Writing Resolutions for 2018 and Tips to Achieve Them

2018 crept up on me this year, and I haven’t made any writing resolutions yet. I was on the home stretch of my latest book through the last few months of 2017, and I was completely focused on finishing that. I did (yay!) and now I’m sure revisions will have to go on my writing goals list, when I get around to making it! I’ve been seeing a lot of 2018 writing goals on Twitter, and it got me thinking about my best tips for some of the most common ones. And so, voila!

Goal: Write a book / Finish a Work-In-Progress

Maybe you’re always working on something, but some of your projects are stuck in limbo, half-finished but not forgotten. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned writer with a few completed books, but this particular WIP is dragging, or you have an ambitious deadline. These three tips might be helpful for either scenario.

Dedicate time to work on it

You know your schedule, so pick the best time for you to be productive and focused. It doesn’t need to be a long stretch; you might do better with 3 fifteen-minute sessions through the day than a single, long one. And yes, fifteen minutes is acceptable if it’s all you can do – every bit counts. I get the bulk of my writing done right before bed, because I like writing at night and I can focus better when everything else for the day is done. Mornings or lunch breaks might be better for you. Whatever time it is that you choose, focus on writing for that time. Even if you only write ten words, it’s still progress.

Get competitive

I joined a NaNoWriMo group last year, for the first time, and it was an amazing experience. We were more of a supportive than competitive group, but I loved it when I could share that I’d made my goal, rather than admitting I hadn’t. I had a fair share of both days, but overall November became an extremely productive month for me. It was comforting knowing that I wasn’t alone with my word count struggles.

If this appeals to you, join a year-round writing group – even a casual one, like Twitter’s #5AMWritersClub – or see if a couple of writing friends want to join. If your schedules match up, sometimes it’s fun to pair up with a friend and each focus intensely on writing for the same amount of time (probably just a half hour stretch) and see how many words you can get out. Then you can congratulate or commiserate with one another.

Set specific goals

It’s a lot easier to focus on a goal like, ‘draft cat disaster scene’ than it is to stay on track with one like, ‘finish the entire book before year end’. Plus, if you’re like me, you love checking things off your to-do list, and having a greater number of shorter goals means more of that great feeling of marking them complete. (I write my weekly writing goals on a white board behind my desk, mostly for the pure joy of checking them off). Keep them reasonable, too. Maybe you can only edit one chapter this week because of other ‘real life’ commitments, but the next week you can spare a bit more time for an extra 1,000 words.

If you’ve got multiple projects on the go, having specific goals can also help you keep track of them so you aren’t surprised by a half-forgotten deadline.

I’d like to write at this desk! Or just daydream for hours…Photo by antonychammond on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Goal: Challenge yourself to grow as a writer / Write something new or scary

No, I don’t mean you have to write a horror – although that could be fun! Maybe you’ve been writing secretly for years, but you never show your words to anyone. What if you changed that, at least once? Perhaps you’re safely ensconced in a writing routine with your favourite genre, and you’ve pretty much become an expert in it. What if you tried something new, even if it’s just a piece of flash fiction or a personal essay? I’d been writing so much historical that I fell in love with flash fiction last year – partly because of the challenge of keeping it short, but also because for some reason my flash fictions are almost never historical.

One of my writing challenges this year is to let go, at least partially, of my beloved first-person narrative and try something with third person. I also haven’t used multiple POV very much, and I think it’s about time I did.

To be honest, this post is a actually bit of a challenge. Even though I’ve been doing this blog for almost five years (!) and I’ve got a book published, I still sometimes feel like a fraud when I give writing advice. Imposter Syndrome is real, but also silly. If you write, you’re writer. There’s not a 17-step initiation full of dangerous trials (although that might be an interesting plot for a taut but nerdy thriller…)

Photo on VisualHunt.com

Goal: Get published

This is a big goal for lots of writers, and there are lots of roads to success. Getting a book deal with a traditional publisher can take a while, especially if you need to find an agent first, but that makes it a perfect goal to break down into specific steps. And there are lots of roads to publication. Maybe you want to submit a short story to some fiction contests, or submit an article to your favourite online magazine. It doesn’t have to be straight to having a full-length book published.

Goal: Get rejected

This could be controversial as a goal and I have not seen anyone list this, but I think it’s important, especially for writers who are new to sharing their work. First, it ties into challenging yourself. It’s scary entering a contest – or what if that favourite online magazine passes on your pitch? The last one happened to me. It was fine. I’m still here, still writing. Having an editor or agent pass on your project, no matter what it is, is an unavoidable part of publishing that will happen to everyone more than once. It just proves that you’re trying new things and challenging yourself. Plus, this is probably the easiest goal on the list to achieve! Then you can pat yourself on the back and have a drink.

Lastly, this Writer Unboxed post has some more great writing lessons for 2018 if you’re feeling inspired or looking for writing ideas. Happy Writing in 2018!


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Book Addiction: The Lost Season of Love and Snow

Jennifer Laam is a special guest on my blog today to answer some questions about her latest historical novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snowset in 1800s Russia. And to celebrate her fabulous book and kick off 2018, we’ve got a giveaway! To enter, you can comment on the Facebook contest post, or Retweet the contest post on Twitter. And if you don’t have an account, just comment here on the blog. This giveaway is open until Saturday, January 6th (US and Canada only, sorry).

