Monday, December 29, 2014

What Readers Want—And Don't Want

Two days ago, I came across a post on Facebook by author Lacey Weatherford, where she had polled her readers for what types of books and story lines they're tired of seeing. I thought the post was interesting, so I decided to poll my readers, as well. Between these two posts, there were many similarities about what readers are tired of reading. Some of the responses might surprise you:

  1. BDSM topped the list. A lot of readers are apparently totally over D/s. As in, it's been beaten to death with the flogger of overindulgence and whipped beyond novelty, to the point that readers are gagging on their ball gags.
  2. Fifty Shades knock-offs were second on the list. If you count responses of "billionaires who hook up with a recent college grad/innocent young woman/etc." or any such derivative thereof as Fifty knock-offs, this was easily the number one answer. But since Fifty Shades was what made BDSM so popular, how about we just lump these first two responses in one gigantic category called "Readers Would Like To See This Die A Fast Death."
  3. Weak Female protagonists ranked high, as well. We're lumping comments such as "wishy-washy," "stupid girl who falls for the bad guy," and "weak females who let their men walk all over them" in this category. In other words, readers want a strong, smart heroine who doesn't do stupid things or let her jealous friends persuade her to do something idiotic to risk her relationship. Thank God for Samantha, Gina, and Cordray of my AKM Series. Strong girls ROCK!
  4. Unfaithful hero/man-slut. I was shocked to see so many responses for this, because it's common knowledge that in a romance, you don't want a hero who's sleeping with every girl in town. There are exceptions to this, but they have to be pretty compelling exceptions with realistic, believable reasons for the man-slutting.
  5. Virgins (male or female), especially the female virgin with the man-slut. Snooze-yawn. This was why I made sure Karma wasn't a virgin in my Strong Karma novels. Even I thought that wasn't realistic.
  6. Motorcycle club books, aka Sons of Anarchy.
  7. Insta-love. This one received a lot of hate, as well.
  8. Erotica (surprise!) One reader commented that this was the first year she didn't have any romance on her Christmas wish list. The sex has become overwhelming. A lot of readers would like to see more tension, plot, and story over sex. Thank goodness my contemporary books are taking a turn this direction.
  9. Vampires. One reader said she's tired of vampires being seen as the good guys. This one makes me sad, as I love my AKM vampires. However, readers have said my vampire stories are so unique and fresh that they make an exception to read them. So, yay! Here's to being unique and fresh! But I will say that I've been playing with the idea of a novel where the vampire is the bad guy and follows a more traditional, "Dracula" approach. So, even I would like to see vampires represented as the bloodthirsty, evil beasts they've been portrayed as in the past.
  10. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Readers are tired of seeing an author play out the same story line over and over with different characters. One gal even said she is sick of repetitious sex, where the same language is used in every sex scene.
  11. Speaking of sex: Readers got a good laugh regarding overly creative descriptions of sex and body parts, such as "his love wand invaded her slick love cave," or "his engorged muscle slammed through her cervix." Ouch! Um, that's not even remotely sexy. Does the author know how painful that would be? This is the hazard of trying too hard to use words other than dick and pussy/vagina. As Stephen King says, keep it simple. If a character has to take a shit, say he has to take a shit, not that he has to perform an act of excrement removal. In other words, he drove his cock into her vagina. Nuff said?
  12. Rape disguised as romance was another item readers don't like, but it opened an interesting conversation about how rape should be presented in novels, and that it can be used as an excellent device to show a character's strength and ability to overcome adversity.
  13. Cliffhangers. Nothing new here. This continues to be something readers generally don't like. The warning to authors is, "Hang readers off a cliff at the risk they'll grab you and take you down with them." 
  14. Serials (but I think that's because the readers who said they didn't like serials read serials written by authors who don't truly understand what a serial is, based on the reasons given for not liking them.).
So, do you agree? Disagree? Is there anything missing? Add your two cents in the comments. What do you want to see more/less of in future romance books?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Quest for 1,000,000 Words - Crushed It! Now what?

Last week, I hit the goal I set out for myself in January: to hit 1,000,000 words written. Now I'm looking toward the next year. Without goals, how do you measure success? How do you know what to shoot for?

Sometimes to look forward, you have to look back. To make goals for next year, you need to look at your accomplishments for this year so you can build on them.

For me, this year has been a blend of frustration and achievement. Frustrating because I'd put myself way behind in 2013 by running a lot of promotion and one huge blog tour. This killed my writing production, which carried over into the first half of this year. What I learned from that is to do a much better job planning and organizing promotion, and to ensure I always put writing first. After all, I'm a writer. I should be writing at least as much as I'm promoting. 

Year In Review
Once I recovered from my promotional misstep and the ensuing stress it caused, I got back on track. I spent a lot of time completely shut off from social media. In February, inspired by the Olympics, I plunked out a 60,000-word novel called Finding Lacey Moon in two weeks. That novel is now in the hands of my editor and slated for a February 9, 2015, release. Finding Lacey Moon is a winter story, so it made sense to hold it through the summer. I'm glad I did. During editing, I rewrote half the book, and my toughest beta reader, who was lukewarm with the first version, said that she absolutely adored the new version. This was the first time she didn't have any feedback to improve the story, so I guess it's good.
After writing Finding Lacey Moon, I finished my AKM prequel, All the King's Men, which I published in April. Then I hunkered down on book one of the Strong Karma Trilogy, Good Karma. This 150,000-word novel had haunted me for two years and during two-and-a-half full rewrites, I think I wrote more than 600,000 words to get Good Karma to its final version.

The other challenge preventing me from finishing GK was that I kept putting it off so I could work on my All the King's Men Series. Good Karma finally forced me to shut down everything else so I could focus only on it. I hated stopping work on Bound Guardian Angel, which is the next AKM novel, but with the Strong Karma Trilogy taking up every single brain cell, nothing else could get through. My choice was to finish Good Karma, along with all the other Strong Karma books, or stop writing completely.

