Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Author Interview: Phyllis Humphrey

I had the pleasure of interviewing Phyllis Humphrey this week, author of the newly released romance novel, Cold April.
Phyllis A. Humphrey is the author of eight other romance novels, a non-fiction book published by John Wiley & Sons, several short stories and many articles that have appeared in national magazines. Humphrey’s long-time interest in the Titanic has a basis in family history; her grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from England on board the New York, the ship that almost collided with the Titanic on the first day of its tragic voyage. When not writing, Phyllis sings and acts in local theatrical productions. She has raised four children and currently lives with her husband in Southern California.

Hello and welcome, Phyllis! Tell us a little about yourself.

I've wanted to write ever since I was a little girl, but Life sometimes has a way of interfering. My first short story was published in 1975 and my first novel in 1985. But I didn't sell another book until 1995. Those ten years were spent (besides raising children) in reading books and magazines on writing, attending classes and workshops and joining critique groups wherever I lived. I'm a person who paid her dues and Persistence is my motto.

I see from your website you typically write romance or romantic suspense. What other genre(s) do you write?

One of my first book sales was actually a non-fiction book about investment clubs called WALL STREET ON $20 A MONTH. John Wiley published it and after that I sold many articles to magazines, such as MS, FACT, SAVVY, INDIANAPOLIS and others. Concentrating since then on fiction, I also write straight mystery and cozy mystery, and COLD APRIL is my second historical romance.

Your novel, COLD APRIL, was just released by Camel Press. The cover is stunning! What is this story about? Where can readers find it?

COLD APRIL is a historical romance set on board the Titanic. The information about the ship striking an iceberg and sinking on its maiden voyage in April 1912, is well-known, but some readers may not be aware that there is a commemorative cruise planned in April 2012, to mark the 100th anniversary of that fateful trip. The book will be available through my website, Amazon, and many other venues, as it will be an e-book as well as trade paperback and, later, perhaps, a hard cover.

What kind of research did you do to capture the authenticity a Titanic love story would require?

I've had a lifelong interest in the Titanic even before I learned that my grandfather, John Ashworth, emigrated to the U.S. on the New York. A few years later, the New York almost collided with the Titanic leaving Southhampton that morning. As a writer, the thought of the largest ship in the world sinking on its maiden voyage fascinated me, as a story that no one would believe if it weren't true. I have many books about the Titanic, several since the remains were found in 1985. I've also seen all the films and documentaries about it and also visited a replica of the ship. The things I learned tumbled about in my head until I decided to write a romance novel (having sold eight by that time) and - unlike James Cameron - let my hero and heroine survive.

Please list any previous or upcoming books so that readers who enjoy COLD APRIL can find them.

By coincidence, a contemporary romance novel, SOUTHERN STAR, which I wrote with a friend some years ago, is being published by Avalon Books t his same month. Avalon publishes in hard cover and sells mainly to libraries, but that book too, will be available through Amazon or my website. Two other romances, FREE FALL (Cambridge Books) and ROMAN HOLIDAY (Wild Rose Press) were published in 2009.

Before you go, where can readers/writers find you?

My website is http://www.phyllishumphrey.com/ and I'm in the process of setting up a Facebook page. I plan to post Titanic lore on my blog and hope that other blogs will want to spread this story about one of the most tragic (yet preventable) events of the 20th century.

Thanks so much to Phyllis for stopping by. Please check out Cold April here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Promote Thyself

With Bonded In Brazil coming out in March 2011, I am exploring marketing and advertising options. There are quite a few, thank goodness, for a stay-at-home mom like myself who needs to utilize the internet as much as possible and promote on the cheap.

My goal is to take advantage of options that require the least amount of money/work but get the biggest bang for my buck. This greatly depends on establishing an online presence.

Here's what I've come up with so far...

Blog--There are plenty of free blog sites available, and they are all pretty user friendly. This is a place to not only promote your work, but to sell yourself as well.

Website--Again, free sites available for you to build a website. I use Yola and paid for a custom domain name. I can also have a blog on my website and plan to link my blogspot posts to my website blog soon.

