Monday, December 14, 2015

Confessions about my new rom-com, The Fix Up

It's release day for my newest romantic comedy, The Fix Up, which means it's time to expose a couple things to you guys.

Not those things. It's snowy outside, and my ladybits are very susceptible to cold.

Nope, I'm going to go ahead and expose myself as one of the laziest authors alive. That's the only way I can explain why I (a woman whose day job of 15+ years has been in marketing and public relations) decided to write a romantic comedy with a heroine who works in marketing and public relations.

It was a real stretch.

Not only that, but I have a lifelong fondness for whip-smart, nerdy boys with a great sense of humor and a healthy dose of social awkwardness to match my own.

Guess who the hero is in my new book, The Fix Up?

Technically, I guess we're all calling Ben Langley a "sexy geek," but make no mistake — this man is my favorite kind of nerd. The kind who thinks introducing a woman to the worst sci-fi movie ever made (Plan 9 From Outer Space) and then teaching her to thumb wrestle is an effective form of seduction (it is). The kind of nerd who can turn a woman on by talking about the chemical properties of fukalite (is it hot in here?)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my newest romantic comedy, which is the first book in a new series called First Impressions. The whole series will be based around a marketing and public relations firm by that name (did I mention the laziness?) and the second book will come out in June and star a character you meet in The Fix Up.

You can nab The Fix Up here for only $2.99:
Oh, and by the way....I've got a pretty huge blog tour going on right now, with tons of opportunities to win cool prizes. For instance, I'll be at Bitten by Books from noon PST until late into the evening on Tuesday, Dec. 15 chatting about The Fix Up and giving away $50 in Amazon gift cards. Wanna join the fun? RSVP early using this link and you'll get 25 bonus entries in the giveaway.

Speaking of exposing secrets, did you already see the video I made with author Katee Robert? If not, you can check it out here:

So now that I've confessed my laziness, how about your share yours? Comment about a time YOU were supremely lazy for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card. I'll choose a winner on Friday, Dec. 18. Good luck!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Are handcuffs and wine a tax write-off?

An interesting side-effect of a writing career that finally takes off after a decade of so-so earnings is that you find yourself needing professional help.

I’m not talking about a sex therapist (though that does sound fun). I mean folks like a publicity agent and a tax accountant.

The former is a bit ironic, considering I’ve worked in marketing and PR for 15+ years, but there comes a time when an author realizes her time is better spent actually writing the books, as opposed to telling folks about them.

Then there’s the tax guy. Last year was the first time since I started writing fiction in 2002 that I actually showed a small profit on this author gig, and since 2015 is shaping up to be a bit heftier, I knew we needed a tax pro who’d worked with authors before.

The one we chose came well-referred by a creative colleague, and I knew we’d found the right guy when he walked in looking like a spitting image of Neil Young, and led us to an office that had walls adorned by Tibetan prayer flags and a Jimi Hendrix banner.

Did I mention he’s right next door to a marijuana dispensary? (Legal in Oregon, lest you feel the need to phone authorities).

At any rate, he cautioned us up front that he wouldn’t support any creative accounting in which we attempted to write off a personal Lear Jet. That said, he encouraged us to think outside the box in terms of what constitutes “research” and “inspiration” for my writing career.

I thought about it a moment. “I’m known for writing a lot of shower sex scenes,” I told him. “Could we write off our recent remodel project where we installed a two-headed tile shower?”

“No,” he said. “But I like how you think.”

So I thought some more. Not about tax write-offs, necessarily, but about the odd things that count as “research” when you’re a romantic comedy author. Sunday morning I did a guided tour of a local cave, an expense I could easily defend to an auditor because I have proof that a cave scene will appear in my June 2016 release with Entangled Publishing (tentatively titled The Hang Up, and though that one’s not for sale yet, you can pre-order the first book in the series, The Fix Up, which comes out December 14).

Other forms of “research” are a bit harder to categorize. In August my husband and I went out for a nice dinner to celebrate my 41st birthday, and we spent half the meal eavesdropping on a large family group. At the center of the discussion were two middle-aged brothers who engaged in such competitive conversation that I expected them to whip out their meat wands and rest them on the table to be measured. The bizarre dynamic between them inspired a key piece of the story for my third rom-com with Montlake that’s scheduled for release September 2016 (also not for sale yet, but you can pre-order my second book with them, Let it Breathe, which comes out March 2016).