In August, Good Karma came out. Book two of the trilogy flew out of me at that point, and Coming Back To You was published in November. Both book have received rave reviews, for which I'm so grateful.

Then I took time out to rework an old novella called The Arms of Winter I got the rights back to. I added 40,000 words to the novella, turning it into a novel, and completely reworked the plot and the ending. This was the story as I'd always envisioned it, and I republished it under the new name Winter's Fire this month. 

Now, with the end of the year less than a week away, I just finished the first draft of Full Circle, the final book of the Strong Karma Trilogy, and have begun work on Bound Guardian Angel again. 

The Year Ahead
Now that I know where I've been, it's time to look toward where I'm going in 2015. 

I didn't spend a lot of energy and effort on promotion in 2014, because I needed to get back on track with my writing. This year, with the release of the much-anticipated Bound Guardian Angel, I am planning another massive blog tour. But instead of trying to coordinate it myself, I'm hiring three blog tour coordinators and will let them handle ninety percent of the coordination. This way I will still be able to hit my writing goals instead of focusing four months of energy on the tour.

With that said, I'm planning a new release every other month in 2015. Finding Lacey Moon comes out in February. Full Circle is projected for April. An All the King's Men omnibus is planned for release in June, and Bound Guardian Angel is currently slated for August, although I have vowed not to rush that book. If by some chance it's not ready, I won't release it. Trace's book is too important. Right now, I don't see any reason why it won't be ready, but I've recently been diagnosed with a tumor on my pituitary gland. I don't think the current treatment plan will negatively affect me too much, but if the treatment changes, my productivity could change, as well. We'll have to see. In October, I want to release the Strong Karma Series Companion, which will include some deleted scenes, and perhaps a novella and a handful of short stories. Lastly, I'm shooting for Severin's Muse to come out in December. 

Each of the projects scheduled for 2015 is already started, thanks to a very productive 2014, so hopefully that will bode well for each of them releasing on time. But now I need to get back to splitting my time with promoting my books. Thanks to a solid plan, I think I'll be able to make it work without losing my mind.

And Beyond
I've already started scheduling for 2016-2018, because in this business, you need to plan in advance to meet readers' and publishers' expectations. 

So, are you ready for a new year? Have you taken stock and looked ahead? If not, what are you waiting for? Time's a wastin'.

See you next year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

15 Autographed Books From 15 Awesome Authors!

Have the holidays petered out your get-up-and-go, as well as your book-buying fund? Have no fear, the 15 on 1/1/15 is here! 15 books by 15 authors to be awarded to one lucky winner on New Year's Day, 2015. You can't beat that!

What's up for the winning? Check out this list:

Insidious by Aleatha Romig
One to Hold by Tia Louise
Last Resort by Kate Roth
Blue Falcon by Tia Catalina
Heartless by Vanessa Marie
Soundless Silence by M. Katherine Clark
Good Karma by Donya Lynne
Waking the Beast by Lacey Thorn
Revealed by Britni Hill
Embracing Destiny by Suzanne Purewal
No Stranger by Anya Breton
For Nicky by A.D. Ellis
The Cheyenne Bride by J.J. Devine
Intoxicated by Jeana E. Mann
Ember's Center by Jillian Jacobs

Don't wait, and make sure to share every day for a greater chance of winning.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Write More in Less Time

I think that at one time or another, every author has wondered how they could write more in less time. Is it possible? If so, what's the secret?

The answer is so simple and something you've heard so many times. You're going to say, "Really? Is it really that easy?" And my answer is, "Yes. Yes it is." Bear with me a moment.

I've been a full-time writer since May of 2013. This is my job now, and like with any business entity, I'm learning how to function as a business, right down to creating a business plan and a company structure. Of course, my structure at the moment is little ol' me, but even I need structure. And in the last few days, I've learned that structure is everything.

If you're like me, you hate maintaining a strict schedule. Keep in mind a schedule is not structure. Structure forms the walls and foundation of your time. Structure gives shape to an idea or process much the way it gives shape to a building or architectural masterpiece that would otherwise be just a heap of metal. A schedule fills the building, or structure, with desks and cubicles and people. A schedule is the technical aspect of shaping the metal into something pretty.

For me, a schedule usually means filling a room, or in this case, my mind, with unusable clutter that bogs me down. As a writer, I'm a creative entity. Schedules don't serve me. They stunt my creative flow because they make me think about what I have to do next. So, schedules and I don't mix well.

However, I learned today that structure and I get along fabulously.

Last week, I took a free course called How to Write 50 Books a Year! by sisters Elle James and Delilah Devlin. Fifty books in a year!?!? I know, that's impossible, but that doesn't mean we can't aspire to write more than we do.

Here's what I learned from the class that helped me blow my daily writing goal out of the water this morning (more on that in a minute):

  • The power of goal setting is immeasurable.
  • Discipline is key.
  • My time is as important as everyone else's.
  • I needed to be brutally honest about how I was spending my time, and just as brutal about killing the time wasters that were preventing me from hitting my daily goals.
  • I needed to have a plan I could stick to.

The first day of class, I wrote my author bio for five years from now. That was fun. Here's what I came up with:
Donya Lynne, author of such award-winning and bestselling series as the All the King’s Men franchise, Strong Karma, Hope Falls, and Cupid’s Playground, spends most of her time writing and building new fictional worlds for readers to love. In her free time, she enjoys vacationing—and writing—in relaxing locales such as McCall, Idaho, which was the inspiration for her Hope Falls Series, as well as on the beaches of the Carolinas and California. A New York Times Bestseller, Donya is working on the next novel in her Progeny Series, the much-praised dystopian spin-off from the All the King’s Men, Knights of Justice, and Children of the Sphinx family of series.
Next, I wrote down what I called my shoot-for-the-moon goals for next year:
  1. Write 3 novels of 60,000+ words
  2. Write 3 novellas of 40,000+ words
  3. Write 3 short stories
  4. Send query letters to 5 agents

What's funny is that it's only been a little over a week since I wrote those goals, but now that the class is over and I've employed structure, I think those goals are a bit puny.

