An Original ‘Hellion’ Christmas Short + Giveaway

Want to read the scene where Quint and Sophie first kiss, years before the beginning of The Lady Hellion?

I’m thrilled to take part in the RFTC 2015 Historical Xmas Eve event! Plus–there are 2 copies of Hellion up for grabs, as well as a giant historical romance prize pack.

Read the short scene here: http://ramblingsfromthischick.blogspot.com/2015/12/caught-with-roguewith-joanna-shupe-and.html2015 Xmas

JB’s Steps to Indie Publishing 2 (Setting-up Business as an Author)

Today, I’ll share what I learned about building a business as an author, in hopes that you’ll fare slightly better—or at least start earlier—because what I expected to take a few weeks, took about 2 months (partly because every step is dependent on the previous step)!woman_with_credit_card_187377

  1. In the last post, I covered that I personally think it’s a good idea to set up your pseudonym legally for protection and for financial separation, however, there are various ways to do this. I became a sole proprietor LLC with my pen name (see previous post: https://thevioletfemmes.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/jbs-steps-to-indie-publishing-1-an-authors-legal-and-financial-decisions/). In registering ($125 in NJ, and more if you incur lawyer’s fees), you’ll receive a corporate ID number from the state. The lawyer sends also a certificate of formation that lists the same number as well as the business name you’ve chosen. I assume that a DBA situation would be much the same.
  2. Use that corporate ID number to request an FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number) from the IRS. The lawyer could have done it, but here I opted to save money by doing it myself. Two interesting things to note: you can have more than one EIN, however if you already have one, you cannot sign up for another one online. Online is fastest (a few days), fax next (a week supposedly but proved to be about 2.5 wks), and mail by far the longest (a month). An EIN is a good idea regardless. Otherwise your social security number is floating around everywhere, increasing your risk of identity fraud. There is no charge for an EIN.
  3. Once you have your EIN you must register your new business with the state (because yes, they’ll want to collect taxes as well). I chose to do this myself, but admit that my lawyer spoon fed me the forms and the info for the tricky spots. The forms are also available online via the IRS. You will receive confirmation. Again, no fee.
  4. Open a bank account under your pseudonym. This one also was a surprise: the bank I’ve used forever and would have preferred both for familiarity, loyalty, and so that I could link accounts required a minimum balance of $1400 for small business checking. $1400!!! Uh, NO. And, because I’d become an LLC, I really couldn’t (legally) open a personal checking account with the pen name. I’m happy to report that ConnectOne offers free checking and no minimum balance for their small biz customers. Look online for the details of what each bank offers, then call them, as there’s a whole list of things you need to bring with you, including all of the documents I’ve discussed today, your driver’s license, and a credit card.
  5. You probably want to apply for a credit card under the pen name. Editors or cover artists usually prefer checks or PayPal, but what if you attend a conference that involves a flight and a hotel and numerous restaurant meals? What about that hefty price tag on bulk ISBNs? If you keep this card entirely separate from your personal stuff, you’ll also have a very easy way to track all writing expenses for the year. One author I heard speak suggested a cash-back credit card. It makes sense to put money back into your business, plus it’s simpler than jumping through the hoops of complicated travel or shopping rewards cards. Besides, the whole goal is not to be buying groceries, gas, and clothing on your business card, right? The two highest ranked cash-back cards I found were American Express Blue and Citi Double-Cash Card.

Having the business set-up complete was a GIANT relief. (At least until I realized there was quarterly tax filing involved!) My apologies that it took me so long to continue this thread. Good luck to you and thanks for reading! ~JB

www.jbschroederauthor.com

New Release! THE COURTESAN DUCHESS

I am so excited today to announce the release of my debut historical romance, THE COURTESAN DUCHESS!

The Courtesan Duchess

Here’s the blurb:

How to seduce an estranged husband—and banish debt!—in four wickedly improper, shockingly pleasurable steps…

  1. Learn the most intimate secrets of London’s leading courtesan.
  2. Pretend to be a courtesan yourself, using the name Juliet Leighton.
  3. Travel to Venice and locate said husband.
  4. Seduce husband, conceive an heir, and voilà, your future is secure!

For Julia, the Duchess of Colton, such a ruse promises to be foolproof. After all, her husband has not bothered to lay eyes on her in eight years, since their hasty wedding day when she was only sixteen. But what begins as a tempestuous flirtation escalates into full-blown passion—and the feeling is mutual. Could the man the Courtesan Duchess married actually turn out to be the love of her life?

Want to read an excerpt? CLICK HERE.

Some early praise for COURTESAN:

“The powerful passion in this riveting tale of betrayal and forgiveness will knock your socks off!”
— NY Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries

“This original and alluring novel is a very promising beginning to Shupe’s career.”
— Publisher’s Weekly

“One of the best debuts I’ve read in years. Joanna Shupe’s The Courtesan Duchess is fast-paced, compelling, and super sexy. You won’t be able to put it down.”
— Award-winning author Valerie Bowman

“Joanna Shupe is a wonderful new voice to historical romance. The Courtesan Duchess takes readers on a steamy ride from Venice to London, proving that some happily ever afters are worth waiting for.”
— NY Times bestselling author Jennifer McQuiston

“Joanna Shupe’s compelling story of an estranged couple brims with emotion and sensuality.”
— Bestselling author Miranda Neville

“From its first naughty page, be prepared to be swept away by Joanna Shupe’s The Courtesan Duchess.”
— Historical author Maggie Robinson

Purchase on Amazon

Purchase on Barnes & Noble

Purchase on iBooks

Marketing In The Digital Age

In a past life, I worked as an assistant marketing manager for a fashion designer (his perfume line), where I lived and breathed the 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Place, Price and Promotion. (There’s a fifth P as well—Planning—which I address as well).

