Friday, February 16, 2018

7 Success Tips for Indie Authors

If you've been following me for a while, you know I've written since I crept into my early teens. Writing is a part of me. It's no longer a task I merely want to do; it's something I have to do. As a young adult, I didn't think about publishing my stories. They were mine. My babies, my hard work and, most importantly, my means of escape. To share a part of me that personal didn't seem feasible.

Until it was.

When I drafted my first novel I intended to send out into the world, I went through all the fundamental steps of seeking representation and publication. Blurb, synopsis, polished chapters, followed by query letters and elevator pitches to agents and editors at writers' conferences. Rejection after rejection hit my inbox. I entered contests, won contests. Got pretty certificates I framed and hung on the wall. Sent more query letters. More rejections ensued.

"You've got a great voice, but the story is not we're looking for."

"Enjoyed the writing, but no one does prologues anymore."

"Do you have something else?"

At this point, I was already into the second novel, a spin-off from the first. With a full time job and limited time to write, I knew I didn't have time for another several months of going back and forth.

I wanted to write. I wanted to publish. And then I wanted to move on to the next story.

So, that's exactly what I did. Six years later, I couldn't be happier. However, being an indie author isn't all sunshine and daisies, easy-peasy, write a book, edit a book, pick a pretty cover and voila! I'm published! It's hard work. We're talking writing, reading, editing, re-writes, choosing the right cover artist, bookmarks and author swag, promotions, signings and other events...the list goes on and on. Usually, the indie author is in charge of this all by herself, because...yeah, you guessed it: There's no big, beautiful publishing company behind an indie author. For all intents and purposes, she is On. Her. Own.

Everyone's writing journey is different, and there's never a time when you stop learning and growing. If you write, you grow. It just happens. Here's a few tips I've picked up along the way:

1. Write. Oh, you'd thought #1 would be some profound tidbit of wisdom, did you? Well, lucky you--it is. Place butt in chair and write. Not feeling inspired? Write anyway. Many years ago, I took a fiction writing class with about twenty other authors. About halfway through the semester, someone raised their hand and asked, "But if I force myself to write, won't it come out all terrible and choppy?" The teacher smiled and said, "One, that's what editing is for and, two, I'll be willing to stake money, right here, right now, that once you go back to do those edits, you won't know what was 'forced' and what 'flowed like a river.'" And you know what? She was right. Write. Just do it.

2. Read. This goes without saying. Read your genre. Read other genres. Reading a bestseller? Study what makes that story work. Reading is inspiring, folks. Whether it's a great novel or a bad one, reading other authors' work pushes you to write your own. If you're aiming to be a writer--a professional writer--reading is a necessity, not an option.

3. Play. Get out. Walk. Breathe the fresh air. With or without headphones, doesn't matter. I prefer with. Submerge yourself in a public place and people-watch. Go to a fabric store and run your fingers along the different materials, take in the colors. The idea is to work your brain and, therefore, your imagination. Inspiration is everywhere; you just to be open-minded and willing to find it.

4. Absorb. You're a writer. In some ways, you are ALWAYS writing. For example, if I'm over the stove-top cooking dinner, I'm usually listening to music and thinking of a scene or character. If I'm watching Friends reruns on Netflix, sure, it's funny and relaxing, but I'm also absorbing the relationships and interactions between the characters. What makes those scenes work? What made the editors cut certain scenes? How did one sequence flow into another to create an entire episode? Being a writer is a way of life, in my opinion. I allow myself to feed off my surroundings and experiences. What I read, what I see, what I hear...all inspire what goes to the page.

5. Focus. Being an indie author means setting goals, reaching goals and moving on to the next goal. Not saying you can't take a break, but if you follow even a handful of successful indie authors on social media, you'll notice they're always promoting novels, offering giveaways, doing live videos and/or promoting other authors. The same teacher I mentioned above used to also tell us, "Writing is fun, sure it is, but writing is also hard."

