Looking Back at 2018

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This past year was a productive one for me. I released a poly novella, took three short stories I’d previously released as a novella and turned them into an mm novella. I released an mm novel and a short paranormal mm story with K. Evan Coles. Released an mm solo novel, took two novels and turned them into a single very long mm novel, re-released a mm holiday short story, and wrote an mm YA holiday short story.

Am I tired? Well, yeah. My brain is pretty full these days and the hours I put in are long.

But it’s been an interesting year. Since I began the writing full-time journey in mid-2015, my sales have steadily declined. Some of it was because the market had changed and my divorce took me away from that at a critical time. I needed time to recover emotionally and then I took some more time to take care of myself better physically. But even once I got back to writing, it wasn’t working anymore. I had missed so much and I felt like I could never get back on track.

Book releases were flat and disappointing. Nowhere near where they’d been before and not even close to allowing me enough to move out of my parents’ house. I’ve been here for three years now, far longer than I thought I’d be. Several times I’ve reached a point where I seriously considered throwing in the towel and finding a new career. Nothing I tried was working.

I got progressively more and more frustrated until about August. I knew I wasn’t as organized and focused as I needed to be. I complained to someone I was dating at the time and he said, “I can help.” His career requires him to manage a ton of projects with shifting deadlines and multiple stages of work–pretty applicable to being an author.

So we sat down and he helped me create a paper calendar with color-coded sticky notes that’s infinitely flexible. I organized current projects and also laid out a plan for which books to tackle next. It’s glorious. And as I moved forward with that, I stopped feeling like I was flailing around with no focus. I had a plan and a way to achieve it.

I decided that this was it. My final shot to see if I could make a living at writing.

I wasn’t thrilled about putting books in Kindle Unlimited. I’ve never loved the idea of being exclusive to Amazon, even if it’s only a 90 day period, but I had to decide which I felt more strongly about. I could live with putting books in KU. I couldn’t live with giving up on my career.

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So I did a shitload of research and threw everything at the wall to figure out what worked. Since September, I’ve put five books in Kindle Unlimited, organized two PW giveaways to build up the following for my newsletter with K. Evan Coles, started experimenting with BookBub and Amazon ads, ran a Kindle Countdown Deal promo, took part in a ridiculous amount of Facebook events and group takeovers, and generally pushed myself as hard as I possibly could without burning out.

Some of it fizzled, but you know what? Overall, it worked. Sales have dramatically increased since September.

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Now, it’s all relative. It’s still a fraction of what I made working for a hospital in a relatively low paying job. I’m still wildly below the poverty line. But it gives me hope.

I finally, finally–for the first time since I quit that hospital job–feel like I’m on the right track again. It gives me hope that as long as I keep writing and releasing books on a regular basis (I have a plan for that!) and trying new things, I have a chance of getting there.

Being a full-time author is a fucking hard job. I’m not going to sugarcoat it in any way. The hours are long, the amount of time I spend working and thinking about what I need to be working on are ridiculous.

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That meme is painfully accurate.

But I love what I do and I’m going to fight to keep doing it. I love creating characters and stories and making them come alive. I love the feedback from readers and the connections I make with them through my books. I love that I have the opportunity to keep trying to support myself. It’s an amazing feeling to check my dashboard and see that I am reaching more readers. My books are finding their way to more people. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

So I want to thank all of you who helped me get there. K. Evan Coles, my co-author, has done so much to help me. Enough I could write an entire post about, but there isn’t time for that. So I’ll just say I’m deeply grateful for her. I’m thankful for my parents allowing me to live with them rent-free while I struggle at this. I’m thankful for all my friends who let me vent. For the bloggers and reviewers and organizers and every single person who shared my book releases and helped me do this. I appreciate my beta readers and my editors. And I appreciate you readers. Because your joy in my stories is what keeps me going.

I’m ending a very tough year on a high note and a lot of hope.

I don’t know what next year is going to bring and I know I have a shitload of work ahead of me. But I have a plan and a renewed sense of determination that 2019 will be better than 2018.

And I can work with that.

 

Halloween is Coming!

I know it’s only the beginning of August, but K. Evan Coles and I have been planning a super special Halloween event for months.

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All you need to do to take part is create something LGBTQ+ and Halloween-themed. It can be poetry, fiction, art, podcasts, or whatever else you love to create.

