A peek at DISORGANIZE ME

Some time ago I promised a look at the first two chapters and then … nothing happened. I realized I wasn’t ready to share.

I’m still not, really. These two chapters are so rough I haven’t even opened the feedback from my beta readers on them yet. (For which I deeply apologize, beta readers.) I’ve had a weird reluctance to work on this novel since the semester began, and I’ve been indulging it. Sometimes you just know you need some distance from a project. (Sometimes you are also too busy teaching and figuring out things to do with way more garden produce than you ever expected.)

But I’m already a day late with a blog post this month, and I don’t have time to work up what I wanted to work up, so here you go, in all its glory. Consider it a peek at a writer’s work in progress and know that there may be wholesale changes before the actual book appears, including losing one or both chapters from the final version.

At this point this lovely cover by Damon Za is also subject to change.

What’s it about? Here’s the blurb, also subject to change: Hoping to recreate the serene and beautiful life she remembers before her mom left, Kathy gamely takes on her deceased aunt’s organizing business, not-so-organized house, and favorite employee, the handsome and hardworking Diego. But when their budding relationship triggers a cascade of disasters – including the discovery that he’s not the U.S. citizen he thought he was – Kathy will be forced to decide what she’s willing to let go, and what she’ll fight to save.

And here’s (the current!) Chapter One and Chapter Two:

Chapter 1 KATHY

Katherine White felt that everything in the world had a proper place, and that true happiness would follow naturally – she would attract the right man, have the right children, and live the right life – if she could just get everything put where it belonged.

She wasn’t sure why she believed this so passionately, but in her mind she always visualized the perfect life as a specific moment one Saturday afternoon when she was fourteen. Almost everything in the house had been cleaned that day, even the floors and the windows, and she and her mother were putting freshly laundered drapes back up in the dining room. Through the window her father waved at her and pointed at his pile of autumn leaves, flexing his muscles to show off his manly yard skills. Kathy had smirked at him and gotten down from the stepladder, only to stop, transfixed by the golden square of afternoon sun that lay across the old honey oak table, illuminating a basket of yellow chrysanthemums her mother had arranged earlier that day.

Her mother saw her stop. “Isn’t that beautiful?” she said. “Look at how those petals glow in the light! Doesn’t it just say come in, sit down, stay awhile?

And even though Kathy resented giving up her Saturday for all those annoying chores, she thought: YES. Yes, it was beautiful. Maybe there was even something heroic in cleaning a house and setting a table like that against all the disorder of the world.

Of course, not that long after that, Kathy’s mother had moved out.

Now twenty-four, Kathy was trying to make a living by creating beautiful moments of order and serenity for her clients, even if she hadn’t quite yet managed it for herself. She helped them get rid of what they didn’t need or want and put everything they did need or want in a place where it belonged.

Her phone erupted into the catchy beat of “I Need to Know” by Marc Anthony. Diego. She considered it an appropriate tune for him not only because he was Puerto Rican but because he always needed to know if she had any work for him.

Organize Your Life LLC had been her aunt’s before it was Kathy’s, and Diego had long been her aunt’s go-to for extra help. He was a young man who’d moved up from the city a few years back and, despite being hardworking and personable, had somehow never landed a full-time job. He’d never gone to college, so maybe it was that. Unfortunately, Kathy didn’t have enough work these days to keep herself fully employed, let alone Diego.

So that was awkward.

“Hey, there,” she said. Did he always call instead of text because his old flip phone made typing a pain? Or was it because he knew it would make it harder for her to say no?

“Hey! Just checking to see if you need me for any jobs in the next couple of weeks.”

“Well, I’ve got a couple of estimates today. I’ll know better after that.”

“Oh, good. I’ll hope to hear, then. Everything all right?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. I’ll let you know as soon as I can, okay?” she said, and added “Bye.” She didn’t ask how he was doing because he was probably hurting for money or he wouldn’t have called.

Also, she wasn’t sure how friendly she should be now that she was the boss.

Which was also awkward because they were the same age. Also, technically he’d been doing this work longer than her. After bringing Kathy into the business, her aunt had continued to give Diego parts of any project where it made any sense at all, even when it would reduce their profit on the job. When Kathy questioned this, Lucy said, “Honey, you’re going to need him when I’m not up to this anymore.”

Truth was, if Aunt Lucy hadn’t made Kathy promise to watch out for Diego, she might have taken the lawyer’s advice by now and farmed out all her extra labor to a firm that would manage its own payroll, its own insurance, its own bonding. Of course, those firms were also way more expensive, which could mean losing a contract or making less money. So it probably wasn’t just affection for Diego that had driven Lucy to stick with him.