And speaking of Let it Breathe, that book is set at a fictional Oregon winery that’s based around a number of real-life wineries I visited while researching the story. While I probably won’t be permitted to write off every bottle of wine I’ve ever consumed, I’m guessing I’ll be allowed to write off at least a few of the expenses I incurred (i.e. drank) while crafting that story.

Then there’s The Fix Up. It’s the first book in a new series called First Impressions, and all the books will be based around a PR and branding agency. Since my day job career has spanned 15+ years in that industry, it’s not tough to figure out I’ll be drawing from my own experiences in writing some of the scenes (though if my boss is reading, I swear the sexy scene in the conference room is just a figment of my imagination).

Does that mean my entire day job career counts as “research?” When you’re a writer, doesn’t everything that happens around you technically become fodder for your stories?

In the end, I’ll trust Neil Young  the new tax guy to tell us what’s permitted as a write-off and what’s not.

I still think the shower should count, though.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Does beating yourself up count as BDSM?

It occurred to me the other day that I'm approaching the six year anniversary of this blog.

The impending blog-a-versary gives me a twinge of guilt not unlike an uninvited nipple tweak from a stranger with chilly hands.

When I started this blog in Febraury 2010, I somehow managed to post every single day. Not only that, but I replied to everyone who took time to comment (sometimes 50-100 commenters per entry), plus I wrote weekly content for several other blogs and still found time to write the books that necessitated the blog in the first place.

These days I'm lucky to post here twice a month.

Frankly, I could spend hours beating myself up for things I used to be able to do and can no longer accomplish. Don't get me started on putting my ankles behind my head.

But then I remember I don't have hours to spend on self-flagellation these days, which is unfortunate since flagellating myself is one of my favorite pastimes. Or maybe I'm confusing flagellation with another verb.

In any case, a lot has changed in my life since I started this blog. Back then, I had a brand new three-book deal for my first romantic comedies, but the first one wasn't slated to hit shelves for another 18 months. Making Waves (the aforementioned debut novel) was already written, as was my second contracted book, Believe it or Not, which meant I had a long, leisurely time to write the third book in the contract.

That's a far cry from today's schedule, which has me contracted to publish five books in the next 12 months with two different publishers. (Incidentally, two of those are up for pre-order already. The Fix Up comes out December 2015, and Let it Breathe comes out March 2016. The other three, not exactly written. Or plotted. Or brainstormed. Or....hell, here we go again with the self-flagellation).

Besides the changes in my writing and publishing schedule, I've seen a helluva lot of change in my personal life since the start of this blog. Back then, I thought things were hunky dory with my marriage of 13 years, but I had no idea I was on the precipice of a divorce that would consume every ounce of my time, energy, and soul for more than a year.

Things are much happier these days, and my remarriage to an amazing guy last September gave me the added bonus of two incredible stepkids. Of course, life with young kids (even on a part-time basis) goes hand-in-hand with family dinners and soccer games and cross country meets and parent/teacher conferences and pumpkin carving and a million other activities which -- while joyful -- are time commitments I didn't have six years ago.

I don't mean for any of this to sound like a list of excuses for why I'm not blogging every day anymore. On the contrary, it's a reminder to myself of why it's okay to cut myself a little slack every now and then and accept the fact that my life, my career, and my schedule are always evolving. If my existence weren't a constant string of changes, that would be cause for alarm (though admittedly I could do with a bit less change when it comes to gravity's effect on the contents of my bra).

Are you as prone to self-flagellation as I am? What are your tricks for learning to cut yourself some slack? Please share in the comments!

Oh, and even though I've slipped to posting here only a couple times a month, I do have some new avenues for staying in touch with readers and friends. Just last week, I launched a new author Facebook page (and yes, I acknowledge the irony of having a day job that's 80% Facebook content creation and strategy, yet it took me five years to start an author Facebook page).

Anyway, if you go here and like me, I promise you'll get the inside scoop on new releases, giveaways, contests, random pet photos, inappropriate jokes, and more.

Also, I'm getting ready to launch a new author newsletter. That will be chock full of exclusive content like excerpts, behind-the-scenes details from my books, and oodles of giveaways. You can sign up for that here (and I promise not to spam you. Honest.)

