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Tradition vs Revolution: Is Self-publishing for Me?

I remember when self-publishing first became “a thing.” After so many years of rejection letters and “not right for us,” I admit I was intrigued. It didn’t take long for that interest to turn cold. The immediate response from all sides seemed to be that to be self-published was to be unpublished, a cheaper version of a vanity press. Worse, it was labeled as the ultimate failure: no one else would publish the book so you were going to publish it yourself. There was no barrier between you and the reader – no editor, no agent, nothing and no one to say “this is good enough.” The writer was the beginning, middle, and end.

Egads! A writer in control. Surely a sign of the apocalypse.

But like with traditional publishing, self-publishing is neither easy nor for the faint-hearted. It’s work that doesn’t end. You don’t just write the book but now you have to edit, proof, design a cover, write a blurb, market, promote, manage sales, distribute, provide customer service…then start all over.

There are marketing companies that can help with promotion but like an agent, they usually take a percentage. Finding a good editor is both smart and can be costly. Then it comes down to getting your book into a reader’s hands. How do you get them to pick your book from the thousands – the tens of thousands – out there?

It’s dizzying.

As I start to learn more I’ll share my wonderful insights (joke!). Luckily there are others far wiser than me who’ve taken the journey and shared their experiences. I plan to absorb as much as they’re willing to tell me.

 

 

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Disappointment

Even when you expect to be disappointed, the disappointment hurts all the same. I got the standard rejection email from a recent submission. “Just not right for us.” How I hate those words.

They’re really useless. They tell me nothing. I can do nothing with them to improve or change or focus my writing, my story, my characters. Nothing is not something I’m good with under most circumstances. I have control issues. I admit it. I’ve heard them so many times over the course of my writing career you’d think they wouldn’t hold the power they do, but not so.

To be fair, I’ve heard the opposite just as often. I’ve won a Golden Heart, the TARA, the Molly, Duel on the Delta, and Daphne Du Maurier. Not bad. I’m proud of those. So people like my writing. Just not publishing people.

And here’s what I figured out tonight. It’s something I’ve always known but tonight…something about it tonight finally clicked in my head. I don’t write what they want to publish.

So I’m not going to pretend I do and I’m not going to try and fit my square peg in their round hole.

I don’t know what that means just yet. Maybe I’ll self publish. Maybe I’ll look for an agent who can help figure out where I do fit. But I’m not giving up. I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop trying.

Because I’m a writer.

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Who Am I?

I’ve read lots of stuff about branding myself as an author to make myself instantly recognizeable to my readers. An author I met recently had branded herself through the font-type and uniqueness a certain letter in her name on the cover.  She used the same “signature” on all her books. Other authos have used cover design. Still others have used the name of their books by doing a riff on the title.

It’s an important concept, both in the road to publication and in marketing after publication. Of course, we need to write a good book but it’s more than that. It’s a challenge to stand out on the book shelves today, especially since they are so few actual book shelves. So how do we catch the attention of a reader? And possibly catch the attention of an editor or agent if that’s the route we’re taking?

Forbes gave some good advice in an April 2018 article and the number one piece of advice was to know who you are and who you aren’t. This is one area I struggle with personally as an author. I write a little of everything. I’m published in contemporary and historical romance and YA. I also write erotica, romantic suspense, and have started a psychological thriller. At the moment I use two pen names. Am I supposed to create a different name for each genre? That’s a lot of people to manage. At the same time, I don’t want a reader looking for my contemporary romance to buy my psychological thriller if that’s not what they want to buy.

This last part rolls into several points the article makes about understanding your audience and how they perceive you. You never want to mislead a reader and while the reader should pay attention to the blurb, if your book titles are too generic, or if your titles and covers all look the same the reader is likely not to look too hard. We want our readers to buy “us” – we want them to recognize our names and trust that we right a good book. Once they’ve discovered me I want them rushing out to buy my entire backlist. But if they only want my romantic suspense, will they like my contemporary humor? It’s hard to say but I don’t want them disappointed regardless.

Like most things, publication and marketing are journeys. They aren’t meant to be straight lines necessarily so we have to adjust along the way as the map changes.

 

 

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On the tip of my tongue…

Writing is about getting words on paper. There’s little scarier to a writer than a blank page. You’d think, then, that jotting down words – even if they aren’t the best choice – would be easy. If you’ve ever stared at a blank page you know the truth behind that statement.

Years ago I discovered the Synonym Finder, a variation on the thesaurus that I found much more user friendly than the traditional tome of synonyms and antonyms. Recently I found my new best resource for adding texture to my scenes with the Thesaurus of the Senses.

Words are divided by – you guessed it – the five senses. From there, there are additional breakdowns based on categories. In SEE you find facial expressions or colors. TOUCH is divvied up into textures and pressure along with visceral responses. My favorite is probably the onomatopoeia category in HEAR.

