Monday, July 21, 2014

Reason #7806 I probably need therapy

Today is release day for my new book, Fiancée for Hire. It's only 99-cents all week, and can I confess something to you about it? 

I desperately, urgently want this to be my first book to hit the USA Today or New York Times bestseller list.  I've never publicly said that about any of my books for fear of jinxing myself, but I figure I'm turning 40 in a few weeks and this is my chance to put my ultimate birthday fantasy out there in the universe.

So why this book?

Here's where I have to make another confession:

Several months ago, I sent an early draft of Fiancée for Hire to my agent so she could review it before I sent it along to my editor. Amid her notes about assorted typos and character issues was the following paragraph:
 
So during the Williams Sonoma registry discussion (hilarious, btw), all of a sudden it hit me why I love this so much and love Kelli – she's totally you!!!! I feel like I'm usually good at spotting lines etc. where I hear my clients speaking in their own voice instead of the character. Certain phrases or whatever that they use. And of course this scene felt so you. But then I realized Kelli is totally you!!! All of it!! With the animals and the sex jokes etc. She just feels the most like you of any character I think you've ever written. To me at least. In a good way. :)

The moment I read that paragraph, I pushed back in my chair and sat blinking at the computer screen, too dumbfounded to do anything else. Holy shit. She's right. I wrote myself into my own damn book.

Is there a special kind of therapy for that?


Dr. Emily, my real life veterinarian (who
bears a striking physical resemblance to Kelli).
Obviously, I'm not suggesting I'm a short feisty, curly-haired veterinarian (though for the record, Kelli's physical appearance is the same as my veterinarian in real life). To the best of my knowledge, neither my vet nor I had a sad childhood growing up in foster care. 

I'm also not suggesting my perfect love match is a stoic former Marine with control issues (though for the record, I'll admit there are echos of my gentleman friend in Mac's bedroom talk – sorry, honey). 

But you know how you talk about characters having a certain "voice?" Yeah. Kelli's is mine. Or mine is hers, I'm not actually sure.

Did I mention the therapy thing?

Just to give you some examples, here's a classic Kelli monologue from the opening scene in Fiancée for Hire when Kelli gets tired of being polite to a customer trying to hit on her at her veterinary office.


Kelli jerked back, cherubic smile faltering. “I may look like a Cabbage Patch doll, but you should know I have a pump-action shotgun, a black belt in karate, and a vibrator that doubles as a jackhammer,” she replied, her voice still soft and bright. “If you’re not out of my office in ten seconds, I will demonstrate all three on you, starting from the bottom of the list and working my way up.”

Here's another excerpt of a conversation between Kelli and Mac's sister, Sheri (Kelli's best friend):


“My brother has spent his whole life making himself an emotional iceberg so his feelings don’t get in the way of his ability to protect people," Sheri said. "It’s kind of an art form with him.”
“Beats the hell out of papier-mâché,” Kelli replied, shifting a little in her lounge chair as she filed that insight away in her mental Rolodex. “Anyway, things are going well. Great, I mean. Really great. Mac is amazing.”

God, she sounded like an idiot. On the other end of the line, Sheri was quiet.

“You’re not falling in love with him, right?” she asked. “I mean, you’ve always had a thing for my brother, but I thought it was just lust, and—”

“Don’t worry,” she said, licking her lips and infusing her voice with her normal, lighthearted  perkiness. “I only do lust. Not love. That’s why I’m here, right?”

“Right.” Sheri didn’t sound convinced, but she was a good enough friend to let it drop. “Mac called last night. He sounded a little rattled. You must’ve done something to shake up his image of you as sweet, demure, and wholesome?”

Kelli laughed. “I jerked him off in his closet, then let him finger me in a restaurant.”

“That’ll do it. All that within the first forty-eight hours?”

“All that in a two-hour span. I’m nothing if not efficient.”

So there's a little taste of Kelli, which I suppose means I'm giving you a taste of me. Is this getting creepy for anyone else? I probably need to end this post now.

Well, after making one last plea – Fiancée for Hire is only 99-cents all week, and that link right there will take you to where you can buy it for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or any other eReader on the planet. If you've already bought it for yourself, it makes a lovely (and cheap!) gift.

I promise to use a portion of the royalties for therapy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Judging others for what's in their mouths and hands

It happened again last week. I wrapped my lips in a tight "o" around the slender shaft, sliding it back along my tongue as I gently began to suck.

Then a colleague walked through the door.

"You really shouldn't drink so much soda," he said, pointing a finger my McDonald's cup. "You've got a giant Coke in your hand every time I come here. That stuff'll kill you."

I took one last slurp from my straw and set down the cup. "How nice of you to be concerned with what goes in my mouth."

He blanched and stammered while I sat there deciding whether to explain what I'm about to explain to you.

Take a look at the cup. Notice anything special about it?

Check out the ad for the Olympics. No, the 2014 games aren't still going on in Sochi, and no, my local McDonald's isn't cycling through beverageware that's four months old. I've been using that cup for ice water since February because I like the size and shape of it. The base fits nicely in my hand, the straw is handy for sipping as I work, and it holds a lot of water so I don't need to interrupt my workday for refills (only for frequent pee breaks, which probably defeats the purpose).

So yes, I visit McDonald's infrequently enough that I'm still packing around a four-month-old cup. Also for the record, the cup originally held unsweetened iced tea, not soda. I don't actually drink soda.

But why did I feel an urge to explain any of that to anyone? Do I really care if someone judges me based on my beverage choices?

