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One year ago yesterday, I pushed the publish button on Amazon and Nook Press and became a published author. I knew I’d embarked on a journey that I’d always wanted to make, but I had no idea what was coming.

At first, Dance For A Dead Prinessc was an e-book only. I didn’t realize until months later how simple and inexpensive and indeed, imperative, it was to create a paperback on Create Space.

And I started the journey with a website under construction and quickly learned not having a website made me a second-class author citizen. Thus, when I wrote one blogger who offered two-day guest spots for authors, to secure two days to guest post, she replied, “Well, ok. But you only get one day because you don’t have a website.”

But the website lesson was trivial compared to the advertising lesson. For breathtaking amounts of money, I bought ads on Kirkus Reviews, thinking their favorable review of Dance For A Dead Princess would quickly produce a readership for the book. Wrong. Expensively wrong. Ads ran. No one seemed to notice.

Then I tried an all-romance website and had the book’s cover pasted up for a month for another quite tidy sum. Again, no one noticed. My book was simply embedded in a mosaic of other books – most with far racier covers. Since I was a new and unknown author, and readers were perusing this site for their favorites that involved shirtless men, Dance For A Dead Princess wasn’t a candidate for their attention. Another lesson learned.

After a certain amount of frustration, I managed to get Dance up on GoodReads. But since Amazon does not cross-post reviews on that site, all my reviews remained on Amazon.

Then I discovered the Truly Expensive Blog tour. I wonder if I thought it would be effective because it was Truly Expensive or because the owner of the business persuaded me she knew what she was doing or because I had read how some blog tours had put Indie books on the map (and the bestseller list.) But of all the money I threw at advertising in the first year of being an author, the Truly Expensive Blog Tour was the most wasted. The owner of the business and my tour director had more excuses than you can count for why the tour dates weren’t honored and why the reviews promised were never posted. To put it mildly, I’d been scammed, big time.

About this time, I decided to do Facebook ads and Kindle Daily Nation sponsorships, although I also sat up nights hunting for websites where indie authors could post for free or nominal sums. Oddly enough, although multiple indie authors claimed Facebook ads were useless, I found them more effective than anything else I’d tried. And they were happily quite low budget. I began to think that the more money I threw at the problem, the less success I had. Whereas, when I was being cheap, I seemed to get better results.

Another example of that principle was another blog tour organizer, who appeared on top of a Google Search one day. Her rates sounded too good to be true. But this time I was careful to research her company and to ask her bluntly if she kept her promises, telling her the horror story of the Truly Expensive Blog Tour. I was delighted to learn she was everything she claimed to be. Organized, honest, efficient, and trustworthy. And she was able to produce reviews, which are the gold standard for selling books. Almost all of the reviews on GoodReads came from her blog tour (which has now continued for months for a fraction of the cost of Truly Expensive.)

And then, just as the First Year of Being An Author was ending, I received some exciting news. Dance For A Dead Princess is a finalist in the Foreward Reviews Best Book of the Year Award for 2013, with the final results to be published in June. And Dance is the Finalist for the 2014 Beverly Hills International Book Award. That award has one winner and one finalist in each category, so I’m honored to be No. 2 in Romance.

Yesterday I started the Second Year of Being An Author by writing the first press release I’d ever written in my life and sending it off to local media. Whether it gets noticed or not, just doing it felt good. And I contacted local indie bookstores I’ve been meaning to contact for months.

Most of all, so many friends have helped out during Year One. They’ve written reviews, they’ve offered encouragement, they’ve stuck up for me and the book when the inevitable Vicious Reviewers surfaced. Launching a book into the world takes friends, and I am very grateful to mine and to everyone who as read Dance for A Dead Princess. And now Year Two Begins.

eauthor-ebook-e-book-humor

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Toni Morrison explained, “I wrote the novel I wanted to read.” And I did the same thing when I wrote Dance For A Dead Princess. Here’s why:

Jane Eyre, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite novels. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read it. And I’m not alone. It is so popular that other authors have tried to replicate its magic in books like Jean Rhys’ Wide Saragaso Sea, or Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, or fairly recently, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey.  And now me, in Dance for a Dead Princess.