Here is a brief recap of what I know and how an author can apply it to their own promotional plans in the digital age.

Marketing cartoon

Product/Service

Who is your target audience and how does your brand satisfy their needs? Your books are part of your brand. But don’t forget, YOU, the author, are also your brand. Strange, right? But put your fan-girl hat on and think about authors you love. Do you know what they look like? (Probably yes.) Have you visited their Facebook page or Website, or have you signed up for their newsletter? (I know I have.)

Think about yourself being the consumer of their books. Yes, you love their writing. But you also are buying into how they’ve branded themselves.

Check out the marvelous Susan Elizabeth Phillips Website. In the first paragraph of her Dear Reader letter, she restates what she knows about you, the reader. What needs you have that she is able to satisfy—the poignant, often hilarious stories she writes. She’s not talking about one book in this paragraph, but the general themes that readers seem to respond to.

Lesson Learned: KNOW YOUR READERFishing-for-a-Target-Market

Place

Where are readers going to buy your books? This has a lot to do with your publisher and/or whether you are an indie author or traditionally published.

For authors, it is more about accessibility of purchasing your books than hiring a sales force to promote them.

Digital sales: Make sure your buy links are visible on your webpage. Who do you do the most sales with? (Ah, humph…Amazon…)?

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How are you going to draw readers to the purchase site/link?

Facebook ads work, by the way. I just completed a week long ad linking directly to the online retailer I felt I had the most sales potential with. The key to Facebook ads is you must target your reader (yes, you need to know who they are ahead of time). For example, I indicated on the Facebook ad setup page that my audience’s interest were other authors, like Katy Evans and Sylvia Day. So their Facebook fans received my Facebook ad.

Bookstores:  My books will be in stores in March so I don’t have much to say about placement. This is something your publisher handles. There is the whole crew of Indie authors (many who have been picked up by publishers) who are getting their books into Target and Walmart.

Lesson Learned: MAKE IT EASY FOR READERS TO BUY YOUR STORIES

Price

You may or may not have control over this. However, if you are an Indie author, you have some flexibility in playing around with your book price to see what best works for your readership.

I’ve heard that a typical pricing structure for when your third book in a series is released is:

Book One:  .99 cents (or free)

Book Two:  $1.99 (on special price)

Book Three: Full price ($2.99 – $4.99)

The trend in reading is to give the first book away “free”. I just remember a discussion my team had with a former Vice President of Marketing about free=cheapening your brand. That anything labeled free subtly suggests it’s not “worth” spending money on.

That said, it seems like more authors than not are offering their work for free in the hopes of hooking a reader through their writing. It makes sense.

So never say never.

Lesson Learned:  PAY ATTENTION See if in offering your book at a lower price/free affects interest in your other books.

Promotion

When and how are you going to read your target readership? How are other successful authors with the same readership promoting their work?

It is hard to measure promotional success as there are a lot of factors feeding into why a reader buys a book the very moment they buy it. In my opinion, it all boils down to this:

High Visibility/Buzz is the key.book buzz

The more visible/discussion about your book is on multiple platforms, the better. Remember, it takes the average person three times to see something they might want to actually buying it.

I found this interesting link on purchasing decisions that is worth taking a peek at: 9-things-to-know-about-influencing-purchasing-decisions/

Reviewers/Reviews: Make a list of reviewers you think might like your work and/or have readers on their blogs who might like your work. Target those reviewers, offering them an advance copy along with a blurb and synopsis.

Facebook Ads – see my experience above

Blog posts – Try and target the major blogs (HEA, RT, etc.) Blog tours tend to be a time suck.

Join forces with other authors – This worked out really well for my second release, Tap Out. Five other sports authors and I wrote joint blogs and promotional blitz pieces for our books. (We had similar release dates, which helped.) We were approached by major reviewers to do a themed post, which was both fun and I think interesting to the reader.

Tweets/Facebook Posts/Goodreads blog post – Have a team of people who will help you get the word out. I am fortunate to have another author who actually writes the tweet posts for me (and other authors published with my publisher). Every week, we’ll tweet in support of each other’s work.

LESSON LEARNED: GET THE WORD OUT

Planning

Yes, you need a plan, especially if you have more than one book releasing/released. Most marketers will use a good ol’ fashioned calendar. Write in the release date of your book then backtrack. What kind of promotion are you planning on doing? Fill it in. What events are you attending? Fill it in.

The greatest feature in Facebook and Twitter is the SCHEDULE POST option. You can write short promotional clips ahead of time and schedule exactly when you want them released.

I sit down (per my publisher’s instructionsJ) and complete a few pages of text I want to release. Remember, you are not selling your books, but your brand. So make sure you include tidbits about yourself, what inspires you, what you find funny or interesting.