Part of me wants to roll my eyes and raise my plastic cup, sniffing with disdain as I inform you that it's none of your business if I drink Coke or vodka or motor oil during my workday, nor is it anyone's business what vessel I swill from as I do it.

But then I have to admit what I do every two months when a board meeting rolls around and it's time for the marketing team to give presentations to our board of directors. I leave the McDonald's cup in my office. I grab a plain glass from the cupboard in the break room and I sit there in my ironed blouse and grownup pencil skirt using professional words like "return on investment" and "user engagement" instead of "sweater potatoes" and "meat popsicle," and I sip from my perfectly neutral glass of ice water.

Why do I do that? Why do any of us do that, whether we're hiding a fast food cup or the cover of a smutty novel?

I think about this a lot as an author of risqué romantic comedies. Countless times I've been hired to to teach workshops on social media for authors or brought in as part of a panel of authors reading excerpts at reader events. After the speaking part is done and authors have been herded back to our book-selling stations, someone will approach my table with a sheepish look.

"I don't think I could be seen carrying around a book with a shirtless man on the cover," the reader will whisper, nodding at my books as though I've stashed packets of crack inside each. "I really liked your talk, though, and your books sound hilarious."

These are often the same people laughing their asses off as I read excerpts from the Newlywed Game scene in Making Waves or the diaper drama scene in Marine for Hire. But the thought of actually purchasing my book or being spotted with it in public? Well, that's going a little too far.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bitter about the lost sales. I know plenty of these folks go home and buy a book online for their eReaders, hiding it like a Penthouse magazine tucked inside Better Homes and Gardens. I also recognize that my books aren't for everyone, and I don't expect every member of the public to line up at my front door to buy one (though that would be really freakin' cool, wouldn't it?)

I guess when it comes down to it, I wish more of us cared less what other people think about our choices in beverages, books, cars, homes, hairstyles, and sex toys. I wish I cared less, honestly. Maybe that's something I ought to work on.

What are your thoughts on the way we judge each other for lifestyle choices or reading materials? Please share!

And please excuse me for a moment while I refill my McDonald's cup. The board meeting's over, right?




Monday, May 26, 2014

The week you all became booksellers

A couple weeks ago, I got some great news about my new romantic comedy Frisky Business: The book has one of the widest distributions of any book I've ever published, with copies stocked at WalMart, Barnes & Noble, Fred Meyer, Meijer, and a variety of independent bookstores around the country and in Canada. Amazing, right?

Then I got some not-so-great news from my editor.

The sell-through for the first week wasn't so hot. Less than 20%, to be exact. There were tons of copies out there, but they weren't flying off the shelves and into people's shopping carts.

I kept that news to myself, content to tuck my tail between my legs while crossing my fingers for luck (a feat of dexterity, if I do say so myself).

But then something happened.

It started with a few Facebook and Twitter friends sharing pictures of my book in the wild. Since I adore seeing these kinds of photos, I gathered a few of my favorites and made this little collage in Photoshop:

Click to make it bigger and see all the cool locations people found Frisky Business.

That led to more readers sharing photos of Frisky Business. Apparently, the book is quite popular with pets:


One reader shared her plans to take Frisky Business with her on vacation to Greece and Italy. She's been sharing photos of the book at major landmarks along the way:

Frisky Business goes on vacation in Greece and Italy with one fabulous reader.

Then the photos really started to pour in:


Indiana, PA (WalMart)
Portland, OR (Fred Meyer)
Bastrop, TX (WalMart)

Cape Coral, FL (WalMart)

Chicago, IL (Meijer)
Northern KY (WalMart)
Rogers, AR (WalMart)
 
I offered to mail a handful of signed bookmarks to anyone willing to stuff a few inside the copies they spotted at their local stores. A number of readers took me up on it:

Saginaw, MI (Barnes & Noble)
stuffed with signed bookmarks.

Other readers got creative with sticky notes:

Hays, KS (WalMart)

Now here's where things get interesting. The more photos people shared, the more I started to see messages like this one:



So if readers were snagging last copies, that had to mean other copies had sold, right?

I checked my Author Central account at Amazon, which gives me a very, very fuzzy look at sales numbers. Sure enough, Frisky Business sold more copies in its second week than it did in the first.

But how? Surely a handful of Facebook and Twitter pals weren't moving the needle that much, were they?

Well, maybe. Here's how:

Besides the fact that this Facebook pal prompted a total stranger to buy my book, I love that the comment thread here connected two readers who didn't previously know each other, but realized they lived near one another. They proceeded to have a lengthy comment exchange about where to find my book in their local area.

So Facebook friends taking pictures of my book at their local stores were prompting bystanders to buy the book? Not only that, but total strangers were forging connections with one another over social media and helping each other to locate and purchase my book?

I wish I could say this whole thing was some brilliant marketing scheme I came up with based on calculated data and savvy strategy. It wasn't. But it wasn't dumb luck, either.

It was friendship, pure and simple. It was the joy of making genuine, honest-to-goodness connections with people on social media and the resultant urge to support someone who's become a friend.

When people ask me if authors should bother with social media, this is what I'm talking about when I grab them by the lapels, give them a hard shake, and cry "Good God, yes!"

This is how it's supposed to work, guys. Not authors screeching "buy my book!" or "like my page!" from their social media soapboxes. Just friends helping friends and supporting authors they've gotten to know.

On that note, I'd love to see more photos of Frisky Business in the wild and hear any stories you can share about prompting friends or strangers to give the book a try. Please share!

And thank you, friends. I really mean that. You guys rock.