My Year in Review – 2021!

Happy holiday season! I can’t believe we’re already halfway through December! This year has been a whirlwind – mostly in a good way. I will tell you more about my books and writing from the past twelve months at the end of this post, but first let’s spread some cheer.

My Favorite Reads of the Year

First up, my favorite reads of 2021! (Please note, some of these books were not necessarily published in 2021.) I had to check my Goodreads reading challenge to remember all the books I read, and (no surprise) most of them were psychological thrillers. So here were my 2021 reads that stood out from the rest:

  1. Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica — I absolutely love everything Mary Kubica writes and this one was right there at the top in terms of my favorite books she’s written, and that many of her books are set in Chicago, where I used to live.
  2. Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier — OMG! I was not expecting to love this book so much or to find a new favorite author to follow. This one kept me turning the pages from start to finish.
  3. The Guest List by Lucy Foley — I love a good locked-room mystery, and this one transported me to a distant island wedding where the guests were isolated by a storm and everyone was a suspect!
  4. One by One by Ruth Ware — This was another great locked-room mystery featuring a work trip at a ski resort gone murderously wrong. I’ve seen lots of mixed reviews for this one, but I really enjoyed it!
  5. Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle — I’ll admit that I found this one in a little free library near my house, and I’m SO GLAD I picked it up. It was my first book by this author and I DID NOT see that twist coming! I look forward to reading more of her books in the coming year. (I will buy them this time.)
  6. Her First Mistake by Carey Baldwin — Double bonus for this one because it was written by one of my fellow Bookouture authors. It was so well-written and I never knew whether or not to trust the narrator, which is the thing I loved the most about it!

Thank You!

Now I’d like to give a shoutout to a couple of authors who have gone above and beyond in supporting my books in the last year. It wasn’t too long ago that I was an Indie author and I very clearly remember how difficult it could be to find a readership without the backing of a large publisher. Here are a couple of Indie authors to look out for:

Author D.G. Driver — This is a Nashville-based author who writes a little bit of everything, from picture books to YA, and beyond. I became acquainted with D.G. when we both had YA books published by the same small publisher back in 2015. Since then, she has supported several of my books by reading, reviewing, and recommending them to others. I enjoyed her YA mystery, Lost at Sea, as well as her Juniper Sawfeather YA fantasy series, which is great for young readers who enjoy reading fantasy and/or are concerned about environmental issues. Her most recent release is a musical romance called Songwriter Night. It’s an audiobook filled with songs–perfect for the broadway musical and/or country music lover! You can view all of her books on her website: www.dgdriver.com

Author Joan Hall — I have never met Joan Hall in person, but I’ve noticed that she is usually one of the first people to read and review my books as they come out. I so appreciate her early reviews (and she writes great ones!) Joan writes mysteries and romantic suspense. I hope a few more people discover her books through this post. Please check out her books on her website: www.joanhall.net

My 2021 Highlights

As for my own books, I had a productive year. Her Best Friend’s Lie was published by Bookouture in March and eventually reached the Top 50 on the US Amazon Kindle store! It was also recently named as a favorite read of 2021 by Nicki’s Life of Crime book blog! In November, We Live Next Door, my fourth novel with Bookouture, was published and reached Amazon’s Top 10 Kindle Bestseller in Psychological Fiction and reached the Top 100 in the Amazon UK Kindle store!

What’s coming in 2022? I have recently completed structural edits to my next psychological thriller, The Girl Before Me, coming from Bookouture in April 2022. I’m REALLY excited about this one, set in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, because it’s scary and has a killer twist that I hope readers won’t see coming.

I’d like to wish everyone a happy holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year! Thank you to everyone who has supported my books in some way this past year. I greatly appreciate it!

The Emotional Turmoil of Getting Published

What is Success in Writing?

For so many years, the end goal of my writing was to land an agent, sign with a publisher, and have my fully-legitimized book thrust out into the world with the approval stamp of the publishing house on its spine. After that, I imagined myself throwing confetti in the air and basking in the joy of post-publishing glory. In this idealized vision, publication equaled success. I never thought much about what came after publication. For some reason, the reviews that would follow–both good and bad–didn’t factor into my daydream.

Well, fast-forward a few years. I landed (and fired) my agent. I signed a three-book deal with Bookouture, who recently released Two Widows, the first of three stand-alone suspense novels. My second suspense novel, She Lies Alone, is coming out in less than two weeks. These stories–the ones I spent literally years of my life crafting, writing, and revising–are now out there for people to read and review. It’s exciting, yes. It’s also terrifying.

