20 books to earn $50k a year? Snort. I failed this mission – spectacularly. Here’s how. Please learn from my mistakes. Someone should. #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #WritingCommunity #AmWriting

I often read about success stories in the writing community. Personally, I learn more from failure than success. Plus, success stories make me turn into the Jolly Green Giant of envy. So, hanging my head in shame, I will share my failures with you today. Please be kind or at least turn away before snickering at my ineptitude.

First of all, a little background in case you haven’t heard of the 20 books to 50k community. It’s somewhat self-explanatory. The idea is – if you have twenty books, you should be able to earn $50,000 a year and retire comfortably in Cabo San Lucas. Not where I’d retire but it’s not my idea either. No, this is the copyrighted brainchild of Michael Anderle. (Interested in learning more? Here’s the link to the FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/20Booksto50k/)

Sounds good, right? I thought so. Only problem is I completely and utterly failed at this. On July 29th, my twentieth book releases and – barring some major miracle happening – I will not be anywhere close to earning $50,000 this year. In fact, I’ll probably gross about half of that.

So, how did I go wrong? In oh so many ways. Let me count the ways:

Not writing to market

Writing to market does not mean finding the latest trend and writing books in that genre. It means ensuring the books you write fit into the genre you market them in. I totally failed at this.

When I first published my Gray-Haired Knitting Detectives series, I thought they were fun chick lit. Readers thought differently and shoved them into the cozy mystery genre. I thought – okay, why not? Wrong. Dena. Wrong. These books contained swearing and some sexual scenes. You know what cozy mystery readers really, really hate? You got it – swearing and sex scenes! I recently spent a month editing the novels in this series and re-launching them. My reviews have gone up and sales as well.

You’d think I would have learned from the above disaster. But no, I didn’t. When I wrote my next cozy mystery series, the Death by Cupcake series, I thought it was okay to have a stripper on the cover. I should have realized something was wrong when my blog tour operator refused to take my business. Of course, I’m pigheaded and went about my business. Can you say idiot? Luckily, I finally caught on and updated the covers to match the market.


Blurb Failure

All those experts who tell you your blurb needs to be short and catchy are right. Listen to them! Do not go ahead with that blurb that you think tells the story. The blurb is meant to entice readers. This all sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Apparently not to me who continued to write long meandering blurbs for years. I highly recommend listening to podcasts and taking courses to learn how to write better book descriptions. (Bryan Cohen is the guy who finally got through my blockhead.)

Here’s an example of what I mean:


Not writing in series

There is absolutely, positively nothing wrong with not writing in a series. BUT – and it’s a big but thus the all caps – if you want to earn money with your writing, writing a series is the way to go. Once I decided to dip my toe in Facebook and Amazon ads, I quickly realized advertising for standalone books is way expensive. (The experts are not kidding when they say book selling is now a pay to play market.) I could make it work short-term, but not long-term. And long-term earnings is what I’m looking for.

Not building a newsletter

Like many authors, I started a newsletter and then felt guilty whenever I sent one out. No one wants to hear from me, I thought. So, I only sent out a newsletter when I had a book to talk about. But guess what? That means every time my newsletter went out, I was asking my subscribers for something. I wasn’t giving them anything. They had no incentive to remain subscribers. With dwindling subscriber numbers, I decided to start taking this whole newsletter thing seriously. I studied Newsletter Ninja and then wrote a novella to give away to new subscribers. I’ve since learned one free novella is not enough. You need to constantly provide new, enticing content for subscribers to keep them subscribed – giveaways, free content, exclusive teasers, etc.

Not building an advance team

I initially scoffed at the experts who advised an advance team to help launch your books. Why would anyone want to be on my advance team? I’m a no one. In the meantime, I’ve realized how much time and effort I put into finding reviewers and bloggers for each book I launch. Considering I’m increasing my productivity and thus the number of books I launch, I can’t keep this up. My advance team is now officially launched. There are less than ten members, but you have to start somewhere!

