Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Review Contest: Intentions of the Earl by Rose Gordon

It's Monday again, which means sometime today, if you work in an office, you'll drag yourself into the building, find your desk, have a cup of lukewarm coffee, curse the fluorescent lights, and spend the hours from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. reading email and goofing on the Internet before buckling down and working a solid half hour before lunch.

It's also Monday Review Contest time here at A Romance of the Body, and that means I get to go out and have a facial, a 90-minute massage, a mani pedi and a date with my real husband, Colin.

Ah, a girl can dream, right? Escape is one of the many reasons readers enjoy romance novels, and over the weekend I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rose Gordon's historical romance novel, Intentions of the Earl. Set in 1812, the story revolves around Brooklyn Banks, a young woman from the United States who travels to England and meets Andrew Black. As a Regency-period novel, this book involves, of course, the traditional arc: boy meets girl, boy works to seduce girl, girl tries to preserve her honor, magic gnomes enter the story and create conflict, boy is an 19th-century nobleman with the sensitive emotional and sexual development of an enlightened 21st-century man, and in the end, the gnomes make everything better.

OK, that's not quite the plot.

In fact, Gordon has written a lush novel, one that puts the reader squarely in the frame as Andrew Black rises to a challenge (literally, when he's aroused by Brooke): to earn back his earldom's prized estate after losing it to debt, he must seduce - and disgrace - the daughter of John Banks for reasons not revealed to Andrew until the end of the novel.

Most of the book involves Brooke's proto-feminist sensibilities and Andrew's internal struggles as he attempts to be a rake and fails, falling in love with her. Benjamin Gateway serves as the antagonist and the issuer of this challenge, with the goal to force the Banks family to return to the former colonies with tails tucked between their legs. The twist at the end that explains the relationship between Andrew and his challenger is a doozy, as are a few other plot twists, but all are believable.

While the plot is interesting, it's Gordon's writing that makes the book that much stronger. The sexual allusions and tension aren't just described - they are felt. Gordon's writing draws the reader into the minds and bodies of Andrew and Brooke, not simply describing but also explaining the emotional impact of each movement. While "show, don't tell" has been beaten into the minds of all good little creative writing students from 8th grade through MFA programs, Gordon demonstrates that a strong writer can "tell" - and make the scenes all the better for it.

From a design angle, Intentions of the Earl has one of the most attractive and interesting book cover designs I've seen on a Regency-era romance novel. It's a bit incongruous, as the lighting makes the image seem very modern, yet at the same time it's not your typical "bodice ripping" cover. To be frank, the cover caught my eye and led to my purchasing the $2.99 eBook; while you can't judge a book by its cover, in this case the contents delivered far more than even the gorgeous design.

These characters have lingered with me all weekend, and this is a book I'll read again and again as its understated elegance beckons. This is as much a character-driven historical novel as it is historical romance, and Gordon has written one of the best Regency-era books I've ever read. I look forward to reading more of Rose Gordon's work.

Available on:


Enter to win a free Kindle copy of Intentions of the Earl - all you have to do is leave a comment on this post!

That's it! One winner will be randomly chosen to receive a copy of the book - I'll use the Kindle book gift program to do it, so make sure you either have a Kindle or that you've downloaded the Kindle free app to read books on your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android or Blackberry.

Good luck! Winner will be announced here on Friday, April 1.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Winner of the first Monday Review Contest

Congratulations to the winner of the first Monday Review Contest - a reader in Massachusetts. I won't be posting names, but will let winners post in comments if they wish.

Good luck to Gretchen Galway and her book, Quick Study.

Check in tomorrow - I have another GREAT romance, in a completely different genre (historical romance! Bodices and chemises and everything!) to review tomorrow, and once again I'll be giving away a FREE copy of the book on Kindle to one lucky contest winner.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How do Amazon affiliates help with Kindle sales?

I have a background in SEO, and I've become fascinated with the algorithm Amazon uses for determining sales rank, "customers who bought this book also bought...", and for understanding what it takes to reach a tipping point - we've seen the "6 month rule" here and it's fascinating. From an analytical standpoint, we can make some educated guesses on how many books one needs to sell to reach X ranking, and we can also make educated guesses on how many co-sales you need to have with high-ranking books to be one of the featured "customers who bought this book also bought..." options.

But I also think that Amazon affiliates - people who use the Amazon affiliate links to earn about 4 to 8% of the book's sale as a commission - plays a huge role in this. I've had an Amazon affiliate account since 1997/98, back when I taught myself how to hand code in HTML and used to make $10 a month selling from it, and I still throw it on a few blogs I write.

