Author Archives: lauraboon2014

About lauraboon2014

I am a book publicist, accredited editor and writer who loves books, stories and stationery in all their formats.

Our Five Favourite Winter Reads

Can you believe it’s July already? This year is running towards the finish at a crazy pace. However, I always make time to read. It’s my safe place, my fun place, and the way I refill my creative well. Here are five five-star romance reads I recommend. At the bottom of my post you’ll find links to the other, very different, recommendations from The Writers Dozen.

July books composite

First up is The Lingerie Wars by Janet Elizabeth Henderson. I fell across this delightful The Lingerie Warsromantic comedy in the best way – as a recommendation from an author newsletter. It’s the first in a new-to-me seven book series set in the small Scottish town of Invertary. Englishman Lake Benson, ex-special forces, is forced to take control of the lingerie shop he helped his sister buy – or watch his life savings go down the drain. The problem is the competition directly across the street run by former model Kirsty Campbell. Lake campaigns for victory with military precision. Kirsty takes a more creative approach. Aided and abetted by a cast of quirky characters, they are each determined to win the right to be the town’s sole lingerie shop. When the sparks fly, all bets are off. The Lingerie Warsis great escapism; funny and silly but with depth in all the right places. I’m slowly reading my way through the entire series.

Stand and DeliverStand and Deliver is the latest book in Rhenna Morgan’s Men of Haven series. I adore this family of self-proclaimed brothers, their two mums and the women they fall in love with. Stand and Deliveris Beckett and Gia’s story. Gia’s a kickass Southern belle who has built a reputation in Beckett’s male-dominated security industry. Beckett knows his brothers have his back. He wants Gia to know that he has hers; that she can let down her guard once in a while. Gia’s afraid of being overwhelmed by Beckett, but when it becomes clear someone is trying to sabotage her professional reputation, she needs to take a chance on letting Beckett guard her back – and her heart. As usual, there is an element of suspense to keep your heart racing. I love all the books in this series. They are dark and dirty but with heart and humour in all the right places. And the covers are drool-worthy.

OMG. I have to confess that before May this year, I had never read a Sarina Bowen novel. SpeakeasyThat’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a Sarina Bowen shaped hole on my bookshelf which I am rapidly filling up. Don’t you love it when you find an author you haven’t read with a great backlist?! Speakeasy is new, book five in her True North series. It’s filled with the fabulous vistas and great organic food of the series’ rural Vermont setting, the backdrop for May and Alec’s story. May Shipley is an alcoholic. Alec Rossi owns and runs a bar. Their families are intertwined on one level, competitors on another. On the surface it’s not a great combination, especially given that May is on the rebound, but Alec makes her feel good and she’s not ready to give him up just yet. Sarina Bowen explores tough contemporary issues such as sexuality and addiction, but she wraps it all up in the warmth and love that is the Shipley family, giving us a vision of what modern life should look like. And the covers are great too.

The Right TrackOn The Right Track is Penelope Janu’s follow up to In at the Deep End. The books can be read as stand-alone novels but are linked by Per and Tor Amundsen, twin Norwegian brothers destined to fall in love with complicated Australian girls. Tor is the hero of On The Right Track. He’s a diplomat (read spy) investigating murky dealings in the world of horse racing, which brings him into Golden Saunders orbit. Tor is casting aspersions on the reputation of her grandfather, and Golden doesn’t want anything to do with him – or the chaos his appearance creates in her small but manageable circle. However, Tor falls fast for the combination of fragility and fierceness that is Golden. Can Tor persuade her to extend her boundaries? Can Golden take another risk on the world? Penelope Janu’s books are funny, heartfelt, tender and beautifully descriptive. I love them.

I didn’t however, love the cover for On the Right Track. It’s pretty enough but it’s deceptive. A large property two hours from the heart of Sydney does not a rural/country romance make, especially when fifty percent of the action takes place in the city suburbs. It is also so different to the cover for In at The Deep Endthat readers would be forgiven for thinking that there is no connection between the two books and that, indeed, they are in different genres. Nothing could be further from the truth. The publisher has done their author a disservice. Hopefully readers will not be distracted. I recommend both books.

