Things I wish I had done differently (AKA All the mistakes I made) #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #AmWriting #BookMarketing

mistakes 1Today, I’m going to eat a huge slice of humble pie and talk about all the mistakes I’ve made as an authorpreneur. Hopefully, someone can learn from my mistakes. Lord knows it took me forever to learn from them. So, without further ado, all the mistakes I’ve made.

 

Not using an editor. Hangs head in shame. How could I have been soooo stupid? I was convinced I didn’t need an editor (and couldn’t afford one) when I started out. It took me three (3!) books to realize what a colossal mistake I’d made. Don’t be like me. Use an editor from the get go. There are plenty of affordable ones out there.

Formatting. As someone who is detail-orientated, I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t really notice formatting when reading. Since I didn’t notice it, it didn’t matter, right? Um, no. Who cares if readers complained about margins and such? No one pays attention to that stuff. Amazing how much we can lie to ourselves.

Pen name. This is a big one. I write in several different genres: historical fiction, romantic comedies, and cozy mysteries. In the beginning, I even wrote more genres – military suspense and suspense. I didn’t think it was a big deal. After all, I read anything that catches my fancy. *Pounds head against table* Stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader, Dena. Because readers are extremely faithful to their genre. I should have created a pen name for each genre. (More about this in a future blog.)

Newsletter. More head banging. I wish I would have taken my newsletter seriously from the beginning. I’ve been writing for several years now and instead of having a large newsletter following, I’m only now building one. Plus, I didn’t pay any attention on what to put in a newsletter. So, I still have a ton of subscribers who are inactive. I’m only now starting to glean the benefits of newsletter swaps.

Genre specific covers. I was listening to a podcast yesterday that described my problem to a T. Your cover shouldn’t be about the story but about what readers of the genre expect. Why oh why didn’t I hear those words earlier in my writing career? Because that is exactly what I did in the past – I found a cover to match the story. This mistake cost me sales. By changing the covers in my Death by Cupcake series, I’ve been able to increase sales without doing extra marketing.

Marketing courses. As a writer, I check the tiniest details in my books. What time does the sunrise in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 15th? Hold on. I’m checking. But I didn’t do any research about marketing or take any marketing courses until I was years into my writing journey. WHY? Sure, some of the courses are expensive but podcasts are free. What was wrong with me?

I’ve made a ton more mistakes, but the above are the big ones – the ones that cost me sales and readers.

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This blog post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. This is a monthly blog hop hosted by @raimeygallant. Make sure to stop by the other author blog posts in this month’s blog hop to fill up your author toolbox! Just click on the graphic to take you to the list.

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Book review of Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick #BookReview #MondayBlogs #Nonfiction

nothing to envyWhen someone suggested reading Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick for our February book club, I thought a lot of unpleasant things. I didn’t say anything out loud. Nope. As the fearless leader of the book club, I kept my mouth shut. Strange, but true. What was my problem? It’s non-fiction! My experience with non-fiction in book clubs is that they do not lead to good discussions.

I’m happy to report I was wrong. What? I can admit when I’m wrong. Not only was the book not some dry tome I had to slog through, but the discussion was lively. Some would say heated. Especially when the other book club members agreed I’d for sure die if we all went to North Korea. Mind you, not because I’m not a survivalist, but because I have a big mouth. I had to concede their point.

Anyway, what is the book all about?

~ Blurb ~

North Korea is Orwell’s 1984 made reality: it is the only country in the world not connected to the internet; Gone with the Wind is a dangerous, banned book; during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity. After the death of the country’s great leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, famine descended, and Nothing to Envy – winner of the 2010 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction – weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea’s third-largest city. From extensive interviews and with tenacious investigative work, Barbara Demick has recreated the concerns, culture and lifestyles of North Korean citizens in a gripping narrative, and vividly reconstructed the inner workings of this extraordinary and secretive country.