Toolbars--By installing a nifty, multifunctional toolbar onto your website/blog, you can further personalize your space and, perhaps, allow visitors to customize their experience at your site. I use Wibiya. This toolbar also gives visitors the option to share on Facebook, "like" me on Facebook, tweet, and even be greeted with a pop-up message that I can update as often as I want to.

Social Networking--Facebook, Twitter, Myspace are all free and allow you to connect with multiple people in seconds. A lot of social networking sites can be connected to each other, meaning what you post on Twitter can automatically be posted onto FB, etc.

NetworkedBlogs--How cool is this? Register with NetworkedBlogs and whenever something new is posted on your blog, it gets thrown up onto Facebook automatically. Multi-tasking at its best.

Cross-link everything.

Forums--Use forums, like Absolute Write, to get to know other writers, learn industry news, AND promote. Have a link to your blog/website, a link to your book, and a book cover pic in your signature. Whenever you post a comment, your information is out there for anyone to see. Advertise while you socialize. Fun stuff.

SheWrites--A networking site for female writers. Not only can you socialize and shamelessly advertize, but they also have a community blog for all members and they post members' books on their bookshelf. Membership is free, btw. Check SheWrites out.

Pay it forward--Sometimes the best strategy is the selfless one. Interview authors on your blog, invite guest bloggers, review a new book, brag about your friends' successes, buy a friend's book and leave reviews on sites where it's sold. You can also help a friend by appearing on their blog. This drives more traffic to their site and gets your name/book out to their contacts. This is mostly about advertising your friends' work, but you drop your name where ever you go, thereby increasing your online presence. Plus, you make your friends happy :)

Book signings--This might be a worthy option IF your publisher provides the books. If the bookstore where your signing is being held does not carry your book, they might be willing to order copies for the signing IF the distributor allows returns and IF your book is distributed through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, which is a must for some of the bigger chains.

Blog tour--Schedule a blog tour to take place at the release of your book. Try to guest star at a different blog everyday for as long as you can arrange--a week or two or three. Click here for a great resource on blog tours.

Giveaways--People like free stuff. Have a drawing for people who comment on a specific post. Give away a free copy of your book to whomever is chosen (at random). I've even seen authors put together gift baskets with all kinds of neato stuff for first place, a copy of the book and a candle for second, and just the book for third. Get creative. You might even be able to get some of the giveaway items for free from a local business. Giveaways are always a good idea for blog tours!

Participate in a writers group--Bonded In Brazil was shared within a writers group. I know if anyone from that group gets published I'll buy a copy. NOTE: to the OVNW members, I do not expect you to buy my book just because I'd buy yours. I'm just very sentimental :)

Reviews--There are tons of places wanting and willing to review your book. This might cost you a copy of your book unless your publisher covers this expense for you. The review itself is generally free.

Conferences--Rub elbows, give out business cards, etc.

Writers association--Find a local one, pay the small yearly fee. They usually have newsletters, meetings, conferences, workshops, and many other ways that you can promote in your state/region.

Press Release--Google author press release. Put one together and send it to local papers. You can send a copy of your book or make it clear a copy is available upon request. Have a press page on your website. See mine for an example--it's not complete yet, but you'll get the general idea.

Speak/teach--Call libraries, schools, local book stores and see if they have an interest in having you for an event or a workshop or a reading of your book.

Knowledge is power--Take the time to educate yourself about the business you're in.

Be consistent.

Return the favor.

Always be gracious and grateful.

If you have any other promotion ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Friday, November 26, 2010

INTERVIEW - Vivian Kees

I had the pleasure of interviewing the author of A SORDID SITUATION, Vivian Kees.

Hi Vivian! Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I’m a aspiring writer who has just had her first novella published. When not writing I can be found indulging in my other hobbies such as sewing(quilting), reading and just enjoying life and all that it offers.

I love the cover of your newly released historical romance novella, A Sordid Situation, from Evernight Publishing. What's the story about?