LESSON LEARNED: ADVANCE PREPARATION HELPS.

Remember, the 4 (plus 1) P’s of marketing the next time you put on your author-now-in-the-know hat!

Violet Femmes: Our Favorite Books of 2014

One of the best ways to discover a great book is to hear it recommended by a friend or acquaintance. The Violet Femmes read quite a bit between us, so I thought it would be fun to take a look back at our two favorite non-Femme books of 2014. (Shameless Plug: If you want to check out the Femmes releases, visit this page.)

Note: not all of these are 2014 releases. The requirement was just that it was a book we read this year.

Maria K. Alexander

Unleashed by Rachel Lacey (Contemporary Romance)
919ZQu3kEtL._SL1500_This is the first book by debut author, Rachel Lacey. I met Rachel at RWA Nationals in San Antonio and found her to be sweet and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the craziness of a publishing house book giveaway. Cara Medlen fosters rescue dogs and gets into trouble with neighbors and potentially the law when she tries to save one too many. Matt Dumont is Cara’s mysterious and sexy PI neighbor who will be leaving town to return to his hometown once he wraps up one final case. Although the timing is off, he gets caught up in helping Cara in her rescue attempts and ends up getting more attached than intended. It’s a light and fun story. There are several funny moments with the animals plus a sexy hero with a good amount of chemistry.

One in a Million by Jill Shalvis (Contemporary Romance)
811e1s176uL._SL1500_I couldn’t end the year without geeking out a little about Ms. Shalvis. I love her books and this series. This is book #12 in the Lucky Harbor series, which, sadly may be the last. Callie Sharpe is a virtual wedding planner who has set up shop in Lucky Harbor to keep tabs on her grandmother. She moves into an old warehouse that’s near the dock where her high school crush works. Tanner Riggs is co-owner of Lucky Harbor charters with a lot of baggage. He’s trying to build a relationship with his teenage son and is drawn to the sexy-but-slightly hot mess of a woman he used to go to high school with.


RoseAnn DeFranco

Tempt Me, Cowboy by Megan Crane (Contemporary Romance)
817qgQ2465L._SL1500_This is a novella from Copper Mountain Rodeo, Book 1. I’m not normally one to read cowboys or novellas. This was sent to me as a judge in the RITA’s and I loved it. Expertly written with emotion, depth and humor. Jasper and Chelsea (I LOVED his nickname for her) were so well drawn and REAL. I loved everything about their romance from their first meeting to their final moments and everything in-between. The chemistry between them was FAN-MYSELF-HOT without needing to be graphic. I don’t normally read stories this length and was surprised to find such a complete and compelling story in a novella. This story stayed will me long after I completed it, prompting me to look for more books by Megan Crane. I’m forward to reading all the installments in the anthology.

Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott (Young Adult)
71XodsusQtL._SL1000_This book was published back in 2010. I stumbled upon it at my favorite secondhand bookstore, Booktrader. Years ago I read another book by Scott call Bloom. That book, and her writing style, stayed with me so I decided to give Perfect You a try. I’m so glad I did. I found the cast of characters and set up unique. While there is a romance, there is so much more to this book than boy meets girl. Kate’s life is crumbling around her. Her family is falling apart financially and emotionally due to the inability to communicate and selfishness. I found the relationship dynamics unique. I also enjoyed watching Kate learn to communicate/extend a hand in order to move beyond/learn from her circumstances and discover not to always believe everything you hear.


Tina Gabrielle

When the Duke was Wicked by Lorraine Heath (Historical Romance)
91mFOlATfXL._SL1500_I loved this book. Lady Grace looks like she has it all. She’s beautiful, her father is a duke, and she has the largest dowry of the Season. But she’s hiding an “imperfection,” and she wants to make certain any suitor truly loves her and not her dowry. In comes the handsome Duke of Lovington, a notorious rogue, and long-time family friend of Grace’s. He agrees to help Grace find a proper husband who loves her by teaching her how to look out for scoundrels like himself. Soon the attraction between Grace and Lovington sizzles and they have to take a chance on love.

Edge of Sanity by Shannon K. Butcher (Contemporary Suspense)
51NNhz1VBkLThis was a faced paced, exciting read. Clay Marshall works for a private security firm called the Edge. But Clay has been having blackouts and when he wakes, he’s covered in blood with no memory of what happened. He goes like this for a while until he has no choice but to accept the help of Leigh Vaughn, a beautiful doctor. They soon learn that Clay is being used in a horrific experiment as an assassin. Despite everything, the attraction between them is undeniable and strong. The pace quickens as they try to stop a deadly villain and save themselves.


Michele Mannon

Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles (New Adult)
51qLFWlrmHLA heroine who plays football. A new, bad boy stepbrother who gets thrown out of boarding school for a prank and ends up moving in with her. And author Simone Elkeles perfect characterization make this my favorite New Adult/YA read of the year.

 

The Professional by Kresley Cole (New Adult/Erotic Contemporary)
81SNEvcmTlL._SL1500_What’s not to love about a book that features a big brute of a Russian hero named Aleksandr “The Siberian” Sevastyan, who is so damn hot, he positively jumps off the pages? The heroine is on a quest to find her birth parents and ends up in a Russian palace where her father rules as mob boss. His employee, Sevastayan, assumes the role of her protector. And protect her he does, along with seducing her over and over again. If you like spicy, this book will blow your socks off. Kresley Cole is a phenomenal writer and she holds nothing back.


