Happy Blogiversary to Me!

Four years ago, I started a blog. It was a big year for me–I took my first trip to England in many, many years, and I published my first novel. Many of you were there with me through those momentous events.

I know I haven’t been around much (at all) lately, but I’m hoping that with the anniversary and the start of a new year, that will change. My goal is to write one post per week to get my blogging feet back under me. But, to do that I’ll need a little help.

You see, part of the reason I stopped blogging was the feeling that I’d ran out of things to say. It felt like every post I wrote was a repeat of another I’d done in the previous three years, or was just another, “Gosh, writing is hard work,” comment.

You’re my readers. I write for you–whether it’s that Christmas novella about Colin and Daphne that I promise is coming eventually, or a blog post. What do you want to hear about? Do you enjoy the insight into what it’s like to be writer? Would you like more posts about traveling or my attempts to move to the UK? Do you want to hear about my upcoming projects?

Let me know in the comments. Together, we can make Year Four the best blogging year ever.

Book Sale!


Sebastian Montgomery never thought he’d inherit a title. Quite comfortable in his role as the family black sheep, he has made a life for himself as one of England’s most valuable agents against Napoleon. Now he will be expected to remain at home as the Earl of Lisle, fulfilling all manner of domestic duties… starting with finding a wife and ensuring the continuance of the family line.

Kitty Bennet met Seb when he was just Mr. Montgomery and quickly developed a crush on him–feelings she now assumes will remain unrequited, as an earl is out of her reach. Sebastian however has no interest in a grand alliance. If he must marry, he will choose a wife with the capacity for intelligent conversation. Kitty’s gift for witty banter draws him to her; any affection he feels for her is simply an added bonus.

But their potential happiness is threatened by someone they don’t even know: the man who killed Sebastian’s grandfather and uncle. When the danger becomes real, Sebastian realizes that, almost against his will, he has fallen in love with Kitty. Can he solve a decades old family mystery in time to keep her safe?

Against His Will, the sequel to Loving Miss Darcy, is on sale this week in the Kindle store. It is currently 99 cents in the US store; Thursday, it will go on sale in the UK as well.

Loving Miss Darcy is Free


Georgiana Darcy watches daily as her brother and his wife fall more deeply in love and dreams of similar love and a home of her own. However, after the disaster years ago with Wickham, she does not believe that any man will have her; thus, the idea of a Season in London holds no appeal for her.

Richard Fitzwilliam was tasked with watching over Georgiana and seeing her married to a deserving gentleman. The problem is finding a gentleman he approves of; not even his closest friends are deemed worthy of her hand.

When scandal breaks and all Georgiana’s worst fears seem to come true, will Richard realize in time how deep his affections run, or will they lose their chance at happiness?

Loving Miss Darcy is free today and tomorrow in all Kindle stores. (Link is to the US store.) This book has never been free before. If you don’t have it, now is the perfect chance. If you do, would you help me spread the word about this sale?

Like a phoenix, the blog rises from the ashes

Hello, friends! It’s been a while. I didn’t intend to fall off the face of the earth, but life happened. Since much of it relates to writing and books, I’ll give you the highlights.

1) I abandoned the Robin Hood project.

This was probably the biggest contributor to my lack of blogging. You saw how much I struggled with this project, and how much I wanted it to succeed. In the end, I realised I was putting myself through too much emotional turmoil and dropped the story. Maybe someday I’ll come back to it, but if I do, it will be for myself. Without the pressure of publication, I might be able to have fun with it again.

2) The Pride and Prejudice with Elves story is gathering steam.

The seed for this was planted by Rebecca last summer when we were reading The Silmarillion while she was editing Against His Will. The idea burrowed its way into my brain, and it’s something I’d really like to write.

3) I’m shifting the focus of my writing slightly.

Since going the full-time author route, I haven’t enjoyed writing. I alluded to it above, and I’ll say it outright here. The pressure to produce something that will sell killed my creativity. This winter and spring were difficult as I slowly realised the life I’d planned for myself wasn’t really going to happen.

This week I landed a part-time job, and today I made a big decision. Except for the project I’ve already promised–the Christmas novella–I am not going to write with the intent to publish. I am going to write because it’s fun and I have stories I want to tell.

The funny thing is, I’ll probably come up with things I want to publish. This isn’t me saying you won’t see any more books from me. This is me saying I won’t be talking about projects and marketing non-stop. I just can’t, for my emotional wellbeing.

4) I’ll be blogging less frequently.

Right now, my thought is one post a week. It might relate to what I’m working on, or a book I’m reading, or someplace I visited that inspired a story idea. I might share something that I read online with you.

This circles back to the other main reason I stopped blogging. I ran out of topics. Everything was about writing and my projects, and I didn’t have anything new to say. If I broaden my scope to include other relevant but perhaps less directly tied in subjects, I think I can have a fun time with it again.