And she’d been right in one very important way: Diego had been a great help with her aunt in her final illness. And he had refused to take any pay for any of it.

So, really, Kathy owed him.

Obligations were a kind of clutter, too, really.

Chapter 2 DIEGO

She’d sounded a little impatient, hadn’t she?

She was probably going to cut him loose soon. Maybe she already had and he was just refusing to accept it.

Diego wasn’t an idiot. He could tell Kathy was having some trouble getting enough new business. Everyone was struggling in this rotten economy. Supposedly 2010 had brought with it some improvement from the depths of the Great Recession, and supposedly the Capital Region with all its state employees had never suffered the worst, but it was still pretty damned grim. Even more so for someone like him.

He looked at his insurance bill one more time. Maybe he’d misread it.

Nope. It still said he needed to pay over almost a hundred more than last time. And this even though he hadn’t yet done what Lucy had told him to do – let the insurance company know he used the truck she’d given him for business. He’d held off on that. Thank God.

There’d been no tickets, no accidents, no claims, nothing. He’d already had it for over six months, after Lucy had decided it was too hard for her to get into anymore, let alone drive. It was old enough that he’d foregone comprehensive coverage, too.

So why the increase? Was it the address change? He’d only recently moved into his third-floor walk-up in downtown Troy because he couldn’t stand sharing that disgusting garden apartment in suburban East Greenbush for one more month. Both his roommates apparently thought it would be a pussy move to ever wash a dish or clean a toilet. They were always helping themselves to his food, too. And God forbid a man might favor the Mets over the Yankees.

So there hadn’t really been any choice. And this new space was bigger, even if it was mostly empty. Like a lot of the third floor walk-ups in Troy, his apartment had high ceilings, beautiful old woodwork, and noisy plumbing. It was not any cheaper than his old share of the rent, so he was hoping the heat would rise from the lower floors in the winter and save on the gas bill.

But at least it was all his. The landlord hadn’t asked a lot of questions. Even better, he let him park his truck in the driveway off the back alley and let him store scrap there, too, though he wouldn’t guarantee its safety. Diego stood up and looked down through the old rippled glass. Yep, still there. A full load didn’t bring much – maybe $70 bucks on a good day – but that was better than nothing.

In recent months his business, such as it was, had mostly consisted of occasional gigs with Kathy at Organize Your Life LLC, supplemented by driving around on trash days looking for scrap metal, and doing favors with the truck for guys he knew who might buy him lunch or a six-pack and occasionally even give him some cash. The organizing work and scrap metal paid some, and his part-time on-the-books job at a local convenience store paid a little more. Those friend favors were mostly a sucker’s game.

Now the scrap yards were warning him of new record-keeping rules, probably thanks to too many jerks ripping the copper and brass out of houses and parks and cemeteries and whatever they could get into. Once a friend had even asked to use his truck for one of those jobs. It blew his mind: This guy wanted to get paid good money to build a house during the day, and then get paid again by stripping it down at night.

Not a friend anymore, that one.

The thing was, if the yards started reporting his scrap sales to somebody, he was going to have to start declaring it in his taxes. There just weren’t that many different yards to spread the wealth around to. And would it still be worth doing, then? Probably not.

Lucy had been trying to get him to go on the books with all his income and expenses for years. “You need to pay social security taxes on it,” she told him. “If you don’t, you won’t have anything to live on when you retire. I know it’s painful in the short run, but in the long run….”

Poor, sweet, naïve Lucy. She’d always tried to play by the rules. It wasn’t like she ever got back any of the money she’d contributed to her social security. Not even a dime of disability before she died.

Fortunately, Kathy had been around to keep the business from shutting down completely and keep her aunt cared for.

He leaned back in his scavenged chair at his scavenged desk and let a prettier picture replace his memories of a skeletal Lucy. Kathy was a sweet girl. Attractive, in her own way. Not too skinny, not too boyish, with a nice round ass and beautiful long hair, though she usually kept it back in a ponytail. At first he’d thought her nose was a tragedy, but he’d gotten used to it. It had character. Sometimes he even thought it was cute.

Also, it was not like he was so swarmed with adoring women that he was going to get picky.