I’m happy to say that Two Widows has been very well-received by the suspense-reading community. Still, like almost every book, it has garnered occasional one and two-star reviews. As much as the reviews praising my book have injected me with a sense of euphoria (especially the ones that say they would give it MORE than five stars if they could!), the mean reviews hurt equally as much. These critical people do not hesitate to share how much they HATED my book. Some negative reviews are easier to disregard–for example, those written in one extremely long run-on sentence with no punctuation and brimming with misspelled words, or those that state incorrect facts, demonstrating that the reader has zero reading comprehension, or those that are hateful toward gay people and offended that my main character reconciles with her gay son and admits she’d been wrong to blindly follow a few bullies in her small town church. As authors, it is difficult to not be able to respond to these. But we can’t.

The advance Netgalley reviews for She Lies Alone are starting to show up on Goodreads. The first three people who read it left FIVE-STAR reviews. Woo-hoo! (I must have really found the pinnacle of success with this second book.) Then a few four star reviews followed. (I’ll take a four-star review any day.) The last five reviews have been 3 stars. (Can you feel my energy deflating?) Reading some of these new comments about my book being “average” and “predictable” feels like something akin to emotional abuse, to someone berating my child in front of me. I went from having a wonderful day to wanting to jump off the nearest bridge. (Did I mention I’m a highly sensitive person?)

Apparently, some readers are disappointed that the cover doesn’t match the story. I’m wondering why these people didn’t bother to read the back cover blurb. Others are disappointed that my book is not a true “thriller.” That’s correct, She Lies Alone is a novel of psychological suspense, just as it says in the subtitle! Maybe you can see why I’m frustrated…

How to Cope

For my fellow writers who are finding the thrill of publication tarnished by negative reviews, here are some things I’ve found that help:

  1. Look up a few of your all-time favorite books on Amazon or Goodreads. See how members of the general population left average and bad reviews the book that you so loved. You know they aren’t right. Now apply the same logic to YOUR book.
  2. Remind yourself (as my editor often reminds me) that no book is going to please everyone. It has literally never been done.
  3. Look for constructive criticism and use it to make your next book better. As much as I hate to say it, when several people are saying the same thing over and over again, there’s a good chance they might be on to something.
  4. Don’t read the reviews. Okay, I had to say it, but no one believes that is going to happen.
  5. Remember why you write. I write because there is a story within me that needs to be told. I write because I enjoy being creative. I write because I’m good at it. This passion of telling mysterious and suspenseful stories is for me, not to please some twenty-two-old woman with a permafrown who lives in a crappy apartment building in the middle of Arkansas and who’s initials are K. M. and who I’ve never met and probably wouldn’t like if I did meet her. (Too specific?)

Don’t Dwell. Keep Writing.

While easier said than done, I’m striving to let negative reviews roll off my back. I’m going to appreciate and gain energy from the positive feedback. My third book has just been sent to my editor to prepare for the line edits, and that is where my focus needs to be, not on books that I’ve already written, re-written, revised, and edited. I’ve already poured my heart and soul into those books and they can’t be changed now. I like my books. Actually, that’s not true. I love my books. And for a writer, maybe that’s the true mark of success.

Halloween Book #GIVEAWAY!

Halloween Graphic

Trail of Secrets Goodreads Giveaway!

Have you noticed the darkness falling earlier, the wind howling louder, and the mysterious creatures moving in the woods…right behind you? BOO! I love Halloween. It’s one of my favorite times of the year for so many reasons:  silly costumes, delicious candy, and (of course) terrifying ghost stories!

I’m celebrating Halloween with a Goodreads Giveaway of the first book in my Dark Horse Series–Trail of Secrets. If you’re a horse lover or mystery lover (or both!) there’s no better way to get in the Halloween spirit than by reading this thrilling tale about sixteen year-old Brynlei who, while away at horse camp, hears a ghost story about another girl who went missing on a trail ride four years earlier. When Brynlei starts seeing glimpses of the girl (or her ghost) in the woods, things really get creepy. Sound intriguing? Visit the series page on Amazon or enter the Goodreads Giveaway, which ends October 20th.

Good Luck! And, feel free to share this giveaway link with your friends:  http://bit.ly/2fnMDvg

Things I’ve Learned in the Two Weeks since Publication

Welcome to my new writing blog, which is dedicated to all things writing, reading, and publishing.