Writing in different genres

I’ve written about this a lot of the past year, but I’ll repeat myself here – if you write in different genres, you need to use different pen names. Here’s the problem: I write cozy mysteries that are clean reads and I write romantic comedies that are most definitely not clean reads. Cozy mystery readers are often offended by my romcoms. And my romcom readers often find my cozies silly. With my newsletter and social media, I only have one pen name meaning I’m advertising my romcoms to cozy mysteries who aren’t interested in romcoms and vice versa.

Not writing fast enough

Don’t get me wrong – you don’t have to write a book a month to be successful. But you do need to write constantly at whatever speed you are comfortable with. I initially farted around – writing a chapter here and there. In the past year as I’ve taken earning from my writing more seriously, I’ve worked on writing faster and on a schedule. I no longer schedule lunches and fun stuff during the daytime, and I try to write three chapters a day (just over 5,000 words). This allows me to bring more books to market. More books equals more money (or at least, that’s the idea, fingers crossed).

Approaching writing like a hobby

I saved this one for last, but it’s my biggest failure. When I started seriously writing, I had the luxury of not needing to earn money. My husband was making good money and anything I earned was simply frosting on the cake. But things change and now I regret my early attitude. Instead of having built up a bunch of super fans over the years, I feel like I began anew last year when I started taking all this writing and marketing stuff seriously.

I’m sure there are plenty more mistakes I’ve made, but these are the big ones. Anyone else feel like sharing their mistakes, so I don’t feel alone and naked out here in total honesty-ville?


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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June Reading Round-up #Amreading #bookaddict

June 2020 reading wrap up

I don’t know about anyone else, but I just can’t get my reading groove on this year. Concentration? What’s that? Attention span? I think I’ve heard of it, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have one. Plus, there’s that pesky pandemic, which we can blame pretty much anything on.

So, yeah, I only finished twelve books in June. If this sounds like a lot, please keep in mind I usually read four to five books a week.

Spoiler alert! – I didn’t actually finish twelve books. I DNF’ed two books (How to Choose a Guy in 10 days and His Human Nanny). Normally, I don’t include books I DNF on Goodreads, but since I bought these books and made it past the free chapters, I decided to add them. Okay, fine! I’ll admit it! Adding them also made me feel better about my dismal June reading habits.

Spoiler alert #2 – As long as I’m being embarrassingly honest here, I should probably admit that two of the books are actually novellas. Like a Wolf with a Bone and My Kind of Town, both from Shelly Laurenston, are short reads in her Pride Series.

The good thing about this list? Those books I did manage to finish I enjoyed for the most part. Avery Flynn is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. And I never turn down a chance to read Pippa Grant and Cynthia Eden. I’m up and down on Aurora Rose Reynolds. Her stories seem to repeat themselves an awful lot, but I did enjoy Hooking Him.

Favorite book of the month? This is one I didn’t expect to enjoy but stayed up half the night reading – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I thought it was smart and witty and readable. I recommend it to anyone looking for a pandemic read.

How did your June reading month go?

How to find book reviewers (in a kind of creepy and time-consuming way) #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

I have discovered a new way to find reviewers for my books. Warning: It’s super time-consuming and a bit stalkerish. If you’re okay with those conditions, read on.

Step #1 – Find a book similar to the book you want reviewed

finding reviewers 1In my case, I chose Jock Blocked by Pippa Grant. Although my upcoming release is not a sports romance, it is a romantic comedy and I fancy I’m funny. Not as funny as Pippa Grant (obviously, she’s make the big bucks) but funny in a similar way. WARNING: You should most definitely read the book to make sure it is indeed similar to your book.


Step #2 – Find the book in Goodreads and scroll the reviewers

I told you this would be time-consuming! You want me to go through every single review of the book on Goodreads? Have you lost your mind, Dena? Yes, probably. But it works. Trust me.

Step #3 – Find a reviewer who has a blog and stalk her!

Yes, you read that right. You are now going to stalk the reviewer. Go to her blog, her social media, etc. etc. Does she read similar books to yours or was the review a fluke? Is she accepting reviews at this time? Are her reviews good?

You will want to find a reviewer who loves your genre, writes fun reviews, shares them across her social media, and isn’t too critical.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not searching for five star reviews. Sure, I love five star reviews as much as the next writer, but what you are searching for here is honest reviews! Potential readers can sniff out false reviews a mile away. You don’t want those.