He knew he had decent looks. He caught women admiring him often enough. But it took money to really get any action. Seemed like they all wanted him to dress to impress. They all wanted to be taken out for food and drink and movies and shit. They all wanted to be given presents all the time. Having a girlfriend was like having to properly impress his mother on Mother’s Day and her saint’s day and her birthday practically every day of the week. Even his last girlfriend, the one he’d thought wasn’t all that demanding, he overheard telling a friend, “Hey, he’s a ride. You know?” He wasn’t sure whether she meant sex or transportation, hadn’t even been certain she was talking about him, but he hadn’t been able to muster any real enthusiasm for her from that moment on.

But, of course, to Kathy he wasn’t even a ride. He was just a convenient laborer her beloved aunt had inexplicably attached herself to. Kathy was always polite to him, always respectful, but she showed zero interest in him as a man.

She had begun to rely on him with Lucy, though. When he’d been there to sit with her aunt, she could get out, run errands, get some business done, tidy the house, or just take a break. She almost never called him up and asked him, no matter how much he told her she could, but she looked grateful whenever he showed up on his own.

And she’d made sure he felt welcome at Lucy’s funeral. He’d even been a pallbearer.

And there was still occasional work coming from her. Just not as much as he needed.

So he hoped those estimates panned out, and that they were big jobs that required some brute strength.

But they might not be. He looked at the city map he’d pinned to his wall. The next day was trash day on the East Side. Some people would already have theirs out. Might as well go see if he could find some scrap.


And I’m putting this out there just to let you know that yes, there really is another book coming someday. I promise. I just can’t promise when, exactly, yet.

If you want any tomatoes, however, come see me right now.

 

 

Niagara Falls, book research, wrong turns, and bucket lists

By Sandra Hutchison

This summer I took a 3,000-mile road trip inspired by…

  1. The need to do some research for my next novel;
  2. The desire to bring home some bulky items left over after I helped my mother clean out my grandma’s house (you would not believe how excited I get by free power tools I will probably never use); and,
  3. The desire to check a few places off the bucket list.

That last one had felt more urgent after my last (plane) trip to my parents’ house. My folks  now refuse to travel serious distances. (Ocala, okay. Tampa, no.) They also refuse to get on a plane. Dad isn’t comfortable sitting in one place for any length of time. But it’s not just that. At one point during lunch in Crystal River I suggested a visit to their recently renovated park, which was apparently a good place to see manatees. Their response: “If you’ve seen one manatee, you’ve seen them all.”

That’s when you know your parents are really getting old.

This suggested to me that someday I, too, might not be interested in manatees, or in getting out and doing anything that doesn’t revolve around a good cheap lunch. And you never know how soon that moment might arrive. So it was time to get cracking!

My first destination on this road trip was Niagara Falls. I always love waterfalls, yet had never gone there. Hadn’t even really thought of it. If anything, whenever I heard “Niagara Falls” I thought of what my ex-husband would immediate quote. (And he did it again, when I told him my plans.)

But because of the novel I was writing I wanted to better visualize a scene set there, when hero and heroine accidentally cross into Canada.

While it’s possible to google a location and read about various people’s experiences with it  and maybe do some interviews and then fake your way quite through a lot (God knows I do plenty of that), there’s nothing like actually being there.

Also, I was puzzled by the number of people who claimed to have accidentally crossed the Rainbow Bridge to Canada. (That’s the real bridge to the real country, not the metaphor for pets who’ve died.) How, really, could that happen?

So I drove off to Niagara Falls as the first stop of a very long road trip west and then south and back — about 3,000 miles over 10 days. This first half would include one night in Canada, one with a friend in Pittsburgh, one with another friend in Berea, Kentucky, and one in a hotel in Tifton, Georgia, mostly because I didn’t want to arrive at my parents’ after their bedtime, which has moved earlier at the same pace as their interest in manatees has shrunk.

The trip did not start out well. I was not even halfway along I-90 towards Buffalo when I noticed a cloud of vapor billowing behind my car. Luckily, an exit appeared just then and I was able to coast through it to a gas station, where I discovered a long trail of liquid behind my car. Two hours later, after negotiations with my insurance company for a tow to a local garage that lasted nearly as long as the transmission hose replacement that followed, I was back on the road, hoping that was the last car problem I’d have.

I was pretty frazzled at that point, which may be why I didn’t even attempt to ask the officer on the Canadian end of the bridge if a lot of people REALLY arrived by accident. She wasn’t the least bit friendly, for one thing. (When I got to the hotel, I realized I’d left a big scary garden knife just under the front passenger seat — after telling her no, I had no guns and no knives. It can really pay to be a harmless looking white lady.)

