2015 By The Numbers

Wow! What a year! Everyone seems to be doing year-end posts, and I’ve been really enjoying reading them so I thought I’d do one too. On January 1, 2015 I had stories in three anthologies, two of which were about to be discontinued, and no single titles of my own. On January 1, 2016 I will have had eight single-title releases and one anthology, making for a total of nine stories released in 2015. WINNING BRACKET, RESILIENT HEART, SERVED HOT, BAKED FRESH, DELIVERED FAST, TREBLE MAKER, WAITING FOR CLARK, HOW WE BEGAN, and STATUS UPDATE all released in 2015, and man did I ever learn a lot about publishing in the process.

  • Traditional publishing takes anywhere from two years to seven months from a finished draft to publication.  Most of what was published in 2015 was written in 2013 and 2014. This means that I have to get used to having multiple novels in various stages of production while drafting something else entirely–I had to learn new juggling skills to go from proofs on one novel to developmental edits on another to drafting a third, all in the span of a couple of days.
  • In contrast, in self-publishing, the process is much condensed. WAITING FOR CLARK and my story in HOW WE BEGAN were the only two things that I drafted this year that also came out this year. However, I learned that no matter whether a novel goes through the traditional process or self-publishing, it still has to go through all the stages of production–drafting, editing, critique, developmental edits, line edits, proofs, and formatting, and certain things simply can’t be rushed, namely edits. I think more than anything in 2015, I learned the value of good editing at multiple stages and came to absolutely embrace its importance on the finished product.
  • Most of what I drafted in 2015 will come out in 2016, and I learned it’s both awesome and frustrating to have readers wanting the books NOW NOW NOW. It’s hard when I finish a couple that I totally love, knowing it’s going to be months before readers get the same experience.
  • Don’t get caught up in negativity! One of my biggest lessons of 2015 with so many releases was learning to let go of my books. Once they are out in the world, they belong to the readers, not me. I love getting tagged on positive reviews and there have been so many amazing moments this year with reviews and reader interactions that made me tear up in a good way, but I’ve learned to not go hunting bad reviews down.  A bad review can bring me down for days and that sort of heartache makes the rest of production difficult–learning to let go is the best thing I did for myself this year.
  • Treasure my writer and reader friends–so much of this business is lonely and there’s so much waiting involved. Screenshot 2015-10-05 09.10.53Having a good crew of friends makes the journey much more bearable.
  • Celebrate the small victories! One of my best moments in 2015 was the short moment that WAITING FOR CLARK was the #1 Free gay romance on Amazon. Victory dance time! Each release day gets celebrated too and all the little victories along the way–getting a draft, finishing edits, getting a cover, releasing into the wild. Enjoy the ride!

 

In addition to these lessons, 2015 was the first year that I kept careful track of my process. This is what my year overview looks like:

Screenshot 2015-12-30 15.58.50

Holy cow! I touched 18 separate projects this year! That’s ridiculous! The number one this I learned from keeping track of my progress like this is that it takes me two months to draft a book. I simply can’t promise a book longer than 30k any sooner than that. If you look at the spreadsheet, there are very predictable stairsteps of writing months. Knowing this will be very helpful to me going forward. Also, months where a ton of edits arrived tend to be lower word count months, so I have to make sure to account for the time those parts of the process take.

You can see the edits/word count correlation more clearly here:

Screenshot 2015-12-30 15.56.48

While I averaged almost 30,000 words a month this year, May, August, and November were far under that because of some tricky edits. Having enough time to deal with the edits is a key part of my planning going into 2016. My biggest word count month was December with 46,176. I don’t think that’s something I can count on each year though, as it was really challenging with family stuff and the holidays. Building in more time for breaks is key this coming year. I finished the year with 355,860 words and 7,849 pages edited (all those multiples passes per book add up fast!), and it feels like this is probably around my top speed. It would be kind of cool to hit 365,000 words next year, but the simple fact of the matter is that I’m not the fastest writer, not the fastest per hour writer for sure, and I need to just make my peace with that and celebrate what I did accomplish. Finishing six books and two short stories is a fabulous accomplishment that I feel super proud about.