6. Connect. Connecting with other writers and readers is not only important, but it's also a way to rejuvenate your passion for writing. I don't attend many writers' conferences, maybe only one or two a year, but being around like-minded people helps me remember why I do this; why I love writing people and putting them in situations that shape and mold them. Likewise, scheduling book signings and attending conventions, etc. connects you with potential readers. Talking with others about what they like to read, what they're reading right now and why they love their favorite authors helps you grow as a writer. There is no greater thrill for me than when a reader tells me about a scene she loved or who her favorite character is and why.

7. Rejuvenate. A couple of weeks back, our stress level picked up to about an eleven at the day job. New year, new ideas, more work. You get the picture. And while it's easy to say, "Leave your job at your desk, when you walk out the door," it's hard to turn off your brain, when it's been focused on another project--not your WIP--for hours and days upon end. If you work from home, this could tally up to a heap of chores, school projects for the kids, basketball practices and games--the list goes on and on. Suddenly, your beautiful novel is sitting cold inside your closed laptop. Self-doubt settles in. Me? I'm the world's worst at allowing anxiety to take over body and brain. When this happens, I, one, admit that it's happening, I'm overwhelmed, then, two, start the steps that lead back to where I want to be. I listen to music that soothes me, give myself pep talks--sometimes, oftentimes out loud. I try to eat healthier, drink more water, enjoy quiet moments outside with a cup of coffee in my favorite mug. I re-read manuscripts--finished or unfinished, doesn't matter--I've written in the past. Whatever works for you, do it. You're a writer. So, keep writing.

If you're an indie writer, I'd love to hear your tips for success!

Friday, February 2, 2018

What to Do: New Story Brain (When You're in the Middle of Another WIP)

The other day, I said to one of my beta readers, KP, "Next contemporary, after this one...older guy/younger girl."

She reminded me I said the same thing months ago.

I do not recall this.

Or maybe I do. I mean, it sounds like something I would say. Story ideas are spur-of-the-moment, stopped at a red light, staring off into the distance saying, "Oh my goodness, look at that big, pretty field. I wonder who works that field. I wonder how long it's been there. I wonder if' it's really old. I wonder if there's a big, monstrous house beyond it. I wonder who lives there. What if the daughter of the rich man who owns that property fell in love with the servant boy who works that field?"

Rapid succession. Story blooming like a muffin pouring over its small space in the tin. The above scenario really did happen, by the way. My historical novel Return to Me was the product.

Anyways. KP then asked if I'd written any of it as of yet. The older guy/younger girl idea.

"Nope. Not going to. Have to finish what I'm working on first."

She knows this.

Because here's my problem with giving in to New Story Brain: I'll never finish anything.

Doesn't negate the blaring fact that I do get New Story Brain and I HAVE to do something about it, else allow Shiny New Story to pester me, until I give in completely.

So, here's what I do:

1) Make a Pinterest board. If the characters and scenery are in my head, I give them visual birth by permitting them their own private section. "There," I tell them. "You're somewhat alive and breathing. Now, as my momma would say, sit in there together and marinate."

2) Start a Playlist. I don't ever allow myself to go too crazy with music for a new story, because that's reserved solely for the projects going on full-force. However, if I hear a song and it makes me think, "Shiny New Story," I add it to a new playlist.

3) Create a ROUGH Outline. This is the part that allows me to get ideas down, without doing any "actual" writing.
                            * Who are the players?
                            * How old are they? What do they look like?
                            * What pivotal events make up their respective backgrounds?
                            * How do/did they meet?
                            * What is the hero's goal? What is the heroine's goal?
                            * What's keeping them from reaching that goal?
                            * Where is the setting?

Granted, I may not have an answer to every question, but this at least gets the new idea on paper.

4) Write Down What's Clear. This could be a paragraph of exposition or a patch of dialogue. If it's something I don't want to forget, I get it onto paper. However, I don't "create" as if the story's my main Work In Progress.

What do YOU do with New Story Brain? Do you buckle and give it your full attention? Or do you have a process?

Friday, January 26, 2018

How I Work a Day Job (and Find Time to Write)

A month or two ago, while hanging out on the sidelines with all the other moms at my son's first basketball practice, my cell started buzzing. Thank goodness I'd remembered to tick the silent button, but I still had to take the call. Day Job Business. Afterwards, I leaned into the mom to whom I had been chatting beforehand and apologized.