One of the simplest features is a banner for bestselling books, that any Amazon affiliate can upload. It rotates bestsellers. Once your book reaches a certain point, it will be featured on there - not just on Amazon, but on tens of thousands of blogs and websites, in graphic form via banner.

That familiarity and exposure likely plays as big a role as the "customers who bought this book also bought..." feature, because readers may very well see the book cover 2, 5, 10, 20 times in different reader communities, blogs, etc. before going into Amazon to make a purchase. In addition, some of the widgets for Amazon affiliates let you show ONLY Kindle Books for a specific keyword.

If, as an affiliate, I want a rotating banner of thumbnails for books using the keyword "time travel romance," I can do that - and the 9-book, large banner is filled with Diana Gabaldon, but H.P. Mallory pops in there as well. It uses bestselling to rotate, so this is, I think, where a little SEO (or, perhaps, just algorithm optimization) comes in with indie publishers and product description.

If your book is one of the top selling for an obscure term, you may get into more of these banners. So making sure you have many variations of keywords might be important for getting maximum exposure on affiliate banners - which in turn could drive sales, and help strengthen you in the larger subcategories, which in turn drives up rankings and, hopefully, sales.

"Vampire time travel romance" gives nearly all indies, for instance, in the affiliate banner. "Zombie time travel" gives plenty of indies and, oddly enough, the U.S. Army Survival Manual from the Department of Defense (hmmmm.....).

Using different variations in your description might help to get picked up by very targeted ad campaigns from affiliates and help with building momentum toward the tipping point.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hot, Erotic, Erotica, Romantica, Burning - What am I Writing?

Romance novels have "heat levels." In the industry, heat levels are important for marketing purposes. If you want to read something that is - forgive the lack of euphemisms - going to get you off, you probably don't want to read a "sweet" romance. If you want a cute little love story for your 14 year old daughter, then handing her "romantica" or a "burning" book could result in a call from CPS or, at least, a ranting screed from the daughter's best friend's mom, who wonders how her daughter now knows about rimming.

[Note: when I was 14, Forever, by Judy Blume was the scandalous book. I have three boys right now, the oldest more interested in Spore and Civilization than sex. Access to sex information and raising kids in the age of the Internet, though, is a topic beyond this post.]

The basic heat levels break down roughly as follows:

Sweet: sex takes place "off camera." Characters might hold hands, hug, or kiss, and the storyline might allude to more, but it's never described.

Warm: Light description of sex acts with careful euphemisms. "Throbbing member," "heaving bosoms," "the center of her warmth," "her womanhood tingled" - these are warmer romance qualities.

Hot: Specific descriptions of sex, with graphic detail. May or may not use the major words (c*nt, cl*t, co*k, f#ck) - for some reason, these words represent a line that writers have to walk carefully. Some sources I've read consider extremely graphic, detailed sex scenes without these words to be "hot" romance, while others say you can use these words and still get away with a "hot" rating, but might instead need to call the book an "erotic" romance.

SCORCHING: Kinky sex, threesomes, fetishes, pain, BDSM - no holds barred. May include incest, rape fantasies, etc. Everything legal - incest stories (NOT my cup of tea) involve adults. All characters are consenting.

For different takes on heat levels - as there's no single, cohesive definition - read these sites: Absolute Writer Water Cooler thread, All About Romance (more gradations of heat level), and a thread I started yesterday on Kindleboards, which helped me a great deal.

Of course, to be a romance it must end with a "happily ever after," so I'm not worried about classifying this as erotica, because I have a HEA, and because the characters do develop a strong emotional bond that is reflected through the character development and narrative arc.

My book, I think, is a "hot contemporary romance." I do use some of those starred words, but I don't have to; I could easily edit them out without changing the texture of the sex scenes. Perhaps that's my answer - if I can remove them, do they need to be there?

Amanda Hocking signs $2 million+ deal with St. Martin's Press

Amanda Hocking has signed a four-book deal for her new series, currently called the Watersong series, for more than $2 million with St. Martin's Press, the New York Times reports.

As Hocking noted in her March 22, 2011 blog post:

I have a book that is almost ready to publish, but because of everything else going on, I have not had time to get it ready and publish. THIS is a problem. I am a writer, but that doesn't mean anything if I can't get a book to readers.

