Thursday, December 31, 2015

Out with the old, in with the new....

At this time of year, it's hard not to reflect on the months gone by, and consider what the new year will bring. What I have I achieved? What could I have done better or differently? What did I most enjoy?

In 2015, I released two historical romance novels. My third, THE BRIDE TOURNAMENT, in which the Gone With the Wind love triangle meets The Bachelor, scheduled to release January 7th. I'm offering three copies for a Goodreads giveaway.

And my first two books were also in boxed sets. AT HIS COMMAND is in Castles, Knights and Chivalry, and FOLLOW YOUR HEART is in Highlanders, Lords and Lovers.

I'm writing a novella I hope to release in February. Because it's a different time period and setting, the research (though interesting) is slowing me down. More details on that soon.

And I'm preparing for the start of a new paranormal medieval series, perhaps in April. The first book is written, the second was my NaNoWriMo project. Can I finish in time for a July release? And will readers follow or will I be starting all over again because of the addition of significant paranormal elements?

From time to time I think about the second book I wrote, which I haven't released yet. It's got a lot more actual history than the books I've released...not quite historical fiction, but more than most say readers like in historical romance. Of course I love the story, which is based on an actual letter that was written but never delivered. What should I do with that, and manuscripts I've completed in other genres?

Here's to a Happy New Year!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Bride Tournament by Ruth  Kaufman

 The Bride Tournament

 by Ruth Kaufman

 Giveaway ends January 05, 2016.
 See the giveaway details
 at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Scrinch (Scrooge + Grinch) and Holiday Gratitude

Instead of being my usual Scrinchy (Scrooge and Grinch) self this time of year because of all of the muss and fuss, I'm going to focus on why I'm grateful for the holidays:

1) I usually work at home, and the seemingly endless construction of a new house behind me stopped early today. And there won't be any on Christmas. 

2) The popular coffee shop I often go to when constructively evicted by hammering, sawing, drilling, engines running and/or trucks beeping was blissfully empty and quiet this morning. 

3) More time to just write. I'm working on a new project--a novella. More on this soon. 
There are so many other hats to wear as an author, from cover designer and blurb writer for upcoming books to getting more reviews for current releases to doing more promotion to growing my newsletter list so I can occasionally share news with readers (I hope you'll sign up!). Any of these tasks could take an entire day. So while businesses are closed and no acting/VO emails arrive, I'll write.

4) Holiday music. I've been listening to Pandora's Christmas station and Chicago radio station 93.1's all-Christmas programming. I enjoy classics sung by Perry Como, Bing Crosby and others, but I prefer choral arrangements.

5) Some people may have (and even enjoy) many gatherings and events and/or holiday guests. My family just gets together for a quiet meal and gift exchange. So while others cook and clean and entertain, I plan to write. 

6) A personal end of December tradition is to go through my filing cabinets and closets. So far I've recycled four garbage bags of papers. I like to start out the new year organized. Clean out the old, make way for the new.

7) After Christmas sales. A great time to save money on holiday cards for next year and other items.

8) Holiday cookies. A friend received too many and shared some. 

9) Pretty Christmas lights and decorations throughout the city. 

10) When the holidays are over, and regular life resumes.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

For my fellow Scrinches (Scrooge + Grinch)

I am a Scrinch--part Scrooge, part Grinch--someone who doesn't love the holidays. In part it's because of how the hustle-bustle of decorating, cookie making, gift buying and giving, party throwing and attending takes over everything else. I've already received emails and seen posts about offices closing until January 4. While those who are Gainfully Employed with paid holidays may appreciate all of the downtime and getting paid to take time off, as a feelancing Gainfully Unemployed, I see two weeks without auditions and paying work.

However, I am awaiting the final script for a small VO job, and I have what could be an exciting writing assignment--more on that later.

In part, I admit I feel pressure--to give great gifts and have a wonderful time. What are YOU doing for the holidays? New Year's Eve? Thankfully, I already have fun NYE plans. Whew.

Several years ago I had a true story published in an anthology. My Scrinchiness abated in 2009 when I portrayed Major Nougat at Winter Wonderfest, a vast indoor holiday amusement park filled with amazing decorations. Interacting and improvising with kids and seeing their true wonder made me appreciate that season.

One thing I do like to do during the holidays is go through all of my drawers, cabinets and closets. Organizing and donating is one way to start the new year fresh with my best foot forward.

How do you feel about the holidays?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Getting out the word about my new release, THE BRIDE TOURNAMENT

My third book, THE BRIDE TOURNAMENT, releases January 7, 2016. I'm seeking cost-effective ways to get the word out. Amazon shows 1,434 historical romance releases in the past 30 days, so it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. How much time and money am I willing to spend, and how do I predict the best return on my investment?

I'm offering a Goodreads giveaway, during which members can enter to win one of three print copies. Perhaps some of those who sign up will be interested enough to buy it or one of my other books. So far 52 people have entered, with 27 days to go. My investment: Time: less than half an hour Cost: 3 paperbacks + shipping.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Bride Tournament by Ruth  Kaufman

The Bride Tournament

by Ruth Kaufman

Giveaway ends January 05, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

I'll be participating in a Facebook party on January 9 in conjunction with another author's release. Readers can stop by, chat online with authors and comment to win giveaways. I'll be hosting from 3:30-4:00. Time: half an hour to 4 hours. Cost: whatever I decide to give away.

Reviews: Tracking down reviewers can be time consuming, and costly. Publishers Weekly's BookLife doesn't charge, but doesn't accept that many books, either. I'm fortunate that my first two books were accepted. Time will tell it they'll review TBT, also.

Kirkus charges $425 with 7-9 week delivery, as does RT Review Source. There are dozens of other places, but each has a separate submission process and time frame, with no guarantee of review. There's also no guarantee that any review will be good or include a short, well-worded compliment I could use on, say, a bookmark or my website.