~ My thoughts ~

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I expected this book to be boring. I forced myself to lug it in my carry-on for a cross-Atlantic flight, convinced the only way I’d read the darn thing would be if I was stuck in a plane – literally. I picked up the novel to read as I was eating dinner on the flight and I couldn’t put it down. Seriously, my work went forgotten as I dove into the lives of the six North Koreans who managed to escape to South Korea.

Demick has done what all non-fiction writers dream of – she has taken a tragic subject and made it fascinating. Although I was already familiar with much of the history surrounding the famines in North Korea, the individual stories brought the suffering of the Koreans to light. It is difficult to empathize when hundreds of thousands of individuals starve to death, but when you hear the story of one individual, you can’t help but sympathize with them.

The stories didn’t end when the individuals arrived in South Korea, however. Demick also discusses the difficulties each has with assimilating into modern society. This is a reality check for when the Koreas finally merge. (And they will. Eventually it will happen.)

I highly recommend this book. I dare you to not care about North Korea when you finish.

 

Give yourself a break ~ You can’t do it all #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

guilty-3096227_1920I was honestly preparing to once again skip blogging today (and frankly, this entire week). And you know what? I was feeling pretty guilty about it. As if I was skipping school or ditching work or something. Ugh. The whole reason I went with indie publishing is to be my own boss. I do not take direction well, just ask any of my drill sergeants.

Then, I realized something. I need to give myself a break. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days in the week. And I often work six days in the week as it is. There are only so many tasks I can accomplish in the time I have. Since I don’t have a pesky boss, it’s up to me to decide which tasks I will get done and which will be postponed (and then perhaps completely forgotten).

Part of deciding what to prioritize is accepting that those tasks with lower priority just won’t get finished yet – if ever. AND – here’s the crux of the matter – not feeling guilty about it. After all, did I feel guilty about pushing a client to next week when I was a lawyer? The answer is no, I did not.

Which brings me to today’s advice – Give yourself a break! You can’t do everything. Do what you can with the time you have and leave it at that. Leave your guilt at the door!

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Switching Newsletter Providers ~ A To Do List #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #AmWriting #AuthorMarketing

I switched from MailChimp to MailerLite in December. I did not go into the switch lightly. I knew it would be a lot of work. How much work? Read on and you’ll get an idea.

I’m not going to discuss the reasons why I choose MailerLite. There are tons of blogs already out there, which outline the pros and cons of the most popular email providers (MailChimp, MailerLite, Constant Contact, etc. etc.). Instead, I’m going to outline the gazillion (slight exaggeration) steps necessary to effectively switch email providers.

So, without further ado, here are the steps necessary – at a minimum – to switch providers:

Step 1. Set up Landing Page

The landing page is where potential subscribers are sent to when they click on your ‘join my newsletter link’. Here’s what mine looks like:

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Step 2. Design Success Page

This is the page subscribers see when they have successfully subscribed. You can use the standard provided by your newsletter provider or design one yourself. I decided to design something myself to showcase my ‘voice’ (I write romantic comedies and humorous mysteries).

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Step 2a (optional). Design double opt in language.

Most newsletter services allow you to change the language in the double opt messages subscribers see. I opted to change the language in the hopes I would stand out from the crowd.

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Step 3. Design Automation Workflow (aka Onboarding Sequence)

Now we’re getting to the meat of the matter. One of the reasons I switched newsletter providers was the ability to do an automation workflow. What the heck am I talking about? Basically, an automation workflow is a series of emails new subscribers receive upon subscribing. This idea didn’t turn me on. After all, when I subscribe to a newsletter, I want the newsletter – not a ton of onboarding messages. But one thing all the experts harp on and on about is ‘you are not your reader’. Okay, fine. I’ll make a stupid onboarding sequence.

I designed two workflows. One is for when subscribers land on my landing page from a link in my books or on social media. The second workflow is for when subscribers subscribe as they’ll downloaded my free story. Designing these automation sequences took loads of time – loads. One you use more than one onboarding sequence, you’ll first need to divide your subscriber list into groups. Please don’t ask me how long it took before I figured that part out. *hangs head in shame*

Step 4. Change subscription links – everywhere.