Shadow Keeper is book three in my favourite Christine Feehan paranormal series, The Shadow KeeperShadow Riders. The Ferraro family of Chicago dispenses justice when the law cannot. However, business and family cannot be separated, making it hard for the Ferraros to find love, especially when their life partner must also be a shadow rider, someone with the potential to both read and ride shadows. Giovanni is on the Ferraro equivalent of desk duty, forbidden to ride the shadows until his leg is healed. He’s sick of his role as a playboy, but then he meets Sasha, a warm-hearted, smart and sassy country girl with a shadow that reaches out and touches his. She thinks she’s tough. She thinks she can look after her brother and herself. But the predators in Chicago are not as easy to fight off as the ones on the family farm. Giovanni must overcome the initial bad impression he made and persuade Sasha to trust him – and love him. Gritty, edgy and magical romance.

For more recommendations:

 

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What type of publisher would suit you? 2

Last week, we looked at the traditional publishing houses and the advantages and disadvantages they offer authors. Before we move on to digital only publishing, I want to make a last comment about publishers that offer self-publishing services and hybrid publishers.

Some of the big traditional publishers offer self-publishing services. Penguin Book used to do so although I think they have shut this service down or sold it. Simon & Schuster still has a self-publishing arm called Archway Publishing. Be very careful about using these services. Authors sometimes think that by using a publishing house’s self-publishing arm, they will gain access to the actual publisher. This is not true, and you will pay a premium for using their services.

Similarly, be very careful of hybrid publishers who want to go into ‘partnership’ with you in the ‘brave, brand, new world’ that is publishing today, charging you for production costs and sharing profits with you. If a publisher is charging you for editing services, layout, cover design or ebook conversion, they are not a proper publisher, large or small. If they don’t have a sales distribution service in place, they are not a proper publisher.

The problem with such organisations is that most of them are not discerning when it comes to manuscript selection. If you are prepared to pay for it, they are prepared to publish it. The result is usually a great deal of expense and not that many sales. If criticism scares you, rather self-publish and keep all the profits for yourself. The RWA and other organisations offer excellent courses on how to go about self-publishing. While there may be some good hybrid publishers out there, most of them are perilously close to the definition of a ‘vanity press’ where you are paying for the pleasure of seeing your name on a book without being worried about whether it will sell or not.

There are a couple of red alert signals to watch out for:

  1. They are more concerned about print books than ebooks. There is upfront money to be made in print runs. It goes out of your pocket and into the ‘publisher’s’.
  2. When you ask about sales, they say something like they will keep the books in the warehouse for you and you can direct booksellers to them. That’s a not-so-subtle way of saying you’re the sales person. Bricks and mortar booksellers don’t work like that. Booksellers have accounts with publishers and large distributors and expect reps to call on them. They want thirty-day terms and ‘sale or return’ privileges. This means that if the book doesn’t sell in ninety days, they can return it to the publisher for a full refund. You will end up with a warehouse full of very expensive gifts that are hard to store or post – books are heavy and take up a lot of space.

This brings us to another good option, especially for first time authors – digital first or digital only publishers. These publishers are geared up to focus on ebook sales. Sometimes they do small print runs to complement the ebook publication. Sometimes they don’t. Examples in Australia include Escape (a division of Harlequin, HarperCollins). International examples include Tule, Entangled, Sourcebooks, Carina Press, The Wild Rose Press and many others.

The disadvantage to the author of a big publisher – that you can be a small cog in a huge wheel – is the advantage you have when signing with a smaller press. You are likely to have a more personal relationship with the team and be on first name terms with everyone from the publisher down. Small publishers tend to operate along the same lines as bigger publishing houses, but they outsource more work and have fewer permanent staff. For example, they probably employ a core group of freelancers they use to design covers, edit manuscripts, and do layout and typesetting as well as outsource their sales to independent distribution companies. They will still not charge you for editorial services, cover design, or any other aspect of production. This is the core advantage to going with a publisher over self-publishing. They cover editing and production costs. The core advantage of self-publishing is that you maintain control over the product.

