. It wasn't. But it wasn't dumb luck, either.

It was friendship, pure and simple. It was the joy of making genuine, honest-to-goodness connections with people on social media and the resultant urge to support someone who's become a friend.

When people ask me if authors should bother with social media, this is what I'm talking about when I grab them by the lapels, give them a hard shake, and cry "Good God, yes!"

This is how it's supposed to work, guys. Not authors screeching "buy my book!" or "like my page!" from their social media soapboxes. Just friends helping friends and supporting authors they've gotten to know.

On that note, I'd love to see more photos of Frisky Business in the wild and hear any stories you can share about prompting friends or strangers to give the book a try. Please share!

And thank you, friends. I really mean that. You guys rock.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Things I probably shouldn't confess about Frisky Business

I feel like I need to confess something about my new romantic comedy, Frisky Business. It's something that might actually annoy my editor a little bit, so if you happen to be, sorry. Maybe come back next week when I describe my latest search for garage porn?

There's a complicated story behind Frisky Business. Back in 2010 when I signed a three-book contract for romantic comedies with Sourcebooks, we agreed my third book would be a story set at a make-believe Oregon winery with a divorced heroine harboring a longtime crush on her ex-husband's best friend, a recovering alcoholic who's just gotten his life back together. The story wasn't written yet when we signed the contract, but we all agreed on the overall plot and a release date sometime in late 2012.

Then, life happened. I went through a pretty lousy divorce that occupied most of my energy between the spring of 2010 and the spring of 2011. Since that was the same period in which I was writing the aforementioned third book, you can imagine the story took on a slightly darker tone. It was still romantic comedy, of course, but between the plot elements of divorce and alcoholism, and the fact that the author was struggling to feel romantic or comedic, the book was a bit more somber than Making Waves and Believe It Or Not (the first two books in that contract).

But I pressed on, and by January 2012, I'd cycled through a couple rounds of revisions with my editor and felt pretty good about the book. Then I got a call from my agent. She'd spoken at length with my editor, who had begun to feel this was not the right third book. My editor was very clear that she loved the writing and the story, and that they weren't rejecting it for editorial reasons (an important distinction when it comes to book contracts). In fact, I had the option to go ahead with the book and the release date if I wanted to. But my editor cautioned me that books with alcohol-related themes weren't selling well at all, and my agent and I discussed what low sales would mean for my career at the tail end of a three-book deal.

I agreed to go back to the drawing board and write a whole new book with whole new release date somewhere off in the distance.

I began to write again. I came up with two new story ideas, including one with a heroine working as a professional fund-raiser for a museum and wildlife sanctuary in Bend, Oregon. Fed up with wealthy jerks, she vows to date only blue-collar men, which proves inconvenient when she falls for the unlikely millionaire serving as chairman of the board of directors. I wrote the first three chapters and handed them off to my editor.

She loved the story, except for a few small details. The heroine shouldn't be a fund-raiser, the hero shouldn't be a board chairman, and the museum setting would never work. Oh, and I needed to focus on making the story "more mainstream."

In other words, change pretty much everything.

At that point, I will admit it – I kinda lost my shit. There may have been cursing and hurling of objects. I'm pretty sure wine was involved. My agent coaxed me off the ledge. "Just take a break and write something fun," she said, shoving me toward a quirky 12,00-word novella project that ended up becoming Eat, Play, Lust.

After a month or so, we regrouped. I clarified with my editor that the "museum" was more of a quirky wildlife sanctuary resembling the High Desert Museum in Bend, and we all agreed that setting would be fine as long as I steered clear of making it sound like a stuffy art gallery.

Ultimately though, everything came down to this advice from my agent: "Write the book you want to write, the way you need to write it. Just forget everything else."

So I did. I kept the proposed setting, and I kept my characters' professions. Then I added a storyline about antique stone dildos and a subplot about a lesbian relationship.

"Um, this is pretty much the opposite of mainstream," one of my critique partners pointed out when I finished. "And what's with all the weird sex euphemisms?"

