Words hold weight. Let’s be wise in how we use them.

I was born a people-pleaser. When I was a little girl I wanted everyone to think I was the smartest, the sweetest, the cutest, the most talented. It’s the reason my poor brother endured endless amounts of torture at my hands when he was an infant and toddler. Jealousy. Pure and simple. He was stealing my spotlight, and I didn’t like it.

As I got older my need to be liked got me in a lot of trouble. It drove me into the arms of a boy who seemed to love me but ended up hurting me. It took me down the road of drug abuse and co-dependency.

I had no idea who I was, what I thought, what I valued. I was a chameleon. I liked what those around me liked. My opinions matched theirs. I couldn’t stand the thought of thinking differently. Of having people displeased with me for even one moment.

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Luckily, God redeemed me of all that. He healed me, and then took me on a gentle, grace-filled journey. One where I learned who I was, and what I valued. As I grew and matured, I cared less and less about other people thought of me, and more and more about what God thought of me. Now my opinions match his, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. It’s okay if people are displeased with me.

Everyone won’t like me or agree with me, and that’s okay.

But there is one area in my life where I still struggle with this need to please – my writing. Clearly when I release a book I want people to like it. Honestly, it wouldn’t make sense to write and publish a book if I didn’t. However, I also know there will be people who won’t like it, and sometimes that’s hard to swallow.

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When I finish writing a book I go through many emotions. First, I feel relief. Second, I get excited. Third, the doubts start to set in. My mind whirs through all of the possible things readers will hate about the book. I panic and desperately wrestle with myself, wondering if I should take things out, tweak the plot, etc. In the end, I almost always keep everything the same. I surmise that no matter what I change, someone will be unhappy.

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So I release the book as is, and inevitably there are readers that love it, and readers that hate it.

I write romances and typically they have an HEA. I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve gotten over the years, saying how predictable my books are. How they are unrealistic. And since I usually write in the young adult genre, I always get the reviews by the readers who are irritated at how “high school” or “juvenile” the book seems. As if it’s somehow my fault they bought a book without paying attention to the genre it was in.

In For the Win, there were those who were upset with my happy ending and how I made everything tie up neatly for London.But then Until the Sun Burns Out releases and there are those that are angry about the sad ending. Angry that things didn’t tie up neatly. Angry that the ending isn’t predictable.

It reminds me that I can’t win. I can’t please everyone.

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I don’t know why the bad reviews are the ones I remember over the good ones. But I suspect it’s because the little girl inside of me; that one that aims to please, is rising up and waving her fist.

But I also think it’s because I’ve never been that kind of reviewer. I’ve been an avid reader all my life. I used to have a blog where I reviewed the books I read. And I used it as a way to spread the word about books I loved. I never once wrote a scathing review of a book I hated.

The books I didn’t like, I simply didn’t share about.

And when I became an author I sort of thought every reader was like me. Boy was I surprised the first time I got a mean review. And, let me tell you, my first bad review was a mean one. The reviewer not only tore apart my book but she tore apart me as an author. Literally. Like she said mean things about me. I was floored. I didn’t know people did that, and I didn’t understand why someone would do that. If you love to read, don’t you love authors? Don’t you get that writing is subjective? That what you hate someone else might love?

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But I had to move past it. To get thick skin. To realize that readers are entitled to their opinions, even if they’re mean. Now when I see a mean review, I turn the other way and remember that I can’t please everyone. That one bad review doesn’t make me a bad author. That for every bad review there are dozens of good ones. 

This takes practice.

And I still will never understand someone’s need to tear down my books or me as an author. But it’s part of the deal, and I get that now. So I’m working on this. In truth, I mostly just don’t read my reviews much anymore. If I do, I try to stick to the five-star ones.

Years ago, I did the love languages study. I did it once with my husband and once with my kids. In it, I learned that my love language is “words of affirmation,” so it makes sense that reviews hold weight with me.