Anyway, I was tired, but I walked down the hill anyway before the light was gone and, yes, the falls were amazing.

 

They tasted better than they looked.

I walked around, but it was getting late, and I was hungry, so I hiked back up to the hotels, hoping for a little comfort food before bedtime. Almost every restaurant in Niagara Falls, Ontario appears to belong to a huge tourist chain. I finally settled on oddly disintegrating pancakes at IHOP for $15.99, which was, apparently, the minimum you can pay for anything in that area unless you go to Tim Horton’s, which I hadn’t found yet.

The next morning I went down the hill early, before breakfast. It was worth it because of the beautiful morning light.

After a couple of hours of exploring and having a long conversation with a lady from Singapore who just wanted to talk and eating breakfast at Tim Horton’s, I checked out and hit the road and the Rainbow Bridge again.

I didn’t even try to ask the very friendly American official at the end of the bridge about people accidentally crossing. I’d already figured I’d need to change my plans there. Really, who could accidentally cross that bridge? There were plenty of signs. Even if it sometimes happens, people wouldn’t think it wasn’t plausible. (There are A LOT of things in real life that don’t seem plausible when you put them in a book.)

I figured I’d at least stop in at the Niagara Falls State Park, since it was easy enough to drive in and park. You don’t even have to pay parking if you stay for less than twenty minutes. And the falls are RIGHT THERE, so it’s easy enough to pop over and take a look.

This park has been renovated recently, apparently (renovations are still under way in some places), but it’s AMAZING. I had so much fun. I stayed half the day. The falls are one thing, but the river streaming towards them is beautiful in its many various sections, too. The park is beautifully laid out with walking trails and overlooks and, if you want, the Maid of the Mist and other attractions. The people-watching is great, too.

I decided to forego anything that would drench my shoes and leave me blinded by spray on my glasses for long stretches of time. Still, at moments I felt overtaken by sheer awe. It’s amazing to stand RIGHT THERE next to all that pounding power.

Time was passing, and eventually I needed to head for Pittsburgh. Once there, I told my friend Ann that I was going to have to change my plans for the book, because there was no way anybody was really going to go over that bridge accidentally.

She said, “Well, I’ve got a story to tell you.”

Turns out a few years back Ann was hosting an exchange student from Thailand when she and another host, Peg, rented a van and took a load of exchange students up to Niagara Falls. Just the American side, because the students were here on visas. Crossing the border would be way too complicated. So they left their passports at home.

After a fun day at the park, they decided they wanted to go eat dinner, and voted on pizza. (Or Chinese food. There’s some disagreement between Anne and Peg on this.) So they put that in their GPS, followed its directions and suddenly realized they were already on the approach to the bridge and could not back out (literally, their tires would be punctured if they tried).

So they drove into the duty-free shop, where the woman said oh yeah, it happens all the time, the Canadians will give you a sheet of paper to say you didn’t really enter, and send you back.

But what about all those students who might be denied re-entry without their papers?

Oops. So Ann walked them to an ice cream shop just off the bridge, while Peg went ahead and drove across with the van. The Canadian officer laughed and responded just as the duty free clerk said she would. The American officer, however, was suspicious. Peg got questioned at length, with the same questions over and over, and then he searched the van before finally letting her go on her way.

Oh, man. Never have I been so glad to hear someone’s GPS horror story.

So, Kathy and Diego get to accidentally cross the Rainbow Bridge after all, and will have to cope with all that follows.

It’s just the power of suggestion, probably, but I see Niagara Falls everywhere now. On the way back up from Florida, they were in a painting in Juliette Gordon Lowe’s birthplace in Savannah (that city was a bucket list item), in Jefferson’s dining room at Monticello (another bucket list item), at the Farnsworth in Rockland, Maine (a stop I make every year), and at the Albany Institute of History and Art (couldn’t believe I’d never been there before!).

I’d love to take this as a sign I’m being carried on to something good with this book. It could just as easily mean I’m heading for a fall. More likely, I’m just noticing something I hadn’t noticed before. And that is good enough for me.

If you’d like, comment with your own GPS horror story, or some of your bucket list items.


Next month’s blog post will feature another author interview (and a chance to win a free copy of THE FAR END OF HAPPY) with the talented women’s fiction author Kathryn Craft.

