Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reflections on a Year of Indie Publishing

Hard to believe, but it's already been a year since I took the indie plunge. Since then, I've published two books: The Boy Who Loved Fire and The Summer of Crossing Lines.

I thought it would be fun to reflect on the past year--what I've learned, what I've loved, and what I'm thankful for. Here are some thoughts as I round out year one.

  • Indie publishing is fun. Yes, it's also hard. And yes, it keeps authors very busy. But it sure is fun. The creative control is intoxicating. Editing the manuscript until it's ready for readers is such a worthy challenge. And cover design? Such a thrilling, collaborative experience. Heck, I even loved formatting the manuscripts and uploading them to distributors. For me, the whole process is fun, fun, fun.
  • Zero pressure (except the pressure we place on ourselves). No pressure to sell a certain number of copies before the book is yanked off the shelves. No pressure to become a media darling. Sure, I placed pressure on myself to create quality books with eye-catching covers, and I pressured myself to hit deadlines, but those were self imposed. 
  • I'm not a bestselling author...yet! (and that's ok). I've experienced so much joy from simply writing stories and preparing them for market. This may sound crazy, but I don't check sales numbers, rank, or lists. Maybe some day I will, but not right now. I'm just busy preparing the next book.
  • Time management is a constant battle. I'm a slow writer. For me, my best work comes through time and reflection--not a meat grinder. Other indies release several books a year, but I can't focus on their timelines or I'd be tempted to release my books before they're ready. I do what I can when I can, in a way that makes me proud. You can't ask for much more than that.
  • I'm grateful. For every single reader, for every single review, and for every kind word. I'm grateful for Amazon, and Apple, and every distributor who made indie publishing so darn easy. Each time someone downloads my book or orders a print copy, they're placing faith in me. I'm truly thankful for that. These books were labors of love, and it's satisfying to see them out in the world.
  • The indie community rocks. I've been blown away by the amount of resources out there. Podcasts, blog posts and resources shared by Joanna Penn, Susan Kaye Quinn, Simon Whistler, and more. Everyone shares what they've learned, which helps other indies. It's awesome.
It's been a fun, exciting year. I've conquered massive fears and learned a heck of a lot. Moving forward, I will continue to write books, improve my craft, and send stories into the world. Indie life suits me!

Have you taken the indie plunge? What was 2014 like for you as a writer? Did you achieve goals? Surpass them? Re-align your priorities? Please share!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writing lessons learned from COMPULSION

I read a lot over the Christmas break, so I'll share another post about writing lessons learned from great fiction! I had the pleasure of reading COMPULSION by Martina Boone, who just happens to be a friend and wonderful blogger. If you haven't stopped by Adventures in YA Publishing, you should. Martina's blog is packed with advice, giveaways, and workshops.

Before we get to the lessons, here's a bit about Compulsion:

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison in her aunt's South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn't what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.

This book was beautifully written, with a setting authentic enough to be its own character. Here are my writing lessons learned from Compulsion (Alert! If you haven't yet read Compulsion, and don't want to know any plot points, stop! But please come back after you've read the book):

  • Show early signs of a special gift: if the story is paranormal, it's a great idea to show the reader the unexplained. If the story isn't paranormal, the author can still show qualities like the gift for gab, or a knack for not following directions. In Barrie's case, she's in a taxi early in the story when we learn she has a gift for finding lost things.
  • Introduce the love interest early, even if it's only for a moment: a staple for fans of romances, but even for YA readers who swoon over the adorable guy. Barrie meets Eight Beaufort soon after she arrives at her aunt's plantation. He lives in the neighboring mansion, and also has gifts of his own.
  • Leave a trail of unanswered questions: as questions are answered, new questions pop up, which kept me curious. For example, Barrie's mom was burned in a fire, and she allowed her family to believe she was dead. Why?
  • Just when the reader has it all figured out, change things up: just when I thought I had all these characters figured out, Boone added a new surprise about the curse, the feud, or a twist on mythology. It kept me on my toes.
  • Weave mythology in organically: I don't usually gravitate toward stories with mythology, but in this case, it was woven in the story in an interesting way after I'd already gotten to know the characters. The story first introduces a girl who's lost her mother, and then moves on to the boy, and the curse, and a family feud. Mythology wasn't dumped in like a textbook. It was woven in naturally through story events.
  • Make each scene work overtime: with each scene, there were multiple plates spinning. It wasn't just the main character going somewhere or doing something. There were interactions with other characters--real or not--as well as inner dialog and forward movement. Compulsion provides excellent examples of scenes earning their keep and working overtime.
Have you visited Martina's blog? Have you read Compulsion yet? Any thoughts you'd like to add? Please share!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Writing lessons learned from LOVE UNEXPECTED