Jennifer Laam’s latest is a beautiful, nuanced portrayal of a woman whose reputation through history hasn’t been kind. Natalya Goncharova, wife of famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, is often blamed for his death in a duel. The Lost Season of Love and Snow paints a more sympathetic, realistic depiction of her as a complex person caught between politics and personal relationships. Her romance with creative, rebellious Alexander is passionate and often turbulent, and their scenes together light up the pages, making it impossible to put down. I gladly fell for Natalya within the first few pages, when I immediately related to her feelings about needing to wear glasses – and how often do we get heroines, especially historical, who wear them? I found myself thinking about the characters and their emotions and actions long after I’d read to the visceral conclusion. Highly recommended!

What was your inspiration for The Lost Season of Love and Snow?

In 1837, Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin, died after a duel fought to defend his wife’s honor. For a long time, I knew Natalya Goncharova only as that beautiful wife, but I always wanted to understand her version of the events that led to her famous husband’s death.

A few years ago, I came across several references to Natalya in the novel Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith. Let’s just say the characters in the book aren’t kind to her. At one point, she is even called “Pushkin’s whore.” There’s something intriguing about a woman with a bad reputation and I decided the time had come to learn more about Natalya. Once I did, I knew I needed to tell her story.

On another level, I felt compelled to write this book because in my view, Natalya had been mistreated in older histories told largely by men. For example, she is sometimes “accused” of being the tsar’s mistress. First of all, there is no evidence of this. Natalya may have been charming to the tsar, but if the tsar flirts with you, are you really in a position not to flirt back? Like so many women before and after her, Natalya was under tremendous pressure to please men – to be attractive and charming. And then, perversely, she was condemned for fulfilling those same expectations.

Alexander Pushkin is – very intriguingly – described as Russia’s ‘most lauded rebel poet’. Did you read much of his work while writing the novel? What poem would you recommend to others just discovering him?

While researching this book, I had the pleasure of reading several of Pushkin’s love poems. His writing definitely influenced the way I depicted Alexander and Natalya’s amorous relationship. Even though it wasn’t written for Natalya, my favorite poem is “I Loved You,” a perfect expression of enduring romantic adoration. For readers interested in Pushkin, I would also recommend two works I reference frequently in The Lost Season of Love and Snow. Eugene Onegin or Evgeny Onegin features a memorable heroine and what in retrospect seems like a prophetic duel. I also enjoy Pushkin’s epic poem The Bronze Horseman, which animates both the great flood of 1824 and St. Petersburg’s famous statue of Peter the Great and his horse.

Your novel brings Natalya Goncharova’s side of the story to life, giving the reader a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of her. What three words would you use to describe Natalya’s character?

First and foremost, Natalya was a true romantic and passionately in love with Alexander. Their relationship is the heart of my story. At the same time, she had a romantic view of the world overall, and this drew her to the beauty of the imperial court, despite the dangers that lurked therein. Secondly, Natalya was resourceful. While in a near constant struggle to stay afloat financially, she experienced the pressures incumbent in being a famous writer’s wife, expected to partake of the social life of tsarist Russia. She balanced these competing demands admirably. Finally, the way Natalya handled herself during the scandal that surrounded the duel and in the aftermath of her husband’s death speaks to her great resilience. She made a life for herself both in her marriage and afterward, even in the face of the great limitations placed on nineteenth-century women.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on this novel?

A challenge in writing historical fiction is trying to imaginatively recreate a past world. My travel budget is limited, but I’m fortunate to have wonderful local resources at my disposal, most notably the UC Davis Shields Library, which has shelves of book devoted to Alexander Pushkin. One of the pleasant surprises in writing this novel was discovering that Pushkin wrote Mozart and Salieri, the basis for the play and film Amadeus, one of my all-time favorites.

What was your favourite scene to write? 

I loved writing the scenes between Natalya and her sister, Ekaterina, particularly in the first chapter when they attend the dance master’s ball. I don’t have a sister myself, but I find the dynamics of love and rivalry between sisters fascinating. And I have to admit, it was fun to let them say the nastiest things to one another.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

The early chapters of The Lost Season of Love and Snow were written quickly and I felt so compelled to tell Natalya’s story that I truly could write anywhere and anytime. Once I was under contract, though, I knew I needed to keep myself on a strict schedule to meet my deadline. I finished the remaining chapters by working two hours each morning before my day job began, and in longer stretches on weekends.

When not under contract, I’m not someone who can stick to writing every day. I need days off to refuel. Still, I try to make my writing time a high priority, even when life gets hectic. Sometimes this means writing just a few hours each week, but at least I’m sticking with it.

If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you recommend?

Champagne! I was tempted to say a White Russian or another thematic cocktail, but champagne is meant for celebration. Alexander and Natalya’s relationship represents principles worthy of celebration: love, devotion, passion, intellectual curiosity, and creative energy.

How can we stay updated on your book news? 

Thanks for asking!