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

If you’re local, hope you can join me and Christian women’s fiction author Elaine Stock at the Sand Lake Town Library this Saturday, Jan. 7, 1-2:30 pm.

two-authors-1-correct-date

Elaine and I are both members of the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. This is a young and welcoming group that embraces both published and aspiring authors, traditionally published or self-published. You get access to courses, contests, feedback, and discussion, including opportunities to network with agents and published authors. I think it’s a great organization to belong to if your fiction falls into that genre at all.

Also, you might enjoy a blog post I recently wrote for Women Writers, Women’s Books, called “Why Won’t (Insert Name Here) Read My Book?” It’s about the inevitable painful realization all published writers have that not everybody they know and love wants to read their books. (I know, shocking, right?)

This coming year I plan to interview a number of other authors, and will also poke my head in occasionally with new stuff on my own front, but mostly I’m challenging myself to write the next novel a whole lot faster than I have in the past.

I need to, since after this winter it will be time to go back to full-time work. As I contemplate a future without Obamacare, I don’t see any responsible way around it — and that’s okay, since there are plenty of other things I like to do besides writing — and, frankly, every single one of them pays better.

Hope this finds you well. I wish you a wonderful year of reading and (if it’s your thing) writing! Onward!

Goodreads giveaway: Signed ARC of Bardwell’s Folly!

This is a pretty short giveaway, so don’t put off entering, US peeps. Enter to win today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bardwell's Folly by Sandra Hutchison

Bardwell’s Folly

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends November 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Here’s a short tidbit from later than the first five chapters:

Joe and Dori stood awkwardly in the great room, listening to distant squeals of admiration from Lisa. Robert returned quickly. “She said she wanted to grab a quick shower.”

“Great,” Joe said. “That’ll be at least another twenty minutes.”

“Anyone want another beer?” Robert asked.

“No thanks,” Joe and Dori said in unison. Joe gave her an annoyed look. He didn’t want them to suddenly get along too well, Dori concluded. She withdrew to peer out of the giant bank of windows.

“Something else?” Robert said, head in the refrigerator. “I have water, soda, iced tea. White wine. Red wine.”

Neither she nor Joe responded.

Dori looked at her watch. Now that it was finally growing dark outside, the windows were reflecting the yellow-lit interior of the house. In the reflection she watched Robert open an iced tea, check his own watch, then flounce down on the massive sofa that sat in front of the fireplace. “Anyone want a fire?” he asked.

Joe said, “Don’t you have the air on?”

Robert shrugged. “I can keep it low.” He picked up a remote and flames leapt up, quickly dialed down to embers.

Joe frowned. “So where’s the mood music?”

Robert cocked an eyebrow at him. “You want me to get you in the mood?”

Dori asked, “Do you have another bathroom?”

Robert said, “You’ll find a couple of bathrooms just down the other hall there, between the bedrooms.” He pointed towards the other side of the house. Dori couldn’t help noticing that while he’d escorted Lisa, she was on her own.

“Thanks,” she said, and took off. But as she passed the kitchen and front door she noticed a tiny half bath that was closer and ducked in. She sat down, noting the funky wallpaper with its rainbow trout motif, and realized she could hear the two guys talking quite clearly.

Which meant they could hear her, too. She’d have to try to pee softly. There were some drawbacks to the great room concept. She stealthily unrolled toilet paper, reluctant even to broadcast the clunk-clunk of the roll turning.

She heard Joe say, “You’ve got quite a reputation.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault women throw themselves at me. I don’t know if it’s my stunning good looks, my charming personality, or all that money. And, frankly, I don’t care. I enjoy the ladies, and I make sure they enjoy me. I make no apologies for any of it.”

Damn. Joe was right, Robert was a skank. That was the vibe she’d been getting from him all along, of course, but it was a little disheartening to hear him own it so wholeheartedly.

On the other hand that part about ensuring the ladies enjoyed it intrigued her a bit. No doubt there was something to be said for all that practice.

Also, the size of his instrument bore consideration.

Joe didn’t sound impressed. “Have you shared this philosophy with Dori?”

“I follow a don’t ask, don’t tell policy in regards to my philosophy. But you’ve already warned her off, haven’t you?”

Joe didn’t answer, unless it was some visual response Dori couldn’t see.

Robert continued: “What I like about Dori is that she clearly has a mind of her own. She’s more than capable of making her own decisions about what might be fun. I find her very appealing, actually. She might even be a keeper.”

As opposed to the old catch and release? Dori eyed the trout motif on the wallpaper and decided she felt vaguely flattered. She knew she could not compete with Lisa or half the other eligible young women in the world in terms of physical attraction, but apparently all a woman really had to do to fascinate Robert was be unusually uncooperative. She could do that.