Back to digital first/digital-only publishers:

Pros

  • Keen to work with first-time authors
  • More personal relationships
  • Most based overseas (America is the biggest market for all books)
  • More experimental; will consider diverse and cross-genre publishing
  • Quicker timeline to publication
  • Larger percentage royalty/book paid
  • Pay royalties more frequently than traditional publishers (four plus times per year as opposed to twice a year)
  • Digital sales and presence are the keys to success for a romance author

Cons

  • Only one operating in Australia; most based overseas
  • Smaller staff; use freelancers
  • May not print paperback of book
  • Paperbacks may be more expensive due to small print runs
  • No advance
  • Offer basic marketing and sales services; may offer additional opt-in paid opportunities

This columns was originally published on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

What type of publisher would suit you 1

While every author dreams of a six-figure contract and of going from obscurity to fame and fortune like JK Rowling and Nora Roberts, the reality is that hard work is required to find ‘instant’ fame. Part of that hard work is learning about the industry and identifying what type of publisher would suit your personality, style and genre.

Publishers aren’t always easy to identify, especially for new writers. Within the industry, publishing houses are well known and distinguished by the same characteristics that are used to separate other large organisations – success, ethics, innovation. However, publishers are focused on marketing their product brands – their authors and books – so they don’t put significant money into advertising their logos and companies. This has changed with the growth of social media; publishers now have Facebook pages and tweet under their company names. However, they still don’t have the brand profile of organisations like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

Not all publishers are created equal. There are the traditional publishers including the so-called ‘Big Five’, hybrid-model and digital first publishers and self-publishers, also known as indie-authors or indie-publishers. There are positives and negatives to each publishing type.

Traditional publishing houses focus primarily on print books although they all now publish ebooks as well. Some have long and distinguished histories. Many have merged over the years. Ebooks are usually published as an addition to a hardback or paperback, not as the only format. The Big Five are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins (now including the famous Harlequin Mills & Boon romance house), Hachette Livre, Simon and Schuster and MacMillan. All of the Big Five have romance lines. There are numerous smaller traditional publishers including Text and Allen & Unwin. They are more niche and not all of them publish romance.

Pros

  • You will not have to contribute any funds to production or marketing.
  • You will probably get an advance on your royalties (an upfront payment).
  • Excellent editorial support.
  • Superior book production.
  • Confirmed marketing support, including bigger and better marketing and promotion campaigns including a tour if your book is a focus title.
  • Additional support if you are a local author.
  • Publication in paperback and ebook, possibly audiobook. You will be able to hold your book in your hands and see it on a shelf.
  • Large sales and distribution networks.
  • Foreign rights specialists who may be able to sell your book into other markets.

 Cons

  • You may need an agent to approach a traditional publisher, especially in America and England.
  • The Big Five publish hundreds of titles per month. Your book will have internal as well as external competition.
  • The ‘machine’ will roll on a month after your publication to other books.
  • You have limited to no control over final title and cover, sales strategy and marketing spend.
  • Traditional publishers focus less on digital sales, the primary market in romance.
  • Their ebooks are more expensive which can price your book out of the market.
  • They concentrate funds and energy on big names and money earners; if your book is a ‘midlist’ title you’ll get minimal marketing support.

Next week, we’ll look at the smaller publishing houses, digital only publishers and indie publishing.

This column was originally published on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

 

Cross-cultural Victorian romance alive with heart, hope and strength

After the Wedding: A Worth saga romance by Courtney Milan

The only thing more inconvenient than Camilla’s marriage at gunpoint is falling in love with her unwilling groom…

So begins the story of Camilla Worth and Adrian Hunter. I’ve always enjoyed Courtney After the WeddingMilan’s Victorian romance but I really loved this one. Humorous. Passionate. Angry. Heartfelt. As I read the final words, I was filled to the brim with the happy, bubbly, lighter-than-air feeling I get from a truly beautiful book. 