Twitter: @jenlaam

Instagram: @jenlaam  

Facebook:  Jennifer Laam  

Website: jenniferlaam.com

From the book jacket:

The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the beguiling age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. At her first public ball during the Christmas of 1828, she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya is swept up in a courtship and then a marriage full of passion but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads Alexander to defend his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, he tragically succumbs to his injuries. Natalya finds herself reviled for her perceived role in his death. In her striking new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, Jennifer Laam helps bring Natalya’s side of the story to life with vivid imagination—the compelling tale of her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court and that of her greatest love.

Author Biography:

Jennifer Laam is the author of The Secret Daughter of the TsarThe Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow, all from St. Martin’s Griffin. She is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management. Jennifer has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, and currently resides in California’s Central Valley. When she is not busy writing or reading, Jennifer spends her time obsessing over cosplay, trying new vegetarian recipes, line dancing, and spoiling cats. She works for her alma mater, University of the Pacific.

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2017 Blog Flashback

2017 was a roller coast of a year for me. My first book came out! I read part of it in front of people for the first time! I wrote most of another book and had to scrap half it and start over! (For some reason the exclamation point in that last one makes me feel better about it). I’m grateful that it was such a productive writing year though, and sometimes I can still hardly believe that there are real print copies of a story I wrote and that people actually have them in their houses. Thanks so much to everyone who has read The Wardrobe Mistress, and to everyone who stops by my blog.

Last year, I put together a 2016 blog recap, and it was kind of fun revisiting some of the random or fun posts I’d almost forgotten about, so it’s officially a tradition now. Here are my favourite posts of the year, by month.

Photo on Visualhunt.com


I put together a quiz so you can test your knowledge of troublesome turns of phrase.

I creeped myself out a little bit with this Flash Fiction

I’m still baffled that this bad decision in history was a real event


I discovered the delight of madeleines and managed to connect my adoration to literature

I wrote about belladonna and I feel like I should point that out because there’s a lot of poison in the book I’m writing now.


I rounded up a list of all the people in history who died from laughing too hard.

I made a compilation of entertaining quotes by Winston Churchill because I guess I’m not even pretending to be cool anymore.


I interviewed Crystal King about her delectably dark novel, Feast of Sorrow.

Apparently having caught the interview bug, I pretended to interview Ophelia.  (Yep, fully accepting of my nerdism by now).
PS, I still hate Hamlet


Since I spend so much (too much) time sitting at a desk, I shared some helpful stretches.

Jenni Walsh swept me away to a jazzy speakeasy with Bonnie and Clyde in Becoming Bonnie.


I went to the Historical Novel Society conference and it was the best time ever.

I wrote a Flash Fiction about a fractured family and now I’ve just realized that ‘Fractured’ would have been a better title than ‘Goodbye’.

Nina Laurin stopped by to talk about her compelling and suspenseful novel Girl Last Seen.


I wrote my favourite flash fiction piece so far.

I found out that most queens had pet dogs but one had a pet gazelle.

Photo on VisualHunt.com

I was whisked away to a beautifully dangerous fantasy world in Callie Bates’ The Waking Land.

I wrote a short story about the ‘diamond necklace affair’ that scarred Marie Antoinette’s reputation even though she was innocent (and you can still get a free copy!)


August was a busy month for blog posts because I was celebrating the publication of my debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress. 

I’ve basically got everything you ever wanted to know about Marie Antoinette (just kidding, her life was super complicated) but there’s plenty of details like: surprising facts, her musical nights with the Chevalier St. Georges, a black composer who led a fascinating life and should be more well remembered than he is, how she liked to give her friends personalized perfume, how she did not say ‘let them eat cake’,  a couple of her feuds, and why her dresses were considered scandalous and not for the cost.

Just so you’re educated in preparation for the extremely slim chance that you get whisked back in time to revolutionary France, I covered what you should wear. Full disclosure, given the choice, I would not time travel to revolutionary France.

I once again proved how obscure my sense of humour is with some affectionately mocking fake quotes from the French Revolution.

And finally, I stopped writing about France to gush over Elise Hooper’s novel The Other Alcott.


I became obsessed with the idea of moonlight gardens and I’m determined to turn my back yard into one.

I interviewed Devin Murphy about his complex historical novel The Boat Runner.

I wrote about a mayor with an extremely villainesque name whose bad decision burned up a bunch of buildings and caused an unknown number of fatalities.


I don’t want to sit next to any of these literary characters at dinner and you probably don’t either.

I love the escapism aspect of reading and found examples that physical descriptions in fiction can help transport the reader.

I shared my treasured apple cake recipe with you all as a token of my esteem.


I was lucky enough to have a group of other authors contribute to my three part ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series, with tips on submissions, publishing surprises, and advice for book signings, as well as fun stories of publication day celebrations.

Renee Dahlia stopped by to talk about her Bluestocking series, and shared some intriguing snippets.


I shared some anecdotes that should make us all grateful for modern surgical procedures.

2017 was a busy blog year, but I have to admit that my favourite blog post is still this one about foxes from last year.