Words matter.

If you take anything from this post, it’s this: Don’t only share about the things you don’t like. Share about the things you love. Don’t only tell people when  you’re upset. Tell people when you’re happy. I feel like there is so much negativity in our world. Let’s spread joy.

And when it comes to the books you read, review the ones you like. Share with others when you read a book you love. Let the author know what it meant to you, and leave an awesome, glowing review. We need them. We cherish them. We hold them close.

I’m not saying you can’t review the ones you don’t like, but I would challenge you to think of the author as a real person when you do write the review. I’ve had negative reviews that were well-thought out and helpful, and I’ve actually made some changes in my writing because of them. So you don’t have to be mean. You can give constructive criticism. Don’t be a reviewer that tears a book or author down. Be a helpful, kind reviewer.

Words hold weight. They have power.

Let’s be wise in how we use them.

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To those who think I’m a potty mouth….

Sometimes it’s hard to be a Christian, and the author of secular romances. It can be a challenge to hold true to my values, but also write authentic books for a mainstream audience. I never want my books to be “cheesy” or unrealistic. That’s the reason I address sex in my books. It’s the reason my books have some colorful language. Because a teenage boy isn’t going to say “Darn it” when he screws up a play on the baseball field. And, whether we want to face it or not, teenagers think about sex. If they don’t, it’s not realistic. If they don’t, they’re not relatable, and no one wants to read their story.

I’ve written over twenty young adult romances, and I’m proud of every one of my books. I know some people don’t get how writing romances can be my calling in life,  but it is. I’ve been specifically designed for this job and I love it.

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But, as with anything in life, there is a margin for error. We all make mistakes. And I’m here to confess to a mistake I’ve made and apologize.

If you read my books you enjoy “clean romances.” You’re looking for a good story with a lot of passion, maybe some heat, but not anything more than that. And I’ve held true to that mandate.

However, there is one area that I’ve allowed to slip a bit, and recently I’ve been called on it. That’s the area of bad language. As I’ve said before, I want my books to be authentic, and some of my characters cuss. I’ve written jerks. I’ve written good guys. I’ve written competitive guys. I’ve written bookworms. I’ve written rockstars. The point is that all of my characters are different and they all have their own language. If a bad word is called for, I use it. No excuses.

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For instance, if there is a heated exchange between two ball players, and the guy says, “I’m gonna kick your ass” I’m not going to change that to “I’m gonna kick your butt.” No one would say that in the heat of the moment. Unless, of course, I’ve already written that character to be someone who never cusses. That being said a guy who threatens to beat someone up probably isn’t going to be my goody two-shoes character.

Anyway, my point is that as clean as  my books are there will be some foul language. That won’t ever change. However, it was brought to my attention by several readers that my language has escalated in the last year and a half. I still have never used the F-word, but the amount of other cuss words has multiplied to a level that makes some of my readers uncomfortable.

This bothered me because my books should never make anyone uncomfortable. Not in that way, anyway. Sometimes my subject matter is sensitive, but even so I always promise a “clean” reading experience. And if some of my readers aren’t feeling like my books are “clean” anymore that’s something I have to take seriously.

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So, first off, I’d like to apologize.  I’ve gone through my books with a fine toothed comb and I’ve identified the books in question. What’s weird is that I hadn’t even noticed this shift until it was pointed out. But now that I have noticed it is very obvious. My books went from a handful of bad words per book to a handful every page. I’m not sure how this happened. My only defense is that my characters feel like real people to me, so perhaps the shift happened with a potty-mouthed character and escalated from there. I know that the baseball books have a lot of scenes on the baseball field where guys are razzing each other, so the language became more colorful in those scenes.

Whatever the reason, I am fixing it. So far I’ve gone through and changed FOR THE WIN and FOR THE GAME. I am working my way through the remainder of the books. I am only taking out the unnecessary bad language. There will still be some, just not as much. It will take awhile to get through all the books since I also have to stick to my current release schedule. So I appreciate your patience in this.