And it's hard to measure the impact even a great review has on potential readers. But you need some reviews if you want to participate in certain promotional publications (amounts and ranking, for example over 4 Amazon stars, vary). And I doubt many readers like coming across a book with no reviews.

Many authors say writing great books is the most important thing. I wouldn't release a book if I didn't think it was great, but will readers agree?

Stay tuned....

Thursday, December 03, 2015

How do you define success?

I ended National Novel Writing Month with 35,107 words, or more than 1,000 (around 5 pages)  a day. That may sound like a lot, and is definitely more than I'd have written without the NaNo process. Yet via social media, I know many not only "won" NaNo by achieving 50,000 words, some wrote over 100,000! I participated in a Romance Writers of America word war that had over 8,000,000 words written by 278 participants.

We're not supposed to compare ourselves to others. Happiness comes from within. No regrets. Blah blah blah. The question is: how much should I have done in NaNo or do in other pursuits to experience the satisfaction of success? Perhaps I could have pushed harder...not gone out with that friend, watched that TV show, run those errands until I hit my daily goal of 1,667 words. Should I have kept BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) until I reached 50K? Or should I be pleased with what I did accomplish, and accept that putting in some, even significant, effort is success?

Certainly there are true emergencies that prevent us from succeeding. And everyone faces what my romance writing chapter calls life job deadlines, family issues that need taking care of sooner rather than later. Some succumb to these as reasons they can't get this or that done, while others take them in stride and accomplish what they set out to do anyway.

What's the point of setting goals if you don't care when you don't achieve them? I don't accept that they're mere benchmarks to make sure we do something rather than nothing. Not that we should beat ourselves up if we come up short, but how do you learn to pace and discipline yourself for the next reasonable goal?

Of course, what qualifies as success to one may not be enough for another. Many NaNo winners and participants either don't finish that novel or do anything with it if they do. Some may enjoy the process and being part of the NaNo community year after year. Not everyone wants to make the effort involved to publish and sell books. Others may ponder all of those words languishing "under the bed."

Many kids today get trophies for participating, not winning. Yet in the Olympics, athletes can lose out on a medal by a hundreth of a second. How many viewers remember those who aren't on the podium, despite all of the effort needed to get that far?

I'm working on defining success for myself. If I'm being honest, 35,107 words isn't an example of it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Good intentions & gratitude: how much is enough?

On this day when Americans focus on giving thanks, I'm grateful for the bounty of food, family, friends and work I've had this year.

And I'm also grateful for me. Some may think that conceited. But I'm the one who gets up every morning, sits at my desk (usually by 7AM) and works to build a better life for myself despite the siren call of distractions from TV and books I want to read to errands that need running. Who picks herself up after rejection after rejection and setbacks and continues to believe she can earn a living as a full-time actor, author, writer and speaker.

Even so, negative thoughts sometimes stymie my good intentions to do more, work more, self-market more, write more, have a positive attitude. Putting positive energy into the world is preferable, as is being satisfied with what you have. But is what you've done enough?

An actor always needs more submissions, auditions and bookings. An author needs more sales and followers and accolades from contest wins to good reviews. A single person who wants a relationship needs to meet more people. A person on a diet may face a daily struggle to avoid their favorite fattening foods and to exercise more.

When things you truly want and things you've worked for elude you, sometimes life feels like an ongoing test. Have I done enough? How will you handle your reaction to lack of success? From the agent who says no to the jobs you didn't book to not finding someone you want to date who wants to date you? The discipline required to exercise if you don't enjoy it, to put in the hours to finish and then market that novel? Can you believe that persistence pays, winners never quit? Can you be grateful for all you do have?

Can you accept, just for today, that you've done enough and enjoy?   

Thursday, November 12, 2015

5 Tips for enjoying life while you're waiting for news

As an actor and an author, I want to have many irons in the fire. I have some control over how many I send, but none over when information about those irons (such results of submissions to literary agents, auditions, callbacks, even the shoot schedule when I have a booking) will arrive, which can wreak havoc on my schedule and, somehow, at times, my brain. At the moment, I'm waiting on many fronts, including a very exciting and hugely challenging writing opportunity.

I'm not the only one who finds waiting difficult. An actor friend who was on check avail for a commercial posted more than once on social media, calling the waiting nerve wracking. Why is that, when you're not actually doing anything? Maybe it's the lack of control, uncertainty, or lack of closure.

Here are my Top 5 Tips to help you endure the waiting process:

1) Keep going. If you've submitted to an agent (whether literary or acting), their websites often list response times. But if that's a month or 6 weeks, the urge to keep checking your email can be strong. And many say they only respond if interested, so you might not even get the closure of a rejection. Send out another submission. Finish other work. Staying busy and having more eggs in your basket gives you more opportunities and lessens the importance of each individual submission.

2) Accept that there's nothing you can do to make the news come faster. And that often, it comes later than you expect, meaning you have to wait longer. Recently I was "on ice" for a small role in an industrial, a corporate video. Talent was asked to set aside multiple days...and I didn't find out for several weeks that a) I was definitely booked b) when I'd shoot. I'm waiting for a shoot schedule for a commercial next weekend, which means other plans are on hold. It can be difficult not to get antsy, especially if things that can't be changed, like theatre tickets, are involved. Realize this is part of the chaos of a feelancer's life.    

3) Be grateful and enjoy what you've achieved so far. You can't win it if you're not in it. But the bigger the opportunity, the harder waiting can be. My dream agent is interested in my book! I'm up for a national TV commercial! When I called a friend to congratulate her on being a RITA finalist (RWA's version of the Oscar. The awards are presented at a black tie event with nearly 2,000 in attendance, including many industry professionals), the first thing she said was that she knew she wouldn't win. What a way to downplay a huge honor thousands of romance authors wish for.