Diana Quincy

Why Kings Confess (A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Book, Book 9 by C.S. Harris (Historical Mystery)
91UzdINYwPL._SL1500_This is the ninth book in the series, which came out this year, and I devoured the first eight as well. The stories center on Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, heir to an earldom, disillusioned army officer, and a man with a very tangled personal life, who happens to investigate murders. Harris creates a compelling hero, there is more than one heroine, and the supporting cast is also excellent. The writing is splendid — intelligent and thoughtful. C.S. Harris is now on my auto-buy list.

Murder in Grosvenor Square (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries, Book 9) by Ashley Gardner (aka Jennifer Ashley) (Historical Mystery)
91MXHIG07ML._SL1500_I’ve read and enjoyed Jennifer Ashley’s historical romances but I am obsessed with her Captain Lacey series. Book 9 came out this year but I also read all of the other books in the series in 2014. Like Devlin, Captain Gabriel Lacey is also a former army officer, but unlike the viscount, he has no fortune to fall back on. He lives a sparse lifestyle as he mingles with compelling characters from all walks of life — from Seven Dials all the way up to the top of the ton. As Ashley Gardner, the author’s writing is even richer and more evocative, with compelling historical details that make this series a pleasure to read. Here again is an excellent supporting cast that we enjoy visiting with in each book.


Jaye Marie Rome

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Fiction)
51eYKU4NgsLThis book is a fictionalized account of Hadley Richardson’s marriage to Ernest Hemingway, and their years in Paris. Hadley, in her late twenties, is doomed to be an old maid until she meets and is swept away by Ernest. Flamboyant, fun, handsome and game for anything, Ernest convinces Hadley that Paris is the place to be in order for his writing to really take off. Paris in the 1920’s is where all the great writers, including Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, have all found inspiration and success.

But success doesn’t just fall at your feet. As volatile Ernest battles to find a foothold with his writing and his voice, Hadley also struggles to figure out just where she fits in. Independent, but still trying to uphold society’s expectations of a “good wife”, she fights desperately to hold onto her marriage and the incomparable man she loves.

Marrying Daisy Bellamy by Susan Wiggs (Contemporary Romance)
512hWUb8D7LWedding photographer Daisy Bellamy had loved juvenile delinquent Julian Gastineaux since high school, when they had met one summer at her family’s camp on Willow Lake in Upstate New York. After he returned home to California, they kept in touch through letters and phone calls. But life goes on, and Julian went to college on an ROTC scholarship, while Daisy had a child with a boy with whom she’d shared a drunken one-night-stand.

Now a single mom, Daisy is raising her son, Charlie while trying to build her wedding photography business. Charlie’s dad, Logan, stable and upstanding, wants them to be a family, but Daisy knows her heart is with Julian. Against all odds, he is now an officer in the Air Force, and he wants to marry her. Their time has finally come…until Julian is deployed and he goes missing. Presumed dead, Daisy has to make the choice to move on with her life and do what is best for her, and for Charlie.
As with most things in life, what seems to be the best thing can turn out to be the most costly mistake.


JB Schroeder

Written In My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander Series #8) by Diana Gabaldon (Historical Fiction)
918OYjCHAXL._SL1500_What can I say? The eight book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is just as amazing as earlier books. After all this time, I am still completely enthralled with Jamie and Claire and their relationship, and I so enjoyed following Brianna and Roger more this go round. Also really coming into his own (finally) is William. I love the realistic peek into our nation’s history (what research must have gone into each of Gabaldon’s books!), and am simply in awe of how well Gabaldon handles it all. Stellar.

My Lady, My Lord by Katharine Ashe (Historical Romance)
81smHjItcHL._SL1500_One of the most refreshing historicals I’ve read in a while, due to the super-fun twist element in this book. I absolutely adored this. It was both laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenching, depending. Beautifully written and entirely delightful, I tore right through it!


Joanna Shupe

Lead by Kylie Scott (Erotic Contemporary Romance)
81pip68IyiL._SL1500_This is definitely in my top 5 contemporary romances of all time. Misunderstood jerk hero…who has a dark past…who happens to be a rock star? Oh yes, please. This is told in the heroine’s first-person POV, and I loved her voice. She’s sassy and strong, which is why she’s perfect as his sobriety companion, a person hired to live with him and keep him on the straight and narrow. We saw Jimmy unravel in books 1 & 2 of this series, so it was nice to see him get his act (somewhat) together in book 3. This was my 2014 crack and comfort read rolled into one.

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles (Male/Male Historical Paranormal Romance)
81y9zsqL95L._SL1500_First let me say that paranormal is not my thing, so I was initially hesitant about this series. But the writing is so strong and the characters so sharply developed that I was hooked. I loved this story about an exiled earl returning from the Orient and a Magician who fights evil in the Victorian underworld. Both are likable yet flawed in their own ways. The romance sizzles and I laughed out loud at several points. It was unexpected and fresh and everything I love in a story.


 

Now tell us, what were YOUR favorite stories of 2014??

One lucky commenter will win an official VIOLET FEMMES MUG! We’ll announce the winner next week.