I recently finished another wonderful book by Jody Hedlund--Love Unexpected. In my opinion, there are so many great writing lessons to learn from Hedlund's fiction. I'll share some of them below. But first, about Love Unexpected (from

All Emma Chambers ever wanted was a home, but when her steamboat sinks just outside Presque Isle, she's left destitute and with no place to stay.

An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper arrives in town. He's just lost his wife and is having a difficult time caring for his child. So a traveling preacher gets the idea that the keeper and Emma might be the answer to each other's dilemma. After a hasty marriage, she finds herself heading to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger. Nothing in her aimless life, though, has prepared her for parenting a rambunctious toddler, as well as managing a household. 

Emma soon suspects Patrick may be hiding something from her, and then she hears a disturbing rumor about the circumstances surrounding his late wife's death. It seems as if her wish for a home and family of her own could end up leading her once more into turbulent waters.

Here are some writing lessons I learned from this inspirational romance (Alert! If you haven't yet read this story, and don't want to know any plot points, come back to this post once you've finished the book):

  • Open with action: we hear this all the time, right? But Hedlund does this so well. The opening pages include pirates, a shipwreck, and a rescue at sea. Bam! It also reveals the bond between Emma and her brother, as well as the greed and cruelty of pirates.
  • Bring on the desperation: both Emma and Patrick are desperate. She's desperate for a home. He's desperate for a helping hand. Their desperation pushes them together and makes them consider a hasty wedding, even though they've just met.
  • Shady past adds intrigue: Patrick admits he has a criminal past, but the reader isn't aware of what he's done. Emma once turned a blind eye to her late father's wrongdoings. Both characters have something to hide. It adds a layer of darkness and intrigue that make the characters more interesting.
  • Play up the inner demons: Patrick carries a lot of baggage and is now trying to live a Godly life. Story circumstances add conflict and dredge up the past, which create a reformed man we can root for.
  • Hurt the ones they love: betrayal is so much more powerful when it's between people who love and trust each other. Emma doesn't intend to betray Patrick, but she does. This hurts him deeply--much more than if the villain had betrayed him. This betrayal adds another layer of emotion to the story.
  • Decisive moment that shows character: at one point in the story, Patrick must decide whether or not to help a bad person. He weighs this decision carefully in a "What would Jesus do?" moment. His decision sets up series of harmful events, and shows his true character.
Have you seen these writing lessons in books you've read? Have you used them in your own fiction? Have you read Love Unexpected? Anything you'd like to add? Please share!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Find Your Audience Your Way #IWSG

Happy New Year, Insecure Writers! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. If you want to join this amazing group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, click here.

First, a fun bit of news. My cover for The Boy Who Loved Fire (designed by J. Allen Fielder) made the Top 19 list over at Check out the link here.

Now, on with the regular post...

Our church had a special guest this Christmas--Colton Dixon. If you watch American Idol, you'll likely be familiar with him. He came in 7th in season eleven.

On Christmas Eve, my sons and I went to church and were blessed enough to watch this young man perform. And while I was wowed by his music and his message, I was also wowed by his journey.

You see, his American Idol dreams didn't come true. He didn't even hit the top three. But what impresses me about Colton Dixon is that he stayed true to himself and his art. His mohawk-skinny jeans-rocker style and meaningful messages have catapulted him to the top of the Christian music charts. He didn't shy away from his faith--he embraced it--and found his audience his way.

His story reminded me how important it is to:
  1. Embrace opportunities
  2. Write what's uniquely ours
  3. Follow our own paths
Given the same writing prompt, ten thousand writers would write ten thousand different stories. That's really cool. So while I love the work of Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah, I can't write like them or torture myself by trying to mimic their paths. I've learned this important lesson--peace comes from writing what's in your heart and enjoying your own unique journey.

Have you heard of Colton Dixon? Do you struggle with writing what's uniquely yours? Do you try to mimic the paths of other writers? How has that affected your mood and style? Please share!

If you haven't heard him yet, here's Colton Dixon singing his latest release, "More of You."