So, hello and thank you for letting me back into your world. Keep an eye out for me on Tuesday when I have a special announcement.

Why I Pulled My Books From Kobo

Where should I sell my books? Surprisingly, this is one of the hardest questions an indie author needs to answer. Logic says to sell them wherever you can–the more available they are, the more sales you’ll get.

This is the rule I’ve played by, with the exception of one stint in KDP Select two years ago. KDP Select is an Amazon program available only to books that are exclusive to Kindle. They offer some interesting promotional tools to Select titles, including putting your book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

But at the time, Select did not give me the results some of my fellow authors saw, so when my enrollment term was over, I put my book back up at Barnes and Noble, and also published it via iBooks and Kobo. My stance since then has been that it makes the most sense to have things as widely available as possible.

So why on earth would I pull my books from two of those markets? (I also pulled them from iBooks, though this post is primarily about Kobo.) Select has gone through a few changes, and I thought it would be worth giving it another shot. Spring/Summer are slow sales periods anyway, so I won’t really be missing out on much.

I did this all over three weeks ago, so imagine my surprise when I received an email from Amazon on Saturday, informing me that they had found my book available for sale on a website in Italy. They informed me I had five days to get the book down from that site or they would take it out of Select–thus canceling the promotions I had scheduled for next week.

I followed the link and discovered the Italian store uses the Kobo catalog. Then I did some more digging on my own and found it on a site based in Australia. Considering I delisted my book with Kobo three weeks ago, this is inexcusable.

To further aggravate the situation, the Kindle team made a slight error and removed my book from Select immediately, rather than giving me the five days’ grace promised. The promotions I’d been counting on as part of my business plan have been canceled. I’ve contacted them and they’ve reinstated me, but I’ll have to wait until the end of April to run promotions now.

Putting it simply, I have no desire to do business with a company whose practices put my livelihood at risk. My sales from Kobo have always been negligible–had it not been for the ease of publishing and the increased visibility, I would not have bothered with them at all. This was really the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I pulled the rest of my books on Saturday night and sent them an email expressing my displeasure and asking them to ensure my books are no longer in their catalog at all. I received this message in reply:

Please note that the book was removed successfully from Kobo site when you de-listed the file. Unfortunately, in regards to our affiliates, it sometimes may take longer than usual for an update to go through.

To speed the process, we have sent a request to our partner support team to follow up with Mondadori and request that the book be removed as soon as possible.

I would accept a week lag, because I know there can be update quirks. Not being able to count on my book being pulled after three weeks is ridiculous. I’ve replied, thanking them for their assistance but reiterating that this has caused me to end our business relationship.

Addendum explaining the iBooks situation:

Before all of this happened, this post was going to be about iBooks. Part of the reason I haven’t used Select since that first attempt is a line in the iBooks contract requiring authors to publish all their work through iBooks. Anything you publish anywhere, you have to also put up in iBooks. Since my first Select attempt did so poorly, I didn’t really mind that. However, when I decided to try again, I knew that meant pulling the plug on iBooks.

I’ll be honest–as a business person, I still don’t like the idea of giving one retailer a monopoly. If every author enrolls their books in Select to the extent that Amazon is able to drive the other companies out of business, Amazon will no longer have any incentive to give us a good deal on either royalty rates or marketing options.

However, I also don’t like having companies tell me when and where I can sell my books. That’s why I went indie in the first place. Amazon doesn’t demand exclusivity to publish; Select is a choice they give you. Kobo feels very strongly that an exclusive relationship is bad business, but it isn’t their place to make that choice for me, nor is it Apple’s.

Update, 3/20/2014:

 The Italian site has finally pulled my book! I’ve been checking obsessively all week, since Amazon gave me that five day grace period. This really was down to the wire as that grace ended today. Still, it’s all over and done with, and I can move on.

Getting In the Flow


Did you read the fantastic Huffington Post article last week on 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently? I read down the list, nodding my head with almost every point. (I actually differ on the need for solitude, but I’ll get to that in a later post.) I definitely view life as an opportunity for self-expression–see exhibit A above.

But the point that caught my eye was that we lose track of time. I followed the link to the TED talk on Flow, and I was amazed. All creative people are familiar with the idea of flow. That’s the time when it feels like instead of you working, the work is flowing out of you of its own volition. The words just appear on the screen without much apparent conscious thought on my part.

What I found most interesting about this talk was that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has come close to quantifying this state, or at least breaking it down into something that make sense. Flow happens when you have both a high degree of challenge and a high level of skill.

Screen shot of the chart shown to illustrate flow

Flow has always been a fairly easy state for me to reach. I have long practice with shutting off distractions, both internal and external. I know how to “get in the zone,” to use another term.