What’s coming in 2016? All the books I wrote in 2015! They’ll all be released into the wild! YAY!!!!

  • LOVE ME TENOR in Feb
  • KNIT TIGHT in April
  • BETA TEST in May
  • ALL NOTE LONG in August
  • CONNECTION ERROR in October

Then in December comes Portland Heat #5, and I’ll start that book in January.  So far this year, I know that I’ll be drafting Portland Heat #5 and #6 and doing a freebie Reader’s Choice Novella with Wendy Qualls. (Reader’s choice = my facebook group will be voting on the characters, the setting, and other fun stuff! Join us at Annabeth’s Angels!)

I’ve got other goals for my reader group and my newsletter:

2016 plans

I can’t wait to see what else I get to write this year! Yay books! Yay words yet to be written and worlds I haven’t dreamed of yet! Remember too that I love hearing from my readers–if you want stories for secondary characters or ficlets for a favorite couple, feel free to let me know! No promises, but I love when you guys are as excited as me for more from a particular universe!

In addition to all those words, 2016 is going to be the year of balance for me. More family time. More long conversations with friends. More walks. Healthier eating. More yoga. I’m not making huge word count increasing goals because what I most want is to hold steady at this production level while also bringing more balance back to my life. And that is my wish for all of you for 2016–More books, more worlds to explore, and balance in your lives to enjoy it all.

 

 

#NaNoWriMo Tips: How I Write 50K in a Month

Over the course of 2014, I’ve written 50K in a month more than once, but this comes after a decade of trying and usually failing to do #NaNoWriMo and I thought it might be helpful if I used my experience to talk about why I failed to meet my goals in the past, and what I’m doing differently these days.  I’m going to share  what works for me, but remember, each person is different and your path to success may look very different. FIND YOUR PROCESS AND ROCK THE HECK OUT OF IT.