And I do mean everywhere. Every single place you’ve ever advertised your email subscription sign-up page needs to be changed. For example,

  • Email footer,
  • Twitter header,
  • Facebook profile,
  • Website,
  • Novels,
  • etc.

I’m still updating all my novels. This is the language I use at the front of all my novels:

Are you reading diva? Join my reading diva squad (aka newsletter) and I’ll send you a FREE romantic comedy just because. Each month you’ll get a peek into my bookish life. I’ll also share exclusive content from my books such as deleted scenes, extended epilogues, and brand spanking new stories. PLUS a whole slew of book sales from other authors who write cozy mysteries and romantic comedies. I won’t spam you. Really, I won’t. And, if I bore you, you can unsubscribe. I’ll try not to bore you. Pinky promise.

Step 5. Convert subscribers.

This is super easy – at least in my situation. MailerLite has a tool to add all your MailChimp subscribers. I simply clicked the button and viola!

Step 6. Integrations

If you make use of BookFunnel and/or StoryOrigin (and you should!), then you’ll need to integrate you’re new list. This is also super simple. On BookFunnel, simply hit the add integration button. The same is true for StoryOrigin.

Optional. Change unsubscribe language.

Depending on your email provider, you may be able to change the unsubscribe language as well. Newsletter Ninja suggests changing the language to encourage unsubscribers to follow you on social media.

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Eights steps doesn’t seem like much work. Wrong. It’s a ton of work. What about you? Have you switched email newsletter providers? If so, have I missed something?

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This blog post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. This is a monthly blog hop hosted by @raimeygallant. Make sure to stop by the other author blog posts in this month’s blog hop to fill up your author toolbox! Just click on the graphic to take you to the list.

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A Review of The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder #MondayBlogs #BookReview #AmReading

January’s book club selection was The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. As a lover of Our Town and fellow Wisconsinite, I’ve had this book on my TBR pile forever. Well, maybe not forever, but certainly since high school, which is way closer to forever than I want to admit. What’s the 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel all about?

~ The Blurb ~

review of san luis rey 2On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below. With this celebrated sentence Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world.By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His search leads to his own death — and to the author’s timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.

~ My Review ~

While this novel started out as a fast read, I quickly got bogged down in the details. The characters – The Marquesa, the Perichole, Manuel and Esteban, Uncle Pio –all seemed like types rather than flesh and blood characters. A mother, a young girl, the embodiment of evil … all stereotypical types, not persons who came alive on the pages.

There is also more than a touch of sentimentality to Wilder’s work. The Marquesa (aka the Mother) is the embodiment of this. She writes letters to her daughter who has fled to Spain to escape her mother. The letters, although the reader only gets glimpses of them, are sentimental to the point of embarrassing her daughter.

If I were to merely look at the various lives discussed during the bulk of the novel, I would declare the novel sentimental and move on. There’s more here, however. Brother Juniper uses the collapse of the bridge as a jumping point for to investigate why someone dies. Is there a reason behind death? Do some deserve death more than others? For his efforts, he is burned as a heretic. As a reader, I couldn’t help but investigate the lives lost at the bridge and wonder the same things the Brother did.

The novel is full of writing that takes one’s breath away. The novel ends with a monologue by the Abbess who struggles to understand the meaning of life. It is in this monologue that we discover the depth of Wilder’s writing abilities:

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Start Where You Want to End Up ~ Advice to Starting Writers #WriterWednesday #WritersLife #AmWriting

I’m often asked what advice I would give to writers just starting out. The question always leaves me stumped with my mouth gaping open like a fish. What kind of advice could I possibly give to writers? In the past, I’d mumble something and quickly move on to the next question. In the past few months, though, I’ve realized I do have an answer to the question. Because I’ve spent the past months doing things I should have done at the start of my writing career. So, here’s my advice – start where you want to end up.