Enter the Goodreads giveaway for a signed paperback copy of RIBS

Go for it, US peeps!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends November 29, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Stay tuned! Next week I expect to give away a signed Advance Reading Copy of BARDWELL’S FOLLY!

Updates, Kobo deal, Goodreads giveaway

Bardwell’s Folly

BardwellsFollylibreblur200x309“Bardwell’s Folly” has been read by five beta readers now, and thanks to that feedback I’m making some good revisions.  I’m hopeful this version will be done by the end of the week. Then it goes to my fussiest beta readers in the hope they will throw in some proofreading, too. Then it’s into Kindle Scout, unless I chicken out and just put it up for pre-order. I did stick a toe in the water with regular querying (if a tweet and one query count), but my heart just wasn’t in it.

The Awful Mess

This week I finalized a new (or, actually, old, re-imagined) cover for the ebook edition of “The Awful Mess” because Amazon won’t allow me to advertise with a nude-ish person on the cover. (They also refuse anything with blood, I’m told by author Julie Frayn.) Now I just have to upload the new cover and update, like, everything. (Actually, the paperback will retain its lovely and striking and not exactly prurient Damonza.com cover — and I did lean heavily for inspiration on an option he’d given me back in the day, when I’d asked for something with those rocks as well as an original option.)

Evolution of a coverOf course, having made that decision, I finally got an offer to do something interesting  just because it’s a SELF-e Select title, so I might hold off on trying it in Kindle Select until after then. I’m still going to change the cover, though. For all I know, that’s why BookBub keeps turning it down lately.

Speaking of Self-e, why Amazon considers a program that gives curated indie ebooks to libraries free as infringing on Kindle Select is beyond me. If I were them, I’d be happy to see my indie authors building a library readership, especially since SELF-e books now include buy links.

SPECIAL DEAL FOR KOBO READERS: Use code 50Jun through June 27 (midnight EST — that’s coming up fast, of course) to save half off “The Awful Mess” and many other indie titles.

And next up?

For the next book I keep stalling out on my original plan. I’m thinking of returning to Lawson, New Hampshire instead. They do say series are the way to go. I’ve had a story in mind that would offer interesting challenges to Winslow and Mary, one related to issues that sometimes arise over immigration in small town New England. And Annie Soper deserves a love story. But I’m just beginning to flesh those ideas out.

A Goodreads giveaway of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire”

While you wait for a new book, you or your reading friends might want to sign up to enter the Goodreads giveaway of an autographed paperback of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.”

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends July 09, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Technical difficulties … please stand by.

In case you’re trying to access my site and having trouble with any of it, I’m attempting a change of host providers and of course things are going terribly wrong. Hopefully it will stabilize and I can go in and do repairs before too long.

UPDATE: Well, it’s working again and much faster, but at the expense of a lot of things that used to work and now don’t. My new host provider seems much more disapproving of my use of “resources.” I would even go so far as to say they seem rather miserly.

So, again, things like my contact form and so forth are works in progress at the moment.

When it comes to fiddling around behind the scenes of a web site, I believe I have now officially risen to the level of my incompetence!

 

ABNA was nice while it lasted, but…

…not, in retrospect, quite as nice as I’d expected.

Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a brilliant idea to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers. Kudos to them for coming up with it.

I wasn’t at all sure about entering. The Awful Mess is women’s fiction, and it would be up against the entire general fiction category. My book verges on romance, and it has progressive religious elements. I didn’t think either aspect was going to help it. My book also has two sex scenes and some bad language. This didn’t seem to fit the guidelines for the contest. Finally, I suspected that this whole process would be a bit of a distraction from my game plan. And it was.

On the plus side, getting to the quarter finals would include a free Publishers Weekly review. And a couple of fellow authors, including one who’d made it to the quarter-finals before, urged me to jump in. I did my research and noticed generally strong marketing by Amazon for the previous winners. So, ultimately, I did jump in, with a version in which the two explicit sex scenes were jumped over.

And, as it turns out, the book made it to the quarter-finals and then into the semi-finals — which is to say, it was one of five semi-finalists for the general fiction category.

I'm in there with the ABNA semi-finalists -- I'm not just making it up!

Yes, I really was in there with the ABNA semi-finalists — I’m not just making it up!

Personally, I would not be shocked if Amazon was behind the scenes somewhere guiding this result, since they might have noticed that this book was doing pretty well for an indie debut (in its first year it sold over 1,200 copies, and had over 50,000 free downloads). If I were an acquisitions editor in their publishing division, I might think this looks like an author with potential. (The book that won the general fiction category was already self-published, too, and doing even better.)