4) Nip social media envy in the bud. Seeing that a friend got a check avail/booked a job, got the call or got nominated for a huge award, can sting. You can still be happy for your friend while wondering, "When is my turn?" Of course, posts can be exaggerated, too. There may be days when it's better to just stay off social media and focus on yourself. Everyone's path is different. Luck and timing can play as big roles as talent and skill. You may yet book/get the thing you're waiting for.

5)  Know that no news doesn't mean the world is ending or that door is closed. Having a slow couple of weeks as an actor and doesn't mean all the casting directors hate you. Worrying for a short time is one thing. Dwelling/obsessing/what iffing is another. Don't let waiting stymie you or allow you to carry the stress into other areas of your life.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

NaNo day by day...or how I'm writing my next book

NaNo is here! This is the first time I've participated in National Novel Writing Month. I joined my region, added some buddies, thought about what to work on....

Day 1 I sat down at my desk early in the morning, eager to get some words in before going to my mom's for lunch.

I love when I'm really in a character's head and s/he says something I hadn't thought of. Even if that changes the direction of the story.

More difficult than I thought Day 1 would be...I expected it to be a mind dump, where I'd spill all of my thoughts onto the page and get a lot of words right off the bat.

Day 2 Better. I want to write more than the 1,667 needed to meet the 50,000 word count goal and "win," to stay ahead in case there's a day I'm so busy I don't want to write.

Day 3 Like pulling teeth. It took much too long to get the words down, and they were only coming in dribs and drabs. I have other work I need to do.

Day 4 Better flow. I'm happy with some of the scenes I've come up with, and am trying not to worry about the execution right now.

I seem to be focusing on plot and the fantasy element. I can add more romance after November, but I think having both at the same time helps me come up with  ideas. When you have a multi-subgenre project like this one, it's hard to know what balance will interest readers more.

In other writing news, I really want to be a hybrid author. For decades I've dreamed of getting "the call" from a traditional publisher who loves my work and wants to work with me. To that end, and because a successful author friend thinks my sales numbers thus far might be of interest to an agent, I queried a few with my new series...and already got a request from someone I'd love to have. So, yay to that. But, she's read other projects over the years and passed, and I've heard this can be a tough subgenre, so less yay.

Day 5 Have a lot of other work to do, including an audition and some promo for my self-published books. Wrote a few words this morning. May have to finish word count tonight, which I'd rather not do....

Friday, October 30, 2015

10 Tips to prepare for NaNo!

I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, aka NaNo, which starts
November first, for the first time. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. Here's what I've done to prepare and what I recommend.

1) Cleared some tasks due in November off my plate, such as a writing column, to free up more time and brain space/energy to write.
2) Limited extraneous activities, while still making room for some social activities. I think some down time helps refill the well and lets the subconscious generate more ideas.
3) Chose the project to work on and did a bit of preparation, such as jotting down thoughts.
However, I'm sorry to say I'm still waffling on this. I wanted to write the second book in my new series. But I keep wondering if I should choose a more popular romance subgenre or another project I've been wanting to work on.
4) Plan to write with a friend or go to a few write-ins, where participants gather at a coffee shop or other location to help each other stay on task and feel less isolated.
5) Told family/friends I'm doing this and that it's important to me. I still have a few more people to tell.
6) Signed up online to keep track of my word count and put it out there publicly that I want to do this. They say goals should be written down and shared.... And there's a lot of helpful information and encouragement on the NaNo site.
7) Put writing appointments on my calendar, especially mornings because I'm a morning person, so I can reach the 1,667 word count early in the day and even get ahead if I make more time to write later in the day. This approach should help in case I have to miss an entire day or two because of paying commitments.
8) Decided to bring my laptop or use the handy stylus on my phone when I'm on the bus so I can get in more words and time.
9) Joined a Word War, in which groups compete to complete the most words. To some this may add a layer of pressure, but I think it adds motivation. I don't want to let my group down.
10) Believe I can do it.

Something I learned that surprised me: While there are very successful books written/begun during NaNo, the vast majority of participants and winners (those who complete the 50K in time), never even finish their projects. I mistakenly assumed that most people did NaNo to get a head start on something they wanted to complete and sell, rather than participate (and succeed) several years, but not finish any of the books.

What's your best NaNo prep tip?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Top 10 reasons why your book isn't selling

In the online writing groups I follow, one issue is brought up again and again: how hard it is for new self-published authors to sell any books at all, much less gain some traction.

1) The competition. As of this writing, 11,667 new romance Kindle books released in the last 30 days, or around 400 per day. There are 326,894 romance ebooks to choose from. What's a newer author to do to compete in fields with so many flowers?

2) Free reads! Some readers will return a .99 boxed set. Though just a few years ago we willingly went to a bookstore and paid $6.99 or more for a paperback, these days there are so many permafree and temporarily free books that paying even .99, much less $2.99, Amazon's recommended sweet spot for my historical romances, can seem like a lit. Kindle Unlimited, which is $10/month, and Kindle Owners Lending Library are other options readers are choosing to lower their reading costs.

3) The rapid rise in book discount newsletters. I get at least 5 newsletters every day offering discounted, .99 or free books. I don't have to search online but merely open and glance at the books available that day. With a click or two, that free book is mine. Even if I never read it. I couldn't keep up with all of the free books I could get every day if I tried. These newsletters can be costly, so if you're not selling, it can be hard to justify buying more ads.

4) What I call volume authors. There are some authors who are so prolific and successful that they can dominate the new releases or bestseller lists, making it harder for newbies to rise to the top. In one of my categories, 4 of the Top 10 bestsellers are by one author and 3 are by another. In some areas on Amazon, only the top three show up as recommendations, which I'm sure helps those books sell even more. These volume authors already have a huge following and promotional machine in place, which most new authors don't.