Step #4 – Approach your chosen blogger/reviewer

I am blatantly honest with potential reviewers. I tell them I saw their review of X book and I stalked them. If this turns them off, they are probably not going to like my books.

Step #5 – Offer a sacrifice to the gods

Cadmus is the Greek Literature God. Offering him a sacrifice (I usually go with wine) can’t hurt. And it’s yummy!

Good luck! Let me know how you get on.

Fireworks, Murder & Cupcakes! Monthly writing update #amwriting #Mondayblogs

Let’s start this month off with a bang!

red velvet 4th of july cupcake

I haven’t been doing as much baking during the pandemic as I’d like because no one in my house – except me – eats sweets. I’m not sure I would have married my husband of twenty-four years had I known this little factoid in advance. Seriously, who doesn’t love cupcakes? But with the Fourth of July coming up, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work on one of Anna’s cupcakes from Fireworks, A Firecracker & Foul Play. I was a bit of a cheater as I used a cake mix to help with the cupcakes, but believe it or not, it was easier to find red velvet cake mix than red food coloring in Holland. At least that’s the story I’m sticking with. It has nothing to do with the red dye disaster of 2020. Nothing at all. I always wanted to pink baking stuff. Really. See the recipe below.


In writing news, I have an exciting announcement. I have decided to write another story in the Fat Girl Begone! world. This will be Blaze’s love story and it will be totally, completely FREE for newsletter subscribers (go here to subscribe). The story is up next in my writing roster. I hope to have it to you mid-August. I finished the first draft of A Hero for Hailey yesterday. As soon as it’s off to the editor, I’ll get to work on Blaze’s story.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Keep reading.


Why cupcakes? Why did I chose to have my Death by Cupcake series revolve around cupcakes? #cozymysterywriter #mysterywriter #amwriting


Fireworks, A Firecracker & Foul Play while being a standalone story is also book 5 in the Death by Cupcake series. The series is set in Callie’s Cakes a cupcake bakery where Anna the baker extraordinaire, Kristie the coffee-obsessed barista, and Callie the nerdy owner work. Why did I choose a cupcake bakery as the backdrop for this cozy mystery series?

Cozy mysteries can roughly be divided into three categories; animals, culinary and crafts & hobbies. My first cozy mystery series, The Gray-Haired Knitting Detectives, is of the craft & hobby variety. The name kind of gave it away, didn’t it? The problem with the knitting series was the old ladies were never knitting. To be honest they didn’t have much time to knit between investigating crimes and matchmaking their grandchildren.

Readers complained about the lack of knitting. The problem is I can’t knit. Oh sure, I’ve knitted the odd sweater or scarf, maybe even a pair of mittens once upon a time. But actual knitting? The type where you know what you’re doing and don’t have to start over about a hundred times and even then your finished product looks like a elementary school project? That I have no idea how to do.

So, when I decided to start a new cozy mystery series, I knew I had to pick a backdrop I’m actually familiar with. I started the Death by Cupcake series around two years after I stopped managing a Bed & Breakfast. One of the ways I tried to make my B&B stand out was the homemade baked products. I served homemade bread and muffins at breakfast and homemade cakes, cupcakes, and cookies at tea. An idea started to form …

I certainly don’t consider myself the best baker in the world. Not even close. But cupcakes I can do. Much better than cookies and cakes at least. I’d actually say my muffins are the best of my baked products, but muffins are simply not as fun as cupcakes. And so, the Death by Cupcake series was born.


How the idea for Fireworks, A Firecracker & Foul Play came about #cozymysterywriter #mysterywriter #amwriting


Readers are always asking where an idea for a particular book comes from. Often, I’m not exactly sure. Mostly my muse visits me in my dreams and I wake up with an idea. She’s pretty awesome that way. Sometimes, however, an idea is sparked by a real life event, which is the case in Fireworks, A Firecracker & Foul Play.

Many lifetimes ago, I was a military police investigator in the U.S. Army. We were the detectives of the military base. We wore plain clothes and interviewed victims and detained suspects, just like a civilian detective. And just like in the civilian world, suspects sometimes fooled detectives.