Evening Social

This past weekend, all eight of us got to hang out together at the annual New Jersey Romance Writers Conference. Since our little group was formed three years ago at this event, we decided to commemorate the occasion with a little soiree, which we called The Violet Femmes’ Ditch the Heels Evening Social.

Diana reserved a suite, and all of us took on some part of the preparations, including (lots of) wine, chocolate, snacks, and soft drinks. Joanna set up a Facebook invitation. JB designed a small invitation that we circulated to everyone we came in contact with at the conference. We hung violet party decorations, poured the wine, plated the snacks, and waited for our guests to arrive after the Put Your Heart in a Book and Golden Leaf Awards ceremony.

We really had no idea how many people were going to show up. Some had RSVP’d online, but there was word-of-mouth and onsite information available, too. Did we have enough wine and snacks? What if nobody showed?

We certainly needn’t have worried about the latter. Here are some pictures of our gathering:

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JB caught up with Romantic Suspense Author Mary Burton

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Jaye and Joanna

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Shirley Hailstock makes her point.

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Michele, Tina and guest

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Elizabeth John and Maria have a laugh

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Joanna and Amy DeLuca

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We had a wonderful time visiting with all of our guests, and we could have gone on all night. However, we had put a ten o’clock end time on the invitation, since we wanted to be considerate of the people staying in the rooms adjacent to our suite. As it turned out, that was a smart move. A couple of British Airways pilots (with sexy accents!) were staying next door before flying back out in the morning. Those pilots needed their sleep. We didn’t want them crashing any planes.

Of course we hoped to get something out of hosting the party, although we didn’t want it to be an occasion to plug our own books. Mostly, we wanted to meet other authors, hang out with old friends, and raise the visibility of our blog. Sharing time with other authors, swapping stories and offering up support is what makes the romance community so unique. Screenwriter Michael Hauge has remarked that there is no other writing community that is as generous with our knowledge as romance writers, and we Femmes agree.

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Were you able to attend our party? Give us a shout-out and let us know!

 

Hugs,

Jaye

 

Identity Crisis: Changing Pen Names

©Igor Borodin, via Bigstock

©Igor Borodin, via Bigstock

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I’ve recently changed my pen name despite the fact that I’ve spent the last few years trying to make Jenna Blue mine… Crazy, right?

Oh, it is, though I didn’t take the decision lightly. First, beyond the practicalities of switching everything over, and the extra effort to re-build a brand, if you will, I chose Jenna Blue for a good reason. It had meaning to me. Unfortunately, it meant something entirely different to most everyone else hearing it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many people respond “that sounds like a porn star name.” Uh, really? Why? Crystal or Amber, it is not. I brushed off that same reaction over and over, thinking hey, all stage names and pseudonyms sound weird, until suddenly they don’t. If you manage to become successful enough, the name loses any other connotation but yours, right? Still, concern took root. My stories aren’t exactly sweet, but if readers are expecting erotica, they will be disappointed.

In the meanwhile, I’ve become friends with a fantastic suspense author named AJ Scudiere (ReadAJS.com) who, after an accidental experiment, discovered that a less feminine-sounding name got a far better response from agents representing her genre. No kidding—in this day and age. Lesson learned, however: perceptions do matter in this business. We talk and talk about branding, right? From book covers to your online platform, you need a consistent message. Readers want to know what to expect…and you guessed it, the first clue you give them is your name.

Currently, I write romantic suspense (RS), although my stories don’t fit into the tidy corners of that genre’s usual box. Also, my writing has been repeatedly called out as gritty. That word isn’t, perhaps, quite right, but there is a weight or a heft—maybe a gash torn from that expected cube—that speaks to both my voice and my subject matter. I am, I feel, writing RS with some women’s fiction in the mix. But even my contemporary romances—when I get to them—will still have my voice. Hmmnn. Jenna Blue was feeling more and more wrong.

Two other practical problems presented themselves in the meanwhile. First, another author has come onto the scene in other romance: Jenna Black. Yep, dang my slow start, her name is a little too similar for comfort—both for her sake and mine. Even more important, however, is my day job. I design as Julie Schroeder. But I’m not on social media that way—only Linked In, which I prefer to reserve solely for graphic design work. Nearly everything else was under Jenna Blue. Pleased authors who wanted to say thanks had to tweet with my Jenna Blue handle…uh, oh. How to grow a business when you aren’t easily findable, when you’ve made your multiple identities rather too separate? Yet, doubling my social media obligations simply wasn’t an option either.

I considered just using my real name for everything, as I’m sure anybody who really wants to find you, can, but while I was debating, someone close to me plastered a picture of me—one I hate, and not remotely recent (yes, I’d rather look current than young)—on facebook. And I realized by my swift, horrified, and somewhat unreasonable reaction, that retaining control of my online author persona, was important. I needed, for myself and my family, a level of separation, no matter how sheer. And yet, my names needed to be close enough, to allow both halves of my life to work together.

After much thought, I settled on JB Schroeder. Beyond the sense that it has a more appropriate feel for what I write (yes, audience?), I also thought I just might be able to answer to it. I still don’t even blink when someone says Jenna. There are a few people who do occasionally call me JB (my initials once upon a time), so it’s not like it doesn’t have meaning and history for me.