5) The three bears syndrome. Novellas (usually under 40,000 words), shorter books and boxed sets (usually three or more books for .99) tend to dominate some bestseller lists, so that the standard full-length novel (300-400 pages) is no longer just right. Right now five boxed sets are in Top 10 medievals (I happen to have a book in the #2 box). In the Regency Top 10 are two boxed sets and four books under 300 pages (and that includes front/back matter and any excerpts) and one with 94 pages.

6) Reviews. Many newer authors may not be able to get reviews, so they can't take out ads on sites that require a certain Amazon rating or number of reviews. Reviews can also be used on websites, in promotion, etc., but not if you don't have any.

7) You only have one book. Everywhere I go, I hear that
a) one book is rarely enough. Some even advise waiting until you have four or five so you can set up a release schedule.
b) one release a year isn't help get your name out there and keep the Amazon algorithms working in your favor. I'd planned to release four of my own books this year, but was invited to be in two boxed sets. So I had a new release every three months...and some say that's too long.

8) The book itself and/or the book's presentation. I checked the Amazon page of one author who commented about not selling. The blurb was full of errors.
Did you hire a qualified editor, and then perhaps have that editor or another one read it after you made suggested changes? Did you also use a proofreader? How does your cover stack up against books that are selling well? A newbie author should still have a bestseller-like cover. Is your subject matter in favor? Trends come and go. There's the dichotomy of writing the books of your heart and writing something readers want. You should learn the market to know where your story fits. My fourth book might combine too many genres...time will tell.

9) Your platform. What have you done/are you doing to build your newsletter list (this is one thing I need to do better) and social media presence? Do you interact on Goodreads? Do you have a newbie website or one that looks professional?

10) Where is your book available? Is your book in the right Amazon categories? Are you "going wide," meaning you're available on many sites, or just on Amazon and perhaps going Select? I hear that more authors are going wide because of changes Amazon has made, but I sold far fewer books on B&N and iBooks, so I'm sticking with that.

What can you do to improve your ability to sell?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What makes an international bestselling historical romance?

As of this writing, Highlanders, Lords and Lovers, the new boxed set with my second medieval FOLLOW YOUR HEART, has these Amazon rankings:
In the UK, HLL is

And  I'm currently ranked #63 out of Amazon's Top 100 Historical Romance Authors, up from #68 this morning! (You have to grab screen shots, because rankings are updated every hour.)

I'm honored to have my second book be part of a set that includes books by the multi-published Cathy MacRae, currently #2 in Top 100 Historical Romance Authors, Elizabeth Rose, who's #6, and April Holthaus at #38. I'm sure their high ranks attract more readers to our set. We've all done some social media, held a fun Facebook party, and took out some ads to help get the word out.

It's not always clear why some new releases languish while others rise to the top. Readers' interest in the combination of the writing, setting, plot, the mix of authors and/or books in a boxed set, the title, cover, and/or alchemy of advertising, marketing and promotion for one book or set can't easily be duplicated in another. Some new releases catch the tide of Amazon's algorithms, which then propels them even higher. There's no way to predict how long success will last.

I hope readers are enjoying my first two books as I get ready to release #3.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Facebook Release Party Today for Highlanders, Lords and Lovers!

We're  thrilled to announce the release of our new boxed set, Highlanders, Lords and Lovers, via a Facebook Release Party, today, 10/5 from 1:00-6:00PM Central. We hope you visit, comment and enter to win one of four $25 Amazon gift cards.

And if you hop to each of our author sites before Friday, 10/9, collect the names of the mystery icons, then return to Elizabeth’s site and enter them into the rafflecopter, you'll be entered to win an ebook from each of us.

HLL features two Scottish and two English medievals by bestselling authors. Just .99 for all four, or free with Kindle Unlimited.

AMBER by Elizabeth Rose
Can a pure dove change the morals of a devil or will he change her morals first?

When irresistible attraction makes their marriage of convenience inconvenient, will his dangerous secrets keep them from following their hearts?

Forced into a marriage neither wants, it'll take a king's edict and sacrifice from both to discover what love means. But can they accept their losses and learn from their mistakes before she marries another?

HIGHLAND DAYDREAMS by April Holthaus As they travel across land and sea, they discover a secret about her past that’s worth its weight in gold. Will he be able to keep his promise to return her to her family, knowing he may lose her forever?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

New Boxed Set: Highlanders, Lords and Lovers!

My second book Follow Your Heart is part of a new .99 boxed set that released this week: Highlanders, Lords and Lovers

HLL features two English and two Scottish medievals by bestselling authors.                                                            
AMBER by Elizabeth Rose 
Can a pure dove change the morals of a devil or will he change her morals first?

When irresistible attraction makes their marriage of convenience inconvenient, will his dangerous secrets keep them from following their hearts?

Forced into a marriage neither wants, it will take a king's edict and sacrifice from both to discover what love means. But can they accept their losses and learn from their mistakes before Brianna marries another?

HIGHLAND DAYDREAMS by April Holthaus As they travel across land and sea, Lara and Bram discover a secret about her past that’s worth its weight in gold. Will Bram be able to keep his promise to return her to her family, knowing he may lose her forever?

Do you like medievals? If so, do you have a time period and/or setting preference? If you don't like medievals, why not? If you haven't read any, perhaps you'll give these a try.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Top 5 reasons not to write a screenplay

Since I'm an on-camera talent in addition to being a novelist, I often get asked if I'm going to write screenplays for my books.

For me, that answer is no, though sometimes I get a nagging feeling I should try. Here's why I haven't:

1) It's hard enough to learn about and market to the romance novel industry while self-publishing more and writing new books. Learning about and taking the time to write and then sell screenplays is, honestly, a bit daunting. I doubt I could do both at once in addition to acting and freelance writing, which help pay the bills.