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To those that have been offended  by the language in my books, please accept my heartfelt apology. Those who don’t care about the bad words, carry on.

To all of you, happy reading!!

 

What I learned from the girl that I was

Yesterday I was scrolling Facebook and one of my friends had posted an article about a college aged girl who had died of a drug overdose. She’d been using drugs with her boyfriend and when she started to overdose he was too scared to get help, and he let her die. I paused at my computer, my hands hovering my keyboard, physically unable to scroll past the horrific article. And the truth hit me like a sucker punch.

I was that girl.

And that could have been my fate.

My mind flew back twenty years to the drug addicted young adult I once was. It traveled back to the night I overdosed. I can still see the terrified eyes of my ex-boyfriend, still remember the dread I felt, knowing that he was too scared to get help for me. My mind also relived countless other nights. Nights I shouldn’t have lived through. Nights filled with hopelessness and fear.

But for some reason night always turned to morning, and I was still here.

I learned later that in all those situations my dad was across town on his knees, fervently praying for me.

I write romances. I read romances. Love is something that we all crave. That we all need. But the truth is that the greatest love story ever is one I didn’t write. However, I’ve lived it. And yesterday, I was reminded of this in a tangible way.

As my mind skated over the unsavory memories something new popped up. There was someone in these memories I’d never seen before.

I wasn’t alone.

I was never alone.

Even when I felt I was.

When I overdosed, my hand wasn’t empty. It was being held by my savior. When I stood in the middle of a desolate field with a stranger and a knife, Jesus stood in front of me, shielding me.

And it didn’t end there.

Recently, in moments not quite as dramatic Jesus revealed to me visions of his presence. Like the first time my son didn’t give me a kiss when he exited the car to go to school. While I sat in my car, crying over the fact that my baby was growing up, He draped an arm over my shoulder, pulling me close. When I lost my house to foreclosure and walked through each empty room, tears streaming my face, He held my hand. Walked each room with me. He didn’t leave my side. Didn’t leave me to face it alone. And He helped me gather myself, helped to lift my head, so I could be strong when my kids saw me.

When I had surgery, He stood by my bedside, watching over me. And when I was so scared I could barely lift my head, he stroked my hair and held me.

Many of you know that during the past three years, fear had me bound. So bound, that shame and guilt choked me. So much so that it was hard to see Him through it all. But now I have. I’ve seen that He was with me in those moments. Not judging or angry. But whispering that he loved me over and over again.

There’s a song that I’ve been obsessed with lately. It’s called “Love You More” by Nichole Nordeman and some of the lyrics are:

“You’ve been loving me since time began, You’re behind my every second chance”

I will never be able to write a romance as amazing as the one I’ve experienced. It’s impossible. But I can share it. And the amazing thing about my love story, is that it’s yours too.

He’s with you even when you don’t feel it. Even when you don’t know it. And when your reach is too short, his is long enough. So reach as far as you can and trust him to bridge the gap.

I promise it will be worth it.

I Quit: Giving up on the Self-Publishing Dream

When I wrote my first book in 2007, I had no idea what I would do with it. Mostly I just wanted to see if I could complete a novel. Once it was finished I allowed friends and family to read it and the consensus was the same – I should get it published. So I picked up a copy of the latest Writer’s Market book and started the arduous task of querying agents and publishers. I foolishly believed that they would love my manuscript as much as my friends and family did. I thought it was only a matter of time before my book was published. But after getting the first dozen or so rejection letters, my dream began to dwindle.

Fast forward 5 years and numerous manuscripts later and I had abandoned my dream of being traditionally published. I couldn’t handle the rejections anymore. Also, I had started to hear of authors like Amanda Hocking who had self-published and done well with it.  So I started to research self-publishing. And the more I learned, the more I started to see this as a viable option. I was ready to start my career, and I didn’t want to keep waiting around for publishers and agents to finally tell me I was good enough. I believed I was good enough. I believed that if readers could get a hold of my books that they would do well.