Entries can run from sweet and romantic to dark and scary, just make sure it has a Halloween theme!

We are so excited to share this with you. Stop by Diverse Reader for more information and how to sign up. Hope you’ll join us!

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

Over a year ago, my mom said, “I’d like to hike somewhere with you before I’m too old.”

I semi-jokingly replied, “You find the budget, I’ll find the time!” Cause let’s be realistic, broke writer here.

Tonight we get on a plane on fly to Dublin.

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The trip has changed a little in that time. The original plan was for the two of us to hike across the country from Dublin to the West coast. A stress fracture in my mom’s foot derailed that plan fairly quickly, and we decided it would be nicer if we didn’t leave my dad at home.

But we’re still going from Dublin to the West coast (albeit in a car, and along the coast). There will be shorter day hikes and lots of time to explore the countryside.

And after three weeks, they’ll drop me off at Helena Stone’s house and I’ll stay with her and her husband for another two and a half weeks.  There will be writing of course, and day trips into Dublin to see places I’ve heard her talk about but barely imagined I’d visit.

I have a date with a very cool Irish guy I’ve been talking to for a few months. Long story, but suffice it to say when you post on an Irish message board you’ll find the Irish are a VERY friendly bunch.

The whole thing will be a working vacation—because I definitely can’t just take five and a half weeks off from writing—but I am so excited it’s ridiculous. I’ll definitely be on social media less, but I WILL take a ton of pictures.

It’s still a little surreal. I’m not sure it’s really sunk in that I’ll be staying in Ireland for almost six weeks. But my packed suitcase says otherwise and in a little over twelve hours, I’ll be leaving Toronto airport and heading straight for Dublin.

The real question is, am I ever going to want to come home?

Doc Brodie and the Big Thank You

In the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about where I’m going with my writing career and if I’m really cut out to be a full-time author.

Sales for “Connection” were subpar (my own fault for not promoting it adequately). Sales for “Trust” were better (but being the second book in a series I hadn’t promoted enough made them less than stellar). Sales of my backlist were solid; enough to pay the bills while I’m living with my parents, but certainly not enough to pay rent if I moved out.

When road blocks hit as I was writing “Push & Pull” (the second in the Midwest series) I began to panic. What if I’d been fooling myself? What if I wasn’t cut out to be a writer at all? With depressing thoughts of having to get at least a part-time job again whirling in my head, I gave myself an ultimatum. If my next two releases didn’t do well, I’d look for the part-time job. In the meantime, I’d stop panicking about the fact that I’m only a few months away from having lived with my parents for a year. My goal was six months.

I threw myself into getting print books out and writing “Doc Brodie”. I contacted Rachel Maybury of Signal Boost Promotions and planned a Book Blitz and Review Tour to get the word out to new blogs and readers. After a minor panic when the first two days of sales for “Doc Brodie” were sub-par, a kind word from a fellow author prompted me to take a look at my pricing. I realized that based on the length of the novella, I’d set my price too high. I adjusted that and since then, the book has been flying off the (metaphorical) shelves!

Sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly leads to good sales. The time of year, the type of book, what else is going on in the world, along with a host of other factors can greatly influence sales. In general, the summer is a good time for shorter, lighter reads so I think that certainly helped with Doc Brodie sales. I wish I could say that it was because it was such an amazing book, but I know book quality is not always correlated to sales numbers. I am certainly proud of “Doc Brodie” and I never put out anything but my best effort, but I know I still have a lot to learn.  Unfortunately, I know very talented authors whose books don’t sell well.

In the two-and-a-half years since I published my first short story, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that marketing makes a big difference. In the list of people I want to thank for Doc Brodie’s success, Rachel Maybury is definitely one of them. I can’t recommend her highly enough. Her fee was reasonable, she was timely in responding to questions, and I feel she more than delivered what she promised. While it’s difficult to say exactly how much her marketing contributed to the book’s success, I honestly believe it played a substantial part in the fact that Doc Brodie sold more copies in the first month than any previous book I’ve released!