2) My current releases are set in medieval England, so production costs would be sky high. I need castles, horses, armor and swords. One book has an important battle scene. Shows like Reign clearly have the budget for the settings and gorgeous costumes (whether historically accurate or not). Yes, these days there's crowdfunding, but running a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign for that much money would be difficult and yet another thing to learn about and fit into my day.

3) Many more famous author friends and those I follow in the community haven't had movies made of their bestselling novels. I know of a few that were optioned, which is great, but never heard that the films were made. One friend's book will be turned into a movie for the Hallmark Channel. And she did write the screenplay...but she's had multiple bestselling novels. I haven't. Yet?

4) Some may think screenplays are easier because they're much shorter than most novels and don't require all of the description and internal monologue. I think they're harder, because most of the story, emotion and conflict must be conveyed through dialogue alone.

5) I've seen many scripts I think could be the story and/or the actual writing. I've even edited several, and the authors were quite pleased with my suggestions and comments. Yet I've never been motivated to try my hand at one.

Will I change my mind? Time will tell.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Customer service can make (or break) your day

Yesterday on my way to a callback in the far western suburbs, I was following a small white truck on the highway. I couldn't see past or over it, so I maintained what I thought was a safe distance. All of a sudden, a huge section of a truck tire appeared before me. No time to change lanes. I ran over it. It hit the bottom of my car with a jarring force. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the car behind me run over it, too. Fortunately, we all kept driving without apparent incident. 

My heart was racing, of course, but my car seemed on I drove. Until I exited the highway and pulled up to a stoplight. I heard a scraping sound that continued as I made my way down the street. I pulled into a bank parking lot to see some black plastic dangling and rubbing the tire. I pushed it out of the way, made it to my destination. At the callback, I asked if there was a car repair nearby because I didn't want to make the long drive back to the city without having the undercarriage looked at. On the other, I had a lot to accomplish that afternoon, and didn't want to spend hours waiting for the verdict. Lucky for me, there was a Car-X nearby (actually, the helpful person said Carmax...but then another helpful person cleared it up after I couldn't find a Carmax near me. I wonder how often the two get confused.)  

I drove less than three minutes to the Car-X in Aurora. Within minutes, they had my car lifted up. Something had come loose, but they were able to repair it very quickly. And refused to charge me anything or even take a tip. This kind gesture brought tears to my eyes after the frazzlement (my word, but I think it fits) I'd experienced that day. With all of the bad customer service these days, finding a place that was so pleasant, helpful, efficient and nice was quite rewarding. I'm going to give them a great Yelp review, too.

That experience made my day. But when you're not getting great or even good customer service, how do you tamp down frustration? I do my best to take deep breaths, make sure to keep my voice calm and tell myself it's a first world problem.

Friday, September 04, 2015

What is a "published author?" I am. Finally.

Not that many years ago, "published" was easy to define. You went to a bookstore, saw all of the full shelves, and knew those books were published. You might have even looked at the spine or copyright page, and recognized the publishing house. You knew that someone, perhaps several or many someones, had loved, approved of and paid for the rights to make that manuscript a book.

Now, anyone can write and make a book available to the world, basically for free via Amazon if they don't hire an editor(s) or cover designer. That project could be considered published, without any vetting whatsoever. It may be great, or, it may perpetuate the view that self-published books aren't as good as those that are traditionally published.

I've pursued traditional publishing since 1995. Despite many close calls and more than a dozen revision letters on various projects, never got "the call" that an editor wanted to buy my book(s). So after a lot of hemming and hawing, as you may know I finally self-published in 2015. I've released two books so far, with a third and fourth on the way. Both books have been reviewed by Publishers Weekly and have earned assorted praise and 5 star reviews. My first is in an Amazon bestselling boxed set. I didn't feel published, however, until yesterday, when my PAN membership was approved by RWA. I've wanted to join PAN for 20 years. What does that mean? Read on.

Some authors' organizations use member requirements to define published. For example:
Romance Writers of America, with more than 10,000 members, has a Published Authors Network, or PAN. The membership requirement effective 9/1/15 states, "Any RWA General or Honorary member in good standing who has earned at least $1,000 on a single published Eligible Novel* or Eligible Novella** shall be eligible for membership in PAN, provided however that works offered through Predatory Publishing companies shall not qualify." You must provide proof of earnings. 

I believe sales and earnings are part of the definition of published. For me, it's not enough to just see my book online or hold one in my hand. So $1,000 on a single book with no requirements to keep publishing and earning isn't that high. Others may disagree.

Novelists. Inc., which has around 800 members, has these options on their membership application:
"I have published at least two novels over 50,000 words with a traditional, royalty-paying publisher, with an advance of at least $2000 each, or with royalty earnings over $2000 each in a 12-month period."

"I have independently published at least two novels over 50,000 words, with earnings of at least $5000 each in a 12-month period (proof of earnings will be requested)."

Note that self-published authors are held to a much higher standard. Hmm. 

What do you think "published" means?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

5 Tips to Prevent Social Media Online Overwhelm

Whether I'm wearing my author, reader or actor hat, the amount of online information and sources for that information are overwhelming.

Yet so much valuable material is shared, including:

  • casting notices-some of which are taken down as soon as enough submissions are received 
  • writing, marketing and social media tips in Facebook groups and articles/posts
  • specific projects editors/agents are looking for right now
  • info about writing conferences and contests

I don't want to miss anything I might need, but I also don't want to be one of those people always checking/online instead of getting things done. So how do we get the info we need in the most time-effective manner?

1) Only check some things certain times of the day. And/or set a time limit. There are apps for this, or you exercise self-discipline.

2) Take advantage of custom notifications. I have different email accounts for different purposes: one personal, one for acting, one for writing, one for shopping and one for miscellaneous things. Each account has a different notification (the shopping one is silent!), so I only have to stop what I'm doing and check if I hear certain sounds.