The next thing I did was identify the obstacles getting in my way of writing more books. There were six things on my list, but here are the main three:
  1. Distractions
  2. Administrative and Accounting Tasks
  3. Tetris Battle

Tetris Battle? What's Tetris Battle, you ask? It's a Facebook game. An addictive Facebook game. I used to justify my Tetris escapades by saying I needed a break to let my ideas simmer. I needed a break to shut off the voices. Blah, blah, blah. Excuses. All of them excuses. I knew it then, and I know it now. I didn't need a writing break or to let my ideas simmer. I wanted to get my fix. Tetris was my nicotine, my crack, my addiction.

I calculated how much time I'd spent in Tetris Battle over the last couple of months. You see, when you log into Tetris, it starts off by telling you how many rounds you've won and how many you've lost. In the latest spinoff in Tetris Battle, I'd played over 300 rounds. Each round is two minutes long. That's 600 minutes. That's TEN HOURS!! In the original Tetris Battle, I'd played well over 2,000 games. That's over SIXTY-SEVEN HOURS! I didn't even count the other types of Tetris that I played (there's different styles and arenas to play in), and I was already up to 77 hours of time lost. Being that I can write between 800-1100 words an hour, that's 61,600-84,700 words I could have written while playing Tetris. That's a novel or a couple of novellas. 

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Any author who plays Candy Crush, Tetris, Angry Birds (do people still play Angry Birds?) or any other online game but complain they don't have enough time to write, I beg to differ.

So, two days ago, I opened up my apps and, without hesitation, removed Tetris and any other game that could lure me in. Gone. Cold Turkey! And, really, I don't even miss it. When I faced the numbers and gave myself an honest gut-check, I realized Tetris was killing my writing career. I refuse to let that happen.

Now, remember at the beginning of this post when I mentioned the simple secret to how you can write more in less time? Do you want to know the answer? Tetris is part of the answer. So is your cell phone. And your email. And Twitter. And Facebook. And your cat, your dog, your kids, your husband, the INTERNET! Distractions are the main culprit. When it's time to write, it's time to turn off, shut down, close the door, and issue a commandment you are not to be interrupted until you open the door again (unless something's burning, bleeding, or broken).

"But, but, but...those are my kids. I don't want them to think they're not important?" You're not making them think that. You're showing them that you're important, too. That your time is just as valuable and important as theirs. You're teaching them that you respect yourself as much as you respect them. If they can't give you just one tiny hour of time per day, or two hours on Saturday and Sunday, then they need to learn how, and you need to learn how to set boundaries by teaching them. This will teach your children discipline and resourcefulness. You're not asking for the moon, just a little me-time. You deserve that as much as they do. Show them that. They'll respect you more for it and grow up to be more well-adjusted in a world that doesn't always give you what you want just because you want it.

Shutting off my social media and my phone has been one of my biggest problems when it comes to writing. I feel I have to be on and catching everything all the time, or I'll fall out of touch and fans will forget about me. What that way of thinking has given me is a whole lot of stress. I became overwhelmed. I was trying to do everything all the time. As a result nothing was getting done.

Check out what I did this week to solve this problem, which also solved the problem of my other obstacle, administration and accounting:

After doing a mass cleaning of my office and tossing out anything that I hadn't touched or looked at in several months or longer, I decided when I wanted my daily writing time to be. Then I got real with myself and said, "This is your job. You need to be up by 6:00 just the way you would be if you had to drive to a day job." You have to be disciplined if this is going to work.

Then I set this structure for my day:

6:00-7:00 Check email, yahoo groups, FB groups, etc.
7:00-12:00 Write. Nothing but write. I'm BIC HOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys)
12:00-2:00 Lunch, shower, watch Young and the Restless (my guilty indulgence), and take out the dogs (they're up until 1:45 so they don't interrupt my writing time -- see how this goes? I'm limiting distractions.)
2:00-5:00 Read, editing, judge contest entries, write blog posts, check email, check social media, promote, research for next book, plot development for next book, character sketches for next book, etc.

In this way, I'm not scheduled, but I'm structured. Structure gives me an orderly framework to work in without restraining me. Giving myself a few time blocks for general purposes still allows my creativity to flourish while keeping me on point.

And did you notice what I'm doing there? I'm using my writing time for my current story while I use my afternoon slot to prepare for the next story. That way, when I'm finished with one, I'm ready to jump right into the next. No wasted time between books.

Once I had my structure, I performed a lot of calculations. I won't go into all that here, but I've kept track of my daily writing for over two years. I went back through and found my daily average, which was a lot lower than I had hoped. Then I mapped out the eight books I want to write or at least draft in 2015 and included the projected word count for each. I added up the total, then divided by my average daily count. Ugh. That was depressing. The numbers showed it would take me almost a year-and-a-half to finish those eight books. Since that won't do, I performed a bunch more calculations in Excel and determined that if I wrote 2,150 words per day for only 22 days in each month, I could complete all eight books in less than a year.

BOOM!  Boo-yah! Shazam!

It's not fifty books, but eight is better than four, especially when one book is projected to be about 140,000 words long, and two others are expected to be 80,000 words. Imagine the damage I could do if I were writing short stories or novellas! I could get fourteen 40,000-word novellas out of my eight novels. That's a lot of cannoli! And I'm not even Italian.

But I'm not done. Knowing what it will take to complete all those projects is not the same as actually completing them. I needed a plan and some goals.