So what’s going on in 2018? I’m having a lot of fun with my Flash Fiction series, so that will continue. Book Addiction will as well, and I already know a few of the amazing books I want to feature and I hope I can point some of you to a new favourite. I think Bad Decisions in History will transition to an occasional post instead of a monthly feature. I’ve been posting that one pretty regularly for two years now, and honestly it’s getting hard to come up with new topics. I might do a few more posts with advice for writers trying to get published, because there’s been some interest in the Lessons from Debut Authors series. (If this would interest you, or if you would like particular topics, let me know in the comments or by email or Twitter).

I hope you have enjoyed all 56 (!) posts of 2017. Lastly, I’m going to take this opportunity to make a small plea of my own – if you’ve read The Wardrobe Mistress, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Even if you didn’t enjoy it – I promise I won’t even read it, but reviews are so important to authors – and readers – to help new books get discovered. (An excellent thing to keep in mind for other books too!) Thank you so much to everyone who has supported my book with reviews, social media sharing, buying a copy, or just expressing interest in the fact that I even wrote one. You’ve brought the book alive and I’m so grateful.

Cheers to 2018! Stay tuned for the blog to be back on January 3rd with a special book giveaway.

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Bad Decisions in History: featuring Robert Liston

It’s not exactly news that surgery through history was very dangerous and unhygienic compared to today’s standards. In a time when germs and bacteria were poorly understood, and anesthesia was either nonexistent or in early development, needing surgery would have been a terrifying prospect. Due to the lack of anesthesia, surgeons tried to complete their surgeries as quickly as possible, and a good surgeon was considered to be one who was ‘fast with a knife.’ Indeed, in Florence Nightingale’s ‘Notes on Nursing’, she noted that the danger to the patient was in direct ratio to the time the operation lasted.

Robert Liston was a Scottish surgeon, noted for his lightning quick surgical abilities. In a time where the pain of a prolonged surgery could directly correlate to the patient’s chances for survival (assuming infection didn’t set in afterward), he was impressively said to be able to amputate a leg in under three minutes.

Perhaps he was a bit too quick; Dr. Liston is most remembered today for few infamous cases.

Bad decision: Rushing surgery to the point of carelessness

There are three cases where Liston’s surgical haste caused additional injury, or even death. The most reckless of these cases is a young boy who had a tumour in his neck, which might have been an abscess, or a more dangerous aneurism in the carotid artery. Deciding that the child was too young to have an aneurism, Liston quickly lanced what he thought was an abscess. He was wrong, and the patient died of arterial blood loss.

Liston also has the dubious honour of supposedly performing the only operation known to history with a 300% mortality rate. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, in his rush to amputate a patient’s leg in under two and a half minutes, he accidentally slashed through the fingers of his assistant, chopping them off too. With the energetic arc of his surgeon’s tools, he also cut the coattails of a surgical spectator. Allegedly, this man was so frightened that the knife had pierced his vitals that he died of a heart attack. The patient and the assistant both later died of infection.

Liston’s third most infamous case also involves the amputation of a leg. He sawed off the limb so quickly and carelessly that he accidentally castrated the patient as well. Assuming he didn’t succumb to infection, that patient must have been quite distraught, to say the least.

It’s worth noting that better surgical hygiene practices began to improve after 1847, partially due to the connection made between surgical hygiene and infection and mortality rates by a doctor at the Vienna General Hospital, named Dr Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis.

Though Liston’s surgical mistakes leave the impression of a reckless man with little care for his patients, he was actually recorded as being charitable to the poor and kind to the sick. Early surgery was a risky procedure, and during Liston’s lifetime, speed was considered the best way to reduce pain for the patient, a practice he certainly embraced. Though nitrous oxide was discovered in 1799, it was not pursued as an anesthetic at that time. Similarly, though an operation with ether was performed around 1842, it wasn’t commonly used for several more years. Since Liston passed away in 1847 – the same year of the improved hygiene for surgery at the Viennese hospital – he didn’t have a chance to access any of these new advances in medicine.

Outcome: three horrible surgical mistakes, reasons to be grateful for modern medicine


Looking for more Bad Decisions in history? Click here, or use the Category sidebar to jump there.

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Book Addiction: The Bluestocking Series

It’s been a couple of months since I had a Book Addiction post, so to make up for it, this time it features two books! Renee Dahlia’s Bluestocking series is set in the late 1800s and features clever and determined heroines, both of whom have an interest in medicine. Josephine of the first book, To Charm A Bluestocking, is bookish and determined to become one of the world’s first female doctors. She goes to Holland to chase her dream – but unexpected romance and a villainous professor threaten to derail her plans. In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, the second of the series, Marie’s life plan is fitting together nicely. She’s about to become one of the first ladies to graduate medical school, with a wedding on the horizon. But the murder of her fiancé sends her on a dangerous quest to find the murderer, and save the innocent man who’s been accused.

I love an unconventional and determined heroine, and this time we have two! Renee kindly agreed to an interview about her series and included a few enticing snippets from her books, as well.

What was your inspiration for To Charm A Bluestocking and In Pursuit of a Bluestocking?