I especially wondered this after I got my sought-after review — which, it turned out, was not really a Publishers Weekly review, in the sense of being a review actually written for and published in Publishers Weekly. It was uniformly positive, for which I was very thankful, but it seemed a little off, as if the person who wrote it hadn’t really read the entire book. It suggests that my heroine fends men off (she tries, but she’s not very good at it), and references the “rowdy bars” of the small New England town. I suppose there is one kerfuffle in one bar, but it’s hardly a major plot element. It also uses the phrase “small New England town” twice in six sentences. While I’m very grateful that it is so positive, it’s not something I can easily use for marketing, especially since I have to explain that it’s from the ABNA contest and the book was not exactly the same. So I consider this aspect a bit of a bust.

I decided that I would not attempt to enlist my friends or mount a social media campaign to gain reviews for the ABNA excerpt. I already had 170+ real reviews on the full novel, so it seemed kind of silly. Also, I was moving house and had no time to even send out a press release. This may or may not have played a part in the reality that I didn’t win my category.

Part of the reason I didn’t fight for it may be that I was feeling ambivalent about becoming an Amazon Publishing author. That it would be financially advantageous, I have little doubt. I notice that Amazon promotes its own books quite effectively, and I considered the contract all semi-finalists sign eminently fair (I once worked as an acquisitions editor, so I am more familiar with publishing contracts than most folks). But whether Amazon was likely to be a happy partner with me as I moved ahead on later books — books with even more sexual themes, plus some controversial content in the second — I wasn’t sure.

I noticed they had a truly huge list of authors in their various publishing imprints, so I had no idea what kind of attention I would get (not that I have any complaints about communication from them during this process — it was always prompt and courteous). And while Kindle Select was a great place to launch The Awful Mess, staying exclusive to Amazon would mean no branching out into Kobo, Nook, the iStore, or bookstores going forward. It might get me even less access to local bookstores than I already have as an indie. I’m not sure what it would mean for libraries, but I doubt it would help much.

Finally, my sales dipped pretty precipitously during this process. Most of this, I’m sure, is because I haven’t been promoting. After signing that contract, I wasn’t sure how much I could promote. When I finally asked, initially I was told I could do anything as a self-publisher, but then when I double-checked before confirming a BookBub promotion, and the product manager also double-checked, the lawyers said that during final voting that kind of promotion would be a no-no. Part of the sales dip may also be that I let my Kindle Select status expire because I was planning to branch out into the other retailers once I had safely lost. (Does Kindle Select status provide a measurable sales advantage on Amazon? I don’t know. I do miss the income from loans, though.) Part of it may also be confusion between the ABNA excerpt and the full book, though I doubt it.

At any rate, at this point I’m so close to launching the second book that I’m going to go ahead and get those ducks lined up before I do any serious promoting. I’m now aiming to get that published this fall. (If you’d like to be notified when it’s out, make sure you sign up for my mailing list, and then make sure you also opt in when you get the confirming email.)

So, fellow writers, if you’ve participated in ABNA at any point, did you feel it was productive for you? Would you recommend it to others? Would you do it again?

 

 

Mulling results from a Kindle Countdown Deal

One of the principles I follow as an independent publisher is that just about anything is worth trying.

When I first published, I discovered that offering The Awful Mess: A Love Story free through Kindle Select could pay off quite nicely in reviews and in residual sales that at least paid my advertising costs, although it was clearly not the magic bullet that it might once have been for indie publishers.

This time I tried the new Kindle Countdown Deal, supported with notices at affordable Awesome Romance Novels, free eReader Cafe, and (most expensively) at BookGorilla, as well as a notice at eBookSoda, which was thankfully free since I screwed that one up. (Turns out you have to do a separate Kindle Countdown Deal in the UK, and I didn’t realize that. And since eBookSoda is based in the UK, they went with my non-sale pricing.)

I would most certainly have used BookBub if I could have, but it wasn’t available to me (titles can only be there once every six months). I suspect my ranking would have been higher with it. Then again, it stayed so consistent throughout the promotion that it might be that I simply hit my title’s natural “level” and stayed there as long as Amazon’s promotion was in effect.

But even the first day, at 99 cents and with limited exposure, my book shot up in sales. It ranged between 1,800 to 2,500 in the Kindle store, which kept me on the first page of the bestseller lists for literary humor, literary romance, and women’s fiction humor.