Even if I don’t immediately know the right word I have a direction that I want to go with the choice. This helps me target more specific words rather than having to pull a random.

Using The Emotion Thesaurus is very similar and another good resource if you’re stuck. I’m a fan of the entire series that came from that book – positive trait, negative trait, urban setting, rural setting and emotional wound. While these don’t give you a specific word exclusively, they will help you build on an idea.

It’s easy to get caught up in buying tons of resource books. I have an entire library of odds and ends bought because I intended to write a book on some odd topic. But I find myself using all of these with each new book I start. They pull the words out of me when I can’t find them on my own.

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Nudging the creative side

Do you ever get stuck in your story? You need a word to describe a setting or an emotion, or you want to explore options for a conflict or twist.

I use two techniques when I need to nudge my creative side: mapping and listing.

Mapping can take many different forms but I’m partial to mind mapping because of its simplicity. Sticky notes are your friend with mind mapping because you can do it anywhere and then move around ideas as you need to but honestly, pen and paper are easy as well. Start with a central idea you need to create or solve or build. Then start jotting down the first things that pop into your head. Make no judgements at this point – just write them down as a “leg” of your central idea. Envision a spider body as the central idea and its legs as each new thought.

mind mapping

As you brainstorm you may start to see connections between the thoughts, or you’ll go in a direction you never previously considered. As you build off the central idea you’ll possibly find one thought leading to another and you can find the threads of a plot.

I find listing helps me add texture to my scenes, but I’ve also used it for characterization profiles. With my scene building, I start with the general scenario. The living room. Then I start writing down everything I would expect to see in a living room, or expect to see from my living room. Can I see the kids playing out a window? Would I see into the kitchen? From there I add layers in terms of the remaining senses: touch, taste, hear, smell. Is the couch leather or cloth? Does it have a ripped cusion that scratches the back of my leg when I sit down? Is there a layer of dust that makes me sneeze or can I smell something cooking in the kitchen? Are there sirens blaring in the distance because the window is cracked open?

Diner listing

Listing also works well with creating a twist to your plot. If I know my characters are going to meet at a diner what could happen once they arrive? Some ideas are straightforward: they order lunch, the waitress drops hot coffee on a lap, there’s a kitchen fire or a robbery. But I also try and take it to to the not-so-ordinary: a portal to a new dimension opens in the ladies bathroom, a woman gives birth to an alien baby, a man turns into a werewolf-vampire hybrid.

Brainstorming works even better with more brains so try it with your critique partner.

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Lady Cecilia is Cordially Disinvited for Christmas

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Home For Christmas

Weary of the long hours he’s been spending on a make-or-break legal case, Devin Montlake, the youngest son of the Earl of Vincent, is thrilled at the prospect of spending Christmas with his childhood love Lady Cecilia. With professional success almost within his grasp, he can finally formalize their understanding. Unfortunately, his interfering family’s House Party might well be his last chance.

Believing they’ve been disinvited to the Vincent’s Christmas gathering, Lady Cecilia and her family are surprised when they receive Devlin’s last-minute plea to attend. Lady Cecilia knows the Vincents want better for Devlin than the daughter of an impoverished earl, and, after months of Devlin’s silence, she isn’t sure what to expect. Does Devlin plan to break things off with her in person, or will he ask for her hand in marriage? And if he does propose after so much time apart, how can she be sure she is still first in Devlin’s heart?

Keep reading below for an excerpt!

About Sheridan Jeane

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Sheridan Jeane writes exciting Victorian-era romances filled with spies, intrigue, and tender, sensual moments. She has a single standalone romance as well as five romances in her “Secrets and Seduction” series. She also writes contemporary romances set in the Pittsburgh area.

Sheridan is the daughter of an artist/art-therapist/professor mother and an opera-loving/computer engineer father. Growing up, she assumed parents routinely converted their garages into well-stocked art studios complete with potter’s wheels, kilns, and every color of acrylic paint under the sun. Didn’t every second-grader nail shingles on the roof of the new 2-car garage their dad built? And didn’t every family host the occasional after-opera cast party?
No?
Go figure!

Surrounded by art and music, Sheridan immersed herself in books. Her parents encouraged this love, and one summer while she was away at summer camp, her dad covered her entire bedroom wall with floor to ceiling bookcases.

Book Excerpt:

He stepped into his parents’ grand foyer with his valise gripped tightly in his hand.

“Devin, you’ve finally come home,” Lady Vincent said as she swept down the red-carpeted staircase in an emerald-green silk gown. Her pale hair was swept up in a tight bun. She paused at the last step and peered at his bag with confusion. “But where is your traveling trunk? Don’t tell me that’s all you brought.”

“I can’t stay long. I need to leave on Boxing Day.”

“Are you trying to break your mother’s heart?” his father asked as he swept in from the direction of the library, a book clutched in one beefy hand. “You haven’t been home in two years, and now you say you’ll only stay two days?” The man’s hair had turned a bit grayer, but other than that he was relatively unchanged since Devin’s last visit.