My great-grandmother was one of the first women to graduate from medical school in Holland. I thought about the challenges she would have faced, and which of those challenges are still faced by women today. Josephine in Charm is tall and shy, and is being harassed by her professor. Her friends invent a fiancé to keep the professor at bay. Marie in Pursuit thought she was happily engaged, but her fiancé turns out to be a conman. Together with Lord Stanmore, she has to hunt down the thieves.

The third book in the series, The Essence of a Bluestocking, is the story of Claire, the third of this trio of friends, and should be out early 2018.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Time is my greatest challenge. Like many writers, I balance family commitments, with a day job, and writing. I’m fortunate that a portion of my day job is seasonal, with not much work on over winter, so that provides a day or two a week for writing in the off season. In summer, I write while watching my kids play cricket.

What was your favourite scene to write?

Isn’t that like asking a parent to pick their favourite child? Some scenes wrote themselves, just flowing out, others took more work to craft the emotional context. Probably those scenes end up being favourites because of the work that they are built upon. In every book, I love writing the meet-cute scene, where the characters first crash (sometimes literally) into each other.

Josephine wrapped her cloak around her shoulders to brace against the frigid wind that cut right through her clothes. She strode along with a textbook open, one hand holding her cloak, the other on her book. Her gloved fingers were spread to hold the pages open against that cold wind. Consumed by her book, Josephine digested the information written on the pages. She shivered and wished she’d also worn a scarf to counter this dreadful weather. She closed the book, sliding it under her arm. With her head still down, she adjusted her heavy bag on her shoulder and picked up her pace.

‘Oomph.’ She crashed, hard, into a solid object. Her breath burst out of her and she flailed backwards with the force of the impact. Her arms flew up and grabbed onto something, anything, for balance, only to realise that she had smacked right into a man. A man who hadn’t budged with her impact.


What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

Necessity has taught me to be able to write anywhere under any conditions. I tend to do well with deadlines, so sprints with other writers works well, as does a snatched half hour here or there. If I have all day to write, I tend to meander and get distracted.

Your protagonist, Lady Josephine, is determined to become one of the world’s first female doctors. Did you come across any surprising research about medical practices of the time?

I had to research how to treat burns victims, and discovered an early scientific paper on the use of carbolic acid to prevent infection. Here is an extract where I used this research:

‘Do you have the paper with the new recipe?’ asked Claire.

‘Yes. I brought Father’s carriage so I’ve read the whole paper. The results they have been getting are really encouraging with regards to infection, or lack thereof. The recipe is equal parts linseed oil and lime-water with five per cent carbolic acid and a small amount of cocaine as pain relief. I made some up in the kitchen at home and have soaked it in absorbent cotton. If we remove your bandage and lay it over the wound, the paper suggests that we cover it with impermeable rubber. I couldn’t find any at home, but perhaps you have something,’ said Marie, digging in her bag to get out the poultice.


If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you suggest?

Potatoes. They were a staple food in Holland at the time of To Charm a Bluestocking, and feature strongly in the formal dinner that occurs in that book. For In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, I researched a luxury train menu from the 1880s and even cooked some of the dishes on that menu before putting them into that book.

The next course arrived. A welcome interruption. Pork rillettes with candied fennel, potato mash and a verjuice dressing. The Dutch obsession with potatoes highlighted by the richness of the pork.


How can we stay updated on your book news?

Website | Facebook | Twitter
I have a newsletter that I hardly ever send out, but I will send out a Christmas letter during December that will hopefully include some big news about my new series.

From the book jacket, To Charm A Bluestocking: 

She wants to be one of the world’s first female doctors; romance is not in her plans.

1887: Too tall, too shy and too bookish for England, Lady Josephine moves to Holland to become one of the world’s first female doctors. With only one semester left, she has all but completed her studies when a power-hungry professor, intent on marrying her for her political connections, threatens to prevent her graduation. Together with the other Bluestockings, female comrades-in-study, she comes up with a daring, if somewhat unorthodox plan: acquire a fake fiancé to provide the protection and serenity she needs to pass her final exams.

But when her father sends her Lord Nicholas St. George, he is too much of everything: too handsome, too charming, too tall and too broad and too distracting for Josephine’s peace of mind. She needed someone to keep her professor at bay, not keep her from her work with temptations of long walks, laughing, and languorous kisses.

Just as it seems that Josephine might be able to have it all: a career as a pioneering female doctor and a true love match, everything falls apart and Josephine will find herself in danger of becoming a casualty in the battle between ambition and love.

From the book jacket, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking: 

When he goes hunting a thief, he never expects to catch a bluestocking…

Marie had the perfect life plan: she would satisfy her father’s ambition by graduating as one of the first female doctors in Europe, and she would satisfy her mother’s ambition by marrying a very suitable fiancé in a grandiose society ceremony. Only weeks away from completing the former, Marie is mere days away from achieving the latter. But her whole life is thrown into chaos when her fiancé dies, mysteriously returns, and then is shot and killed, and Marie risks her own reputation to save the life of the man falsely accused of the murder.

Gordon, Lord Stanmore, finally tracks down the conman who stole from his estate, only to find himself embroiled in a murder plot. The woman he rescues offers to rescue him in return, by marrying him and providing an alibi. Gordon’s ready agreement to the scheme grows the more time he spends with his new wife. Her wit, her intelligence, her calm, her charm: Gordon finds himself more and more enchanted with this woman he met by mistake. But as the clues to the identity of the murderer start to align with the clues to the thief, they reveal a more elaborate scheme than he could have imagined, and though he might desire Marie, Gordon is unsure if he can trust her.