This goes to show the importance of having useful key words, by the way. If you look at the shot on the right, you see that my book got highlighted as a hot new release in literature and fiction>humor and satire>humor — which helped drive further sales, I’m sure. (Mind you, the fact that I’m a “hot new release” was probably accidentally abetted by my new cover, which I didn’t realize would give this edition a new release date.) If my only key word had been romance (and no literary), I might not have shown up anywhere.

080078Changing a couple of keywords at mid-course didn’t seem to have any impact, though. (I switched from “divorce” to “dating and relationships” and from “New Hampshire” to “United States.”)

It’s also interesting to me that the “Love Story” in my subtitle no longer generates inclusion in searches for love stories. Perhaps Amazon got tired of all the keywords showing up in  titles and subtitles and has changed its algorithms to avoid rewarding that.

I had planned to do more, but the week with my parents in Florida had not allowed as much engagement with anything online as I’d hoped, and then I came down with a miserable cold, or perhaps the flu-shot version of the flu, and ended up barely functioning  for most of my countdown week.

A more prepared person certainly would have dovetailed more promotions into the middle and end of this deal to keep sales coasting along longer. They dropped off very fast at the conclusion of the deal; I’m seeing minimal residual sales now.

But I really can’t complain. It worked well while it was working. Amazon provides a pretty neat report on this strategy, too. Their useful report tells me I sold over 500 copies in my sale week, up from only a few the week before. (Beyond that, I also had a number of borrows.)

Although the book sales rate was about even, the income was much higher at the end for the 71 hours I was at $1.99, versus the earlier 96 hours at 99 cents. And I didn’t promote the second tier with any external marketing, so I have to assume that was primarily due to Amazon’s own Kindle Countdown Deal promoting, though I suppose my occasional tweets and kindly retweets from GreatBooksGreatDeals and Awesome Romance Novels (as well as fellow authors) might have helped.

Would it have worked as well if I’d gone out with $1.99 as my first sale price? I doubt it, but it’s impossible to know without testing.

It could be that the recent book giveaway I ran on Goodreads helped in some way, too, though I can’t say it helped to any great degree with book sales in its immediate aftermath. I did revise my giveaway ad there to support the Countdown Deal and got a few clicks. (Apparently the lifetime .05% click-through rate on my ads over there is considered good, but I can’t say I see that as driving any particular trend.)

One temptation from all this is to assume that dropping the price to $1.99 would make sense. Amazon of course prevents this by not allowing anyone to drop the price for 14 days after a Countdown Deal. But I’m also doubtful that it would help a lot. First of all, I’d be earning at a lower royalty rate (and maintaining your regular royalty rate is part of what makes Countdown Deals appealing). Second, I’ve tried lower pricing and haven’t really seen much pop from it. In fact, 99-cent pricing actually seemed to depress sales. Then again, I seem to do best in the humor and literary fiction categories, where price may signal something it doesn’t in, say, the romance category.

It might be worth trying $2.99, though.

I had been planning to leave Kindle Select at the end of my current enrollment period so I could get out to the other sites. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t expect to have my next title ready until summer, and I suspect that another round of a Countdown Deal, this time supported by BookBub, would be worth trying.

Other questions I’m currently mulling:

  • Should I enter the book in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards? It feels a little ass-backwards when I’ve already sold 1200 copies or so (not to mention given away 50,000). I particularly question this since the wording of the contest rules suggests I should enter the PG13 version rather than the one with the two sex scenes in it.
  • Should I just drop that PG13 edition? People looking for my book by my name or the book title often end up there, for some reason. It’s confusing, and confusion is not your friend when you’re trying to sell something. On the other hand, I’m also worried about what happens to the book purchased by the rare souls who have purchased the PG13 edition. Will it disappear from their Kindles?
  • What’s the best next move? Come out with an anthology of short stories I’m willing to sell super cheap (Missionary Dating and Other Not Terribly Literary Stories), or come out with the next novel? Or should I try another round with literary agents, now that I’ve established a little credibility out in the marketplace?

Who the heck knows? Meanwhile, I’m also busy trying to sell this house. So … life is full.

Feel free to offer your advice, and share any thoughts or experiences you might have had with Kindle Countdown Deals.

A Goodreads giveaway!

(for US readers)
Just a quick note here for our regular readers — and please feel free to pass the news along to your reading friends.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Awful Mess by Sandra  Hutchison

The Awful Mess

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends January 12, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win