I knew I wanted my 2015 daily average to go up. A lot! My daily average in 2013 was actually higher than in 2014 by 200 words. In 2015, I want my daily average to be knocking on the door of 3,000 words/day.

To do this, I need to be ready to start the next book as soon as I finish the one before it, hence giving myself prep time in the afternoons while I concentrate on writing in the mornings.  I also need to know how many words and days each book is going to take, hence all the calculations. This will also help me figure out when a book will be ready for publication. I also need to be superbly organized, hence the reason for purging my office this week. But I also need to take regular steps toward keeping my office organized, as well as in handling all the administrative tasks that come up.

The "sisters," as we began to call them in our class, provided us with a Word calendar (I would link it here, but I don't want to get into any trouble by sharing the handouts outside of class. However, creating calendars in Word isn't that hard using Tables. It might take a bit of time, but it's well worth the effort. Once it's built, you just have to make a few modifications from month to month and year to year.). What's nice about this is you can easily add to it, update it, and make changes to it as necessary, which is a bit harder to do with a paper calendar without turning it into a dysfunctional mess of scribbles and scratch-outs.

On my Word calendar, I filled in two days a month as "Admin Days." Typically, the 1st and 15th were my Admin Days. These are days used for tracking income and expenses, balancing the checkbook, cleaning the office, mailing birthday cards to readers, writing blog posts, assigning ISBNs, ordering copyrights, updating my website, sending out agent queries, etc. These are days completely set aside for non-writing endeavors. I also entered my errand days on my calendar. I take one day a week to run errands so I can remain home the other six days and work. Very little writing gets done on errand days, if any at all. I also filled in any events I'll be attending next year, as well as notes on contests I'm judging and workshops I'm giving so I could plan accordingly. Lastly, I determined my the daily writing goals for the days I'm writing and filled in those numbers for January. I'll fill in the next month's numbers on one of my admin days. This way I don't get too far ahead of myself.

The calendar now hangs on my bulletin board beside my desk. As each days passes, I cross it off. I won't allow myself to cross off a day until I've met the goals for that day. I've also added a few handwritten notes at the top of each month for where my focus will be that month. For example, January's focus is on publishing Winter's Fire and finishing the draft for Full Circle while I prep to return to my draft of Bound Guardian Angel.

After days of planning, today was the first day of this new, more structure method, and it was a HUGE success! I can already tell.

My word goal was 1,860. When I sat down at 7:00 and started writing, I had no idea how I was going to hit it. I was at a place in my manuscript where I wasn't sure where to take the story and lead in to the scene I needed to write.

Ah, but the other thing I learned from "the sisters" was to turn off the internal editor during writing time and just write, no matter how awful the writing sounds. So, I did that. Within minutes, I was on a roll and wrote a powerful scene between my heroine and her father, who disapproves of her choice in men. Maybe some of what I wrote is shit, but I can edit shit. I can't edit nothing.

In less than ninety minutes, I had written 1,872 words. Goal met. In less than five hours, I'd written 4,561 words, doubling my word goal. Since September 1, I've written more than 4500 words in one day only three times. THREE. And that was when I was uber motivated, wrote "all day" (ah, but I didn't actually write all day, because I allowed myself to be distracted way too much...obviously), and the words were flowing out of my fingers on a tidal wave. And in less than five hours this morning, when I wasn't feeling the least bit inspired, I cranked out over 4500 words because I shut everything else off. And there was some good stuff there to work with when editing time comes around. Without adding the structure to my writing business this week, I wouldn't have done that.

Will maintaining this structure be easy? Not at first. It take 2-3 weeks to build a new habit. After that, it will probably feel funny if I'm not hitting 4500 words every day in my 5-hour writing slot. And this time next year, I'll have a bounty of finished stories either published or in edits, with a bunch more in the planning.

What's great is that this plan works whether you have eight hours, five hours, one hours, or thirty minutes. You just have to use it.

Here's to better—and more—writing in 2015. May you find structure and bounty in your new year, too!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Blond vs. Blonde - To E or not to E?

The dilemma of blond vs. blonde - to E or not to E has been putting writers in a stymie for as long as I can remember. When I began writing, it stymied me, so I looked up the definitions of both spellings over two years ago. I had a character who was blond (or is that blonde?) and wanted to make sure I described her correctly.
The other day, I posted a writing tip on my fan page about these two seemingly similar but different words. Since I link my fan page to Twitter, I purposely kept the post short so I didn't go over the 140-character Twitter rule. Here's what I wrote:

"Blonde" is a noun. "Blond" is an adjective. I can call a woman a blonde, but describe her hair as blond. #writetip

Who would have thought such a short post—and one tiny vowel—would stir up such a bustle of activity, but I received messages and emails all day about this. My critique partner and I even got into a friendly face-to-face debate over this last night.

So I took it upon myself to do more research and found that "blond vs. blond - to E or not to E" has three schools of thought.

That's right, it seems that not even our English dictionaries can agree on blond vs. blonde. Here are the three schools of thought I turned up:

School of thought #1

My Random House Dictionary defines blond as "having light-colored hair and skin; light-colored; a blond person."  It defines blonde as a "blond woman or girl." In other words, you would use blonde as a noun when referring to a woman but call her hair blond (adjective) when describing her hair. Also, since the dictionary specifically refers to blonde as a blond woman, one can infer from the definition for blond that a man with blond hair would be referred to as "A blond." Note that for the man there is no E. I also remember reading online two years ago (for the life of me I can no longer find the link) that a woman is referred to as blonde while a man is referred to as blond, when using the word as a noun.

The blonde led her guests to the table.
She has such lovely, blond hair.
Jeremy was a blond who had big blue eyes.

School of thought #2

My Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines blond and blonde as being interchangeable. The entry looks like this:
Blond or Blonde: Adj : fair in complexion: also : of a light or bleached color - blondish.
Blond or Blonde: n : a person having blond hair.