There's several factors that go into my decision making about any possible future endeavors. The biggest factors are my readers and the longevity of my career. My goal has always been to put the highest quality product I can out in a way that is the most accessible to readers. My goal has never been to be the "darling" or the "poster child" for any movement.

I currently have self-published 9 books, and I will continue to self-publish books in the future.

Congratulations to Hocking. With eBook sales only 8 to 9% of book sales, Hocking now has the chance to reach the other 91 to 92% of readers. Fans can check out her print books from libraries. The deal only affects the four books of her Watersong set, so as noted above, Hocking - known for her prolific writing pace, at times reaching 8,000 words in a single 4-hour stretch of writing - may simultaneously self-publish while publishing with St. Martin's.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

25% of my readers are from Hungary

...according to my blog stats.

My husband is 25% Hungarian.

Coincidence? ::raises eyebrow::

So please leave a comment and tell me which part of Hungary you're in!

From indie published to plushly industrious - $1M+ for Amanda Hocking

So I think I need to start writing vampire romance. Maybe I can make Jill and Derek find Hungarian roots that take them to and archive where they learn...

No. Will resist temptation on the news that Amanda Hocking, the indie author who sold more than 450,000 eBooks in January 2011 at the $.99 and $2.99 price points, is inking a deal for a 4-book series that traditional publishers will pay more than $1 million to sell.

Good for you, Amanda. And, hopefully, good for the entire indie publishing movement. Two types of books will break out of indie into traditional publishing: trendy books and truly good, strong books promoted well by a savvy writer who knows how to market. Not all authors are good at this. It's why many good books go unread.

So what's the secret to getting to that tipping point? Hell if I know. I think, though, for me, the secret is to stop writing this blog post and get to work on completing one of my mss. It's so easy to "work" without writing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Review Contest: Quick Study by Gretchen Galway

* Note - every Monday I'll write a review of a romance novel and also host a contest, giving the winner a free copy of the eBook on Kindle. Follow the contest rules for a chance to win!

WARNING: minor spoilers.

Most of my online time these days is spent creating the basic social media tools needed to become a successful independent publisher these days: a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, an account on Smashwords, WattPag, LibraryThing, Goodreads, etc. I learned about Quick Study, by Gretchen Galway, on the Kindleboards - which is like graduate school for independent publishers of eBooks. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about light bondage and fucking random strangers as a method for earning a graduate degree.

Now, when I went to graduate school, fucking random strangers as a research method to finish my thesis was, oddly enough, never offered to me by my advisor. That would have been so much easier than conducting early 1990s-style, pre-Internet research (with teletype and faxing "new methods") in a foreign language, or inhaling mold spores in old archives.

Bonnie Angelo sets out to do just this - but falls in love with stranger Paul Ash in Gretchen Galway's debut novel, Quick Study. As with any contemporary erotic romance, there are a few wrinkles on the path to the ever-necessary "happily ever after," or HEA, ending. The book isn't just a contemporary erotic romance - I'd classify it as a romantic thriller as well, for there's a plot twist involving Bonnie's unorthodox research methods that takes what could have been a standard (though well written) "meet'n fuck 'n fall in love" and turns into more into a well-done novel with some erotic elements.

Within the first 30 pages I was so hooked that I pawned my three kids off on the husband and read Galway's novel straight through. The characters are believable without being corny. Humor doesn't overwhelm the piece, nor does Galway make the mistake so many contemporary romance authors make - substituting sass and sarcasm for the funny. I laughed out loud at a "Say Anything" reference that might go over the head of the under-25 crowd (don't be offended if you're under 25 - just go rent the movie. Trust me).

The erotic scenes are well done, and Galway builds the tension between the characters by crafting various obstacles - both internal and external - leaving the reader with a strong understanding of what each character is thinking without overwhelming the prose with too much "in the head" time. She shows and she tells - and the balance is good, hot, wet and satisfying.

By the end of the book I wandered out into the living room to find my husband playing Uru, three happy kids, and a completely destroyed living room. Small price to pay for an enjoyable read. This is Galway's first book and, I hope, not her last.

Available on:


In this inaugural Monday Review Contest, here's how to enter: Tweet this blog post with the hash tag #mondayreviewcontest

That's it! One winner will be randomly chosen to receive a copy of the book - I'll use the Kindle book gift program to do it, so make sure you either have a Kindle or that you've downloaded the Kindle free app to read books on your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android or Blackberry.