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What the heck do I mean by that? It’s simple, really. Set up your writer business as a professional from the get go. Here are some examples:

Newsletter. When I started a newsletter, I went with MailChimp. It seemed like a no-brainer – you can have up to 2,000 subscribers for free. BUT you can’t do any of the fancy things like have a on-boarding sequence or divide your list into different groups. I don’t need that, I thought. Well, let me tell you, at some point you will need all that fancy functionality. I know what you’re thinking – I’ll just change over when I need it. Take it from someone who spent an entire month switching from MailChimp to MailerLite (more on that in the coming weeks), DON’T DO IT.

Amazon categories. When you publish your novel on KDP, you are allowed to choose two categories. Turns out you can actually have your novel put into ten (10!) categories. I thought this wasn’t a big deal and let it slide. Then, I suddenly found myself with almost twenty published novels and wanted to add them all to more categories. It’s recommended that you only add one new category a day (don’t want to anger the Amazon gods), which meant it took me months to get my books added to the categories they belonged in.

Covers. Get it right the first time! Do not go for the easy solution. Spend some time – a LOT of time – researching your genre to discover the types of covers readers of the genre expect. Do not do like I did and make covers you like that don’t sell. Trust me, you will lose sales. (More on book covers and all the mess ups I did here and here)

Editor. You absolutely, positively no doubt about it must have an editor review your novel before publishing. No matter how great your English is or how educated you are, you will miss things and make mistakes. Trust me, I know. I published my first two novels after only doing self-editing. Those bad reviews due to poor editing will never disappear. Plus, you lose potential readers of your future books by publishing a poor product.

Website. Research website providers. Stalk other authors and see what provider they are using. When I started my website, I had already built a website for my B&B. Naturally, I thought I knew what I was doing. *Slaps forehead* I had no idea. Every business has different needs. For example, I didn’t have a blog for my B&B website. When I wanted to add a blog to my writer website, I had to add functionality. I had no idea what I was doing and it showed.

Blurb. The mistakes I’ve made with blurbs. *Shakes head* I recommend listening to podcasts and reading blog posts about how to write a blurb. I didn’t do this. Of course, not! I know how to write a summary. Why would I need to study blurb making? Um, because a blurb is completely different than a summary.

So, that’s it. My advice to starting writers or, as I like to call it, the list of many of my beginner mistakes. Beginner’s luck. Nah. That I know nothing about.

Hot Chocolate Cupcakes #Culinarycozymystery #Cozymystery #Recipes #Foodporn #Yummy #Baking #MondayBlogs

hot cocoa 6Being a cozy mystery writer is tough sometimes. Especially when you have to spend a morning baking cupcakes. Oh, yeah, it’s a hardship. But I persevered and made these cupcakes on Saturday for a party.

Those poor party-goers. I was relentless chasing anyone who tried one. What did they think? How did they taste? The conclusion? They were yummy, but almost everyone thought the frosting had a more butterscotch flavor than hot cocoa. I’m going to blame that on using whipping cream (not whipped cream but heavy cream used to make whipped cream) as finding any other heavy cream would necessitate yet another trip to the American store.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for a store where I can find American and British products. I’m less happy with the prices, and even less happy with the temptations the store contains. All those yummy things I don’t need but make me nostalgic especially this time of year. I never could resist temptation.

Ingredients – makes 14 cupcakes

For the chocolate cupcakes:

  • ½ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (I used wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar (I didn’t have any light brown sugar and used dark without any problem)
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk

For the frosting:

  • ½ cup dry hot chocolate mix (with NO marshmallows)
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup (169 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 – 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

Make the cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Line muffin time with cupcake liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. Beat together the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla extract until combined. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk to batter. The batter will be somewhat thin.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared cupcake tin. Fill each paper liner halfway. Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before frosting.

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Make the frosting

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the hot cocoa mix and heavy cream. Heat until warm, stirring often. Remove from heat and cool for 20 minutes or until at room temperature.

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  • Beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined, about 1 minute. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in hot cocoa mixture. Once combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute. For a thicker frosting, add more confectioners’ sugar. If your frosting is too thick, add more heavy cream.

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  • Decorate cupcakes with frosting. Garnish with mini marshmallows.

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I had tons of leftover frosting, which was not a hardship. Not at all. Let me know if you give them a try.