According to my Merriam-Webster Dictionary (I have the Garfield version...yes, Garfield the cat. Hey, don't judge me), there is no difference between blond or blonde when it comes to masculine and feminine or color. 
You could say a woman had blond or blonde hair. You could call her a blond or a blonde. You could call a man a blond or a blonde.

This is probably the least popular school of thought.

School of thought #3

I did an online search last night and found the school of thought my critique partner and her editor follow. This school of thought says that when you're referring to the feminine, you use blonde as both noun and adjective. When referring to the masculine, you use blond as both noun and adjective.

She's a blonde with blonde hair.
He's a blond with blond hair.
She has blonde highlights
He wants to dye his hair blond.
She's having a blonde moment.
He can be such a blond when he asks such silly questions.

In this way, the English language follows the rule of masculine and feminine that other languages follow. For instance, in Spanish, certain words have both a masculine and a feminine spelling. In English, we don't distinguish between the two. However, in the case of blonde vs. blond, this school of thought does.

So, what does all this mean, other than you're more confused now than you were five minutes ago? What it means is that there really is no right or wrong when it comes to blond vs. blonde - to E or not to E. Well, the only wrong you could commit is if you are inconsistent in which school of thought you use. Pick one school of thought and be consistent. I tend to subscribe to #1. My critique partner uses #3. Even if you use #2, you still need to be consistent. Yes, you may be able to use the spellings interchangeably, but if you use both blond and blonde in your writing, you'll just look like you don't know what you're doing. If you're going to be a #2 school of thought person, pick one spelling and stick with that.

Now excuse me, I need to go have a blond (or would that be blonde) moment.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Always Behave Professionally, You Never Know Who's Watching

Last night, I had what some could view as a life-changing experience. A celebrity reached out to me, and I got to talk to him on the phone. Here's how events played out:

I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment. Hubby was there for his appointment, too. As I was sitting beside him, checking my email, I pulled up a message and scoffed. Hubby looked over. "Check this out," I said. It was an email allegedly from this celebrity's personal assistant, asking me to contact his manager at my earliest convenience. No reason was given, just an email and a phone number. "Do you think this is some kind of scam?" I asked hubby. "Should I reply back?" Hubby said, "Sure. Just don't click on any links." He's a computer guy, so he's pretty cautious about opening emails from unknown sources.

So, I replied back with a short email that said I had been asked to contact him but wasn't sure why. Off I went about my business. I got my adjustment, grabbed a snack at home, watched my recorded The Young and the Restless, then went to meet my friend and critique partner to discuss self-publishing and my latest WIP.

After returning home and eating dinner, I checked my email. There was a message from this celebrity's rep, thanking me for replying so quickly and asking me to call him on his personal mobile.

I was watching MasterChef at the time. I was not calling until MasterChef was over. I was busy, you see. Uh-huh. Well, keep reading.

My curiosity began to get the better of me. Maybe this was legit. Maybe this really was this celebrity's rep. So, I started doing some internet searches for his name during the commercials. Hmm. Yep, there was this guy's name, associated with the celebrity in question. And, oh look, there's the rep's email address linked to one of the celebrity's YouTube videos. Okay, this was looking more and more like the real deal.

MasterChef ended, and while I was now getting excited, I forced myself to stay cool as I dialed the number. Yep, this could still be all a big fat hoax. Not likely, but my wary inner voice was hovering nearby to keep me on my toes.

The rep answered, and I said, "Hi, this is Donya Lynne?" As if I didn't know who I was, right? Yes, by now I was pretty sure this was for real. "Donya Lynne! Pleasure to finally meet you!" the rep said. We proceeded to have a pleasant, upbeat conversation, and then he said, "Hey, I've got [celebrity] right here. Hold on and I'll put him on so he can talk to you." At least, I think that's what he said. I was a little flumbergasted that Mr. Celebrity was right there, and that, yes, I was about to oh-so-(not)-casually chat with him.

Don't ask me what was said between me and Mr. Celebrity. I know the gist of it, but my brain was starting to misfire right about this time, so perfect recollection of what was actually said now eludes me. Mr. Celebrity was really cool, very appreciative, and said a lot of nice things. I just can't remember them. I really need to work on my memory. For real.

I then hung up the phone and proceeded to laugh for about two minutes. Hubby, having heard my entire side of the conversation (and knowing I had, in fact, talked to Mr. Celebrity) calls from the next room, "Are you having a bit of a fangirl moment, honey?"

Really? Do you have to ask?

But, in hindsight, it wasn't so much as a fangirl moment as it was the realization that good things come to those who do good deeds and refuse to let fear hold their tongue. You see, a little over two years ago, I contacted Mr. Celebrity and asked him to appear on my book cover. "That's ballsy," you might say, but my way of thinking is "Never be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no, and the best they can say is yes. You have everything to win and nothing to lose by simply asking." We emailed back and forth a few times but couldn't make the cover happen. I was on a shoestring budget at the time and didn't have the resources to pay for the rights to use one of his pics. But he was gracious, and so was I. Not able to make it work, I bowed out of the discussions with a sincere "thank you for at least considering" and went on my way.

Afterward, I could have gotten angry. I could've become defensive and immature. I could have behaved badly and lashed out that I couldn't make this endeavor work and had been told, in essence, no. I've seen others take "no" personally and do worse for lesser reasons. In fact, I've seen some do worse for lesser reasons and being told no in the last few days.

I always preach that authors need to be careful what they put on their platform, because this is their professional reputation they're building and showing the world. Don't post profanity-laden messages all over social media. Don't troll. Don't bash anyone—ANYONE—in the business. Not other authors, not publishers, not editors, not agents, not cover artists, not cover models, not potential cover models...NO ONE! Don't post controversial subject matter such as politics, religion, or your own personal opinions about touchy subjects (I learned this one the hard way and refuse to walk that path again). Don't go on and on about your health problems (the occasional post is okay, but posting about your health issues every day is a drag for your readers, and they don't want to hear it). Your author platform—your brand—is about you, as an author. Be social and be professional, but keep your posts relevant to your author persona, not everything else going on in the world, your life, and your head.