"Sorry," I said. "My day job's for a lawyer-slash-state-senator and when legislative business calls, I've gotta be available."

"Oh, sure, no problem," I believe was her reply. Two to three minutes of silence passed as we watched our kids work on shooting free-throws and attempt jumping jacks (seriously...five year old jumping jacks is extremely entertaining...), and then she whispered, "You said day job..."


"So, you work at night, too?"

I laughed. "No, no. I'm a writer. I write novels, so...yeah. The paralegal gig is my day job."

"Ohhh." She nodded, processing. "How do you have time for that?"


I can't think of a writer out there who works a day job for their actual pay-my-bills money who hasn't been asked that question. How do you do it? How do you play the role of parent, work an 8-5 job, keep house and still manage to crank out books? 

The simple answer is, "Well, if I want to write, I don't have a choice, do I?"

Reality is I've learned a few things through trial and error. I've created a schedule of existence that works for me and, miraculously, doesn't make my work feel like, Because while some writers can do that--publish novel after novel like some kind of Tim Burton machine from Edward Scissorhands--this chick needs desperately to cling to the mindset of writing for pleasure.

So, what's a normal workday like for me? Truth: I'm always working. Whether it's my day job as a paralegal, writing, being a mommy and a wife and promoting the clean underwear movement, I'm ALWAYS doing something.

Okay, fine, not always, because I do have a small Netflix addiction (mainly Friends reruns) and I also read a lot, but then that falls under the category of Honing My Craft, so...Yeah.


Writing is serious. I take it seriously. A typical morning for me begins anywhere from 4:45-5:00 am -- yes, even on weekends. I shower, make coffee, check my email, scroll through Pinterest and listen to whatever music will pull me into the writing mindset. Then I get after it, until around 6:40 am, when I slip into hair and makeup for my day job. On weekends, I squeeze in as much as I can before breakfast and errands. If I have energy during the evenings, after I've spent time with my son and husband, I'll write then, as well, but I usually reserve the later hours for relaxation and family.

The goal is at least 6 pages a day, if not more. Sometimes I reach that goal; sometimes I don't. But I've made writing an important part of my day -- every day. Even my family understands, "Mommy is working," so if you have the issue of too many interruptions as a reason not to write, I promise, once you set a routine for yourself and stick to the schedule, your family and friends will respect it.

Peace, Love & Junior Mints,


Friday, January 19, 2018

How to Write a Review (as an Author)

If you're an avid reader, you're aware of the nature of reviews. Good or bad, they can persuade you to either agree or disagree or, at times, prevent you from purchasing a book altogether. But let's take that a step further and talk about how fellow authors write reviews for fellow authors. Now, if the story's delicious, solid plot, characters that pull you in and take you on the journey with them, writing a rave review is easy, am I right?

Of course.

But then you've got this friend. And that friend writes, too. And whether you're friends in real life or exclusively on social media, well, doesn't make a difference. Because our social media friends are legit; no one can convince me differently, either, so stop typing that comment to explain all the reasons why you think they're not, because they are and that's final.

Now. You've got this friend who writes, too, and they're published, too, like you (yay!) and they shoot you a text or PM: "Hey! You know I just released my newest novel and would LOVE it if you read and posted a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads (preferably both!)! THANK YOU SO MUCH!" And, holy cow, you really don't have time to add another book to the three you're already reading (Kindle, iBooks, paperback on the night stand...Oh, is that just me? Say it ain't so...), but you say, "Yes, of course!" because you know you're gonna want them to reciprocate when your new release hits.

You read the book.

You put it down.

Remember you want them to read yours, too, when it comes out.

Pick the book back up. Cringe through grammar, characters, plot -- because, let's be honest, that really does happen. Don't lie. We're all friends here. Safe place and all that.

Finally finish and, now, it's time for the moment of truth. The Review. What to say? How to be truthful? A fellow author, God love her, once told me, "Sometimes you just gotta say, 'Nice Margins,' and, naturally, she was joking, but then I'm unsure if she was.

Here's what I've learned over the handful of years I've been doing this as a profession: There's a way to be kind and constructive, honest yet upbeat, all at once. Using Thumper's mama's words of wisdom, "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."