Good luck! Winner will be announced here on Friday, March 25!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Peer review in fiction: is the process broken?

I spend a fair amount of time these days at the Kindleboards. The Writer's Cafe section is a wonderful resource for any eBook writer (any writer - period), with an eclectic mixture of beginner writers, writers with a history in traditional publishing (like me), writers who have had a long career as a midlister and who are trying out eBooks (not me), retirees giving writing a shot for a modest retirement income (not me yet...), and young, new writers who have been rejected by traditional publishers but who are finding modest - and sometimes breakout - success as indie eBook authors.

Kindle Board member Rex Jameson wrote a very compelling blog post on his blog, The Rex Writes, about the issue of peer review in fiction. Specifically, in indie eBook fiction. I'll quote from his blog, because he succinctly nails an issue I've noticed across many writing fields online:

In submitting to a conference or journal, peer reviewing helps an author or set of authors achieve their goal - namely in conveying their research to the conference committees in order to get published. In peer reviewing a book that is to be or has been published, peer review can result in achieving the writer's goal of conveying the purpose and scope of their book to a wider audience in order to naturally get excellent reviews and further the appeal of their work.

This is true in academic history and in working with academic publishers as well. I would never, ever dream to have "idea error-free" work. I'm not talking about typo-free work. NO writer, ever, has that, and many beginner indie writers ("beginner" can mean someone who has been writing for a decade and submitting and accumulating rejections - I use beginner to denote someone who doesn't act as if writing is a craft or a business) view asking for peer review as a way to get free copyediting and to be patted on the back. I'm new to being an eBook publisher on Kindle/Nook/Smashwords/etc. but have been part of eBook editing and writing in other fields since 2003, and also been part of online writing for nearly a decade. This "beginner" attitude isn't new, and it's not limited to indie eBook publishing.

A true peer review of one's work is a constructive criticism that offers insight into elements that work, elements that don't work, and that catches outright whopper errors. I am grateful for these peer reviews, and plan to have at least 5-10 sets of eyes on my book long before it ever goes to a professional editor. Then the professional editor can draw blood - and help tighten the mss into a clean, final product.

Rex goes on:

Why is it that fiction authors can't see the peer review process for what it is and should be? As a book reviewer, you are there to help the writer become better - to help their books become better. Instead, fiction authors appear to have their egos so tied into how awesome they wrote their book the first time that they can't accept outside help - even if it's for their own good.

And, most disturbing, as he describes earlier in his post:

...after reading the terrible book, the reviewing author is put in a delicate position. The original author is now wanting a review to be posted, but the reader didn't like the book. From reading the Kindleboards, this has resulted in a lot of retaliatory strikes by the offended original author - even if the reader simply sends a personal message describing some of the problems. Almost a "screw you for telling me that you couldn't get through my book!"

Is this really common? I would hope not. In academic history circles historians chafe at bad reviews, of course, but the review itself is deconstructed based on the merits of the analysis and factual assertions - it's not based on opinion. A book review that comments on plot, voice, and genre is one animal - but one that is based on opinion, subjective, emotional opinion, is quite another.

When I write a book review (which will start to occur here in this blog soon) I can divorce my subjective feelings about the writing from my review of the quality of the elements of the book. So, for instance, if Viking historical romance isn't my "thing," a well-written book in this genre will still get a 4 or 5 star review from me, because I can appreciate the quality of the elements of writing as a wholly separate issue vs. my personal preferences.

Writers who cannot view their work, and view constructive criticism designed to improve the work, as separate from themselves will never grow and improve. THAT is a tragedy worse than any negative review.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Are publishers losing book sales with their anti-piracy measures? DRM problems

When I go to publish "Legs" in early May, I won't be using "digital rights management," or DRM, technology. DRM helps to prevent piracy, or theft, of your content.

What is Piracy?

Millions of users worldwide download movies, songs and books using bit torrent sites. The process is fairly simple: go to a website, search for the book/movie/song you want, and click to upload. Normally you need to create your own account, and most sites ask if you're willing to help the torrent process by either uploading some song/book/movie you have, or by letting your computer act as a host in a different way.

Slowly, slowly, the book/song/movie downloads to your computer. Some movies can take 4-10 hours, for instance. When it's done, you have the entire movie to watch as a .avi or other format. It was free.

People do this with books, too. Textbooks are popular but rare for find, for instance, because it would require someone to scan an entire textbook into PDF format (or, even more time-consuming, type out the whole thing into a text file). eBooks can be pirated as well.