The book’s success puts me in a solid place to focus on “Push & Pull” (with a tentative September release) and I am hopeful that as long as that goes well I will be able to move out sometime this fall. *crosses fingers*

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This blog post is my very long-winded way of saying thank you to all of the people who helped with the book. In addition to Rachel, I’d like to thank Allison Hickman and Helena Stone for their beta work, Sally Hopkinson for her editing, Jessica Stuhr Kurvers and Amy Keating Casey for the proofreading help, and the handful of pre-release reviewers from my private Facebook group. And of course, huge thanks to the bloggers and readers who reviewed and spread the word about the story. Much love and appreciation to all of you. I simply cannot thank you enough. ❤

 

Prism Book Alliance Guest Post: Outside the Margins – Writing What You Know

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Join me on Prism Book Alliance’s Outside the Margins column.  Today I discuss research for my novels.

I hope you’ll take a look and please leave a comment.  I’m open to any feedback or suggestions about what you’d like to hear from me in my monthly column.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Review – “Phoenix Rising”

Phoenix Rising

Summary:

New York City homicide detectives Artemis Gregory and Rachel Wayland are first on the murder scene of a beautiful young gay man, the third victim of a serial killer dubbed the Moon Killer by the department. Their investigation leads them to Talis Kehk, charismatic lead singer of the rock group Phoenix Rising. As the next full moon approaches, Artemis and his partner uncover clues that lead straight to Talis—even as Talis, exhibiting behavior Artemis finds strange indeed considering the circumstances, uses every means possible to keep Artemis close.

Artemis could never fall in love with a murderer, could he? Innocent or not, Talis has a secret… and it’s about to change Artemis’s world forever.

Review:

You know I like Theo Fenraven’s books, no question about that, but Phoenix Rising was particularly interesting.  If there’s one thing I appreciate in a story, it’s when I feel like I’ve read something unique, and I’ve certainly never read anything like Phoenix Rising.  There were choices the characters made that made me pause.  One in particular made me set down the book in shock and wonder how the hell Theo was going to pull it off but in my opinion, he certainly did.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but Talis’ secret is utterly fascinating. It changes the way Artemis views him, and the world around them. I loved the way myth was woven throughout the story.  I love that when I finished it, it didn’t leave my head and I kept mulling it over, pondering how I felt about it.  I love that Theo’s books make me think.   The books that stick with me are the ones that challenge me.

This was a tricky, tricky story to tell but I love that not only did Theo attempt it, he pulled it off. Spectacularly.

What’s the Opposite of Writer’s Block?

I posted this image on FB today because it made me giggle.  Sometimes my characters DO feel like imaginary friends.

 

I’m grateful that writer’s block is something I rarely have to deal with.  Don’t get me wrong, my creativity (and focus) ebbs and flows.  Some weeks I feel like I can’t find enough hours in the day to keep up with the ideas in my head.  Other time, it’s like pulling teeth.  I do my best to write even when I’m not feeling especially productive, although often I focus on other things, like writing book reviews or blog posts.  Sometimes I work on a story and just re-read what I’ve already written and make minor tweaks or plot out where I want to go next.  There’s always something I can work on.

Avoiding writer’s block is one of the main reasons I have multiple stories going at once.  It’s a very effective tool for me because if I’m feeling blah and uninspired about a particular story, I can work on something else for a while and it sparks my creativity.

Unfortunately, right now I feel like I have the opposite problem. Lately, my imaginary friends have been talking my ear off and I can’t get them to stop! I’m drowning in plot bunnies and I have a difficult time focusing on what I should be working on, namely the holiday shorts and book three of the Equals series.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Russ and Stephen.  I love the characters, I love their story, I love their relationship and the way it’s evolving. But I have so many other characters impatiently waiting their turn and it’s a daily struggle to focus on what I need to work on.

I feel ungrateful complaining about an excess of creativity; after all, it could be worse, right? I could be completely stuck and unable to write.  But it’s hard to feel grateful when the number of projects I have in my plot bunny folder keeps piling up.  I have no idea when I’ll get to them and just thinking about them gives me anxiety.

What am I going to do about it?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I guess, but I’d sure love to know if you have any tips!

What can I do to get my characters to speak a little more quietly or at least wait their turn?