The story itself is centered around Eugenia Wareham, who at the start is informed that her late husband has gambled away their entire fortune leaving her not only penniless, but also homeless.

Debt collector, Cal Hawthorne soon arrives on scene to collect what’s owed to him, and they are eventually intertwined together in a business deal of sorts when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

Full of passion, lust and everything in between, it makes for one heck of an interesting tale.

What kind of research did you have to do to make sure you created an authentic, historical setting in A Sordid Situation?

First of all I am a fan of historical romance and I can’t begin to count how many I have read over the years. But my main source is the internet. I do try to stick to the time period being written to make it authentic. Both dialogue and setting are vital and special attention has to be paid to each keeping the era in mind.

Is historical romance your chosen genre or do you write other genres as well?

I write in many genres, romance just being one of them. I also write horror, erotica, and literary fiction.

When can we expect your next book?

My next novella is due to come out in January 2011. It’s erotic fiction and will be released under a separate pen name.

Where can readers find you and your work online?

I’m in the process of getting a website up, but for now you can find me on Facebook(Vivian Kees), and on Twitter under the same name.

My current novella is available on Evernight’s Site and on Amazon Kindle.



Thank you, Vivian, for stopping by. Congratulations on the release of your first book. May you have many, many more.

Don't forget to check out Vivian's novella, A SORDID SITUATION.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Covers

One of the things my publisher asked for was for my book cover vision. Some publishing houses don't care what the author thinks. Luckily, mine does.

I had a lot of ideas, of course, but being the researcher that I am, I wanted to find out what, exactly, makes a good book cover. So, I did some research on romance covers.

I found three common themes: Person, couple, scenery.

There are often variations of the above three, like a person with a scenic/story-related backdrop.

I also took a poll, asking what readers prefer: person, couple or scenery. Scenery won. Person and couple tied.

My next step was to evaluate the covers of those top-selling books within the genre. Overwhelmingly, the big-name romance authors had scenic, feminine, and often floral motifs gracing the covers of their books. They also had their oh-so-famous names in giant bold letters, but that's another topic all-together.

Another observation is that, in addition to the themes listed above, romance covers are usually made from a photograph or a painting. Rarely, if ever, cartoon/vector art. With the exception of erotica, although that's not really romance, now is it?

Final step in my task was to do an experimental visual assessment. I scrolled down a long list of tiny icons in Amazon.com's romance section to see what, at barely an inch tall, caught my eye. Was it a person's face? A sexy, embracing couple? Nudity? Flowers?

It was color. Blue's and purple's specifically. These aren't my favorite colors but, for whatever reason, covers with blue/purple made me pause.

Using the above information, I came up with two book cover options for the design artist to toy with. One is scenic with a vibrant light blue sky. The other has a face and scenery, lots of purple. Both look great at 1-3 inches, which is important for online shoppers.
Remember: A cover isn't just a cover; it's an essential marketing tool. Readers may not buy your book based solely on the cover art, but the cover is what will make them pause and pick up/click on your book.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I'm happy to say I've finished the PDF list I received with author TO-DOs. I compiled the following and sent it off to my editor:

Back-of-the-book description
Cover vision
Answers to questions about various things, etc.

I promptly got an email back--Editor Lady is fast! She'd made a couple changes to my blurb, tightened up my bio. I was pleased with the results and can tell I'm going to like working with her once the edits for the manuscript are underway.

She thanked me for being "so specific" with my cover vision, as opposed to the reaction I was expecting: ANAL. That was nice. Either my specificity really is a good thing or she's very tactful. A bonus either way.

On a side note, getting a publishing contract for one book is fantastic motivation for finishing another. I'm a busy mom with young kids, so my daily word count hovers around 300, give or take a few hundred. Ha. Ha. In the past seven days I've gotten 6,000 words down--good words, too. I'm thrilled. My goal, prior to these 6K words, was to add 13K to my WIP by the end of December. Possibility of exceeding goal makes me giddy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What's Next?

The publishing contract has been signed by all parties. Big sigh of relief. I feel as if I can relax now...almost.

