All roads lead to…Keeping promises to yourself.
“It’s very important to keep promises, especially to yourself,” purrs deliriously happy magazine writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) in one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, Christmas in Connecticut. At that point in the movie, Elizabeth is opening a massive box filled with a mink coat. As for me? I opened my figurative box of mink last night.
Last night at approximately 10:00pm EST, the final step in a long process of my publication journey saw its completion, and staring at the screen as Breaking Up With Barrett finally reflected a “perma-free” price of $0.00, I burst into the kind of sobs that rattle your bones, and rested my weary head on my desk.
Oh, but I’ve skipped ahead. Let me start at the beginning…
Last May I was invited to speak at the NECRWA conference on the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. small press publishing. Having experienced both sides of that specific coin, I can share first-hand knowledge of both publishing avenues. My talk – which attracted about 50 participants – was in full swing, about halfway finished, when the door to the hotel conference room opened, and Bella Andre walked in. I gasped. My mouth dropped open. My eyes might have watered. My heart started hammering. You have to understand: I fan-girl Bella HARD. I admire her more than any other author writing contemporary romance today. She is smart and savvy, self-created and driven. She writes sweet and sexy romance and has built a massive audience through her Sullivan books (to which I am utterly devoted – haven’t tried them? Click here and buy all 13 of them. I’ll wait.)
Suddenly in the presence of romance writing royalty (say that ten times fast, I dare you) I admit I was flummoxed for a few moments before I started speaking again. Those there will attest to the starstruck pinwheels of my eyes.
After the talk, Bella invited me to have a drink in the hotel lounge and chat about our books, and–
WAIT. Let’s stop here for a moment and give that moment the respect it deserves. Bella Andre (a self-made, self-publishing zeitgeist who has sold MILLIONS of books WORLDWIDE, hit the USA Today and NY Times bestseller lists more times than I can possibly count, and blew the ceiling off of established New York publishing conventions) invited me, Katy Regnery (who, at the time, had a four-book, small-pubbed, poorly-selling, mostly-ignored series out, and one self-published standalone novel) to sit down and chat.
Bella Andre sets the bar high in all things professional. That’s a fact. I am anxious to share with you that she sets the bar even higher when it comes to kindness and heart. For over an hour she selflessly shared details of her publishing journey, listened to me share my own frustrations, answered my questions and gave me advice that I seared onto my brain. Noting that my publishing journey seemed a little unfocused, she gave me advice based on her own success, and told me to consider writing a series. Write them well, but write them quickly, she said. Don’t sacrifice quality, but the key is to write them, and keep writing them. Her exact words? “Write the books. Write the books. Write all of the books.” I will always – alwaysalwaysalways– be grateful to Bella Andre for that advice, and she will always live epic and beloved in my mind for taking an hour out of her exceptionally busy life to mentor a newer author. Thank you, Bella.
I still had three chapters to finish in the novel I was writing at the time, The Vixen and the Vet, but after speaking to Bella, I committed to finishing them as quickly as possible. On the drive home from Boston, I outlined The English Brothers. A series of five books about five hot, wealthy brothers from Philadelphia, I’d thought I’d finish Vixen and start writing The English Brothers right away as mid-length (55,000-70,000 words) books to be enjoyed as “beach reads” over the summer. Bella said to launch them quickly, so I finished Vixen in three days (a chapter a day keeps the ??? away?!), and started on Breaking Up With Barrett the following day. Here is what my ensuing writing/release schedule looked like:
5/2 – 5/3: NECRWA Conference and talk with Bella
5/3 – 5/6: Finish The Vixen and the Vet
5/7 – 5/19: Write Breaking Up With Barrett
5/19-6/1: Write Falling for Fitz
6/2-6/6: Write Anyone but Alex
6/7-7/7: Launches of The Vixen and the Vet, Meeting Miss Mystic and The Wedding Date (which Bella invited me to write – do you see what I’m saying?! I LOVE her!)
7/8-7/29: Write Anyone but Alex
7/22: Launch Breaking Up With Barrett
7/29: Launch Falling for Fitz
8/20-9/16: Write Seduced by Stratton
9/3: Launch Anyone but Alex
9/17-10/6: Write Wild About Weston
11/4: Launch Seduced by Stratton
12/2: Launch Wild About Weston
And of course, this timeline doesn’t account for developmental edits, proofreads, formatting and promo. It was a pretty crazy summer. (What I remember of it.) Some days I’d write 8,000 words. Some days I’d be up until 3am finishing a deadline I’d set for myself. I almost murdered Alex English several times, but I didn’t think that would make for a very good love story. I’ve never driven myself so hard, worked so fast, or accomplished so much in such a tight space. Always in my head when I was tired or frustrated or despairing? The words: Write the books. Write the books. Write all of the books, like a train engine that kept me barreling forward. Chug-a-chug-a-write-the-books… I’d have a little pity party, crack my knuckles and start typing again.
From July until December, I kept The English Brothers exclusively on Amazon. I built my audience by enrolling the books in KDP Select and I think that I’m one of the few authors who is profoundly grateful for Kindle Unlimited. Not a great long-term solution, perhaps, it still introduced my books to thousands of readers. Did I lose money? Maybe. But I believe in “paying your dues” and that’s how I paid them.
The promise I made to myself? To finish all five books and eventually publish them on Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords and Kobo, in addition to Amazon. Once live, I would put the first one, Breaking Up With Barrett on perma-free, hoping to attract new readers with the promise of a free book. That was my plan. That was my only plan, and I kept my eye on it. I never thought about throwing in the the towel. I never deviated from the promise I made myself on May 2nd after speaking to Bella. Seven months later to the day, book five of The English Brothers, Wild About Weston, was published to Amazon. On Monday, all five books were published to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords and Kobo. Yesterday, I refreshed my screen and watched Breaking Up With Barrett drop to $0.00 on Amazon.
I didn’t expect the tears – I didn’t feel them coming on. There wasn’t a warning lump in my throat or a burn that told me they were on the way. One minute I was staring at my computer screen, the next I was sobbing. And the overwhelming feeling I had? That I had started a marathon on May 2nd…and I crossed the finish line, exhausted but elated, last night. I had done it. I had completed what I set out to do, and it feltfeels….awesome.
“It’s very important to keep promises, especially to yourself.”
You know what? It’s been the most fun I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I guess it’s time for new promises.