I also have Facebook notifications for all groups I really care about, and check notifications every hour or so to see if there's anything I need to pursue.

Your phone can be distracting, too. I also have custom ring tones for certain friends and one for talent agencies ("Popular" from Wicked). The only downside is I don't have all clients and obviously potential clients in my phone, and sometimes agents use other numbers. So when I hear the default ringtone, I often check rather than wait to see if someone leaves a message.

3) Focus on one or two social media outlets you like best and find their shortcuts. For example, I use lists on Twitter (casting, authors, publishing, etc.) and favorites on Facebook. This takes a bit of time to set up, but will save time going forward.

4) Skim and skedaddle. You don't have to read every word of every post. Learn to skim for highlights and to skedaddle as soon as you realize something isn't as important or interesting as you thought it would be.

5) Respond efficiently. While you want to be careful what you post (as we keep hearing, the Internet lives forever), keep track of how long you spend on each comment or post. See if you can trim that time.

If you have other tips, please share!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The power of "Yes, and...."

I'm a pantser, not a plotter, which means I don't write an outline or synopsis (summary of the entire story) before I write the pages. I start with an idea, maybe asking a few "what if" or "what next" questions, then let the characters tell me what to write by seeing their world through their eyes.

Sometimes I do need to make decisions in advance. In my second release, FOLLOW YOUR HEART, the heroine Joanna is a glass-painter. I knew I had to have at least one scene in her workshop with other characters present so I could show her at work. But I didn't know what would happen in those scenes or whose point of view they'd be in. 

Other times, things happen that I didn't see coming--such as an event near the middle of FYH involving an antagonist. I was so surprised at a certain discovery that my jaw literally dropped. Instead of wondering how I was going to make that work because it took the story in a different direction, I couldn't wait to see what happened next. I did step out of the scene for a bit o think how I could heighten the stakes even more. Once I figured that out, the characters were back in charge.  

Perhaps because I've had so much improv training (including Second City) and performance experience, I believe in following the rule of "Yes, and" when writing. This means that once something has been established in a scene, you can't deny it or say no. You must agree with it and add something new. 

For example, if we were scene partners in an improv class or show and you said, "I'm so glad you're my sister," I couldn't say, "No, I'm not. I'm your mother." I could say, "Me, too. And being the oldest is the best." This moves the scene forward by providing new information, which is a gift to your partner. 

This can be time-consuming at first if something happens that sends me off to do a lot more research, but I'm sharing the characters' story.

I hope readers enjoy Joanna and Adrian's story as much as I did writing it. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Ruth's Blog Hop Winners & Castles, Knights and Chivalry news

Medieval Madness-Ruth's Winners: Thanks to everyone who participated in the 11-author Medieval Madness Blog Hop August 2-8.

The three winners of my contest are: Amanda S., kaisquared and Linda. Congratulations! You'll each win Castles, Knights and Chivalry, the Amazon Best Seller boxed set featuring my first medieval At His Command and medievals by Laurel O'Donnell, Elizabeth Rose and Kathryn Loch.

Please send your contact info to If I don't hear from you by the 16th, I'll see if I can find you. If I can't, I'll generate more random numbers to find new winners.

Castles, Knights and Chivalry News: I'm thrilled to report that CKC is currently:
Thanks to everyone who's reading it or planning to. I hope you'll let one of us know what you think, and/or post a review. 

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Medieval Madness: participate in our multi-author blog hop to win prizes!

Hello! Welcome to the Medieval Madness Multi-Author Hop! 

My featured book is FOLLOW YOUR HEART. She's a stained glass painter struggling to save her workshop from ruin. He's on a quest to restore his family estate. Passion makes their marriage of convenience inconvenient. 

Here's how you can participate in Medieval Madness:

ENTER TO WIN A KINDLE FIRE H6: Visit all of our sites! See the banner to the right for instructions.

ENTER MY CONTEST: Leave a comment on this post about why you love to read medievals. Three commenters will receive Castles, Knights and Chivalry. This boxed set of 4 medievals that released 8/1 features At His Command by me and books by Laurel O'Donnell, Elizabeth Rose and Kathryn Loch.

ENJOY OUR RECIPES: Here's mine! I thought about including a medieval recipe from one of the great books I have about medieval food, but decided on this one instead.

Love chocolate? These easy cookies may not be the most attractive in the box, but they taste amazing. Let me know what you think!

Chocolate Nut Drop Cookies (Selma Weiss)
Melt in double boiler (my mom figured out you can microwave in a glass bowl):
1 can Eagle milk (I figured out you can use low fat or fat free)
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
2 T butter

Mix in well:
1 C sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C chopped nuts (I prefer walnuts)

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes. Watch closely so bottoms don't burn. Makes appx. 60 cookies.

FOR MORE INFO: Check out all of these medieval authors' sites to learn about them and their books:

1) Elizabeth Rose            2) Laurel O’Donnell
5) April Holthaus           6) Emma Prince
7) Suzan Tisdale             8) Keira Montclair
9) Eliza Knight               10) Ruth Kaufman
11) Lana Williams

Thanks to Elizabeth Rose for arranging this event.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The .99 boxed set: trends in e-book pricing

Several months ago, the prolific Laurel O'Donnell reached out via e-mail to invite me to join in a boxed set with her and two others, Elizabeth Rose and Kathryn Loch. The offer was quite flattering...they've all released many more books than I have (so far), and are bestsellers. I'm not...yet? Also, Laurel's The Angel and the Prince is on my keeper shelf, so I was honored that she wanted one of my books sold with hers.

The process of putting the set together was easier than I'd expected. Fortunately her talented husband did all of the formatting, so the only expense was the set's cover.

We needed to decide on the title, pricing and release date. And how much promotion we were willing to pay for. After tossing around some ideas, we agreed on Castles, Knights and Chivalry.