But I haven’t hit flow once in writing Robin Hood, and looking at the chart, I finally understood why. As I said last week, this book is going to be a learning curve for me. It’s a different setting, a different time period, and a different genre. The characters, despite being pulled from Robin Hood lore, are essentially my own. Legends aren’t well fleshed out, so I’ve had to really develop them.

In other words, the ratio of challenge to skills is unbalanced enough that I can’t easily reach flow. I’ve tried all my normal things; even shutting off wifi for an hour only yielded 500 words. That’s been a large part of my frustration with this book, but now that I know that’s just how it’ll be, I can suck it up and just work a little harder.

Of course, I hope that by the time I’m done writing this book, my skills will have improved enough to enable me to settle into flow as I write book two. That’s the fun of writing a series, after all. Each book becomes a little easier as you get to know the world better.

Looking at the chart again, I’d say this is also why creatives don’t like to stay too long in one world. Look at what happens as the challenge level drops. For a while it’s nice, because we can breathe a bit easier. We’re in control of the story and what’s happening. But then we start to miss that edge, and we get bored. And when you’re bored, you don’t want to work on the project anymore and your output decreases.

What about you? What kind of projects have you found that really help you tap into flow?

Is That An Outline or The Union Jack?


If you guessed C, All of the Above, you are correct! Reward yourself with a Girl Scout cookie.

As you know, I’ve reworked the outline for the Robin Hood/Maid Marian story a dozen times in the last eight weeks. I’d work at it from one angle, thinking I finally had it, but then after a few days I’d realise something was missing. I’d shift, trying to catch that string of thought, and I’d lose whatever I had going for me in the first version. And etc.

The last outline came closest to being correct, but it still felt like there was an aspect of the story just out of reach that I wasn’t capturing. Saturday, I talked to my dad about it and (trying not to give away spoilers here) we came to a realisation about the midpoint of the novel.

Once I realised that, I suddenly understood how Marian and Robin’s stories work together. He starts out as more important in the beginning of the novel, and her story gains importance. At that crucial midpoint, things swap so her story is the prominent one that ends the novel.

I grabbed a piece of paper and drew two arrows in an X across the page, with a box in the middle to symbolise the midpoint. And that’s when I realised my plot is a Union Jack.

So, the two lines of the saltire are Robin and Marian. They represent the most visible parts of the plot of book one. He starts in the top left corner and goes down, she starts in the bottom left corner and goes up. They cross at the midpoint that I’m still not giving away.

The horizontal line of St. George’s Cross is the political stuff going on in the background. The characters won’t be aware of much of it until the end, but having it on the outline means I know what’s going on and what kinds of things need to be foreshadowed.

The vertical line of St. George’s Cross is the backstory for the relationship between Robin and Marian. Most of it is history that won’t be displayed or even talked about in the book, but again, it’s helpful to me to have it on the page.

The coloring, I admit, was extra. I could have just drawn the lines and written the plot points down. But honestly, once you’ve drawn a Union Jack, you pretty much have to color it in. And I realise I messed up the counterchange on the saltire–the red stripe is slightly not right–but I didn’t really sit down and plan or research this, so I think I did a pretty good job for an on-the-fly job.

More importantly, I have a much more solid grasp of what’s happening in my novel. All those times I felt like I was missing stuff? It’s because I was only writing one stripe of the story, instead of all four. Now that I have them all written down, I should be able to weave them together into an interesting novel.

Getting With The (Writing) Program

Sunday at the Oscars, Robert De Niro gave the best summary of a writer’s life that I’ve heard in a long time:

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy… and that’s on a good day.

You might have noticed my current book is giving me a few difficulties. For about 24 hours, I considered giving up the project entirely. Then I found the change I needed to make to fix the book, and I decided to stick with it. However, it’s still a project that scares me. It’s different from anything I’ve done before, and I just… it’s going to take skills I have not yet developed.

But on Friday, after talking to someone on Tumblr, I realized writing is a learning curve. There will always be something I’m not good at, and that’s the area I need to be working on. Sure, I could continue to do the same old thing that’s become easy, but where’s the fun in that?

As Lauren DeStefano tweeted on Monday, “I can’t do this on the first try” is not the same as “I can’t do this.” “I can’t do this on the first try” means I keep trying and improving and eventually come to a point where I can do it. This book is going to be harder for me to write than others, and the editing is going to be… oh, let’s not even think about that. However, I believe the process will stretch me as a writer and make other projects possible in the future that I would not be able to do now.

So, I’m back at the writing. Monday I did a brand new outline and put it into a brand new Scrivener file. I’ve pulled over the bits and pieces from the old file that still work, and I’ve gotten some new writing done. The first act is really completely finished.

I’m also trying something new, after listening to yet another Twitter friend. (Yes, this post is all about how social media can inspire your writing life.) Stephanie Burgis said she sets a ridiculously easy daily goal for herself–one line a day. She has two young kids, so some days that’s all the time she has. However, checking in daily with her MS keeps it fresh in her mind so she can be more productive on days when she has time.