  1. Set High Daily Word Count Goals. For years, I did the whole “Divide 50k by 30 days” thing every November. And every Thanksgiving, I found myself way behind and giving up on the whole enterprise. These days, I set a weekly goal of 10k (October had 5 weeks! Bonus words!), but more importantly, I set a daily goal of 3k. That sounds like a lot, but as long as I hit that goal four days a week, I stay ahead of my weekly goal. This is important because life has a way of mucking up word count goals–writing as much as you can on quiet days gives you a cushion for the crazy days when you get 250 words and call it a success.
  2. Write Every Day.  Those 250 word days? They’re essential to the process of keeping the creative channel flowing. I keep a notebook with me at all times–half a scene scribbled while my kid is at swimming practice or in the car while my husband drives is still forward progress. On crazy days, the only words I might get is the rough outline of a scene before I fall asleep, but those words can set me up for a big word count day the next morning.
  3. Make words your priority. Get the document open before you do anything else with your day. Try to knock that first 500 words out of the way before your coffee, before checking social media or email. The first 1,000 words of the day are ALWAYS the hardest. Always. Get them done early and the rest of the words will come that much easier.
  4. Sprint. Do #1k1hr or Write or Die or one of the Sprint Groups on Facebook or simply just push yourself against the clock. If you only have 15 minutes, challenge yourself to 15 minutes. Don’t wait for a 1 hour block if that’s not how your life works. The key is to get the words down without stopping to edit or second-guess yourself.
  5. Plot and keep plotting. This is particular to me, but every hour I spend plotting saves me weeks of struggle. It took me years to find a plotting method that works for me, so don’t give up if you want to plot but haven’t found your method yet. Re-access your plot constantly. Always know what your next scene will be before you fall asleep for the day. If writing out of order works for you, try that. It doesn’t work for me, so I always have to stay on top of what comes next. The key is to not lose momentum.
  6. Reward yourself daily, weekly, and monthly. You need to be proud of what you accomplish, even when you fall short of big goals. If you meet a smaller goal, celebrate that. Give yourself little rewards like a new book, extra reading time, permission to watch a movie, painted nails, a fancy coffee, or whatever works for you.
  7. Decide what you can sacrifice & do it.  You can’t do it all. I made this mistake many a November. It’s really, really hard to slide 1-3k words in on top of everything else you have going on in your life. For myself, I’ve almost completely given up TV, news reading, and my knitting time is limited to car trips and waiting rooms. For someone else, maybe social media is the thing that needs to go or maybe you can eat out less, rely more on packaged meals, give up your morning paper–whatever trade-offs are realistic for YOU.
  8. Don’t skimp on self-care. You want to be able to do this more than once right? You want to not burn out! Don’t sacrifice sleep, regular meals, healthy choices, or exercise. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Re-arrange your life as needed, but make it long-term sustainable changes and don’t sacrifice your well-being.
  9. When you get stuck, keep going, but change it up.  You WILL hit a wall where the words don’t seem to want to come. It’s your designated writing time, but the muse seems to be on vacation. You MUST push through this lull even if you only manage 100 words in an hour. Some of my rut busters: Take a shower or a long bath, brainstorming in the water. Go for a walk, focusing on the plot problem. Move your laptop to a different room in the house. Go to a coffee house. Talk the problem out with a friend. Free write by hand. Re-read what you recently wrote. Keep your focus on writing, but don’t be afraid to try new things. BONUS TIP: Have a theme song or signature image for your story. When you get stuck, play the theme song, look at the images you’ve collected. See if that helps.
  10. Find your zone & set out to duplicate it.  Spend a few minutes thinking about the days when you have gotten the most words ever. What was happening? Were you listening to music? What kind? Did you have a plot? Were you writing sexy/scary/angsty/funny scenes? What did you eat that day? Where were you? What time of day was it? Figure out what makes YOU tick. If you write the most per hour late at night in bed while drinking hot chocolate and writing smutty scenes and listening to 80s music, embrace that. Don’t try to force yourself to write first thing in the morning if that’s not your peak time. Instead, figure out how to get more of the good stuff in your life. Take a nap so you can stay up later, or if your peak time is early in the morning, go to bed earlier. And really think about what can happen in your story to make you love writing it more. If you hate writing long descriptive passages, DON’T WRITE THEM. Worry about adding more description in your edits. If you love writing love scenes, ADD MORE LOVE SCENES. You can always cut some later, but write the story YOU WANT and the words WILL come.

This is what works for me. What works for YOU? Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck and lots of WORDS!

Happy National Coffee Day!

It’s National Coffee Day, and I’m celebrating with an exclusive excerpt of my coffee romance, SERVED HOT, coming March 2015 from Kensington. Can my barista hero, Robby, get his favorite customer, David, to see him as more than just “the coffee guy?”  Here’s a sneak peek at Chapter One:

***************

My nooner was late. Well, technically, David was my 11:50. Without fail, ten minutes before twelve every work day, David P. Gregory bought a vanilla latte from my coffee cart in the Old Emerson building in Portland. I only knew his name because he used his debit card to pay, and I knew the time because of the old-fashioned, massive brass clock directly across the atrium from my cart.

I knew David banked at a local credit union, knew that he worked somewhere that required a tie, knew that he had a smile that made his mouth crinkle up at the edges when I handed him his coffee, and knew that he was an excellent tipper.

What I didn’t know was whether or not he was straight. We’d had this weird dance for months now—he’d arrive for his coffee, stilted and uncomfortable, relax into a bit of small talk while I made his drink, and then he’d take his coffee to one of the metal tables out in the atrium to have with the lunch he packed in a blue bag. I liked watching him eat because he gave it his entire focus—no smart phone or gadget, no newspaper or book, no folder of work. A few times I’d caught him looking back in my direction. But his gaze never lingered and either my flirting while I served him was more subtle than I’d thought or he was simply immune.