Truth is, I rarely relax when it comes to writing. Each time I reach a goal, I immediately think what's next?

So, imagine my joy when I received a list! My very own here's-what's-next list. Some people cringe at lists, especially lists given out by other people. Me, I love it. Making decisions has never been something I'm good at, so tell me what to do and I'll do it has always been my attitude. I just. Need. A task.

The items on the list were not unexpected. Matter of fact, I'd already begun working on a few of them. One, however, makes me feel like sulking, pouting, and a number of other behaviors my two year old would gladly slap his toddler endorsement on.

"The author bio," I whine. "What bio?"

I'm not that interesting. I'm not an expert...on anything. I don't have a world-class education--no offense, Mom. You homeschooled me and did a great job. I have no previous publishing credits, no extraordinary accomplishments, except for the birthing of two human beings which seems pretty damn miraculous, if you ask me.

I'm just normal. To quote Christine O'Donnell, "I'm not a witch; I'm you." And we see how far that got her.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hook, Line and Sinker

I did it. I got offered my first publishing contract. Talk about being stoked!

Over several blogs, I will be sharing my experiences, starting with the querying process for this book. I'll also share what happens as I move forward--there's so much to do!

Editing (yes, again)
Cover design (fun!)
Blurb for back of the book (stressful)
Author website ($$$)
Getting reviews (scary)
Marketing (um...goody?)

Also, once the contract is signed on all ends, I'll dish out the details: With whom did I sign? When will the book be released? Where will it be available for purchase? Etcetera.

I anticipate being able to share parts of the book itself, an excerpt, perhaps even the first chapter. Before I can do that, I need to find out what my (future) editor/publisher allows. This can vary from one pub to another and I don't want to break any rules...not immediately, anyway.

To avoid the monotony of listening to me drone on and on and on, although that's the point of MY blog, I'll still be actively pursuing author interviews and guest bloggers.

Thanks for sticking around :)

UPDATE: I decided to sign a publishing contract with Camel Press, a new fiction imprint of Coffeetown Press, based out of Seattle. The release date for my book is March 2011. More details to come!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Preparing For...?

As I await word from publishers, I find myself vacillating between two impending outcomes. Contract offer or rejection. One of the two will happen; there's no such thing as a little bit published, right?

Getting an offer is the obvious preference. What if I don't, though?

I am pretty sure how I will feel about not getting a publishing contract, but the question is how should I feel?

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have a 98-99% chance of being rejected. The odds are against me. I'm a realistic person and judging by past experiences, I've never been a first place kind of gal. Poetry contest--4th place. Spelling bee--2nd place. Various drawings/raffles--*nadda. The only time I've ever placed first was in a gift wrapping contest. I won a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Being good is not the same as being good enough.

There it is. The ugly truth.

In the meantime, I make a pretty good attempt at positive thinking, but I keep it real--there's a fine line between positive visualization and being delusional.

So if I don't achieve my goal, how dejected should I feel? Is the personal victory of having written, queried, and fought the good fight enough to satisfy? Should it fuel my determination and drive me to try harder?

I've never been one to beat a dead horse but let's face it, with odds like these I was kicking that horse corpse before I even sent my first query letter. So yeah, I'm mentally bracing myself for the worst possible--and highly probable--outcome, which is why I'm grateful to have an agent. If I didn't, my queries would look a little something like this:

Dear Editor,

I wrote a book that you will probably not appreciate; no one else seems to. I'm certain you'll reject it; everyone else has. But will you pretty please read it and send me negative comments that utterly conflict with what every other editor has said so I can continue to be confused as opposed to enlightened? I really have no interest in being published. I just like feeling like doggy doo doo every time I open my email.


*CORRECTION: When I wrote this blog I had not won a drawing or raffle. However, I have since--a book, of all things. Maybe that's a good sign...
UPDATED: As of November 9th, this post is n/a. *insert cheesy grin here*

Friday, November 5, 2010

When I Grow Up...

My mom was tired of the old junk sitting around her house so she sent it all to me. Inside three manila envelopes were various school papers and artwork from my childhood, including the journal from which the above excerpts were taken.