Once upon a time, I interviewed a woman who I believed was a victim. I don’t remember what the crime was anymore. During the course of the interview, it became clear she wasn’t a victim but a suspect. I immediately stopped the interview to read her her rights. I treated her with kid goals as she was distraught.

A few days later I get pulled into my boss’ office. The woman had made a complaint against me. She said I harassed her! I was not a happy camper. I won’t lie and say I’ve never pushed the envelope when interviewing a suspect, but I know I treated her nicely. (Guilting suspects into confessing was my thing.)

For some reason, this memory resurfaced last year. As soon as I decided to write a July 4th novel in the Death by Cupcake series I knew I would use the story as a launchpad for Fireworks, A Firecracker & Foul Play. 


In this post Anna of the Death by Cupcake series tells us why in the world she gave up the world of finance to bake cupcakes. Take it away, Anna!


Thanks, Dena!


People claim I’m obsessed with cupcakes. I’m part-owner of the cupcake bakery, Callie’s Cakes, where I’m also the baker extraordinaire. Of course, I love cupcakes. But obsessed? I wouldn’t go that far. Obsessed makes my love of cupcakes sound like an addiction. Just because I eat them every day doesn’t make me addicted, does it?

One thing I do believe about cupcakes is their ability to make anything better. Feeling blue? Eat a cupcake. Boyfriend dumped you? Eat a cupcake. Failed an exam? Eat a cupcake. Aced an exam? Eat a cupcake. Getting married? Make a cupcake wedding cake.

My obsession love of cupcakes began when I was in junior high. All the other girls were developing into women. Not me. I was stuck at five-foot-nothing and as straight as a chocolate sheet cake. I was not a happy camper. Then, this nerdy girl named Callie handed me an Oreo cupcake and I fell in love. Cupcakes became my life. And the nerdy girl? She became my best friend and co-owner of a cupcake bakery.

Now that I’m older, I’ve also discovered cupcakes are mighty handy when you’re investigating a crime. It’s remarkable how quickly a person will open up and answer your questions when you hand them a cupcake. Cupcakes are also handy for comforting a victim. Asking a victim questions before they’ve been comforted is never a good idea. Trust me.

And that’s why I gave up my work as an accountant and became a cupcake baker.

Why I chose to get married on July 4th! #characterguestpost #cozymystery #deathbycupcake

In this post Anna of the Death by Cupcake series tells us why she chose July 4th as her wedding date. Take it away, Anna!


Thanks, Dena!


The Fourth of July doesn’t scream wedding date, but it’s the date I chose to get married anyway. My friends – I’m looking at you Callie – think I chose July 4th to have an excuse to dye my hair red, white, and blue. While it is true I will dye my hair red, white, and blue for the occasion, my hair is not the reason I decided to get married on Independence Day.

When my fiancé Logan proposed on Valentine’s Day, I wasted no time in starting my search for an available venue this summer. I can not wait to become Mrs. Allen. I quickly learned other women plan their weddings years in advance. Which means it was almost impossible to find a venue for the summer in February. That’s when I hit upon a genius plan – get married on July 4th!

Not only does the Fourth of July fall on a Saturday this year, but there were several venues available on the date. Apparently other brides did not want to get married on Independence Day. Once I warmed to the idea, I realized how utterly brilliant it is! Not only did I get to start my wedding off with a bang – literally! – but most businesses are closed, leaving no one with an excuse not to attend my wedding!

But now we have a big problem. Huge problem! My fiancé Logan is under suspicion for murder. He’s even been put in jail. And it’s only two weeks until the wedding. Can you say yikes? Good thing the gals of Callie’s Cakes have experience in investigating murders. We’ve got two weeks to find the real murderer, because my wedding is not going to be ruined – no matter what!


How and why you should do newsletter swaps #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

Newsletter swaps are awesome. Not only will they help sell your book, but they are hundred-percent free!  I can’t believe it took me this long to start doing them!