Now back to the issue of self-flagellation! Do you use your right or your left hand for that?

Monday, October 5, 2015

On money, sacrifice, and awkward questions from strangers

Lately I've noticed an interesting phenomenon.

No, it's not the fact that those trendy, colorful silicone spatulas make great bedroom toys (though that's a phenomenon worth exploring, too).

It's the frequency with which people want to talk with me about money. Sometimes it's an offhanded comment from a colleague who wants to know whether my recent success with About that Fling and the Front & Center series means I can afford to quit my part-time day-job in PR. Sometimes it's strangers flat out asking me how much I make as an author.

I've never been comfortable sharing my writing-related dollar figures with anyone who doesn't either edit me, represent me, or grope me. But the frequency with which I'm getting the money questions makes me wonder if I don't owe it to readers and fellow authors to address the subject and maybe clear up a misconception or two.

Anyone watching my rankings over the last year could probably guess there's a bit of cash that comes with having books landing (and staying!) in the top 20 on Amazon's bestseller list. It's true, I've seen some sales figures and royalty statements lately that are unlike anything I've had in my previous years as an author.

But the last part of that phrase is key. My previous years as an author....

Some of you are familiar with my long, drawn-out path to publication, but here's the story in a nutshell: After a decade of writing for my supper as a journalist and marketing geek, I started trying to write fiction in 2002. After a few manuscripts and a lot of rejections, I landed my first book deal in 2005, then lost it a year later when the Harlequin imprint I was writing for was canceled a month before my book's scheduled debut. I wrote another book, got an agent, spent a year racking up rejections and realizing that agent wasn't the right fit. I signed with Wolfson Literary Agency in January 2008 and spent the next couple years writing more books and racking up a whole helluva lot more rejections.

During this period, I made a conscious choice to downgrade my day-job career so I could devote more time to writing. I took a massive pay cut, but the trade-off was that I had more time for writing. It was a big gamble, and I felt the sting of it over the next two years when my agent and I didn't see a dime from any of my writing.

Then came my three-book romantic comedy deal with Sourcebooks in February 2010. Hooray! I've finally made it. Right?

Well, not really. While it's true I got an advance, it was a tiny fraction of the money I'd given up when I made that choice to scale back my day-job. The first book didn't come out until August 2011, and while Making Waves was well-received and well-distributed, it was hardly a runaway bestseller. There's also the fact that royalties move at the speed of two sloths humping in maple syrup, so the writing income was neither predictable nor very noteworthy.

It was during this same period that I went through a rather unexpected divorce. Getting divorced isn't a whole lot of fun under the best of circumstances, but doing it at the bottom of a recession is about as fun as chewing off your own genitals. I lost my house, my savings, and a fair amount of my limited sanity. Since my writing career wasn't raking in the big bucks, I knew the smart thing to do would be to accept my day-job boss's offer to bump my part-time job to full-time and trade the writing hours for a more reliable income.

But that's not what I chose. I stayed the course with the author gig, cranking out more books (and yes, racking up more rejections). Believe it or Not came out in March 2012 to fairly dismal sales, and then my third contracted book, Let it Breathe, was deemed by my publisher as "not the right third book for your career."

I went back to the drawing board and wrote a whole new book that eventually became Frisky Business and came out in May 2014. I also followed my (very smart, very underpaid) agent's advice and branched out with other publishers, cranking out the Getting Dumped series and signing on with Entangled Publishing for a short novella and a handful of military-themed romantic comedies that would eventually become the Front & Center series (Marine for Hire in February 2014, Fiancée for Hire in July 2014, Best Man for Hire in December 2014, and Protector for Hire in June 2015).

Somewhere in the middle of all that, the money began to trickle in. We're not talking "quit the day-job" territory, but 2014 was the first year the writing gig wasn't claimed as a loss on my taxes.

Let me repeat that: I began writing fiction in 2002, and after 12 years of rejections and sacrifices and book deals and good reviews and bad reviews and ups and downs, I finally, finally showed a profit on my writing in 2014.

I thought a lot about that last week when my agent forwarded me my first royalty statement for About that Fling, which spent most of the month of August among Amazon's top 10 bestsellers. I was working at my standup desk at the day-job when I got it, and I had to sit down for a minute and just stare at the numbers. We're not talking "buy a personal Learjet" amounts, but it was the biggest check I'd seen in more than a decade of trying to make it as an author.