Well, because this celebrity is going through a re-branding right now, and, in my case, if I hadn't maintained my professionalism and my own brand awareness, I doubt he would have reached out to me. Furthermore, if I hadn't reached out in the first place over two years ago, he might not have reached out to me now. By sucking down my fear and "going for it," I put my name in his head, and by maintaining my professionalism, I indirectly earned the right to speak to him on the phone last night.

I won't divulge the nature of our conversation, but for those who pay attention, you'll be able to figure it out over the next few months. Maybe. But even if you don't, that's not the important thing here. The lesson to learn is to be fearless and professional...and to never take "no" personally. All the rest falls into place with time.

Peace out and happy writing

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How a Godzilla Dream Became a Romance Couple

"Hey, baby, wanna make out?"
Maybe it's because I'm a huge Godzilla fan and am getting psyched over the new Godzilla moving about to come out, but I dreamed about, yes, Godzilla last night. And not just about Godzilla, but about being a prisoner in a weird Chinese prison (I know Godzilla came from Tokyo, but in dreams you've just gotta go with it). The warden was very cruel and wouldn't let me take my cat figurines and trinkets when was released (again, you've just gotta go with what a dream gives you). So, I'm released from prison, and all these news reports come in about these two (not ONE, mind you) bizarre, mutating creatures that have been sighted, growing at an accelerated rate. There was TV footage and everything. I knew it was Godzilla and was both scared and excited all at once. But I had to leave. So, I go in search of my valet-parked beige Honda (uh-huh, go with it) so I can get outta Dodge before the big bad monster destroys Beijing. Apparently, dream Godzilla lives underground and causes intense seismic disruption, because vast land destruction began to occur, swallowing up buildings and people and cars...including my beige Honda. Then I woke up.

What's my takeaway from this dream? That I have two story characters, one male and one female, where the male is trying to rescue the female from her captors and utter destruction taking place all around her, but she is a feisty bugger and wants nothing of being the damsel in distress. As she proclaims she doesn't need his help and darts for her own vehicle to flee, a series of explosions wipes out her attackers...AND her vehicle. Seems the hero got carried away with the pyrotechnics. Anyhoo, she spins on him, knowing this was his doing. "Just great! Now how am I supposed to get out of here, Einstein?" He grins with self-satisfaction. "Looks like you're coming with me, after all." And so their relationship begins.

All this from a beige Honda Godzilla dream. LOL. And I don't even own a beige Honda.

But this just goes to show that story inspiration can come from anywhere. You just have to open your eyes, mind, ears, and heart. Oh, and having an emotional love affair with a movie monster doesn't hurt.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Change is good.

For a while now, I've been looking at redoing my blog and incorporating it into my website. Over the weekend, I did begin talking to a web developer about this reconstruct. In the next few months, I'm hoping to have a brand new website with my blog incorporated within. As soon as I have more information, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Authors Be Warned: Robert Quill - Con "Artist"

Well, add me to the growing list of authors who have commissioned Robert Quill, paid him, and then never heard from him again.

Last May, at the RT Convention in Kansas City, I commissioned Mr. Quill to create two prints for me of one of my AKM characters, Micah. He gladly charged me $400 and told me it would take about three months to create the prints. Here is what has happened since:

In June, I emailed him to ask him if I paid for VIP service. I couldn't remember if I had and wanted to make sure I did. No response.

In October, which was five months after RT and two months after I should have received my artwork, I emailed Mr. Quill to inquire about the status of my order. I had given him two extra months past what he had stated for my delivery, but it was time to begin inquiring. No response.

October-December were incredibly busy months for me with a book release and a huge blog tour, so I didn't get back around to following up with Mr. Quill until last week, because, honestly, time got away from me. I could barely remember what day of the week it was and forgot my own birthday. I emailed him again January 2 to inquire about my order. No response.

I contacted the RT organizers and asked if there was anything they could do to help facilitate communication with Mr. Quill, since it was there that I met him. I also wanted to let them know what has happened so they would reconsider allowing him to have a booth at future RT conventions. They assured me that he has been banned from the convention in the future, because apparently, they have received a lot of complaints about him similar to mine. They also said one of their organizers would attempt to contact him to try and get a resolution to my situation. No response from Mr. Quill.

I emailed him again yesterday morning, stating clearly in my subject line that he needed to reply immediately to avoid legal action. No response.

However, I'm pretty sure Mr. Quill has received my messages, because in the five days since I emailed him on January 2 to today, he has shut down his website. I pulled it up last week to ensure he was still around, and it was there. This morning, I tried to pull it up, and it's gone. UPDATED TO ADD: Lo and behold, his website came up again about an hour ago, as of 1/7/14.

Hmmm. Not a good sign.

So, this morning, I filed a dispute with my bank for the $400. I asked them, "What if he doesn't respond to the dispute?" and was told, "He has to respond." I was like, "Well, he had better say yes to my dispute, because if he says no, I'm taking him to court."

During my research into how to reach Robert Quill, I found that I'm not alone in my troubles. Check out these links to others who have also been unable to get a response from him. Note that Robert (and his wife) did reply on the blogs. Interesting that they can respond to public outcries against him but not to private emails.

Abbielog - Deadbeat Artist
Killian McRae - Author-to-Author Warning

For those like me who are unable to receive responses from him, perhaps these links will help. I'll be saving these for  my own files in case I have to sue him to get my money back:
Here's a listing for him on Wizard World
Robert Quill on Facebook
Better Business Bureau Listing

That's my story. Be warned and stay away from this guy. He took advantage of me, took my money, and that's the last I saw or heard of him. I guess I should have known something was awry when I returned to his booth at RT (when he told me to so I could see the sketches of the artwork he promised me) only to receive a curt and almost rude remark of how he hadn't had time to do it, if it was my fault. I should have asked for a refund then. Live and learn. But hopefully I'll help others learn from my mistake.