Today David was late. Unexpected disappointment uncurled in my stomach, souring my caffeine buzz. It was a good day—a steady stream of customers at my cart and bustling business for the pizza place and the vegan sandwich bar on the other side of the atrium. The hundred-year-old office building had been renovated to include a few small eateries in the newly added skylit atrium. Plenty for me to look at, but my eyes kept returning to the double brass doors that opened onto Ninth.

David pushed through the heavy doors at 12:45 just as I was finishing up a caramel soy latte for one of the Goth girls who worked at the jewelry place across the street. I hid my smile behind my espresso machine. Eager for it to be his turn, I tapped my toes against the linoleum.

“The usual?” I figured it would freak him out if I mentioned I’d noticed his lateness.

“Hmmm.” He studied my specials sign. I’d glued a chalkboard panel inside a silver frame from a secondhand place on Hawthorne and put the whole thing on a silver-painted easel. Classy on the cheap.

Today I had a half-price tuxedo mocha—white chocolate with dark chocolate swirls. David had never paid any attention to the sign before, but today he gave it a long stare, consideration tugging his mouth back and forth. God, I loved his mouth—full pink lips, a hint of stubble on his upper lip like he’d missed a spot shaving.

After a few seconds, he shrugged, broad shoulders rippling the fine cotton of his dress shirt. “Yeah. The usual.”

“Sure thing.” I grabbed the cup for his small vanilla latte.

“Wait.” He held up a hand as I started to ring him up. “Iced. It’s sweltering out.” He’d rolled up the sleeves of his crisp white shirt, revealing muscular forearms and a heavy silver, antique-looking watch.

“Meaning it’s eighty-five degrees in Portland and everyone is freaking out. You know . . . it’s good to try something different once in a while.”

********

Can David change his regular order to include a side of sexy? You’ll find out in March!

Happy Birthday to My Writing

20140727_104412We just had my son’s fourth birthday. When he was born, I hadn’t made forward progress with my writing in a LONG time. I had a hard drive full of first three chapters of a half-dozen or more books, but I hadn’t finished a book since the birth of my daughter three years before he was born.

Summer in my life has always been linked to my writing–the summer of 2005 is when I finished my first book. The summer of 2007 is when I finished my third book. My daughter was born late that summer, and when my son came n 2010, I realized that it was time to let RWA & my dreams lapse. I hadn’t finished a book in three years. I had two kids. I needed to just move on. I decided I would dedicate myself to book review writing when I could to stay active in the writing world, but that I’d hang up my pencil.

A funny thing happened in early summer 2011 though–I missed writing. Desperately. Passionately. I *wanted* to try again, but I didn’t want to suffer through another three years of false starts. So I made a commitment to myself that I would start writing again, but that I would never go a day without opening my document–even if all I wrote was 5 words, I would keep making progress.

Shortly after my son turned one, I finished that “trial” book using my one-day-at-a-time method. Three months! That book joined the three other unsold books, and then later that year book five joined the under-the-bed crowd.

But then in the summer of 2012 my son turned two and, I finally sold a book–books 6 and 7 sold that summer, with book 8 following suit that fall.

Through it all, I kept on my one-word-at-a-time plan. My kids were getting bigger and my writing hours kept shifting, but I kept just opening that document up each day. I racked up a lot of 50 word days.

In 2012, my son turned three and I finished book 9. Soon I’ll get to tell you all about Book 9,10, 11, and 12 and their new home, but this summer, the ninth summer of writing, the fourth summer of my no-excuses plan, has been full of good things. Book 13 is my Campus Cravings story, while last week, as my little guy finished up year three, I finished up lucky #14.

Four years ago, I had one child, three unsold books, and a lot of deferred dreams. Today, my heart holds more than I ever thought possible.

Happy Birthday to my little man–thank you for the renewed focus you brought to my life.

 

Friday Reads: Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3)Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an angst whore. Nothing gets me to click buy faster than a hero with ISSUES. And two heroes with issues? I’d have bought this even if she wasn’t an auto-buy for me.