I turned the book in to my editor. I was absolutely, positively certain she would hate it. I was ready. Deep down, I think even my agent was bracing herself for the contract to be terminated.

Then, my editor floored us all. "I love it," she said.

Her only change was a request to switch a minor character's name from Mark to something that sounded less like my heroine's name, Marley.

That was it? I was dumbfounded. And I will admit something right now – I thought she was messing with me. I thought she actually hated the book, and this was her way of making the whole thing go away.

So as my publication date approached these last few months, I've been bracing myself. I was prepared for scathing reviews, for readers expressing annoyance in their Amazon comments. 

Instead, I got this:

“Up-and-coming romance author Fenske sets up impeccable internal and external conflict and sizzling sexual tension for a poignant love story between two engaging characters, then infuses it with witty dialogue and lively humor. An appealing blend of lighthearted fun and emotional tenderness.”
–Kirkus Reviews 

“Fenske’s fluffy, frothy novel is a confection made of colorful characters, compromising situations and cute dogs…This one’s for readers who prefer a tickled funny bone rather than a tale of woe.”
– RT Book Reviews 

 “Loaded with outrageous euphemisms for the sex act between any type of couple and repeated near intimate misses, Fenske’s latest is a clever tour de force on finding love despite being your own worst emotional enemy. Sweet and slightly oddball, this title belongs in most romance collections.”
Library Journal 

Another Frisky Business surprise – discovering
it's being sold at Fred Meyer and Kroger around the U.S.
I know authors always act surprised and humbled by positive reviews. Hell, I've done it myself. But never before have I been so utterly, completely dumbfounded by the praise that's been heaped on Frisky Business.

So there you have it. My true confession about my latest romantic comedy release. I feel so much better now, don't you? Perhaps we should all do a few hail marys and break out the communion wine.

Since you've read all the way to the end of this story, I feel like I should reward you somehow (or at least one of you, anyway). Share in the comments about one time YOU received praise or compliments you totally weren't expecting. I'll choose one winner next Monday, May 19, to receive a signed copy of Frisky Business. Cheers!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ten things you’ll never hear me say (well ALMOST never, I swear)

  1. Not tonight, dear. I have a headache.
  2. Another glass of wine? No thank you, I’ll have juice.
  3. Let’s be serious, folks.
  4. Adding another sex scene to this book would compromise my artistic integrity.
  5. I don’t really need pets in my life.
  6. That dirty joke was completely inappropriate.
  7. I think I’ll just wait for the movie instead of reading the book.
  8. Stop groping me, I’m trying to write here.
  9. I’d love to come over for dinner, just let me put on some shoes.
  10. Buy my book.

Okay, that last one on the list? I hate it. I can’t stand authors who think “marketing” means beating readers over the head with your book until they fall to their knees and whip out a credit card. If you ever catch me doing that on Twitter or Facebook or in your local bookstore, you have permission to grab me by the tongue and drag me around the floor until my boobs are worn flat.

That said, I am a romantic comedy author who keeps a roof over my head with the advances and royalties from the sale of my books. I find that having a roof over my head greatly enhances my ability to produce more books (not to mention it keeps the snow out of my wineglass).

Tuesday, May 6 is release day for Frisky Business, my newest romantic comedy from Sourcebooks. Kirkus Reviews recently wrote wonderful things about the book, including "up-and-coming romance author Fenske sets up impeccable internal and external conflict and sizzling sexual tension for a poignant love story between two engaging characters, then infuses it with witty dialogue and lively humor. An appealing blend of lighthearted fun and emotional tenderness."

If you like all that stuff, this book might be for you. If you don’t like that stuff, this book also makes a lovely doorstop, flyswatter, or coaster for your wineglass.

  • Here’s where you’ll find it on Amazon
  • Here’s where you’ll find it on Kobo

Or you can wander into your local bookstore and ask for it. If they don’t have it in stock, try throwing yourself on the floor and pounding your fists and feet on the ground while screaming the book title until they offer to order it for you.

But even if you don’t buy the book, we’re still friends. Can I come over for dinner? I might even put on shoes if you want.