Still—submissions pending, contests entered—I had to wait. What if I wiped out Jenna Blue and one of those editors or judges decided to check out my presence online? Finally, when I made a decision to switch tracks on my writing career, the time was right to bring JB Schroeder to life. My apologies for the confusion in the meanwhile. And if you’ve got a pseudonym story of your own, we Femmes would love to hear it.

JB Schroeder
JulieSchroederDesigns.com

Romance Writers And Our Infatuation With ‘Outlander’

Several years ago, I attempted to read Outlander. Do I dare admit that after the first twenty or so pages, I abandoned it? Gasp!!!  Time travel, fantasy and straight historical novels aren’t at the top of my preferred genre reading list. Even Diana Gabaldon describes her work as a multi-genre bending series. Not romance. No siree. And boy, do I love a good romantic plot line.The Outlander

When I expressed to several romance writers how it hadn’t snagged my attention, every single writer said the same thing, that Outlander is by far one of their favorite books.

What? Um…why? It’s not even a romance, right?

Two years later, my ah-ha moment arrived. Not only did I read past the first twenty pages but I fanatically consumed the entire novel in one continuous reading. The more I read, the more the story drew me in.

So why are romance writers infatuated with Outlander?

Jamie Fraser

JamieOh. My. Word. Talk about a romantic hero. He’s loyal to his family and willing to place his pride, his body, his freedom on the line for them. He’s complex, a mixture of a wounded warrior, an Alpha hero ready to fight, and a Beta hero who allows his uncles to “use” him. He’s stubborn, funny and uses sexy-as-hell Scottish words. He’s such a man. And, he’s a virgin. I suppose what I love best about him is how he connects with the heroine Claire. Physically, oh-yeah! But it’s the deeper, emotional connection that evolves between them that is truly romantic.

Claire Randall

She’s a historical heroine from two time periods with two husbands. A multifaceted heroine struggling between two worlds, Clairetwo men, two choices. But of course, every single woman alive is routing that she’ll choose Jamie, right? Yep. A younger man compared to her worldly experience. A cougar. But she’s exactly what such a strong, dominant hero like Jamie needs. There’s substance to Claire, she’s intelligent, a healer who knows how to conduct herself in difficult situations—which she finds herself in constantly.

Sex. Sex. Sex.

Yes, there’s plenty of it. It’s hot, steamy, well done and unexpected. He’s a virgin, she’s the experienced one. They’re married. But Jamie takes to sex just like he takes to everything else—he does it full-force and commits 100%. He desires Claire and isn’t shy about showing it. And, sex isn’t just an act. It’s an extension of their relationship. It’s a way they get to know each other and a means for growing closer. It’s passionate. Honest to the characters. And downright romantic.

Outlander 2

Scotland

Highland warriors. Endearing Gaelic terms like Sassenach, mo chridhe, mo nighean donn – yummy descriptive words Jamie whispers to Claire. Lochs and castles, fights and sexual encounters on rocks. The setting is a character in itself. It’s no wonder so many historical romances are highlander stories!

I hope I’ve covered several reasons why Outlander is a favorite amongst romance writers.

Please comment and add your own!

Anatomy of a Romance Cover

Authors, who tend to have little control over how their books are packaged and presented to readers, often complain that the covers of historical romance novels tend to be too generic, neglecting to capture what’s unique about the content in the pages behind the cover.

I’ve been very lucky with the covers that have come from my publisher. I absolutely love the cover for Tempting Bella, my second book, which features a wedding dress.  And once I heard that naked man chest outsells other covers by a rate of 10 to 1, I asked to test out that theory for Engaging the Earl, my fourth book.  I also wanted Earl to have the same  look and feel as Bella and was pleased with the result.

Tempting Bella-Engaging the Earl

When I decided to self-publish my fifth title, the opportunity to have complete control over the book’s final look was both daunting and exciting. I turned to Carrie at Seductive Designs for guidance.

Since Spy Fall features a parachuting heroine who also pilots hot air balloons, I very much wanted Mari’s unique profession to feature prominently on the cover. I happily scoured stock photo sites for images of a cover couple and hot air balloon. I came up with the perfect images, which turned out not to be so perfect. In the end, I happily dumped my first choices for the photos Carrie suggested and the result is a cover I adore.

Spy Fall (final) 800 @ 72 dpi low res

But, getting to this final look took some work. And I’ve asked Carrie to tell us a little bit about what went into it.

Carrie: The look of Spy Fall started with Diana’s request to have a really great “S” for the word Spy.  That was the one thing that she knew she wanted to emphasize from the very start.  I think a lot of authors who haven’t had a cover designed for them before are surprised at how important the fonts of the text are to create a cover that gives the right impression. 
I initially chose the couple and background in the middle sample. But once I saw it laid out, I went for the look on the far right, which Carrie went on to refine.

Diana initially chose the couple and background in the middle sample. But once she saw it laid out, Diana went for the look on the far right, which Carrie went on to refine.

You can see from these initial samples that the text of the cover didn’t vary much from beginning to end. Which is actually pretty unusual, but I had a vision of how I wanted it to look overall and it worked (which doesn’t always happen).We didn’t really know what images we were going to use, but I had a pretty good idea of the fonts that I thought would work well for the title as well as for Diana’s name, and where we were going to place all of the text.