1. Think about what you say before you say it and WHO may be reading. Seems pretty simple, right? Here's the thing: sometimes when I'm reading reviews and I stumble upon one from a person who didn't enjoy the book, I click on that person's name. What other reviews have they left? Do they only leave bad reviews? What if you find out that person is actually an author? Does it make you want to read their work more or less? Artists can hold grudges. Heck, people in general hold grudges! But I certainly don't want another author mad at me for dissing on their book, especially when all they have to do is reciprocate.

2. If you can't say something nice...Yeah, you know the rest. Sometimes, oftentimes silence is golden. Because, if you're an author, you're also a bit of businessperson, which means you also have to think about your brand. Meaning...What do YOU want to put out there as an artist? This doesn't just mean what you bind between a cover and send out there into the world. I'm talking about reviews, social media, blogs. Think about Stephen King's tweets. Would you honestly expect any different from the Master of Horror Fiction? And that's perfectly ok! But for Alyssia the Romance Writer, I want to make sure people feel positivity and kindness from me as much as possible.

3. Offer a nuanced opinion. Don't dig into the author personally. Maybe this simply wasn't your kind of read. You can still can offer a subjective look at the book that will benefit future readers. Be specific yet delicate and, remember, if you dare to type something that could be construed as even remotely negative, strive to back it up with positive, encouraging words. Remember: there is no need to pitch  a book off the side of a cliff simply because it wasn't what you expected. Last year, I read a debut YA novel that was HIGHLY anticipated. Joined the bandwagon in following the author on all social media avenues and even liked her--a lot! Still do! But when my beautiful hardback arrived in the mail and I began to read, it was honestly all I could do to finish. And, once I did, I said aloud, "Really? This was what we've been waiting for all this time?" Nice margins, right? I chose not to review simply because SO many other readers enjoyed it and I'm only one person. Plus, this chick's trying to make a career out of this, just like I am, and we've gotta support one another, right?

Do you leave bad reviews? If so, do you have a few rules or do you just let it all out?


Friday, January 12, 2018

5 Ways to Pull Yourself Out of a Writing Slump

Ah, winter. It’s beautiful. It’s cold. It rekindles your love for blankets and hot cocoa. But it can also pull you into a slump—well, at least, winter has that sort of effect on me. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE this time of year. Prefer it over the hot, sticky, triple-digit weather inherent of Louisiana in summertime. However, December and January are the months I find most difficult to write and be inspired. I start out as I always do: at the page. Blinking cursor. What do I write today? Where am I going with this? Is this really the story I want to write? And there are days I keep going, fingers flying. But then there are others when I say, “Nuh uh. Not doin’ it,” and then allow myself to get sucked in to either social media or Netflix or both.

However, at the end of the day, writers write. It’s what we do. And if we’re not doing it…well. We can’t be held responsible for the mayhem that may ensue. We always have a story to tell. Problem is…Which one? We begin to ask ourselves whether we’re writing in the right genre. What if I’m better at fantasy? Mystery? Romance? Erotica seems to be selling really well—I’ve seen the indie authors on Facebook with their flashy, appealing ads. Maybe they’re just better at this than I am. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this at all. What if I’m not a writer at all and I’ve been kidding myself since I was…what? Eleven?

I’m here to tell you: Get that last one out of your head, all right? You’re a writer. There, I said it. And you have a story to tell, so tell it. That’s right. Go on. Get those words on paper. Erotica, Mystery, Thriller, Fantasy…Heck, write a combination of all four! It’s your story, your baby. So, get going already.

While you’re at it, here are a few tips to pull yourself from a writing slump and help you refocus:

1.      Set realistic goals. This seems obvious, I know, but it really does help. Currently, I’m working on two contemporary, full-length romance novels, as well as edits for the third installment of my young adult series. The third book of The Symbolon Series will be published by July 10th. My goal is to be finished with at least one of the two contemporaries by that time, as well. If I can swing three releases this year, I’m going for it.

2.       Hit a writing retreat or conference. Nothing gets me fired up like being around other writers. Check for local or relatively-local conferences you can attend and get ready to learn. If you’re in Louisiana or Mississippi, the Jambalaya Writer’s Conference is coming up on March 3 and it’s only $35 if you register early!