I don’t have kids. However, I do have a hard time making myself sit down to write, especially if it’s been a few days or if the previous day did not go well. With that in mind, I’ve blocked out the 1pm hour every day from Monday-Saturday. I’ll turn wifi off, not answer my phone, and spend an hour in my draft. Even if all I do is move around a few chunks of text, at least I’m not losing track of what’s going on in the story.

My goal is to have a complete draft of at least 50,000 words by March 29, and for the first time since Presidents’ Day weekend, I actually feel like this is a possibility.

On My Bookshelf: March 2014


First, happy book birthday to Claudia Gray’s Steadfast! I was lucky enough to land an ARC of this book, so I actually read it in February. This is a sequel to Spellcaster, which is a book I’ve been known to guerrilla sell to unsuspecting fellow bookstore customers. I really love this series, and I can’t wait for the third book to come out next spring.

And now on to what I plan to read in March.

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen. This is the third and final book in a YA trilogy that begins with The False Prince. It came out last Tuesday, and I would have read it last week if… well, yeah.

Poison by Bridget Zinn. An interesting middle grade fantasy that I started reading around Christmas before getting distracted.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth. In true Deathlist form, this book is a perennial OMB list favorite. When I finally finish it, I don’t know that I’ll know what to do with myself.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. I’m hoping to get back into walking this month, so audio books are back on the list!

Henry IV, pt 1 Originally, I was reading this so I’d know the story when I went to the play in March. I’ve cancelled my trip, but I still want to finish the play. This is an audio book, and I’m on the last disk.

That’s it. I also have a few things I’m re-reading so I can finally review them, and some that I’m working on at the pace of a chapter a week or so, which means I won’t finish them for a few months. Mostly, March is going to be a slow reading month so I have time to write!


Writing Process Blog Hop


Thanks to Haley Whitehall for tagging me in this blog hop. Follow the link back to her post to find out what she’s writing.

What am I working on?

The project consuming most of my attention is a re-imaging of the Robin Hood legend with Maid Marian as the main character. (For once, she’s the hero and he exists mostly to be the love interest.) I’ve set it in a fantasy world heavily influenced by England of the period, mainly because in raising the stakes of the story, it became necessary to truly defeat the villain and I can’t exactly kill Prince John in a piece of historical fiction. So the culture is essentially English, but the geography is more continental Europe, and the history of the region is entirely made up.

I’m also polishing my Jane Austen sequels one last time before I start the process of creating audio books. Narrators have to read exactly what is on the page, so I want to catch any errors or repeated words before I submit the manuscripts.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Though the Maid Marian trilogy is technically fantasy and adventure, it is much more character driven than many books in those genres. As a writer, I find my story faster if I focus on who the character is and what they would do in a situation, rather than a progression of events. Of course, what the character does becomes that progression of events that we call plot, but coming at it through the back door gives a different perspective on it.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I’m passionate about. I’ve loved Pride and Prejudice for twenty years, so writing a set of books following those characters was a joy. The Robin Hood project landed in my lap through a series of odd events (I’ve written about that before), but once I dug into it, the idea completely caught my fancy.

I believe there isn’t much point in spending the time it takes to write a good novel on something that doesn’t interest me. The reader can usually tell, and it’s a pretty poor way to treat myself.

How does my writing process work?

1) Get a brilliant idea.
2) Develop the characters and outline.
3) Start writing.
4) Move the cat.
5) Panic.
6) Dig in.
7) Repeat steps 4-6 until the draft is complete, and then again until editing is completely.

My process is also heavily organized. In the outlining phase, I have a few tools I’ve used over and over that I know develop good books. When I write, I try to write in the same place every day so it becomes a habit. And editing… I actually color-code my drafts. I edit by hand, and draft two is done in purple ink, draft three in pink, and draft four in blue. I even have matching folders to put the manuscript in so I know where I am.

And the final part of the post, tagging other authors:

Kimberly Truesdale is a writing and literature teacher who has a line from The Great Gatsby tattooed on her arm and has worn out at least five copies of Anne of Green Gables. She has published two historical romances with another on its way soon. Her post will be up Monday, March 3.

Jennifer Becton worked for more than twelve years in the traditional publishing industry as a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Upon discovering the possibilities of the expanding ebook market, she created Whiteley Press, LLC, an independent publishing house, and she has since published in two genres: historical fiction and thrillers. The Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection includes Charlotte Collins, Caroline Bingley, and “Maria Lucas.” Absolute Liability, Death Benefits, At Fault, and the forthcoming Moral Hazard are the first four volumes in the six-book Southern Fraud Thriller series. Her post will be up Thursday, March 6.

Liz Onstead