It’s been a little over two weeks since my young adult mystery, Trail of Secrets, was published, and it has been a whirlwind! Things have not always gone as I’d envisioned. (Nope, still not on the Best Seller’s List), but I have learned a ton about book marketing, the publication process, and managing expectations. For all the new authors out there who are preparing for, or stumbling through, their first book release, I thought I’d try to make things easier by sharing a few things I’ve learned:

SONY DSC1.  Friends and family can be your biggest supporters, but not all of them will be. On publication day, I kind of thought all of my family and friends would be as excited as I was about my book release–you know, in a “shout-it-from-the-rooftops” kind of way. It is true that a handful of them certainly were. In fact, I can name several people (some who are not even close friends) who went way beyond my expectations when it came to supporting and promoting my book. The thing I realized, though, is that while most people will offer their congratulations to you, they will never be as excited as you are about your book’s release. This was a shocker to me. After all, if one of my friends had a novel published, I would be ALL OVER THAT. I’d buy it, read it, and leave a review all before release day was over. But I’ve realized over the past two weeks that everyone does not view books the way I do. People have busy lives filled with careers and kids and drama. While they may have been sincere at the time they promised to buy a copy and leave a review, it might take them months to get around to it, if it ever happens at all. Maybe they are overwhelmed with other commitments. Maybe they are jealous. Maybe they don’t enjoy reading books. Whatever the true reason, don’t take it personally. Thank the people who ARE helping and supporting you. They are invaluable. Most of all, remember that YOU are the biggest champion of your book.

2.  Twitter works! This may be the most surprising revelation of all, coming from me–a former Twitter-hater. I’ve been using Bitly to shorten and track the number of clicks on my links. I can’t believe how many people click through! TweetDeck allows me to schedule multiple tweets in advance so I don’t have to be checking my phone and/or computer constantly. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen first-hand how effective Twitter can be in pushing people through to websites, blogs, and purchase links. I’ve also discovered the magic of hashtags. (More on #hashtags below!)
3.  Do a goodreads giveaway. In Twitter terms, that’s a #goodreads #GIVEAWAY! I set up a Goodreads giveaway for Trail of Secrets a week before it was published. I chose to run my giveaway for a month and give away a signed goodreads_fcopy of my book to three winners. It has almost been a month now, and 427 people have entered the giveaway. That is 427 people who have seen my book and read the description who otherwise may not have. As of now, over 200 people have added my book to their “To Read” shelf on Goodreads. In my opinion, that’s well worth the cost of the three signed copies I’ve agreed to send out!
4. Book reviews are hard to obtain.  I never thought that finding an objective person to review my book would be almost as difficult as getting it published! Bloggers who review books for free are swamped. Sure, there are the paid reviews, but few of us are eager to shell out $500 for a review. I’ve sent queries to between thirty and forty free reviewers and have received five responses. Even when someone agrees to do a review, the timeline could be several months out. I wish I knew this before my book was published. If I did, I would have spent more of my pre-publication time submitting for reviews.
5.  Make friends with librarians. I don’t know why, but I was scared to approach librarians with my novel after it was published. Librarians often seemed unapproachable and intimidating to me. Despite my irrational fear, I forced myself to take a copy of Trail of Secrets to the teen librarian at our local library. I positioned my kids in front of me in the hope that she would be softened up by 8cxKn4E6itheir pudgy, little faces. It turns out, she was less than thrilled to be presented with my book. She did, however, agree to read it. “If it meets the library’s standards,” she said, “then we’ll buy a copy for the library.” I waited on pins and needles for several days, entirely sure that she was going to hate my book. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from her several days later saying that she “really, really liked” my book. She said she would buy a copy and recommend it to teens who enjoy mysteries and/or like horses. She also left a 4-star review on Goodreads. What?? This was the last thing in the world I expected from her, but it was a terrific outcome. I realized that librarians can be amazing proponents of authors. I’m trying to find the time to approach more librarians in my area. Lesson learned.
6.  Share your news! You never know what kind of opportunities are lurking in the shadows. I posted my publication news on my local SCBWI list-serve, expecting to receive a few half-hearted “congratulations.” Instead, I was met with thunderous applause and several opportunities I never would have received had I stayed quiet. First, I was invited to submit a guest post for the Michigan SCBWI blog. I also received an invitation to be a speaker at a teen writing conference in November. I’m a little nervous about this second one, but I’m going to do it. These are both tremendous opportunities that could become great resume-builders. So, don’t be shy. Share your news!
Are you a recently-published author who is navigating your first few weeks or months of publication? Tell us what you’ve learned!