I was one of the fans clamoring for her to turn last year’s freebie with the same title into a full-length novel. I’ll be honest and admit I liked some things about the prior opening better–I think it’s really tough when you go back and edit something that’s already been read and loved, because inevitably the changes leave out a favorite line or beat. BUT, getting a full length book out of truly unforgettable heroes? Totally worth the trade-off. If you read the sample, keep in mind that this was originally a short story–the heroes do get busy quickly, because that was the tenor of the original, bu then the story deepens and becomes more complex and richer as they work their way forward from that hot connection to something real.

This book hit ALL of my personal loves:
1) Nerdy scientist hero who doesn’t look conventionally hot
2) Jacked up, super ripped cowboy hero who doesn’t fit cowboy mold
3) Smexy times in a truck
4) Mental health handled in a realistic, careful, sensitive way. Huge kudos to Cullinan for mentioning medication & therapy and for having characters sane enough to understand their potential benefits.
5)Toppy, dirty talking smexy times
6) BDSM handled in a really sensitive way. Seriously, this book is a great example of the safe-sane-consensual parts of BDSM and the thoughtful way that the heroes approached it was really ,really nice
7) So much sweetness. And caring. These are both genuinely caring heroes and the true affection they felt seemed really real.
8) No magic cure-all. As much as I love angst, I hate the tendency of books to try to wrap everything up in a neat bow and suddenly the heroes have no more issues and everything is cured. That’s not the case here, and I think ultimately the ending is so much stronger because of it.
9) Realistic and supportive secondary characters, including women. There’s the requisite evil ex, but there’s also a lot of neutral, complex secondary characters, including the couples from the first two books of this series.
10) Angst. Angst. Angst.

Riptide prices their books high, but this particular title is well-worth the price–I think I need a new category for my keeper shelf: worth the last $8 in my spending money.

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Friday Reads: Color of Grace by AM Arthur

Color of Grace (Cost of Repairs, #2)

If you want a nice, full-length m/m with angst heroes and emotional sexy times, this is the book for you:

Color of Grace by A.M. Arthur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new auto-buy author. I loved Cost of Repairs so much I pre-ordered this as soon as it came up. I really didn’t think she could top the angst-and-heat combo of Cost of Repairs, but she proved me beautifully wrong here. So. Much. Angst. And much of it is revealed slowly, and I don’t want to spoil that for you. I also appreciated how unique the heat was to these two heroes–so often love scenes fall into a certain pattern of acts that must be covered w/in a story and that’s not the case here at all–creative, inventive, and totally integral to the plot and character development. If you’re not reading AM Arthur, you need to. Fans of LA Witt, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Ally Blue and others who deliver the angst-and-hot-smex combo will love her.

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Must-Read Holiday Recommendation: Breath on Embers

Breath on EmbersBreath on Embers by Anne Calhoun

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

True Confession: I have boxes of books in the attic that only come out at Christmas. I broke my foot one fall and my mother sent me a large box of nothing but holiday romances b/c she knew I’d happily gorge on them. I LOVE holiday novellas–they’re usually short, sweet, and perfect for reading during hectic days.

Breath on Embers is nothing like the typical holiday novella and that’s its breathtaking beauty. It’s short at 40k words, but it’s not the typical sweet, conflict-lite, sex-lite, supporting cast heavy holiday romp. It’s sexy, edgy, and has so much angst.

I love second-chance-at-love stories almost as much as I love holiday stories. Thea is a young widow who deeply and completely loved her late husband–and I love that Calhoun didn’t have her change that. I hate second-chance stories where the hero(ine) is forced to realize that their love for their late spouse wasn’t nearly as perfect as what they find with their new love. But Calhoun doesn’t go there–Thea and Jesse absolutely had an enviable marriage and would have been happy together. A true HEA.

But now Jesse’s not here and Ronan is. And Ronan loves Thea too. There’s a moment in the book where he says he’s doing battle with her grief. And he is. And it’s gorgeous. He’s pretty much the perfect hero. With a glorious, imperfect heroine who’s not always worthy of him. Until the moment when she is.