In case you can't read my handwriting, (it hasn't improved much in the past 19 years, btw) I'll translate the key points:

"Someday I'm going to be in the writing business. I'm going to write stories and poems. I'm going to be a famous writer..."

"...but mostly I want to be a writer. Because I'm a good story writer and poet. I'm also making a book now. This is all I want to do."

From the mouths of babes...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Self-publishing with Kay Nichols

Welcome back, Kay Nichols! Kay has bravely tackled my questions about self-publishing with candid and heartfelt answers. I appreciate her coming back to Whispers for a second time and sharing her publishing experience.

See Kay's first interview here.

Check out Kay's paranormal novel, SOULS, here.

"Like" author Kay Nichols here.

Tell us a little about your decision to self-publish.

The publishing world is a hard nut to crack into. I may not have the next NYT best seller, but I have some entertaining stories. If writing were solely a way to exercise my own creative muscles, then I would be content to keep my books all to myself. But it's not. I write because I want to entertain. I want people to be able to use my books to escape from their life - even if only for a few hours. Since my proverbial nutcracker was not getting me anywhere, I took matters into my own hands and opted for self-publication. It may never make me rich, but it satisfies my dream.

What was your process for picking the right self-publishing company for you? In other words, what made you pick one over the rest?

I talked to a few other self-published authors and lulu.com came highly recommended. One of the reasons I like lulu is that you have the ability to do as much or as little as you want. An author can publish for free, market to only family or to everyone, or purchase a pre-designed publishing package that requires little effort on the part of the author. All self-publishing sites are the same as far as services offered, but through my research I found that lulu.com has the most consumer traffic.

Did you hire an editor and cover artist, or were editing/art services provided for you by Lulu? What other services do they offer?

Lulu offers whatever you are willing to pay for: marketing, publishing, editing, cover design, etc. It also offers you the tools you need to do it on your own at no cost. Personally, since this was my first book, I opted for a publishing package. Lulu handled the formatting, cover design, and ISBN. I think this was the best route for my first book, but going forward, I intend to handle it all on my own. I did have an editor, a cover artist, and a marketing specialist that I will be working with on these future publications.

Is your self-published book available at the same venues traditionally published books are sold? For example: Will we be able to find SOULS on amazon.com or at a local brick-and-mortar bookstore?

Lulu has a relationship with amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. It does not provide an "in" at any actual stores. I have found, though, that many local bookstores will take local authors' books on consignment. It requires more legwork on the part of the author, but it's relatively easy. Most large book companies and retail stores will not accept self-published books for sale at their stores.

A lot of people reading this are actively seeking publication. Should they decide to self-publish, is there anything else you can share that will help them in their decision or prepare them for what comes next?

The best way I can answer this is that they need to do what is best for them and what accomplishes their goal as an author. My dream has never been to be a #1 selling author. I just want to write. I just want to see my books in print. I just want my family and friends to be able to actually hold a copy of a book I created in their hands. But, for those that dream of mass distribution and fame, self-publication would not be the way to go.

As far as whether this will help an new author stand a better chance of being published by a big name house: NO, IT WILL NOT. Self-publication is not considered publishing history. In fact, mentioning it in your query letter may actually work against you. Anyone can self-publish. A publishing house or literary agent does not see this as an accomplishment unless you manage to sell thousands of copies.

If you decide to self-publish, be prepared to market your book. I set up a facebook account, a Twitter account, and purchased a website. I also contact every local bookstore in my area to work out consignment deals. I have set up book signings. I contact every local media outlet in the attempt to gain an interview that could promote my book. It is not a bad route to go if you are willing to do the work that an agent or publisher would do.

I would like to add here that when I first made the decision to self-publish, I felt like I had failed. That is until I read one of YOUR blogs, Rhiannon. It was the one about everyone wanting that last piece of the "publishing" pie. I realized that the only way to achieve my own, personal dream was to go the route I did. And then I received the first copy of my book. It had that new book smell. My dream had come true. And that was all I ever wanted. I got my piece of the pie!