As I stared at that statement, elation gave way to something that resembled . . . guilt?

I can name a dozen author pals who've worked every bit as hard as I have and still haven't reaped the rewards. My head was swimming with thoughts of which bills to pay off or how much to sock into retirement and whether my new husband and I might get to take a vacation to celebrate our one-year anniversary. But part of me felt like the whole thing wasn't quite real. Like someone might walk in and grab the check out of my hand. "Sorry," the check-snatching stranger will say. "That's not really yours. Keep trying, though, and you'll make it eventually."

My husband and I keep a list of splurges we call "the blue sky list." They're the things we'd consider blowing money on if we suddenly won the lottery or robbed a bank. I looked at that list this past weekend and thought about whether one or two of the items on it might be within reach.

Then I thought about 13 years of making day-job career choices that meant swapping bigger paychecks and retirement security for the possibility this author thing might someday pay off. If you added up all those sacrifices and put a monetary value on them, the amount would tower over the figures on that royalty statement and laugh and laugh and laugh like the royalty statement has junk the size of a shriveled Vienna sausage.

If I could hit the rewind button and go back 13 years, would I make all the same choices? Probably not all of them – that crotchless teddy was ill-advised. But for the most part, I feel like I made the best career decisions I could make at the time.

But if I did have that rewind button and I took my 41-year-old-self back to visit my 28-year-old self, what would we say to each other? If my 28-year-old-self knew about the struggles that lay ahead – both financial and personal – would she have forged ahead anyway?

I like to think so, but I'm honestly not sure.

One thing I can say is that I love my life and my writing career, and yes, even my day-job (I still have it, I still love it. Royalty checks are fickle beasts, and having steady monthly income is important).

But I'm happy with how things have turned out, even if the path to get here wasn't what I might have expected 13 years ago.

Maybe that's the definition of success?

Monday, September 21, 2015

On cat barf and celebrating the small things

I woke this morning to the startling discovery that one of the cats barfed on the bedroom floor.

OK, that wasn't the startling discovery. We have five cats, so barf is an everyday treat.

This bad boy is on sale here for 99-cents!
No, the startling discovery was that Marine for Hire was sitting at #15 on Amazon's "Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store" list. Considering this book has been out since February 2014, and considering its previous best rank was around #132, this was big news.

I shared the news with my husband as I climbed groggily into the shower with him. "Congratulations," he said. "How are you going to celebrate?"

"Well," I said. "Since it's 5:30 in the morning, I'm going to start with a vigorous session of Pilates with my personal trainer, followed by a flight to New York to have brunch with my agent."

"Uh, what?"

"That's code for 'clean up the cat barf' and 'fold laundry.'"

He politely refrained from pointing out my code sucks, though he did point out something I hadn't realized: With About that Fling still hovering in the low 30s on the same Amazon bestseller list, that means I currently have two books in Amazon's top 40.

Quite an accomplishment for an author who spent the last four years seeing mostly mediocre sales, and the previous six or seven years before that hearing editor after editor say, "sorry, but romantic comedy just doesn't sell well."

I'd like to pretend my day's plans got more exotic from there, but the fact of the matter is that I'm up at 5:30 because I urgently need to write 6,000 words today for a book that comes out next fall. And my fervent hope with those 6,000 words is that at the end of the day, 1,000 of them might be salvageable.

That's kinda how it goes with this author gig. To the best of my knowledge, there's no magical moment where you stop writing drivel on a regular basis. You just get better at distinguishing the drivel from the good stuff.

And as far as I know, there will be no point where I stop having to plant my butt in the chair, sit down at the keyboard, and write until my fingertips are sore even when I'm tired or cranky or so uninspired that it feels like I'm wearing a fur coat while slogging through a vat of honey.

God knows I'm not complaining – I love this job, and I feel damn lucky that I get to do it. But I do think authors (along with a whole host of other people in different careers) need to do a better job of celebrating the mundane, day-to-day accomplishments. You got up this morning and put on pants? Good for you! Have a burrito! You got through your email inbox by noon or wrote 500 words or organized your sex toy collection in alphabetical order? You're a rock star! Pat your fine self on the back and feel good about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, that cat barf isn't going to clean itself. Well, not unless I let the dog have a crack at it. Hey, there's an idea . . .