As their chase leads them out of Amsterdam and into the UK, both Gordon and Marie must adjust to the life that has been thrust upon them and decide if marriage came first, can love come after?

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Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 3: Success

The final part of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series wraps up with a look at the excitement with celebrating the big day – publication of the first book! For most debut authors, it will be the first time they’ve done a book signing, perhaps even the first time for reading in front of an audience. Plus, publication day is the culmination of years of hard work, and it’s a day to celebrate your success!

I had never signed a book before my launch event, and for some reason I was really stressed about the pen. What if it bled through the page? What if it was scratchy and I had to scribble to get the ink flowing? I lingered for an embarrassing amount of time in the pen aisle of an office supply store, trying to decide which one might be best, before finally making a decision. On the day of my book launch, I forgot to bring the pen at all and ended up borrowing one (which worked perfectly fine!) from the bookstore.

I guess my main tip for book signings is – bring a pen! But don’t worry if you need to borrow one. A pen is a pen. It’s also surprisingly difficult to write something personal in each book, thanking people for supporting you on your big day, while chatting with them. Coming up with a few short, sincere stock phrases is a good idea.

For the reading, I recommend practicing in advance. I was the most nervous in my little introduction, because I’d barely prepared for that part. Once I got into the reading, which I’d done at home several times, I felt fine. (Although thirsty. Stay hydrated!)

Read on to see what other advice and experiences debut authors have from their first book signing and reading…

Is this the right pen?
Photo credit: Eleaf via VisualHunt.com / CC BY


I’m a “talker” so I was fairly sure I’d have no problem at book events, but I also knew standing up in front of a group of people and talking about your book-baby with a microphone to people who may or may not know a thing about you…would be daunting.

I scheduled a small author event before my main one. It helped give me an idea of what to expect. I had about 25 people there and the first thing I learned was you want some HELP when it comes time to sign/sell books if you aren’t having your event at a bookstore. It was crazy, trying to talk to people while signing along with trying to do sales. Thankfully every event I had after that which wasn’t at a bookstore, my husband came with and took care of the book sales.

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club

Practice, practice, practice! Figure out what you want to say and practice it enough times so that you don’t need notes and so that it sounds natural. Of course, take your notes up there with you—it’s comforting to know they’re there in case you freak out and go blank—but you’ll feel so much better if you don’t have to rely on them. Oh, and a half glass of wine never hurts anything!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Keep in mind that I’m with a small publisher, so in MY experience?  I’m not sure book signings are worth it because the cost falls 100% onto my shoulders.  There are benefits of course:  meeting other authors, networking, finding new books yourself.  But the downside is the ROI (return on investment).  You have to ask yourself if that is worth it.  For me?  Eh.  I’m 50-50.  I sold some books.  I met some great people.  But in the end, the time, investment, etc. makes it hard to determine if I’d do it again.

The event I was at was the Twin Cities Book Festival.  A GREAT festival with THOUSANDS of people in attendance.  But those who came through were more interested in free items.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars

For book signings, have a few phrases you can write as you sign your book. And smile and chat no matter if someone buys your book or not. Readings, choose a passage that’s active or has some dialogue. I’ve been to readings where it’s only introspection and I find that boring.  And practice, practice, practice. With expression!

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

I’m just gearing up for some book launch events. Don’t be shy about offering to help with publicity. As one bookstore manager said to me, “The more outreach, the better.” You can offer to create social media graphics, post flyers and posters, reach out to nearby high schools or colleges, and contact local newspapers or websites.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

For my book launch, I asked a friend to interview me—that way, I didn’t have to be alone at the podium. By the time my audience started asking questions, I was feeling a lot more comfortable and enjoyed the dialogue very much. I think having someone interview me was a good way to transition to speaking in public and having everyone’s attention on me. At my next book signing, I integrated all the questions my friend had asked me to my talk and I also read a few paragraphs from my book. I did a lot better when I wasn’t reading from my notes.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

I was so nervous before my first book signing, which was at a big comic con in Seattle. It so happened that I had dinner with the wonderful and legendary Terry Brooks the night before (we share an editor), and so I asked him what his tips were for book signings, since he’s been doing them for some 40 years now. He graciously advised that the most important thing is to create a personal connection with readers—ask them a question, even if it’s just how their day is going—and make eye contact. Don’t be one of those authors who doesn’t even look up from the book as they sign it! Readers don’t have to get their books signed; they’re choosing to have this brief interaction with you. A small effort to connect goes a long way!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

And of course, the reading isn’t the only excitement of publication day. It’s also a day when you get to revel in your success, and your family is probably pretty thrilled too! My book came out on a Tuesday, so I took a few days off work so that I could focus on celebrating the day, and also on all the pub week social media. I also found a bottle of champagne that had the same last name as my protagonist, so that seemed like the perfect way to wind down after my book reading.

Aubry, just like my character, Giselle Aubry!