First of all, what the heck is a newsletter swap? It’s simple really. You agree to mention another author’s book in your newsletter. In exchange, they agree to mention your book. Easy peasy. The best part of this? Your book doesn’t have to be on sale or free, which is something most newsletter services (bargain booksy, fussy librarian, etc.) require.

But why should I do newsletter swaps, you ask. There are three reasons: increase your exposure to readers, increase sales, and grow your newsletter list. All for the low, low price of FREE.

Not all newsletter swaps are created equally, however. You won’t always get sales. Often, there’s a perfectly logical reason for this. Which leads me to how you should do newsletter swaps.

Choose wisely. When I first started doing swaps, I was so excited someone wanted to swap with me, I’d swap with anyone. Beginner mistake. You should only swap with authors promoting books your readers will like. I’ll be honest, it took me awhile to figure this one out. I assumed since I write romance and cozy mysteries, my readers would love any romance or cozy mystery I threw at them. Wrong!

newsletter swaps 1Don’t go overboard. After I started getting into the swing of things, I would sometimes have over ten books to include in my monthly newsletter. This was too much. I would get clicks on the books at the top of the newsletter but hardly any on the bottom. I’ve learned to limit my swaps to ten. I also bundle the books together by genre instead of just throwing books at my readers willy-nilly.

Deals. As I said above, you can do newsletter swaps even if your book isn’t on sale. Unfortunately, you may find that your readers are expecting bargains. I always try to include at least one or two reader magnets in my newsletter, so my readers can claim at least one free book if they want.

All this sounds great, but where do I find other writers to swap with?

Facebook groups. If you search newsletter swaps on Facebook, you’ll find a ton of groups. Ton! You’ll soon need to set up a spreadsheet or something similar to keep track of all your swaps.

newsletter swaps 2

StoryOrigin. This is where I find most of my swaps. It’s a free platform and it’s pretty brilliant. Not only can you find books similar to yours to include in your newsletter, but you can see how big an authors list is. Don’t stare yourself blind on the size of the list. Some smaller lists have better open and click lists than larger lists. You can also see how many clicks your book gets in a particular author’s newsletter. This can help you choose which authors to swap with in the future.

I hope I’ve convinced you to give newsletter swaps a try. I’ve had such success with mine, I’ve started doing a second newsletter each month. Have you tried newsletter swaps? What do you think? Yea or nay?


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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Why I wish I’d created several pen names for my writing #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

I’ve talked about the myriad of mistakes I’ve made in my writing career many times. (Want to laugh at all mistakes? Check out this blog post.) I’ve alluded to wishing I had used various pen names in the past. Today, I’ll elaborate on why I’m filled with regret for using D.E. Haggerty as my author name for every single book I wrote.

Also boughts. First of all, what the heck are also boughts and also reads? On your book page on Amazon the books other readers bought (also boughts) or read (if you are on Kindle Unlimited) after purchasing or reading your book are listed. The premise is these books are similar to your own book. If you write in several genres using the same pen name, your also boughts will be all over the place. For example, this is the also boughts from one of my romantic comedies, Hands Off:

also boughts 1

Why do I even care these also boughts are not all romantic comedies like my book? Two reasons: (1) reader confusion. I want there to be absolutely, positively no confusion about what genre my book fits into. Although I read everything under the sun, it turns out most readers are extremely loyal to their genre.

(2) Marketing. This is the BIG one. How do you find targets for your Amazon ads? You start with also boughts. If those books are not similar to yours, your ad will be targeting the wrong reader. Can you say wasted money and no sales?

Similar authors. On your Amazon author page, there is a list of similar authors underneath your bio. Here’s mine:

also boughts 2

All of the authors listed here are cozy mystery writers except one. Here’s the thing: I make most of my sales from my romantic comedies. This list is giving my romcom readers the wrong impression of my writing.

Newsletter. Last but not least – my newsletter. Oh, if I could only start all over. Not only would I have multiple pen names, I would have a newsletter for each pen name. I write predominantly in two genres: cozy mystery and romantic comedy. Cozy mysteries are clean reads – no swearing, no sex. My romcoms, on the other hand, are full of naughty-mouthed women enjoying sexy times. Yikes! Need I say more?

What about you? Do you have more than one pen name? If so, do you recommend it?


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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