There is something heartwarmingly-everywoman about the heroine Camilla (Cam) Worth, her unquenchable spirit and hope for the future despite the fact that deep down, she doesn’t believe she deserves love. Camilla is the daughter of a treasonous earl, trying to stay hidden so as not to bring any further shame on her family. The hero, Adrian Hunter, is the son of a duke’s daughter and a black abolitionist, an artist and a businessman, strong but gentle and always willing to believe the best of everyone. Brought together by circumstances beyond their control, they work together to wrest their futures back from the men who want to deny them control of their own destinies.

Adrian gives Camilla the right to be herself, and she finds the strength and anger to fight back against with the people who would put her – and Adrian – down. He helps her to look back, and she helps him to look forward. The result is a love match started for all the wrong reasons but finding all the right reasons to continue.

Aside from her memorable characters, Courtney Milan also always digs below the surface of Victorian England to uncover bits and pieces of history that still influence us today. In this case, it is china, as in crockery.  Britain was the workplace of the world for several decades of the nineteenth century, fuelled by a rise in domestic demand thanks to a growing middle and upper working class. There’s a delightful sub-plot in After the Wedding about the creation of a fine china design for display and sale at a trade exhibition.

After the Wedding got me thinking about diversity in Victorian England. A little bit of digging on the web got me the information that there were roughly 10,000 black men and women in London at the time, more around the country, as the result of English tentacles stretching into every continent. They were a distinct minority, under threat of slavery before 1833 even although slavery hadn’t been legal in England since the time of William the Conqueror. However, they were probably not as feared or hated as the Irish. As always in England, class played the largest role in social standing. If you would like to do more research about Black Britain, I found this article from History Today, a helpful overview, although, of course, it does not delve into all the ethnic minorities that make up British society.

After the Wedding is book 2 in the Worth Saga but can be read as a stand alone novel. I did, although I have remedy this fault in my bookshelf by downloading book 1, Once Upon a Marquess, to read immediately.

5 hearts all

Blurb

Adrian Hunter, the son of a duke’s daughter and a black abolitionist, is determined to do whatever his family needs-even posing as a valet to gather information. But his mission spirals out of control when he’s accused of dastardly intentions and is forced to marry a woman he’s barely had time to flirt with.

Camilla Worth has always dreamed of getting married, but a marriage where a pistol substitutes for “I do” is not the relationship she hoped for. Her unwilling groom insists they need to seek an annulment, and she’s not cruel enough to ruin a man’s life just because she yearns for one person to care about her.

As Camilla and Adrian work to prove their marriage wasn’t consensual, they become first allies, then friends. But the closer they grow, the more Camilla’s heart aches. If they consummate the marriage, he’ll be stuck with her forever. The only way to show that she cares is to make sure he can walk away for good…

Courtney MilanAuthor

Courtney Milan writes books about carriages, corsets and smartwatches. As one does. You can find out more about her and her  books here.

 

Getting a manuscript ready for submission

In the not to distant future, my romance novel will be published. This is the first in a series of blog posts about my path to publication. I hope it is inspiring and helpful to other aspiring writers out there.

I’ve wanted to write a novel worthy of readers’ delight since I first went to university, saw creative writing on the course list, and realised that real people wrote books. Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them.

I struggled on my own for years before I found my tribe at the Romance Writers of Australia. With the support and guidance of various members, I’ve made steady progress. I finalled in one competition, learnt from others, and eventually finished my first manuscript. It placed second in the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. I was thrilled but still plagued by doubts. The praise received was consistent; readers liked the setting, my heroine and the dialogue. The criticism coming back was also consistent – my hero was hard to know. Although I spoke to a few publishers, I never submitted, choosing to rework it instead. I say ‘choosing to rework’ and that’s partly true. Part of me was also retreating. If I wasn’t good enough to win, was I really good enough to publish? Would I make a fool of myself submitting it to publishers? Fear of failure can be crippling. It can also be a strangely comforting bedfellow, one which makes sure you never move out of my comfort zone.