So on January 20, 2012, I published my first book PROWL (PROWL TRILOGY #1).

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The book didn’t make any lists and it didn’t make me a millionaire, but it sold. People were reading it and reviewing it, and it felt amazing. So I published the next two books in the series in quick succession.

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ProwlfAnd sales started to gradually pick up. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to keep me going. So I continued writing. I released an adult suspense novel and then published a young adult paranormal series. At that point I was making enough money that I was able to quit my day job to write full-time. Around that time, the NA genre was picking up so I decided to try my hand at a contemporary romance. Once I started writing contemporary romance I felt that I had found my niche. Not only did my sales sky rocket to places I had only dreamed of, but I enjoyed writing them. My sales continued to grow steadily and honestly it surprised the hell out of me. I was making more money than I ever had before.

But then about a year ago something odd happened. Sales just sort of stagnated. Then they started declining. And the decline wasn’t gradual. It was instant and it was significant.

It seemed weird that my sales would tank since I had more books out, and my fan base had grown. And I couldn’t find an obvious reason. I was still receiving great reviews, so I didn’t think it was a reflection of my work. It was baffling, and frankly kind of scary. Then I started hearing from other indies and they were in the same boat as me. It seemed we were all suffering.

Lately I’ve been hearing about indies who are suffering to the point where they have to go back to work and some are even considering quitting. And it makes me sad. I’ve read a lot of articles where experts in the business predict why this is happening, and some of them make sense. I do think that with all the indie books priced at $0.99, readers are starting to expect that. And so when I release my book at $3.99, most readers don’t want to pay that. The problem is that I can’t afford to pay my bills if my books are all priced at $0.99. And honestly, I don’t feel like $3.99 is very much for a book that I spend months creating, writing and editing. I pay that much for a peppermint mocha that takes 2 minutes to make, and less than an hour to drink. And I don’t feel like it’s a waste of money. I thoroughly enjoy every minute of my mocha.

The point is that there are a lot of reasons why this is happening, and I could sit around and think about all these reasons and let it get me down. Sometimes I do. But the truth is that writing is in my blood. I can’t stop even if I wanted to. The millions of rejection letters didn’t stop me, and declining sales won’t stop me either. Actually, these things tend to spark my competitive side and make me work that much harder.

I wanted to write this blog in honor of all the fabulous indie authors I’ve met in this crazy business. I want you to know that I love you, that I respect you, that I know how hard you work and how difficult this business can be. And I want you to know that I am here to support you. One of my favorite things about this business is you – my fellow indies. It’s such an amazing, supportive, encouraging community.

And I want to thank my die-hard readers. Even in the darkest times you’ve kept me going, and I can’t thank you enough. I know things will pick up, and they may even decline again. But know this – I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here on my computer plugging along. I’ll write as long as the voices in my head keep talking and as long as the readers keep reading.

Getting Real: What it’s like to be an indie author

I love the reaction I get when I tell people what I do. The avid readers are always fascinated with my job and ask lots of questions including where to find my books. Usually they will be looking me up on Amazon by the end of the conversation. The aspiring writers want to know all about the business – how much I make, how did I get started, what a typical day looks like, how do I come up with ideas, etc. Then there are the people who don’t read, don’t want to write and are clearly uncomfortable with the idea that someone chooses to sit at home and make up stories all day. They usually smile tensely and then find the nearest exit route. But inevitably one question will be asked almost every time I share my profession – “Who is your publisher?”  When I answer with “Me,” I get a myriad of different responses. The hip, indie-friendly crowd thinks this is cool and wants to know all about how I make it work, while the old fashioned crowd looks at me all flustered and, frankly, a little disappointed. Suddenly to the latter crowd I’m not as cool as I was moments earlier. But the truth is that I don’t think either crowd really understands what it’s like to be a self-published author. I’m sure of that because I had no idea what to expect when I first took this career on. So I’m here to set the record straight and put an end to the false ideas of what being an indie author is and isn’t.

