WHY I GAVE UP FINANCE TO BAKE CUPCAKES #CHARACTERGUESTPOST #COZYMYSTERY #DEATHBYCUPCAKE

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!

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Thanks, Dena!

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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!

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Thanks, Dena!

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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.

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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?

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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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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:

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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:

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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?

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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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Why I’m not adjusting my release schedule for the pandemic #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #WritingInAPandemic #Coronavirus

planner-3820633_1920Totally honest. I’m not sure how I’m going to adjust to the world when this whole Corona virus crisis over. In addition to writing like a demon, I’m enjoying the stress-free life and the lack of social anxiety. (Not to say I don’t have anxiety. I have a shit ton of anxiety. But, as long as I stay inside, it’s manageable.) Why – if I’m enjoying this much productivity – am I not adjusting my release schedule for this year?

There are two main reasons I’m not adjusting my schedule:

  1. Things can always change. In the first week of the stay at home order, writing was a chore. Not a fun chore like taking the dog for a walk. Nope. Writing was like pulling out teeth. I couldn’t stop myself from checking the news every five minutes. So. Much. News. You can get used to anything, though, and I’ve gotten used to living in crisis. But there’s no guarantee I will stay a-okay. In case my mental health changes, I’m keeping my current schedule. If I adjust it to add another book (sounds crazy but at the current writing speed it would be possible) and things change, it will merely cause stress. Now, everything extra I manage to write is a win.
  2. The dreaded long-term to-do list. List most people I have a to-do list which is for ‘when I have more time’. And like most people, I haven’t touched this list in over a year. But now I find myself a month ahead of my writing schedule. I won’t spend the entire month working on these tasks (see point #1 above), but I do have two weeks scheduled for only working on this list. I’ll be editing two of my earlier published novels. Between the lock-down and editing, I expect to be stark-raving mad by mid-May. Yet another reason not to adjust my release schedule.

What about you? Have you adjusted your release schedule for the pandemic? If so, how?

 

Lessons from Quarantine ~ Book Marketing in the Time of Corona #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

quarantine jokes 4As I near my two-month anniversary of quarantine, I thought it appropriate to reflect on how my book marketing strategies have changed during this time. Like many authors, I assumed people would sit at home and read during the corona crisis. But a lot of people – myself included – are having concentration and anxiety problems leading them to put down their regular reading and turn on the television to binge-watch shows on Netflix. (I’m currently addicted to the Marvelous Mrs. Maizel on Amazon Prime.)

The main thing I’ve learned from this crisis is to be flexible. Buying patterns are vastly different than normal and we authorpreneurs need to adjust as necessary. The big change I’ve noticed is where my readers are coming from. In January and February of this year my earnings from amazon.co.uk was approximately 12% of overall revenue. In March, this number jumped to 44%. And I’m looking at 55% for April.

In order to profit from this shift, I increased my Amazon and Facebook ads. I quickly discovered amazon.co.uk ads would not be working for me during this crisis as the cost per click (CPC) rates went through the roof. On the other hand, Facebook ads CPCs are lower than ever. But the click-through-rate (CTR) is low. Normally, I’ll turn an ad off if I’m not getting at least 10% CTR. With the low CPC, I decided to keep the ads on. And boy, am I glad I did!

What else have I been doing with regard to marketing strategies during the crisis? I’m taking courses and learning to apply new strategies. I’m currently taking an Amazon ads challenge. Fingers crossed I figure out not only how to make an ad profitable, but how to get Amazon to spend my money without having a 50 cent CPC. I’m also taking a Facebook messenger bot course that should teach me how to ask followers of my Facebook page to join my newsletter.

How has your marketing strategy changed during the crisis?

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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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Tips for working at home aka how to survive being a shut-in #WriterWednesday #QuarantineLife #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Work from home. No boss breathing down your neck. No need to get dressed in business clothes. Hell, no need to shower or get out of your pj’s if you don’t want to. But as I’ve learned over the years as a work-at-home writer, it’s not as easy as it seems. And now many of you are forced to work at home, too.

Do not panic! I’m here to help with some tips and tricks for working at home. Because – despite initially missing colleagues and some gossip by the water cooler – I can’t even imagine ever having to go into an office. Blech!

Anyway, there are things you can do to make working at home not feel like you’re a prisoner in your own home. Here they are:

  1. Have a schedule. I know. I know. Isn’t not having a schedule the best part of working at home? But seriously, having a schedule (a time to start working, times to have breaks, and a set time to stop working) helps to make working at home feel like a ‘normal’ work day and not ‘oh my god, I’m stuck at home’.
  2. Get out of your pj’s! You weren’t expecting that one were you? Those of you who follow me know I love me some pj’s. But – trust me on this – wearing pj’s all day every day will only lead to you down the path to depression.
  3. Make a separate work area. If possible, work in a space you don’t use on a daily basis. Even better, set up in a room away from the social areas of your house. At the end of the day, you can walk away from your work and not be constantly reminded of work whenever your glance happens upon your dining room table (or wherever you set up).
  4. Get out of the house. I know we’re all supposed to be socially isolating, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a walk, a bike ride, or even a jog. Walk around the neighborhood, go to the park, whatever tickles your fancy, just get outside. And yeah – keep your distance!
  5. Get some exercise. All sport facilities are closed now in the Netherlands, which means my usual means of working out – playing tennis – isn’t possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t get some movement in. There are a ton of apps out there with home workout solutions. Many of the gyms also have apps for working out at home. I imagine they’ll be offering free sign-ups and lots of goodies if you join now.
  6. Keep communication lines open. Sure, you can’t run down to the café to have a coffee with a friend or close out the day with a beer with your colleagues, but you don’t have to be stuck all by your lonesome either. Videochat, whatsapp, plain old telephone calls – they all still exist! Feeling lonely or experiencing cabin fever? I bet a friend is too. Reach out!
  7. Bonus. I don’t have time for that. Remember all those projects – cleaning out your closet, organizing your financial paperwork, or painting your bedroom – you didn’t have time for before? Now is the time. There’s not much better than the feeling of accomplishment when you tick something off your to-do list.

And remember, the government of wherever you are is not forcing you into social isolation because they are big ol’ meanies and they are certainly not overreacting. We are doing this for the greater good. I don’t know about you but I can stay at home for a heck of a long time if it means 400,000 people don’t have to die [1/2% of 8,000,000 people (half of the population living in the Netherlands)].

stay calm

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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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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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