But … I really wanted to be a published novelist. I wanted it more than I feared failure and humiliation. So I set myself a goal. By the next year’s conference I would be ready to pitch my revised and improved romance to publishers. I added 30,000 words to the story and thought about the story a lot, what worked, what didn’t. I also thought about what I would do if no one wanted it. I could self-publish. However, I really wanted to take my first steps in publishing with someone more experienced holding my hand. I wanted the support and the learning curve an author gets when working with an experienced editor and publisher. I’ve worked in the industry for years, so I know how valuable that experience can be.

When the annual RWA conference came around again in 2017, I was ready and prepared to face the threat of rejection again. I’d changed my title from the sweet-sounding Alpine Kisses to the sassier The Millionaire Mountain Climber. I put in my pitch request for the speed dating sessions with editors and agents. As a backup, I also made myself a list of romance publishers who accepted submissions direct from authors. I composed the list from the names of publishers who have attended RWA over the years as well as those who publish the books I like to read. I went online to their submission pages and copied their requirements. If the pitches didn’t go well, I had a plan B.

The pitches went okay. One agent was, frankly, rude, but said I could submit anyway. I did so, but didn’t hold my breath. Just as well because neither I, nor anyone else who pitched, ever heard back from her. One publisher was delightful and enthusiastic, and I submitted with some confidence. Another publisher said I didn’t fit their criteria, so that was a no.

However, with only one genuine show of interest, I didn’t like my odds. A month after conference, I hauled out Plan B and submitted to another ten publishers and one agent. It took time. Each one had different submission criteria. Some requested only the first five pages. Some wanted the first three chapters. Some wanted the whole manuscript. Everybody wanted a synopsis and to know a little about me, but not a one of them matched another. Each submission was unique. Some of the publishers I targeted were Australian; others English and American. I changed spelling according to the submission. While I didn’t get it all right, I reckoned it was respectful to at least make the effort. Those submissions took me another month, to the end of October 2017. I meant to submit to more agents, but decided to first see what came of round one. I also decided that if I didn’t get interest from anyone by end February, I would self-publish. I felt my story had legs now.

Next time: The call … make that the email.

Getting a foot in the door: agent or publisher?

In my most recent Tips from an Industry Insider blog post for RWAustralia, I review options for getting started in the industry. Once you have a book, should you chase an agent or a publisher … or self publish?

Traditionally, an author needed an agent to get a publisher. This has changed with the rise of digital-only or digital-first publishers and imprints. An imprint is a division of publishing house, for example, Escape is Harlequin Australia’s digital-only imprint whereas titles published under their Mira imprint appear in both paperback and ebook. Many publishers now accept submissions direct from authors.

 

It takes just as much time, research and preparation to approach either an agent or a publisher:

  • Start with shelf research in a bookshop or on your ebook reader.
  • Look on the imprint page to find out who the publisher is.
  • Visit their website and read their submission guidelines.
  • Read the acknowledgements page. Many authors thank their editors, publishers and agents in the acknowledgements.
  • Follow the submission process. Make every submission individual. You can approach more than one publisher or agent at a time, but don’t email them together. Nothing says ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I have not researched your needs’ like a group email. They all have different requirements, for example, some want the first three chapters; others only want to see the first five pages.
  • Some publishers have author-only newsletters. Sign up for these.
  • Keep a database of publisher information.

Agents

The trick when approaching an agent is to understand their business model. They only make money if you make money, charging you a percentage of the advance and royalties you earn. Royalties are the money you make when your book sells, usually a percentage of the retail price as agreed with the publisher. An advance against royalties is money you are given on signature of contract or finalisation of manuscript. Agents naturally favour publishers who pay an advance.