UPDATE: I did send Mr. Quill a Facebook message this morning, as well, notifying him that I've been trying to contact him and that I've filed a dispute with my bank for the $400. So far, no response. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

365 Ways To Be A Better Writer - Week One Recap

I hope everyone is ready for Winter Blast 2014. As I'm writing, the snow has arrived here and is coming down pretty heavily. And what better way to spend a snowy Sunday morning than to hunker down indoors and recap this week's writing tips on how to be a better writer.

I won't always do a weekly recap, but since this series is still so new, I thought it appropriate this week.

We started the 365 Ways with last week's blog post on creating a 5-Year Plan. Since I already spent ample time on that topic, I won't rehash it here. The other topics I hit this week are:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Read "On Writing" by Stephen King
  3. Editing
  4. How to start your story.
Let's look briefly at each one:

Know Yourself
They say to write what you know, but you also have to write what you love. And to write what you love, you need to know yourself. For example, if you have no interest in vampires, you don't want to write a vampire novel. If you don't like reading romance, then don't write romance.

Right now, male/male (m/m) romance is super hot in the romance world, but authors who aren't comfortable with homosexuality shouldn't write a m/m romance simply to cash in. Same with Fifty Shades of Grey. I recently read an erotic romance written by a gal who admitted that she isn't comfortable writing sex scenes and only wrote the book because she wanted to jump on the Fifty Shades bandwagon. The problem was that I could tell as I read the book that she was not comfortable writing sex. It was glaringly obvious and detracted from my reading experience. What could have been a fabulous erotic romance came off as only lukewarm. Know yourself first, write what you love second, and then write what you know.

Also, know when you do your best writing. I'm a morning writer. I seem to be more productive before 2:00PM, the earlier the better. I used to get up at 4:30AM and get 2,000 words written by 6:30AM. Other people are more productive late at night. Still others write well in short spurts. This is individual to each author, and only you know when it's best to write for you. Also, do you prefer music or silence? A warm beverage at your side? A dish of m&m's? Once you know when and how you do your best writing, you'll soar.

Read "On Writing" by Stephen King
This is pretty self-explanatory. I will say that this was one of the first writing books I ever read, and many of Mr. King's advice has stuck with me almost verbatim. I'm not a big fan of Stephen King's fiction, but that doesn't mean he doesn't give excellent advice. He does. Read this book over and over and over until you've nailed his advice. He knows what he's talking about. I always say that if you want to be a bigtime author, you need to emulate a bigtime author's behavior when they're writing.

Too many self-publishers publish too quickly. They get impatient. They finish their rough draft and do a cursory read-through, and that's it. They might have a friend do a quick proofread or "edit" (I've seen some of these "edits" done by friends, and I'll just say, DON'T USE YOUR FRIENDS TO EDIT unless they are professional, trained, and educated editors), but that's it.

That book is your baby. The writing within it is your reputation as an author. Would you really treat your baby that way? Is it smart to sacrifice your reputation for a quick dollar? No. So, this is my advice: Write your first draft, put it away for a month or two, pull it back out and re-read it, and if you don't immediately vomit from how bad it is (and you might) start editing and rewriting it. After each edit/rewrite, set it aside for a few weeks, then come back to it and do another edit/rewrite. Do this about five times, maybe more. Send the story to your beta readers with the explicit instructions that you want them to shred your story to pieces (I'll be talking about beta readers later in this series of blog posts, so stay tuned). Once you get your beta feedback, do another round of edits and rewrites. [By the way, I usually send out my first or second draft to my beta readers, but I have thick enough skin to take the beating my betas will give me based on one of my early drafts. Most authors don't have thick enough skin to take this harsh criticism, so I'm recommending you send out a later draft. Of course, if your skin is thick, and you trust your betas to be excruciatingly brutal like mine are, then send them your first draft. It could save you a lot of editing and rewriting on things that will end up not mattering.] After you've addressed your beta feedback within your manuscript and are happy with the story, hire an editor. An actual trained and educated editor who comes with some credentials. Let the editor do their thing, and then implement his or her changes. Give the story one final proof (I do a proof, and I have someone else who also does a proof), and THEN you can publish. 

True story about the importance of editing: Several months ago, I saw that an old friend of mine had published a book. I visited her wall. Less than a month prior, she had posted that her book was "about" halfway finished, but that she wasn't sure just how long the book would be, because she was flying by the seat of her pants as she wrote it. Okay. Stop. Think about that. Less than a month before she published her book, she was "about" halfway done with the book...which means that she finished the book probably a week or so before she published it. Yes, I went to the book listing on Amazon, and yes, I "looked inside." What I found was astonishing. It was obvious she hadn't done any editing or proofreading at all, and what I read was filled with not only errors, but too much "fluff" that detracted from the story and led to confusion. It was, in a word, awful.

Good storylines don't mean squat if the story is poorly edited (or not edited at all) and/or poorly proofed. No story is good enough to overcome poor execution. Edit, edit, edit!