I struggled a bit with pricing. Many, many boxed sets are priced at .99 these days, and usually range from three to 10 full-length books. Amazon gives 35% royalties for .99 books, or approximately .09 per author per sale. Recently I saw a set with 11 books...for free!

I see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, it's easier for readers to give unfamiliar or newer authors a chance if they're part of a low priced boxed set. Then, perhaps, they'll go on to buy the author's other books. On the other, what's happening to the value of books? My contribution, At His Command, currently sells at $2.99, and has only been available since January. Would joining the box cannibalize individual book sales? The other three books have been available longer. Do e-books have limited shelf lives (pun intended) at a regular price (already significantly lower than their print counterparts) nowadays because so many new releases? As of this writing, Amazon show over 10,000 new romance the past 30 days, including just over 800 historical romances.

CKandC has been on preorder and officially releases August 1st. I'm thrilled to say it's been climbing the Amazon's Hot New Releases charts, currently #2 in Ancient World, #7 in Medieval, and #54 in all Historical Romance. Out of the top 100 Historical Romance Hot New Releases at the moment, only seven are boxed sets. In terms of sales, we're at
We'll be doing a small amount of promotion in addition to Facebook and Twitter. How will the set do? Many have become bestsellers, so there's that dream....Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Best intentions vs. pushing yourself

Yes, I really want to finish revisions on book #3 so I can release it. And I want to move on to my next trilogy (or series) and perhaps contemporaries, too. Despite my best intentions, I've been getting "must" tasks done, and simply running out of brain space for "really want" tasks. Or should I push myself harder to get more done faster?

This has been a feast week as far as acting is concerned (for which I'm grateful, owing to recent weeks of relative famine). I drove to Grand Rapids (3+ hours) and back on Saturday for a role in the indie feature, WIND. I had an on-camera audition Sunday, two at different casting agencies on Monday, plus several VO auditions throughout the week. I don't do much extra work any more, but I'd heard that a great director was filming another movie here...and I was able to work on that Tuesday. I'm getting coaching for a play audition next week and needed to start learning those lines. Plus I'm taking a class and have two scripts to prepare..and a casting director will be attending our "audition." And I got the proofs of my new headshots, some of which needed to be disseminated to my agents and casting sites.

Meanwhile, I needed to spend a bit of time promoting my current books, because Follow Your Heart received a great Publishers Weekly review, and Castles, Knights & Chivalry, the boxed set At His Command is in, is doing well on the Hot New Releases lists. And I've received several projects from a new freelance writing client, and must meet those deadlines.

All of this elucidates a key difference between an indie and a traditionally published author. If I had a contract and an editor (and agent, perhaps) expecting my next book, I'd have to find a way to fit in more fiction writing, no matter how tired I was, how much other work I had to do or how much I wanted to take a night off for a social event. On the one hand, there's no external pressure to produce. On the other, it's all on me to make new books a priority.

Maybe I should go on a writer's retreat!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book promotion -- what works, what doesn't?

Since releasing AT HIS COMMAND in January and FOLLOW YOUR HEART in April, I confess to a-throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks-like effort at promotion and marketing. I'd guest blog here, submit for a review there, take out a listing in what my research said was one of the best book promotion email/websites, buy an ad, submit for a review.

I may work with a PR/marketing firm in the future, but because of cost and things I've heard I haven't yet. Such as: some don't take self-published authors, many require monthly retainers, others promise results that don't sound or weren't attainable (based on friends' reports). I also didn't want to make the time to research recommendations, in part because, as with a lot of promo, what works for one author may not work for another.

My time and energy has value, too. So before I release medieval #3 in the fall, I wanted to assess what has worked for me so far.

1) Goodreads giveaways, like the one I'm running now. Hundreds sign up during the month (it went live last night and already 140 people have registered, I select the number of winners of a paperback book. For a month of visibility in the giveaways, all it costs is the purchase and mailing cost of the books. I know that hundreds of readers are now at least aware of my book. I may also gain new adds to "To Read," readers, reviews and even sales in the process.

Goodreads Giveaway

Passion makes their marriage of convenience inconvenient....

Follow Your Heart by Ruth  Kaufman

   Follow Your Heart

   by Ruth Kaufman

 Giveaway ends August 14, 2015.

 See the giveaway details
  at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

2) A Kindle Countdown Deal. Lower your price while retaining royalty rates and have a countdown on your book page. It took some doing to set up the KDC and coordinate listings with promo tools such as Ereader News Today (known as ENT) and several others. My goal was to earn back what I spent. And I did.

3) Facebook. Not Facebook ads or "boost this post,"...though I got sucked in to trying a few. No visible results and very few clicks.

What hasn't worked as well as I'd thought it would:
1) Twitter. I've been fortunate to have blog posts and all kinds of things retweeted many times, including one blog post with a potential reach of over 200,000, but I haven't been able to discern any sales increase. Perhaps the tweets could have had fewer hashtags and more content. Were those who saw them uninterested in my genre?

Of course, we can't measure the cumulative effect is of getting our books, reviews, and info about ourselves out there. I believe everything helps in the long run, but managing time and money spent on effective marketing/promo is more important.

2) My first Amazon Giveaway. I reviewed the process and settings and read a couple of articles. I decided to offer 1 printed copy of FYH to the 100th, 200th and 300th person who signed up. And assumed it'd be out there at least a week. Nope. Within a few hours, the books were gone, at a cost of around $50. So, yes, more than 300 people now know of my book. Three will receive a copy. But a few hours, IMO, wasn't enough exposure. I'd set the parameters much higher if I did another.

What works/doesn't for you as a reader? As an author?

Friday, July 10, 2015

10 Feelancer Motivation Tips

(No, feelancer isn't a typo. The word freelancer, IMO, implies that the Gainfully Unemployed are willing to work without recompense. So I prefer feelancer.)