VERY IMPORTANT: If an agent wants money from you, they are not an agent in the true sense of the word. They may offer literary services along with agenting. That’s fine, so long as they are clear about the differences.

If you want to try the agent route, do it before approaching a publisher. Publishers have excellent memories. If your agent approaches them with a book you’ve already pitched and they’ve rejected, they’ll remember. This will embarrass your agent – not good for your relationship.

Publishers

It can take as long to get an agent as a publisher, and only once you have signed exclusivity will they start the process of approaching publishers on your behalf. Starting to see the appeal behind approaching a publisher direct?

Digital-only only imprints usually don’t pay advances. However, they often give authors a larger percentage royalty and pay faster than traditional imprints, who can make an author wait anywhere from three to nine months for payment. The fact that there is no upfront money means agents leave the easiest break-in point for a new author, digital-only, until last on their shopping list. Again, this can be good or bad. However, for an author, the advantages of getting that first book published can outweigh financial incentives. These include establishing an audience and a track record.

Additional strategies for finding a publisher include:

  • Enter writing competitions judged by editors or publishers. Even if you don’t win, you may make a valuable contact.
  • Attend conferences and take part in speed-dating pitch sessions where you get to meet editors.
  • Network. Go to the cocktail parties.
  • Expand your horizons – look locally and internationally.
  • Read books they publish. Will your book fit their profile? Do they appeal to you?

VERY IMPORTANT: A publisher who charges to publish is not a publisher. They may be a legitimate co-operative or they may be a fraud, but they are not a publisher. If you are asked for money to publish, hear the alarm bells and take a step back. Ask questions of them and your community. One of the clearest signals of fraud is that they are not interested in ebooks, only paperback, as they make their money printing for you. Another is very vague marketing and sales plans.

Stay tuned for more industry tips

Coming up in forthcoming posts: pros and cons of large vs small publishers vs self-publishing; publishers interested in romance; learning from a rejection; why you need a brand, and more.

 

Originally posted by Romance Writers of Australia, http://romanceaustralia.com/tips-from-an-industry-insider-getting-your-foot-in-the-door-agent-or-publisher/, on 14 March.

Small steps beginning of big change

Sometimes, the iniquities of the world we live in overwhelm me. It’s easy to be dragged down into a space where it seems change for the better is impossible. Then an individual or organisation will do something to prove me wrong and remind me of the best qualities of humanity, like resilience, resourcefulness and hope. Last year the world seemed to going backwards, reverting to hate and bigotry, focusing on stirring up fears of  ‘otherness’ rather than looking for commonalities and humane, empathetic solutions.

This year bad things continue, but in this first quarter I have seen things to restore my hope. Teenagers marching in the US demanding better gun control. And the Romance Writers of America making a small but significant change to level the playing field of their important RITA awards for indie authors. This year, publishers and authors were required to enter a PDF not a paperback. Why is this important? Because corporations (like publishers) will always tread the conservative, proven path to success. Until proven otherwise by a massive bestseller produced at somebody else’s risk, they will confidently declare is no viable market for:Dreams Key Representing Hopes And Visions

  • wizard boarding school books in the 21st century
  • LBGTQI heroes and heroines
  • romances featuring POC
  • steampunk
  • authors from non-mainstream (read English-speaking, white, heterosexual) cultures)
  • etc. You get the idea.

The authors for these stories have found their voices in independent publishing (self publishing). Many critics still rail against the standards of indie publishing. It’s true the barriers to entry are lower. It is not true that the best of traditional publishing is better than the best of indie publishing.

The changes to the RITAs resulted in 22 indie authors making the finals – out of a total of 78 finalists, almost one third and the most ever. Other minority demographics are also better represented even if not to the same extent.

Jackie Horn has done an excellent job of analysing the data of the RITAs and what it means for diverse authors and characters. I recommend reading her post at Romance Novels for Feminists.

Small changes, big results. Go RWAmerica! Thank you for leading the way.

And go students of America! Thank God for the passion and idealism of youth.