I was nostalgically wishing for another Jane Eyre experience over the weekend, as I was hunting for a book I really wanted to read. As I surveyed the offerings and was disappointed, I began to imagine what a modern day literary agent would say about Jayne Eyre:

From the Desk of the World’s Most Important Literary Agent to Miss Charlotte Bronte:

Dear Miss Bronte,

Thank you for the opportunity to consider the manuscript of your novel, Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, I am unable to represent it at this time. Some words of wisdom if you decided to submit it elsewhere: your story is definitely not a Romance Novel. If you are unwilling to make changes in the present draft, you should look for an agent who specializes in Contemporary Women’s Fiction or Mystery.

That said, you do have a very promising, if flawed, story here. With some changes, you could have a bestseller on your hands. (And I’d love the commission I’d earn from representing it.) To that end, and our mutual financial benefit, some suggestions. First, sex sells. Historical and contemporary romances have to be hot, hot, hot. I realize you’ve devised quite an ingenious plot line here, and Jane and Mr. Rochester (really, Miss Bronte, a romance novel hero called Mr. Rochester and not Trevor, Tray, or Brandon?) are quite convincingly in love by the time of their ill-fated marriage attempt. But they only TALK to each other. Where are the smoldering sex scenes? Jane never once mentions Mr. Rochester’s six-pack abs (I assume he has them, yes?), or his alpha male swagger (he is an alpha male, right?) and, for all the times he meets Jane in the lane he never once cops even the tiniest little feel. (On second thought, since he never gets her in the sack, he can’t be an alpha male, therefore he can’t be a Romance hero.)

And then there is Jane, herself. Really, Miss Bronte, Romance heroines are not “plain.” After all, when your book hits the big screen, which big name actress is going to want the role of a “plain” heroine? Jane should have masses of chestnut hair, down to her waist that Edward (or better yet, Trevor, Tray or Brandon) can bury his face in at the, ah, appropriate moment. In addition, a regulation Romance heroine must also be equipped with (at a minimum) an exquisite heart-shaped face, a perfect cupid’s bow of a mouth, and flashing dark eyes.

Your book, Miss Bronte, is all PLOT and no SEX. And it begins with Jane’s dreary life in an orphanage when it should start with Mr. Rochester undressing Jane in his imagination the moment he meets her at Thornfield Hall. I realize you must have taken a Creative Writing course in which some dreary professor taught you all about character, plot, voice, and point of view. But when it comes to writing a best selling Romance Novel, throw out all that Literary Stuff. Sex, Sex, Sex, sells. That’s all you need to know.  The only PLOT you need is how to get from one sex scene to another.

Here are some suggestions, then, for transforming Jane Eyre from its current status as a Romance novel loser to a New York Times bestseller. Plot: As soon as Mr. Rochester meets Jane, he asks her to enter to a “pretend” marriage to keep the unwanted attentions of Blanche Ingram at bay. Soon their “marriage” is anything but pretend, yet Mr. Rochester is still engaged to Blanche.

Or you could take a leaf from E.L. James and Syliva Day and install Mr. Rochester in his own “red room” at Thornfield where he and Blanche teach the virginal Jane all about sex, sex, sex. Terrified, she flees to her cousin St. John (horrible name, by the way for a Romance novel sub-hero) only to be pursued by Mr. Rochester and taken back for her well-deserved punishment.  At the end, she falls in love with Mr. Rochester (Trevor, Tray or Brandon) or at least she’s in love with his millions.

Or finally, if you don’t like either of those plot ideas, instead of fleeing an orphanage, Jane should flee from an abusive first husband. Through sex, sex, sex, Mr. Rochester teaches her to TRUST again; and now armed with CONFIDENCE  in herself, she becomes a millionaire when representatives of Betty Crocker discover her tea shop in the village and purchase her secret recipe for blueberry scones.

Any of these plots and some really hot, hot, sex scenes would rocket your manuscript straight to the top. Otherwise, you might self-publish and sell a few copies to friends and relatives.

Sorry to send disappointing news, Miss Bronte.