Some days being a feelancer is the most enjoyable career. I work the hours I want. There's no boss breathing down my neck. On the other hand, there may not be a structure to my day. It's all on me to get revisions done, complete the information form for my next book cover, write that article and submit for and/or record auditions. etc. So there are times when my motivation lags. Perhaps I've been super busy, or have a bunch of random things to do and feel scattered. Perhaps I feel the efforts I'm making are floating in the ether, with no responses or incoming opportunities. So why do more?

This morning was one of those times. I'm creating a list of motivation tips I hope will help me in the future, and you, too.

1) Increase your discipline. Sometimes you have to talk to yourself and remind yourself why you need to work.

2) Conversely, maybe you need to decrease the pressure you put on yourself for a bit. Accept that you're simply unmotivated right this minute instead of trying to force better feelings. Maybe you need to take a walk among the flowers, as a Facebook friend suggested. And you may need to refill the well, even during prime work hours.

3) List every task you need to do, by when and prioritize. Then, as Nike says, Just Do It. Taking the first steps and getting started on something can be the catalyst to continue.

4) Get a pep talk. I asked Facebook friends to share how they maintain a positive attitude. And two close friends saw my post and called.

5) Focus on what you can do in the present moment. Don't let things that didn't work out in the past weigh you down.

6) Read or review The Artist's Way, or other books/articles that enhance your perspective.

7) Keep your eye on the prize, as they say. What will be your reward: the satisfaction of completing a project or checking something off your list, or an actual reward?

8) Work with a friend so you both stay on task and have a sounding board. I've done this with several friends

9) Change your environment. Working from a coffee shop or anywhere that's not my desk at home, even for a few hours, can freshen the process.

10) Instead of getting nothing done, take a short break. Run an errand or two, walk around the block. Sometimes the best ideas pop into your head when you're not trying so hard.

Any other ideas? Which sounds best to you?

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Castles, Knights and Chivalry box set is live!

I was pleasantly surprised and honored when Amazon best-selling author Laurel O'Donnell invited me to be part of a box set with her and two more best-sellers, Kathryn Loch and Elizabeth Rose. Thus, Castles, Knights and Chivalry was born! 

Why was I honored? Because a) they're all best-sellers, and I'm not...yet? b) so far I've released the fewest books by far (#3 should be available before the end of summer...I'm adding another scene dealing with the subplot, which both of the editors I sent it to suggested). The other three authors have been much more prolific.

My first medieval At His Command (set in 1453 England) joins Laurel's The Lady and the Falconer (1373 England), Elizabeth's Lady of the Mist (1330 England)and Kathryn's Demon Laird (1286 Scotland). The set went live last night on Amazon for preorder at just .99. 

Given the popularity of TV series based on books, such as The White Queen, which begins in 1464 England, and Game of Thrones, which incorporates many medieval elements, I hope our box set gives medieval readers the opportunity to enjoy four books set in an era they love, and that the .99 price entices those who haven't read medievals to give the subgenre a try.

What's not to like about castles, knights and chivalry?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What will you pay for books?

As an author, I'm always trying to grow my readership, and hope new readers of one book will buy the other and look forward to my next release. But as a newer author currently writing in perhaps not the most popular sub-genre, medievals, getting my books out there can be time consuming and costly.

What do you think the average self-published author earns a year (across all genres, not just romance)? Digital Book World says the median is $500-999 per year. Other sites, such as The Write Life, take a rosier view...but you have to pay attention to the source of the statistics and which books are this case, 200,000 best-sellers.

I'm very fortunate to have exceeded $999 since my first book released January 14, 2015 (my second released April 14). However, despite my love of writing, I'm debating whether the time and effort are worth the rewards. Given the expenses of self-publishing (such as great editor(s), competitive cover(s), and any promotion or marketing), even earning back what you spent can be a challenge. And the sad reality is that many--probably most--authors will never get compensated for the hours they invested in creating each book.

Why? In my opinion, there are two key reasons:
1) The proliferation of online self-published books of all levels of quality plus many authors' large backlists.

As of this writing, how many romances do you think are available for Kindle? 288,798. And 30,710 of those were released in the last 9 days.

2) The recent market devaluation of the cost of books in general.

Remember the days when you had to travel to an actual bookstore and shell out anywhere from $5.99 to $7.99 plus tax for a paperback? Now you can hop online and instantly download e-books...for free, a mere $.99, or from $1.99-4.99.

One site,, reports that in April, 2015,  the average price of romance Top 100 best sellers was $2.99. When you upload your book to Kindle Direct Press, Amazon presents a bell curve showing the price at which you have the best chance of selling the most books. 

Most of us love a good sale and enjoy saving money. But many readers now feel even $2.99 is too much to pay for thousands of words the author labored over. Thanks to the proliferation of bargain and/or free book e-newsletters such as BookBub (the hardest to get your book accepted into, even at a cost of hundreds of dollars depending on your book's genre), Bargain Booksy, and Choosy Bookworm to name just a few, readers can have access to dozens of free or discounted books every single day.

And there's Kindle Owners' Lending Library, via Amazon Prime, which allows members to download many books for free. Authors decide whether or not to place their books in the program, and get paid from a global pool of Amazon's money each month. This is great, because of course authors get nothing for books taken out from traditional libraries. But for authors of novel-length books, the payment is usually less than they'd receive from an actual sale. And Amazon announced changes to the KOLL program starting in July, when payouts will be based on how many pages each KU/KOLL reader reads. 
Here's The Authors' Guild's take on the changes. There are dozens of posts claiming this will be a good or a bad thing for authors.

It's great to have the opportunity to try a new author or a different sub-genre than you usually read for free or a low cost. But too much free, whether it's temporary or permafree, IMO, devalues books in general and raises expectations of more free stuff. Will readers go and buy that new author's next book, or wait for it to go on sale, too?

What do you think about book prices?