I asked other debut authors how they celebrated the release day for their first books, and what made it extra special. I love how the responses are all so unique for each book.

I took the day off of my “day job” because I knew there was no way I could concentrate, plus I knew I’d be on social media a lot. That night was a banquet for the editor of a magazine I write for. She was retiring, and it was fun celebrating her big day and mine with many other area writers.

I had planned on a massage, but you know how that goes. Maybe for book #2!!!

One of the things that was stressed to me ahead of time but is something I struggle to remember, is that we need to celebrate our huge accomplishment on completing a book and getting it published!!!

It is so easy to compare our journey to other authors, and so easy to forget how many never make it to this point. I have had so many highs and lows with my book over the past six months and I have to remind myself to celebrate my hard work, knowing I’ve done the best I can do.

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club

Release day was amazing. My husband and I went up to NYC (where we used to live) and my mom flew in to meet us there, and I had my launch party at a bookstore in Brooklyn that I’ve always admired. A bunch of old friends and former work colleagues came out to support me, as well as my agent and publicist. We ended the night drinking prosecco and eating bruschetta at a little wine bar with some close friends.

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

On launch day in July, my husband was recuperating from major surgery!  But fear not, I still celebrated.  While my husband was resting and was fine to be alone for a bit, a friend came by and took me out for a dessert celebration!  I also had lots of texts, social media messages and a group of friends sent me flowers, too.  All in all it was a low key day—just how I like it.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars

I celebrated my first book release by taking the day off work and having a huge Face Book party.  Because of my day job, I’m still kind of in the closet about my writing so doing more than that wasn’t possible.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

I’ll be having a launch party at a local independent bookstore and inviting friends. (It will be several weeks after the actual release day, which I’ll probably spend at my computer posting a few things about the book on social media.) Because the party will be in December, I’m hoping it will have a holiday feel and everyone will be in a festive mood!

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

My book launch was so much fun! First of all, I invited EVERYBODY I knew and it was very exciting to see that so many people came and bought my book. We sold out! After the talk and book signing, I invited my close friends and family members to a Greek restaurant near the bookstore to celebrate. The highlights of the evening were the cake, which was designed like a book with my cover on top, and a couple of Argentinean tango dancers who gave an amazing performance to celebrate the theme of my novel.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

I had a big party at a local nature center, and a bunch of friends pitched in to help me throw it. It was super fun, and very successful, with well over a hundred attendees and almost as many books sold! (And I live in a rural area, so if people tell you nothing happens in the woods, that’s a pack of lies.) If you want to throw a launch party, here are my suggestions: first, make sure you can sell books! (You don’t necessarily have to have a bookstore do it. I used a relative’s established business to order books (so they counted as a sale!), and then friends volunteered to sell them.) Then see who’s willing to help you out—you might be surprised, but your friends actually do want to help you celebrate your big day! See how much they’re willing to do, make a plan and create a budget. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you and/or your friend group are up for. Then just tell everyone you know. Let friends and relatives shamelessly inform strangers that they should attend your party. Create a Facebook event. Talk it up! If you can include it as part of advertising in the local newspaper or promote it alongside local literary events, like a book festival or through a library, that’ll help too. If you’re like me, you’ll want to pick out something cute to wear! And then…enjoy it!! This is your big, amazing, wonderful, terrifying moment of stepping into the spotlight. (But if you really hate the spotlight, you can also hide behind the giant stack of books you’re selling. Just so you know. Though people will probably want to see your face, ‘cause they’re there to support you!)

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

Just for release day, I splurged on a new dress that matched my book cover’s purple and blue. I also awarded prizes related to themes of the novel, including custom-made bookmarks with the image of a feather on them. My hometown release included a lot of family and childhood friends. When you’ve got your Filipino aunts, uncles, and cousins coming through, food is a must. I’m happy my local bookstore allowed giant trays of lumpia, empanadas, sushi casserole, and sweet breads on the premises. After the reading, a smaller group, including my publisher, who’d flown in from Portland, moved the celebration to a local brewery, and my baker friend, who happened to be featured on the Food Networks’ Bakers vs. Fakers that same week, brought a cake version of my book cover. My friends also surprised me with a giant, framed print of the book cover. It was a beautiful night!

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams

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Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 2: Surprises

Part two of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series continues this week, with the theme of what was the most surprising about the publication process and the shift from being an aspiring author to becoming a published author.

For me, the most surprising thing was that nothing drastically changed. My daily routine is pretty much the same. I go to my day job, I walk my dog, I write, except now it’s a different project. I have a little less writing time because of marketing. I think I thought I’d get a lot more attention, like people asking about my book or my sales all the time, but no one really cares and I mean that in a good way. On the flip side, I do occasionally and irrationally feel like a fraud, but that’s probably mostly because writing the next book didn’t magically become easier. However, slightly contradictory to my earlier comment that people don’t really ask me about it too much, sometimes when they do, I get weird reactions that I don’t enjoy very much. I’m looking at you various middle-aged men who feel the need to comment on how my book has the word ‘mistress’ in the title. I’ve stopped bothering to point out that it has a different meaning in context.