Wishing you all the best,

The World’s Most Important (And Infallible) Literary Agent

A "plain" heroine, Miss Bronte, really?

A “plain” heroine, Miss Bronte, really?

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I wrote a romance novel. Or so I thought. When I published Dance For a Dead Princess on the last day of March of this year, I began to look for websites frequented by romance readers to tell them about my book. It did not take me long to find one and to sign up for an ad.

The morning my ad began to run, I hurried to the website eager to see it. Yep, there it was as promised. But I didn’t realize that my cover, which features the hero and the heroine symbolically separated by a tiara similar to Princess Diana’s and by Burnham Abbey, the fictional ancestral home of the hero’s family, would look out of place in a row of covers picturing men tearing women’s clothes off. But it did.

From a literary perspective, the romance novel is an interesting genre. One of the earliest ones was Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela or Virtue Rewarded,” which was published in 1740. It is the less than thrilling tale of an eighteenth century maid whose nobleman master has the hots for her. However, rather than grant his every wish (which I think a contemporary maid in a contemporary historical romance would probably do), Miss Pamela holds out (and far too long because this is a big, boring novel) until the Titled One marries her. (Whew! So glad they got that settled.)

In 1748, Richardson followed Pamela’s dry tale of Steadfast Female Virtue with an even drier tale of unending woe, “Clarissa, the Story of a Young Lady.” Whereas Pamela had the good sense to obey the rules of the eighteenth century road and force her suitor to put a ring on it, Clarissa witlessly runs off with a “rake” and is “ruined.” (Although she doesn’t go willingly into “ruindom.” She has to be drugged.) Clothes tearing might have kept me awake during this literary ordeal. I was forced to read both of Richardson’s mind numbing works in my undergraduate Eighteenth Century British Novel class, and I can say without doubt, duller literature was never created. The romance novel could have died right there and then; but fortunately, the nineteenth century brought better news.

In 1813, Jane Austin published “Pride and Prejudice,” which I love along with all the rest of her novels. Rather than the heavy handed commentary on contemporary morality Richardson used to drug his readers into coma-like states of boredom, Jane Austin used wit and irony to create characters and stories no one wants to forget.

Next up are the Bronte sisters. I appreciate Charlotte’s achievement in “Wuthering Heights,” but my own favorite is Emily’s “Jane Eyre,” which was published in 1847. “Jane” was my first experience of a mystery intertwined with a love story. I was riveted by Mr. Rochester’s attraction to “plain” Jane Eyre while fascinated with the sinister question of who or what periodically escaped from the locked room at Thornfield. Who was trying to kill Jane? And why?

Another similar brooding love story about the mystery of the ex-wife is Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” published in 1938. The narrator, who is in her twenties and is always called “the second Mrs. DeWinter,” marries forty-year-old Maxim after a two-week courtship. He takes her back to Manderley, his estate in the English West Country, where she is tormented by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who believes no one can take the place of Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter. As with Jane Eyre, I was hooked on the atmosphere of English country house and the dark, seemingly impenetrable mystery of what happened to Wife One.

Then I discovered Mary Stewart who created the modern romantic suspense novel in the 1950’s and 1960’s before she moved on to become famous for her “Merlin” trilogy. My all-time favorite is her 1958 publication, “Nine Coaches Waiting,” another novel set in a stately house, this time a French chateaux, filled with secrets. Linda Martin, the half-French, half-English governess, is faced with the challenge of keeping her nine-year-old pupil, Philippe de Valmy alive while wondering if the man she loves, dashing Raoul de Valmy is trying to kill him and possibly herself as well.

The definition of romance novel is quite broad, and certainly the books on the site where I first attempted to advertise Dance for a Dead Princess can be called romance novels. But I think of them more as erotica because their emphasis is not as much on plot and circumstances that unite the heroine (think Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice) but upon lust and sex which draw them together. (Think Richardson’s Pamela.) In fact, it really is too bad Richardson wasn’t an erotica novelist because if he had been, Eighteenth Century British Novel would be a far more popular course.

Pamela - Just Looks Boring

Pamela – Just Looks Boring

My Favorite

My Favorite

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