How to Start Your Story
The best way to grip your readers is by starting your story at a point of change that leads to questions about what will happen:
  1. Your pregnant heroine walks in on her husband in bed with another woman. (What will she do? Will she leave him? Will she meet someone new? Will she be able to make it on her own?)
  2. A mother is getting her kids ready for school when an explosion shakes the house. (What caused the explosion? Will she be able to save her kids? Will their crumble? If so, then what?)
  3. Your middle-aged hero is unjustly fired from the job he's held for ten years. (Will he be able to find a new job? Why did he get fired? Will he sue? Will he get retribution against his former employer?)
  4. Your heroine opens an envelope which contains divorce papers. (How long were they married? Do they have kids? Was he cheating? Was she cheating? Why are they divorcing? How old is she? Is she scared to be single again?)
  5. Your hero is in a car accident and loses his leg. (Was it his fault? The other driver's fault? Is he hurt? How will this affect his life? His job? His relationship?)
Right away, your character(s) are under duress in some way. This is interesting. This is conflict and dramatic tension. These are the things readers want. They don't want to read three pages of your heroine washing her car as she talks about nothing of importance with her friend, who's helping her. Yes, I once tried to read a book that opened that way, and yes, I stopped reading after three pages.

You get maybe a page or two to grab your reader. If you don't grab them fast, you'll lose them.

The thing to remember about all these tips is that they're just that. Tips. They aren't the end-all-be-all gospel. Every writer has their own take and style, but every author has to start somewhere. Take from my tips what works, and leave the rest. And maybe something I've said might just spark you down a path you never would have gone otherwise. That's what it's all about, discovery new paths and methods of professional growth. I'm excited to help each of you find your own path of writing discovery and growth this year.

Happy Writing in 2014!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

365 Ways To Be a Better Writer - The 5-Year Plan

This post begins my series this year that I'm calling 365 Ways to Be a Better Writer. Every day on my Facebook page and profile, I'll post a new nugget that will, in some way, make writers better. Perhaps it will be a tip on writing craft, or a way to dig up new ideas, or perhaps it will pertain to the business or marketing side of writing. Then once a week, I'll write at least one blog post about one or more of the nuggets I posted that week.

Since it's January 1, I thought this would be a great time to talk about Nugget #1: The Five-Year Plan.

Every writer should have a five-year plan. You have to know where you're going and what you want to achieve if you're going to get there and achieve it. Think of your five-year plan as your road map to reach the destination you've projected for yourself.

What do you include in your Five-Year Plan? This could vary for everyone depending on where you are in your writing journey, but it could include:

  • Your targeted annual sales for the next five years
  • How many books you want to publish each year (including their titles. Use "working titles" if you haven't yet named a manuscript.)
  • How many drafts you want to write each year (including their titles or working titles)
  • Total number of words you want to write (make sure the number of words you're targeting makes sense given the number of drafts you want to write and the number of books you want to publish. For example: If you plan to write three novel-length drafts, you will need to write a minimum of 180,000 words)
  • How many books you want to read on the writing craft (including the titles of those books if you already know them)
  • How many writing classes you want to take (and the names of those classes, if applicable)
  • The number of conventions you want to attend, including which ones and the dates.
  • Any contests you want to enter
  • Your five-year bio
The point is, it's your plan. Include those things you want to achieve and that you feel are important at each step in your journey as an author. If you're just starting out, your plan might include more study-related items. If you've been writing for a few years already, your plan will likely include more publishing-related items. But really think about what it is you want to achieve each year, especially year one (2014). Be realistic. If you haven't published a single book and haven't even written one, don't make "Publish four books" part of this year's plan. It won't happen and you'll be setting yourself up for failure right out of the gate.

I've been planning for the past couple of months to devote all of 2014 to writing. Everything I've done since the end of October has been to prepare myself for one solid year of writing. There's a few reasons for that, some personal and some professional, but this change in plans made me pull out my the Five-Year Plan I worked up in May and revise it. This is what my 2014 plan now looks like:

This is the year of writing. No book conventions, perhaps only one blog tour at the end of the year, no big giveaways.

Get all books in print and update ebook listings.

Start searching for an agent.

Enter local chapter RWA contests, Golden Heart, RITA.

Enter IPPYs with Good Karma, Bad Karma, and Bound Guardian Angel.

Publishing Goal: 6 books
Good Karma
All the King's Men - The Beginning (novella prequel)
Bound Guardian Angel
Severin's Muse (novella)
Trace of Submission (novella)
Bad Karma

First Drafts Completed (aside from those published): 7 books
Learning to Walk (m/m contemporary)
The Right Type (working title for CA contemporary romance)
One Night (contemporary romance)
Taming the Savage (Maddox)
Marked (KOJU, book one)
Strong Karma
Losing Control
Taking Control

Publishing Rights
Regain my publishing rights for Moonlit Hearts through XOXO Publishing.

As you can see, I have a MAJOR writing year ahead of me. Will I reach all my goals? I don't know. All but three of my planned drafts have been started. I just need to finish them. And all but two of the books I plan to publish have been started or are in some stage of editing. But I know one thing for sure. If I don't map out my goals, I definitely won't reach them, and I won't have anything pushing me to keep surging forward when I would rather take a day off. Goals give you that. They give you a guide and motivation to keep going when you would rather watch TV.

I've broken out 2015-2018 the same way, but with less detail for each subsequent year, even though I have noted how many books I want to publish and draft in those years, with a general idea as to what they will be. And at the end of my 2018 plan, I've also written a short bio about myself based on what I've outlined in my Five-Year Plan.

You'll note that I don't include my word count goals on my Five-Year Plan. That's because I track word count goals on a white board hanging beside my desk. I've got the next four months plotted in a grid:
Jan = 68,200 words or 2200/day
Feb = 96,000/3429
Mar = 84,000/2710
Apr = 88,000/2839

Here's the thing you have to remember about making a Five-Year Plan. It's always evolving. I visit mine a couple of times each year and revise it based on where I am and what has come up. For example, just this morning, two new short novels popped into my head that I immediately started working on. Obviously, I want to get those drafted in the next year, so I added them to my 2014 plan. This might mean that another story could get bumped off, but for now, I think I can accommodate all my projects with some serious elbow grease.

What else do you think should be included on a Five-Year Plan? Did I miss anything?

Happy Writing! And may 2014 be the best writing year of our far. :)