We finally decided on the couple in #3 because of the connection between the two models. It’s intimate and touching and the female model plays a very dominant role in the image. She seems strong, yet vulnerable and protected by her hero at the same time which was perfect for our lady Spy. I love that the couple plays such a strong role on the cover, and the beautiful blue greens of the sea that evoke the danger and turbulence that our heroine faces.

While the colors are vibrant we kept the color palette fairly simple so as not to overwhelm you with too much too look at. By keeping to blues, greens and yellows, it let’s you really focus on what’s important, the couple, the hot air balloon and the text. It doesn’t try to visually represent all aspects of the story, just the most important ones.

There are a lot of little things that make the design work, but I don’t think you want me to get into the minutiae…like how the slope of the coastline leads into the fall of her dress and how they are holding hands. Or that the line of their heads angle down to the hot air balloon parallel to the coastline. And that the “action” of the cover reads left to right. It starts high on the left and angles down to the right. That’s not a happy accident, it’s deliberate. Little things like that that you probably didn’t notice, but when you see it it’s pleasing to the eye. Your brain likes it, even if you don’t know why 🙂

In the end it’s a combination of aesthetics, color, finding and personalizing the right images to fit the story, and maybe one or two happy accidents in addition to careful planning and communication between Diana and myself. I’m just thrilled that the cover is being received well, and that Diana loves it and how it represents her story. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into making a cover that readers will find appealing.

Diana: What makes a good cover?

Carrie: I think the best way to try to explain it is by giving you some comparisons. First, let’s take two different covers that were released within weeks of each other for the same author, Janice Kay Johnson, in the Romantic Suspense genre. Janice is a RITA-award winning author of more than 80 books, most of which are with Harlequin, and she’s now starting to self publish some of her books herself.

I created a cover for Janice’s new series, Shroud of Fog is the first, and another cover artist created a cover for another of her romantic suspense novels, Dangerous Waters. They were released within weeks of each other. Same genre, same author…totally different sales. I don’t know the full sales history of either book, but I do occasionally check books that I’ve created covers for to see how they are selling compared to an author’s other books, and against their competition.

Shroud of Fog was released Jan. 31, 2014 and is currently ranked 17,918 in Kindle sales. It’s seemed to have steady sales from the get to. Maybe not NYT bestseller list sales, but it has sold well for the author. Dangerous Waters was released Jan. 17, 2014 and is currently ranked 224,509 in Kindle sales. That’s a dramatic difference in sales for books by the same author in the same genre in the same time frame. True, not all books are received the same, but neither book has many reviews so I don’t know that you can say that one book is necessarily better than the other…at least not based on reviews. So you could say that the cover design might be driving sales up for one, and down for another (this is just a theory).

shroud of fog-dangerous waters copy
Let’s take a look at Dangerous Waters first. The book description describes a couple attracted to each other while on the run, desperate, and in danger. So a woman looking over her shoulder makes sense. It’s set in a small town where the heroine rescues the hero in a lake at twilight so the lake makes sense. I think where this cover goes wrong is that the heroine is made less important than the lake. She’s almost like a ghost in the water. And while the blues and oranges are bright colors the landscape isn’t appealing enough to have the most important role in the cover imagery. The cover artist used fonts that were easily readable, which is good, but dark letters on a dark background don’t stand out well when you are browsing titles at a small scale. We have three things that don’t really work well together. The woman is hard to see when the cover is small, the text is hard to read when the cover is too small, and the landscape picture that dominates the cover isn’t as appealing as it should be. These three things combined work against this book (at least IMO).

Now let’s take a look at Shroud of Fog. The book description describes a woman seeking refuge, a killer threatened to be exposed and a wounded hero trying to protect the woman that he’s come to love. It was important to both the author and me to find a couple that gave the impression of love and tenderness. With the woman resting her head on the man’s shoulder and his hand caressing her cheek, you are visually connected to the hero protecting the woman and their blossoming love. And since the author’s books aren’t explicit romances, neither is the image.

Next we wanted to portray that sense of danger, and what could be more creepy than a shadowy figure in the woods? The sense of danger is just as important as the love story since it’s a romantic suspense novel, so they occupy equal space and are given equal importance on the cover. The colors are deliberately muted so that it’s more about the imagery than about the color. Sometimes color can work for you, and sometimes it can work against you. In this instance, I think it gave it a more misty, scary quality that ties in with the title Shroud of Fog. The fonts are also bigger so that they can be more easily read at smaller scales.

It’s interesting to see a comparison like this for a well-seasoned author where you would think a cover wouldn’t matter as much, but clearly it does. I think a great cover will help tell the author’s story visually using the most compelling elements. Keep it simple, make sure it’s easily legible, and hopefully is the best version of the author’s vision for her story.

Diana: Your second example involves a cover you revamped… 

Carrie:  It’s a cover for an author who wanted a book cover redesigned. One was designed by another cover artist, and then the author approached me about redesigning the cover using the same imagery. What kind of difference can there be if you use the same image on a cover? A LOT!

 
a measured risk
The hero in this book is a dominant male so the first thing I did was flip the image from having him on the right, to having him on the left. Visually the hero is going to seem more dominant subconsciously when on the left. The second thing I had to address were the details like her hair and dress. These were recolored to fit the story, but in the first version, all of the detail of her hair was lost when changing it from honey blond to black. Trust me when I say details like this can be tedious, time-consuming work, but when you get it wrong, you notice that it’s not right.
 