 

 

Review – “Hotel Pens”

Hotel Pens

 

Hotel Pens

Summary:

Travel writer Joe Jordan hasn’t been home to New York since his boyfriend broke up with him. Instead he’s hopped from hotel to hotel, collecting pens like a child in a fairytale might leave a trail of breadcrumbs hoping to find his way back. But now he has an assignment, an article titled “5 Ways to Rediscover New York.” Being back on his home turf is daunting—until he meets Claude Desjardins, a gay romance translator staying in his hotel who, after a night of near passion, leads Joe on a treasure hunt through Manhattan, writing clues on Joe’s skin using hotel pens. But it isn’t just New York Joe needs to rediscover.

Review:

This story is a novella, and on the shorter side, but completely worth it.  I picked it up on a whim during Dreamspinner’s sale a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It certainly wasn’t a heavy book, but it was a nice sweet read without lacking substance.  Joe’s past issues were believable and the relationship that develops between him and Claude was very believable.  The treasure hunt on Joe’s skin was such a fun thread throughout the book and I loved the way Claude’s creativity shook Joe out of his humdrum life.  There’s a bit of a lingering question throughout the book that causes some angst and lthough I guessed the “twist” to that issue long before the end, it didn’t make it any less wonderful.

While it may not be a story that changes the world it’s a very solid feel-good read.

Review – “Spirit”

Spirit

Summary:

Jason Day, brilliant designer of video games, is not only a confirmed bachelor, but he’s as gay as a maypole. One wouldn’t think being saddled with his precocious four-year-old nephew for four weeks would be enough to throw him off-kilter.

Wrong. Timmy, Jason’s nephew, is a true handful.

But just when Timmy and Uncle Jason begin to bond, and Jason feels he’s getting a grip on this babysitting business once and for all, he’s thrown for a loop by a couple of visitors—one from Tucson, the other from beyond the grave.

I’m sorry. Say what?

Toss a murder, a hot young stud, an unexpected love affair, and a spooky-ass ghost with a weird sense of humor into Jason’s summer plans, and you’ve got the makings for one hell of a ride.

Review:

Summing this book up in a few sentences is difficult.

I spent my lunch laughing so hard I smeared my eye makeup and terrified the people sitting around me. I came home from work and read more, still laughing, totally engrossed in the story.

But to say that it’s funny would only cover a small part of it. It was an extraordinarily well-written ghost story/mystery. The characters were utterly delightful, especially Timmy. The chemistry (and sex scenes) between the main characters were steamy. And in parts, the book was utterly heart-breaking.

It’s rare to read a book that covers such a wide array of emotions so well, but this did it beautifully.

Read it. Now.

I’m going to find more John Inman books.

The What Ifs


Tomorrow is the big release for Equals, the novella I told you about a month ago.  It took longer to finish than I expected.  The feedback I get from my talented team of pre-readers is something I take very seriously.  When they told me they felt like things were missing, I listened.  When they told me tweaks needed to be made, I agreed.  I took their feedback, read through the story again, and made the changes.  Not every single last one–there are always a few suggestions that I know just don’t feel right for the characters–but I thought them all over thoroughly.  And they were right.  Before, I felt like the story was good.  Now, I feel like it’s great.  Well, at least I did.

In the last few weeks as I put on the final touches, polished the document with my editor, and prepared the book for publishing, my confidence began to waver.  When I thought about the July 11 release date, my stomach knotted.  Had I done everything I could to make it a great story? What if I should have fleshed out this scene more? Cut that one?  What if the character motivation wasn’t strong enough? What if it bored the reader to tears?

The questions multiplied. What if it was just regurgitating the same old story? What if I got it all wrong?  What if everyone finds out I don’t have a clue what I’m doing?

Why the hell am I doing this writing thing anyway?

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Self doubt is horrible.  It’s painful and crippling and as the release creeps closer the worse it gets.  In the past, I knew there was a limited audience for short stories.  My releases were small.  I knew the bulk of my readers were friends, people I already know.  There’s more pressure with a novella.  And I’ve set up a blog tour to promote the story and bring in new readers.  I had a blast preparing for it and I think you’ll love the excerpts and interviews.  But it somehow makes this much more “real”.  Cue the anxiety.

The book is done, the advance review copies are in the hands of the bloggers, and there’s nothing to do but wait.  Tomorrow everything starts rolling and all I can do is hang on. I’ll be posting links to the blog tour and of course I’ll have links to where you can buy the book.  I hope you’ll give the book a chance and that you’ll visit the blogs on the tour. What will I be doing? Well, I’ll be swimming through the what ifs and doing my best to make it through to the other side.