3.       Adjust your environment. Declutter your desk. Bring in a new plant or a cool new notebook. If outside noise doesn’t bother you, nestle yourself and your laptop in a corner at Starbucks. Or go to a park and breathe in the fresh air while you write! Changing your environment tricks the brain into creative thinking.

4.       Don’t leave too much time between writing sessions. Even if you can’t write on your manuscript (I love this story, but, ugh, my heroine! Is she trying to be this stupid?!), write a blog post, an opening to a new story or an entry into that journal you’ve been meaning to begin for the last decade. Just write.

5.       Don’t burn out. Writing’s work, y’all. I mean, you can try to skirt the truth any way you want, but that won’t make it any less real. Not only that, but it’s hard. However, there’s a reason you started writing. For me, I was fourteen and the kid in between freshly-divorced parents. I didn’t want to write about myself, so I wrote about fictional characters and…well…I just never stopped. In short, writing is an escape for me; a way to deal with the chaos in my head. But the minute it becomes TOO much like work, I have to take a step back and remember why I started writing in the first place. Write what you can and often and you’ll find the will to keep going.

So, don’t let those negative thoughts in, okay? Get out, bad, brooding creepie-crawlies! Be gone! Because you can do this. Really, you can! Pull yourself up and write your story. 

What do you do when you find yourself in a slump?

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 At a Glance | Looking Ahead to 2018

Ah, here it is. The close of an entire year, turned beginning of a brand new, wide open panorama of possibilities. 2017 was...busy, but I'm sure that's true of everyone. Goals were set; goals were accomplished. Not all, mind; I didn't see Bruno Mars in concert (yet) and I'm convinced once that happens, planets will align, unicorns will appear in nearby forests, the government will begin to behave themselves and...Yeah. In other words, yada, yada, yada. 

I love him, okay? And true love lasts forever.

Moving on.

I published the second novel in The Symbolon Series: The Second Curse. Couldn't be more pleased with the response from readers (THANK YOU!), especially all of you who came out to see me at conventions and book signings. You guys rock! The third book is written and in edits; the fourth (and final) has begun. Ah, the end is in sight!

Read a lot this year, actually. Many amazing stories, my favorite of which--and this one really takes the cake; if you haven't read it, do--was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Thought-changing, that novel. If ever I have the honor of meeting Ms. Thomas (she's from Jackson, Mississippi, my home state, so...hopeful thoughts!), there's a very big chance I'll cry.

The Moody Blues made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, y'all. I mean...Yes. Okay? A million times, yes, yes, YES. About time.

My kid had his fifth birthday in February, began Kindergarten in August and basketball in November. He's having an absolute blast. Fully expecting him to start college in the fall.

Hubs celebrated his 50th and crossed off an important item from his Bucket List: We went to Cincinnati (his hometown) and watched the Bengals beat the Bills on their home field in Paul Brown Stadium. Seeing him that emotional gave me all the feels. All of them.

GOALS (Let's do this!):

1. Book 3 of the The Symbolon Series, THREE TO SHATTER, is set for a lovely mid-June release, just in time for summer holiday. Extensive deets about that later. Yes, for all of you paying attention, that was a title reveal. Ta da!

2. Two contemporary adult romances are in the works, both half-way finished. Been a while since I published a proper grown-up love story, and I'm looking forward to getting these two out to you guys. Both will be full-length novels I've wanted to write for a long time.

3. Weight loss. Because what else? Seriously. I'm not buying a new wardrobe, so sweets have gotta go bye-bye for a while. Pray for me.

4. Vacay! Don't know where yet, but we're going. Thinking someplace with mountains and scenic trails. Drop a comment with your suggestions. 

5. Events, events, events. Look for book signings spreading throughout the southern states. Local bookshops, conventions and writerly workshops--we're hitting it up in style this year. Stay posted in the website's Events section. 

I'd love to read the goals you reached last year, what stands out to you, what surprises arose and the stories that made for a memorable 2017! Also, what new goals have you set for 2018? Cheers!

Peace, Love and Junior Mints,

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