Arguments for DRM

The arguments for DRM are pretty simple: protecting intellectual property. The "Big 6" publishers use DRM. Some smaller presses do as well.

Digital rights management also gives the publisher a method for tracking sales and reader behavior.

Arguments Against DRM

But there are some unintended consequences of DRM. First, DRM + high prices = increased piracy. A $12.99 eBook vs. a free copy in a day via bit torrent is, for some people, an easy decision. A $.99 or $2.99 eBook downloaded instantly on Kindle vs. waiting all day for a free torrent copy? The $.99 price point likely will win out, and piracy loses. By keeping prices extremely high, and using the "agency model," are the Big 6 actually encouraging piracy?

Second, DRM can alienate customers. If you buy an eBook on your Nook and later decide to stop using the Nook and buy a Kindle instead, good luck switching that DRM-protected book over to the new, different device. And what happens 10 years from now when, maybe, there's no such device as a Kindle (perhaps we'll have Kindle microchips embedded in our readermind). DRM makes it impossible to save the file in different formats (well, impossible to anyone but crackers and hackers...).

And finally, there is the issue of lost sales. Lost Book Sales helps to chronicle these lost sales, which largely focus on geographical territory issues. eBooks cannot be purchased in some countries. I don't mean that people can't afford them - I mean that the sale of certain books are blocked, or that the publishing rights don't extend to sales in those countries. New Zealand is one example - digital rights don't extend to that country for some eBooks. Reading the stories at Lost Book Sales reveals how prevalent this practice really is.

Non-DRM Approaches to Piracy

Is piracy justified, then? I'm not sure, but as an author this makes me realize that I might want to investigate some technologies that will, at least, cover the issue of price points and of digital rights format for readers in some countries. The workaround for price is easy; I plan to set mine at $2.99 and occasionally put it on sale for $.99.

The issue of using technology to make the book available in such a manner as to protect my copyright, make royalties, and give readers in all countries the opportunity to buy is best left to software developers. Any thoughts, readers?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book blurb for "Legs"

So, readers, what do you think?

"A chance encounter on a mundane morning bus commute leads history scholars Jill and Derek into a spontaneous, uninhibited romantic encounter that leaves both reeling – and ready for more. Derek has a secret that will keep them apart, and when Jill finds out she turns her razor-sharp mind against him by day – but channels her anger into passion-filled nights. Will Jill overcome Derek's secret as she investigates the past? Can she unlock her own secrets in time to save their relationship? Readers with an insatiable curiosity won't be disappointed as Legs covers three countries, two centuries, and one fiery journey of two souls destined to make history together."

Does it make you want to read the book? The book blurb, or back-of-book description, can make or break any book. With romance fiction you want to grip the potential reader and convey that the book has passion and conflict - and hint at the "HEA," or the "happily ever after." Does this do that?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why writers should have a Goodreads account in the Author Program

While I have a long career in traditional publishing the raw, new world of eBooks is as unfamiliar to me as was a clitoris to my first husband.

So I've joined Goodreads and am enthralled. Check out my profile here.

As the manuscript and cover design for "Legs" come close to their denouement, climax, fruition - pick your word - before beginning life anew as an actual, released-into-the-wild book, I face the task of  figuring out how to get readers to my books.

(Notice how I say books? There are five in the series. "Legs" is only the beginning).

The Author Program at Goodreads helps writers to identify the right audience, build readers, interact with those most interested in the work and to help with future book launches.

Worth doing - as much as the writing, in some ways - as "Legs" will appeal to a wide range of audience but, because it is a little bit of both contemporary and historical romance, with a female lead who embraces her inner (and outer) bitch, the book needs word of mouth to gather steam.

There is plenty of steam in the book, of course. ;)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Welcome to A Romance of the Body

You have a body. So do I. We enjoy our bodies to varying degrees. Some of us use our mind to enjoy our body; reading fulfills this promise.

A Romance of the Body refers to a body of work (get it?) that involves five novels I am writing, part of a series that explores the romance of how the sum of all our parts isn't enough to make us whole. Yet the right person can make us more that complete.  Please join me as I talk about a little here, a little there, and debut my first romance novel, "Legs," in early May 2011.

A little bit about me: I'm a former history professor who has published eight books and whose work has appeared in 17 others. My interests turned toward contemporary and historical romance - but with a twist. You'll discover how twisted I am as you read my work. I'll let it speak for itself, while this blog will let me speak for me.