“I know. I’m sorry. I have a case I need to argue next week, and it’s a complicated one. I should be in London right now preparing for it, but I didn’t want to disappoint you.” Or Cecilia.

“Hmph.” His father’s disdain was both loud and obvious.

“That certainly puts a damper on my plans,” his mother complained. “So many of our guests were looking forward to seeing you. Miss Glassford in particular.”

“Miss Glassford? I don’t recall meeting her.” Devin glanced at his brother for help, but Horace assiduously avoided his gaze. Something was going on here.

“She’s simply a young lady with whom I think you’ll have much in common. Mr. Glassford recently moved to the county. We’ve invited him along with his wife and daughter to be our guests for the house party.”

If Devin were a betting man, he’d gamble that the father was wealthy and the girl was in search of a husband. He forced himself not to react. “I look forward to meeting Mr. Glassford and his family.” The tight smile he offered should have conveyed all his annoyance, but she chose to ignore it.

“Quite so,” his mother said. “I hope you’ll make them feel welcome. Miss Glassford is such a pleasant young woman. I quite admire her.”

“I’ll do what I can. Unfortunately, since my visit is so short, I already won’t have much time to devote to Lady Cecilia. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to finalize matters with her father.”

“You what?” his father interrupted. “What on earth are you babbling on about? What matters? What could you possibly be planning that includes Lord Babbage? The man is a soft-headed imbecile. Don’t tell me you’re getting yourself involved in one of his schemes.”

Devin straightened his spine. “I’m referring to the arrangements I plan to make with Lord Babbage to secure Lady Cecilia’s hand in marriage.”

His mother let out a soft moan. “Don’t tell me that’s why you went behind my back and invited them. I thought we’d convinced you of the rashness of that plan. Her family—”

“Her family has had more than its fair share of bad luck. Between Lady Babbage’s ill health, the lack of a direct male heir to inherit the title, and Lord Babbage’s poorly chosen investments, I’d say they’ve been extremely unfortunate,” Devin said.

“Why would you want to tie yourself to such people?” his mother asked. “Don’t you realize that Cecilia will try to pass them money— your money— at every opportunity? And what of your children? That sister of hers is much too precocious. They’ve let Evangeline run wild. She has no idea how to speak to her betters.”

“I’ve seen it over and over again with horses. Bad breeding makes bad foals,” Father intoned.

Devin narrowed his eyes. “Are you suggesting Cecilia is in some way deficient? She’s the picture of good health.”

“Not of good sense,” his mother muttered.

“I think I’ve heard more than enough.” Devin grabbed his valise from where he’d set it on the floor. “I insist you stop criticizing the woman I plan to marry.”

His mother’s face paled. “Devin, be reasonable. You can’t still plan to—”

“I do, Mother. I plan to make Cecilia my wife. You need to accept it.”

Amazon     Goodreads

Don’t miss out on the other books in Sheridan’s Secrets and Seduction series! All are free with Kindle Unlimited!

It Takes a Spy (Book 1)

Lady Catherine’s Secret (Book 2)

Once Upon a Spy (Book 3)

My Lady, My Spy (Book 4)

 

 

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Pantster vs Plotter vs Plotser

I’m one of those hypbrid writers. Because of my background in analytical chemistry, I love a solid plan to accomplish a task. A + B = C. While it has its benefits in my career it’s not always great for my creative side. Without a plan, I freeze up. Research ad nauseum. Comapre and contrast. Analysis paralysis. I will make a decision and while I may project confidence in that decision, inside I’m usually a quivering mess.

Because of this I tend to approach my writing in much the same way.: make a plan. This plan will involve charts and graphs and questionnaires. I’ll outline and research. I’ll build profiles for my characters so I know not just what they look like, but how they’ll react.

It’s great for the beginning of the stories but not so much when my characters decide they don’t like what I’ve planned and detour from the plan and that happens more then I like to admit. (Stubborn characters!) I can try and force them back on the plan but it rarely works. This is when my pantser personality has to come out and go with the flow.

The great thing about plotting is that it’s a goal for me and I’m very much a goal-oriented, task-oriented person. I like having that direction. With romance we know the end goal is going to be that HEA. The steps inbetween first meet and final resolution are the tasks I need.

I took a great workshop recently entitled Patchworking the Perfect Plot by Suzanne Johnson that appealed to both sides of my personality. We built lots of guides and plans (plotting) and then filled in the gaps. I didn’t feel trapped by my plotting side, or left adrift by my pantser side.

One of the greatest things I learned in Suzanne’s workshop involved creating relationship arcs. There are, of course, different levels of relationships between the characters in a story. Secondary characters may have just a cursory relationship with one another or a major character. For some reason, this information helped soothe the pantser in me. My character profiles told me how an individual character would react but reactions are built on interactions and the arc showed me that interaction.

How do you overcome the obstacles to your writing?

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