This is a gem of a story. If you buy one holiday book this year, make it this one. I know that I often review author friends’ books and books I beta read–I don’t know this author. She was a new find for me. I bought the book in the Red Hot Holiday anthology b/c KA Mitchell is autobuy for me and the last several Carina Press anthologies have been worth it in terms of a good mix of holiday stories. This book absolutely blew me away. It’s lingered in a way few books of 2012 did for me. This is everything about why I write romance and why I often feel unequal to the task.

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Friday Reads: My Fair Dork by Daisy Harris

It’s here! I stayed awake last night to be able to purchase Daisy Harris’s newest MY FAIR DORK:

Most of my twitter followers know that I love Daisy like sushi loves rice and that I beta read for her. I’ve been beta reading her since Holsum #1, College Boys. I got to watch the series wind its way through the lives of SIXTEEN of the hottest, sweetest college boys ever. And I got to watch as Daisy’s writing evolved.

I knew as soon as I read the opening paragraphs of My Fair Dork that she was onto something very special. The entire series is made of awesome, but this book–Owen and Harold and their journey is like the best gay college movie ever, made even better by an x-rating.

It’s a classic makeover theme–Harold is a giant nerd with bad haircut and worse clothes and painful secrets. Owen is Mr. Popularity and takes it upon himself to rescue Harold. Harold is all hung up on  . . . size issues. And this leads to pretty much the hottest scenes of the whole darn series. I kept forgetting I was supposed to be reading to leave some sort of feedback other than “God. Damn. My eyebrows burnt clean off. Good Lord.”  And it’s definitely the funniest book of the series as the size issue leads to some great one-liners.

I’m the sort of reader who HAS to read books in order. That’s the just how I roll. But Dork does stand pretty well on its own. The couple from Genius and Jock  do show up as do some other series’ regulars, but you could easily read this without reading the rest of the series, or just start with Jock. You won’t regret reading the whole series though! And if you do, Dork is pretty much the perfect capstone.

I realized last night that I was a bit weepy–kind of like a ridiculously proud parent on graduation day. Happy Release Day, my friend!

P.S. The book is out now on Siren. Want a reminder to buy it when it goes on sale at other vendors? Add it to your goodreads!

Five years

Five years is both a tremendously long length of time–longer than a presidency or high school or most college degree programs–and the blink of an eye.

Oh the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

Five years ago, I became a mother. Today I watched my little girl pedal away from me for the first time on a real “big girl” bike for the first time and the soundtrack in my head was Dr. Seuss:

Congratulations!

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
 
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
That’s how my daughter is–full of confidence. She doesn’t look back when we drop her off at school or when she rides away. She’s a planner–she planned this birthday for months, right down to the color of the cupcakes and the contents of the goody bags.
She never had any doubts that it wouldn’t come true. I hope she never loses that certainty that dreams become reality if you plan long enough. The indomitable Cherry Adair says in one of her classes, “A Goal is a dream with a deadline.”
My five year old is full of dreams with deadlines–the bike she wanted to get for her birthday, the reading she wants to accomplish by the end of the year, the swimming she wants to learn by next summer.
As adults sometimes it’s all to easy to lose sight of both this certainty that dreams do come true and this innate ability to give our dreams deadlines. It’s way to easy to get caught up in the other part of the Seuss tale:
You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.
I know I’m not alone in experiencing a bit of a Fall Slump. I’ve got several projects out on submission but I’ve spent a week without a WIP. It makes me antsy and uncertain. And we  all get that way–when the doubts start to creep in and dreams feel silly. And we forget that we’re on a journey–one that’s uniquely our own.
If all goes well, I’ve got a book out next week and it’s not unlike the experience of letting my child out into the world–my stomach is all wobbly and I want to snatch it back. But books, like children, are meant to be shared. And dreams are meant to be realized.
Thank you to my little planner for reminding me of that. Time to set some more dreams-with-deadlines and trust the journey. Time to look ahead, instead of looking backwards at how much time has escaped our grasp.
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
Where do YOU want to go today?