One of the best compliments that I can get is that you don’t notice all of the changes that have been made to stock images to personalize it to the author’s story. However, the biggest flaw in the previous version is the background. It overpowers the entire cover. The background has the same kind of visual importance as the main couple, in fact it fights for dominance…and when you have an alpha hero like the one in this story, that’s not what you want. We’ve got a beautiful male model to work with so why would we want to overpower his presence with a very busy background? It’s called a background/backdrop for a reason. It should compliment rather than distract.
 
Finally, I changed the fonts and the placement of the text. The author has a very long last name so placement can be tricky, and by placing her name in the center of the cover, which usually lends the name more importance, it actually kind of gets lost because of all of the visual busyness at the top. So even though her name is now at the bottom, and one of the last things you might see, it is more prominent. Using a different font, and emphasizing the work “Risk” (which carries through the rest of the series) for the title completed the new look. Same image, two totally different looks.

After the author switched out the cover image her sales immediately shot up to a level that she had never seen before (according to an email she sent me). I was very happy that the new cover did it’s job and helped readers find a lovely love story.

You can ask 10 different people and probably get 10 different answers. A good cover is somewhat subjective, but by keeping it simple, stunning and legible, you can never go wrong.

Diana: What covers are you loving right now?

Carrie: I personally tend to be drawn to a more artistic-looking cover that is both beautiful and striking. Some of my newest favorites are Grace Burrowes’ Captive Hearts series.  I love the colors, the flowing fabrics…everything about them speaks to the designer and romance reader in me. I think they are just STUNNING (and I’m sure cost a pretty penny, too). 

 captive_295w-274x450
 

Interview with a Conference Attendee

This July, I attended the annual RWA Writers Conference with Violet Femmes Maria K. Alexander and Tina Gabrielle.

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I thought it might be useful to share my experience with you. And, to make the information more interesting, it’s written as a Q&A.

Hope these golden nuggets are helpful to you.

Conferences can be expensive. What makes attending one worth the expense?

First, pick you conferences wisely. RWA is on a national level so that in itself makes it worth it. Another conference I always attend is my home chapter’s – New Jersey Romance Writers.

Meeting face to face editors, agents, industry professionals and writers, of course, is an invaluable opportunity. And you can fan girl over famous authors, which is always fun!

Also, conferences inspire your muse. Where else can you talk books 24/7, how characters have you pulling off the roadways because they’re talking to you, without people thinking you’re out of your mind?

Book signing. I still get excited thinking about my first official signing, all for a good cause. It’s a great way to interact with readers and fellow authors.

Networking. Fast and furious. So many people to meet, so little time. But I’ll tell you a secret. Do you know how the Violet Femmes formed? Yep, from meeting up at a conference.

What was the highlight of this year’s RWA conference?

There were so many highlights but I have to go with the Cowboys.

Like the Dallas Cowboys?

No. Um…Giant fan. I’m talking about the six-foot-three hunks Maria forced me to take a picture with.

San Antonio RWA 2014

This was a terrific promotional idea hosted by Amazon Kindle Love Stories – which is in the footnote and background of every photo. Branding, anyone?

What did you learn from the workshops attended?

Maria is better equipped to answer this question as I attended so few. Two workshops, though, were very informative.

In How To Make $100, 000 By Self Publishing, three authors discussed how they promote their work (which even a traditionally published author can benefit from knowing). Series sell with three being the magic number. Know your audience and play around with pricing to see what works best for your series. Bookbub works (which I can personally attest to). And if you have a series, put your first book free or at .99 cents when the third is released. Build your brand across books and your author name.

And, you need to produce. Be prolific and write write write. It’s important to give readers immediate access to all your books. The more, the better.

In New Adult Marketing, I learned an interesting and important statistic on ebook versus print sales. 80% of New Adult books sales are digital versus the 70% ebook versus print sales. And YA? Only 10% is ebook sales. This says a lot about who is reading what, and how they are ready it.

Who did you meet and why are you excited about meeting them?
Again, the conference was a terrific opportunity to meet up with fellow authors. In April, Kate Willoughby, Kat Latham, and Rhonda Shaw celebrated a Carina Press co-book release date (along with Rebecca Crowley and Allison Parr.) We’d never met but collaborated so well. I learned so much from them. The conference was a great opportunity to meet up, given we live in different states (and countries).

I reconnected with Claudia Connor whose debut is coming out from Random House in September. It’s hot! Check it out on Amazon: Worth the Fall. Claudia and I did the contest circuit together. And, btw, she had a presidential suite at the conference…which may or may not have been next to Nora’s.

Historical author and fellow Carina author, Anabelle Bryant was a hoot. She really inspired me with her knowledge and creativity. You should check her out; she shared story ideas over lunch and wow, she’s got a plathora of interesting historical twists!

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Finally, I had a fan girl moment with New York Times Bestselling author, Joan Johnston. Fifty-six books and she is still prolific. She had terrific insight on the publishing industry which she so generously shared.

As you can see:  Networking. Networking. Networking.

Summarize your RWA conference experience in three words.

Network. Learn. Enjoy the company.