When I wrote my first novel ten years ago, I never saw self-publishing as a viable option. In my mind publishing my work on my own was admitting that I wasn’t good enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher. So I spent years querying agents and publishers. What I found was that I was getting a lot of good feedback from publishers and agents who liked my writing style, but couldn’t buy my book for many reasons. Either they had just purchased a similar story line or the genre was overdone or wasn’t selling anymore. It got so frustrating to try to come up with a novel that would meet an editors or agents expectations and fit into their very small box. But I found that those who I let read my books loved them. So in 2011 I started to look into self-publishing. I wanted to be a writer, not spend my life sending out query letters and proposals that went nowhere. After researching the market I was pleased to find that self-publishing didn’t carry with it the same stigma that it used to. Many indie authors were making it big and had great reviews and respect. I read a few indie titles and was pleased to find the books were professionally packaged, edited and were amazingly well-written. So I decided to jump on the bandwagon, and I self-published my first book on January 20, 2012.

The first myth I want to bust is that you’re not a real author if you’re not with a publisher. This is so untrue. I don’t care if you’ve only sold 1 book. You are a professional. You are getting  paid for what you do. However, most indie authors don’t only sell 1 book. In fact, most of us make a good living doing this. In my opinion that makes us real authors. If our books are published and people are buying them, it doesn’t get more real than that.

The second myth I want to bust is that being an indie author is easy money. NOT! I’m not going to lie – I do make decent money. But I have worked my ass off to get here. And I didn’t make it off my first book or my second or even my fifth. I started making money around the time I published my 7th book. It was a hard first year but I never gave up. When 1 book didn’t sell well I just worked that much harder to write another one. And when that one didn’t sell well, I worked hard to write yet another one. I kept honing my craft and getting help from people I trusted. I learned more, read more. And eventually I found my niche, and my books started selling.

The third myth is that I have all this time to do whatever I want since I sit around at home all day. If only! My day is slammed. Since I’m an indie author, I am IT. I’m the whole corporation. I am in charge of every aspect of my career. Sure, I have some amazing people who help me – a PA, author friends, bloggers, cover artists, editors, a formatter. Even so, it’s my job to pay them, to get my materials to them in time. And ultimately it’s on my shoulders if anything goes wrong. On top of that, I do all my own marketing, social networking, giveaways, etc. And I write books! A lot of them. One a month, usually. Truth is I work more than I don’t. My job is round the clock. It doesn’t end at a certain time and then resume again.  It’s an all consuming profession. And even more so since my characters rarely shut up and keep me awake at all hours of the night.

And lastly I want to bust the myth that I am in competition with other authors. This is a subject I’ve heard a lot about lately and it is so untrue. I don’t think of other authors as competition AT ALL. Readers don’t read just one book in their lifetime. They read tons of books. The more the merrier. Honestly, I want other authors to do well because I think it helps all of us. The more great books that are out there the more people are reading, and the more likely they are to find my books. I think it’s great, and I support other authors every chance I get. Indie and trad pubbed.

The bottom line is that if you want to be an author you have to choose the path that is right for you. Indie publishing isn’t a good choice for everyone. I personally love to have control over my career (I am somewhat of a control freak – ask my husband) so it’s a good fit for me. I’m a workaholic and don’t mind working round the clock. But not everyone is like that.

I feel super lucky to have my job and this post is in no way meant to whine about how hard I work or what I have to do. I love every minute of it. But I just wanted to be real with you. I get some strange questions and remarks that show me that people don’t have a clue what my job is like. So this is only meant for enlightenment. Do with it what you will.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Also, if you have questions or have any other myths you’d like me to bust, let me know!