One of the most surprising things about the publication process was how busy it was. It was a little over a year from the time St. Martin’s picked up my novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, to when it actually hit the shelves, and I thought there would be a lot of quiet time in between those dates. In truth, I was constantly working on things, whether it be confirming things via email with my editor, fact-checking, copyedits, marketing planning (turns out you do a lot of marketing). All fun and exciting, especially getting to see the cover for the first time.

So what other surprises did other debut authors discover? Read on and find out!



I still feel like a fraud almost six months after my book was published. I feel like I’m playing “lets pretend” that I’m an author. It is strange to be on the other side of a book club where they are looking at me like I’m a trained monkey with all the mysterious answers to books in general.

But you know what? Meeting with book clubs and visiting with people after my author events has been the absolutely BEST part of all of this!!!

The downside is that although I knew the marketing/promoting/selling-of-the-soul part after your book is published…I knew that part was a lot of work. However, it came for me at a time where the rest of my life was super-busy too (day job, family things). Do what you can to clean up your life-slate before your book comes out because the marketing (to me, anyway) is exhausting!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club

I mean, nothing can prepare you for the thrill of seeing your book on a table at Barnes & Noble!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Here are my “surprises”….

THE AMOUNT OF MONEY SPENT ON “STUFF”:  When you come down to it, you’re building your brand.  But spread this out over time so you don’t feel like you’re draining your bank account dry.  Money I’ve spent includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Website
  • Postcards to hand out to friends/family/coworkers once my cover was finalized
  • Save the Date cards to mail out to my Christmas list prior to my launch date
  • Swag items that included:  bookmarks, 2 sets of magnets, custom adult coloring pages, candles, keychains, boxes for the swag items (I made “thank you” boxes for my CP’s, editor, etc.).
  • Business cards
  • Gift cards for various giveaways during launch week and beyond
  • A Kindle Fire for launch week giveaway (that I got on a Black Friday deal—so watch sales for stuff, too!!)
  • PR firm to handle my launch week (which I’ll talk about below)
  • Mailing supplies to mail out prizes from launch week
  • Postage
  • Stickers with my author branding
  • …and probably more that I’m forgetting

HAVING TO DO PROMO—LOTS AND LOTS OF PROMO:  I knew going with a small pub meant having to do a lot of my own promo.  However, it is misleading to think that if you’re published with one of the Big 5 or bigger/on the rise publishers that you won’t have to do promo.  You will.  Most publishers work with book blogger or bookstagramers (book “bloggers” who use Instagram for a visual post).

But if you want your book to get out there, you need to be planning AT LEAST a year in advance.  Get active on social media (but don’t be spammy) and connect with other authors in the same boat as you so you can have strength in numbers.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars

The publication process is very long and there is so much to do. Especially promotion. LOTS of promotion. And even being published doesn’t stop you from worrying about selling the next book or idea.  You actually have more work to do now.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

It’s a slow process. For me it’s been about three years from writing the book to seeing it on a bookstore shelf. So the shift is gradual. But you can take advantage of that time to learn everything you need to know about publishing, marketing, social media—and work on your next big ideas for new books.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

What still surprises me is the amount of time it takes to promote my novel! I feel like a full-time PR person rather than a writer! I spent an insane amount of time designing my website, bookmarks, postcards, creating a Facebook author page, and writing articles and interviews. It’s been fun, but I miss the days when I could shut the blinds and immerse myself in my writing. The other surprise is that some people look at you a little bit different after your book comes out. I’ve heard comments like “I’ve never met a real author before” and such. It’s surprising because I don’t see myself any different than before the novel was published.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

I was not prepared for how much writing to an outline and a deadline would change my method! I’ve always been something of a pantser, and having to write an outline for my editor has actually been quite helpful for me. I find I spend a lot less time floundering around in the middle trying to figure out what happens next! That being said, my method is still evolving. Writing to deadline is also a change—I find myself thinking differently about a book when I know it’s going to my editor. (The way of dealing with that stress, for me, is to write something completely different—it’s SO liberating!) Another adjustment is writing another book in a series when the first one’s already out getting reviews!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

One of the biggest surprises in the transition from aspiring author to published author is the camaraderie with other writers. The road to publication often felt like a solitary path filled with twists and turns. After signing my first book contract, I connected with several other writers, both new and experienced. By the time Second Chance in Laguna launched in March 2017, I had a new network of not just colleagues, but friends. Today, I’d say more than half of my daily interactions are with other authors. This newfound sense of community is a welcome silver lining to a dream come true.

Claire Marti, author of Second Chance in Laguna 

The biggest surprise is that in the end, nothing changes. After the rush and the hoopla, no matter how many forms of validation, big and small, you receive along the way, you still get insecure about your work. And you haven’t solved any puzzles. At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s wasn’t like I figured out a formula for how to write a book, and now, I can do it again. The next book is another, very different challenge, equally grinding. And it’s just as invigorating to feel the words come together, coming to fruition. In the end, it all comes back to writing.

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams

Experienced any surprises of your own? Been surprised by any of these ones? Share in the comments or on social media!

Stay tuned for part three of this Lessons of Debut Authors Series, focusing on tips for author signings and release day celebrations.


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