The Not-So Glamorous Life of a Writer

Yesterday I had my second signing at a Barnes & Noble here in Northern Virginia. I have been trying to get them to let me have one at a local branch but the district manager won’t return my emails. A writer friend was able to get three other branches in the area to hold multi-authors signings and I managed to snag two of those.

The first one was kind of a sleepy event. Not many people visiting the gigantic store but somehow we all managed to sell books and interact with many people. The second one was held in a wealthier part of Northern Virginia and the place was teeming with humans. The four of us got pretty excited. If we had a good turnout in a sleepy branch, here we should make a killing, so to speak.

Ashburn BN signing

Here’s how it really went:

  • Several kids came to ask for our candy.
  • Several people refused to accept free swag.
  • One very nice aspiring  author asked us for some guidance in the publishing world.
  • An older lady came and asked each of us if we used the F-word in our books (I use it very sparingly and only because it was pointed out to me that my characters are too proper, lol). Once she found out that pretty much all of us did in one way or another, she asked us why did you use such an offensive word. She didn’t buy anything.
  • When I offered them my FREE postcards, they almost always took the one advertising an event I’ll be participating in but which holds absolutely no information about me or my  books.
  • A very kind older man came to talk to us and had us all laughing with his jokes. He didn’t buy anything but thanked us for all the work we do (he used to  work for one of the Big Five)
  • Lots of people entered the raffle to win books from all of us, but most of them didn’t buy anything.
  • We heard a lot of, “I don’t read romance” (totally understandable. It’s not for everybody, of course).
  • People thought we were the information desk and came to ask us about items in the store.
  • We left the event with about $6 each for one book sold from each one of us.
  • I sold a M/M paranormal romance book to a lady who told me she didn’t read romance at all.

Moral of the story: don’t judge an event by how posh the neighborhood is. Buying power and romance doesn’t always jive, apparently.

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Planning Chaos

As I enter the last stretch of the school year, I’m beginning to get pretty excited about all that free time I will have to do ALL the things I normally can’t do (because there are not enough hours in the day and unlike vampires, I need my beauty sleep). I know from experience though that if I don’t have an actual plan of action, I will end up spending my days fluttering from one activity to another, not accomplishing much and stressing myself out because for me there aren’t that many things worse than wasted time.

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So I sat down to plan my journey through summer and the first thing I realize is that I already have scheduled myself for quite a few events which will take a large portion of my time—four signings, two book releases, and Spring cleaning. But there is still a lot of time left—or so I tell myself.

I’m not a planner as you know. As organized as I am and for someone who loves order, I’m not very good at planning more than a few hours ahead of time. At work, as a teacher, I’m super-proficient in planning awesome lessonplans one or two weeks ahead of time. And I stick to those plans ninety-nine out of a hundred times. When I went back to school for my second degree I was amazing at organizing my time between taking care of two school age boys and the heavy course work.

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As I get older, and my life becomes more chaotic despite my best efforts to the contrary, I’m finding it a lot more difficult to stick to a plan. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to come up with a plan. But I promised myself I have to do it. I want to accomplish a lot this summer both in my writing career and my personal life (I really need to bring the self-care back into my life), and I know I need a solid plan for this.

My wonderful marketing adviser has given me one of her writer’s planning books but I find it too overwhelming (don’t laugh. I get overwhelmed easily these days), so I’ve been downloading simple free daily planning sheets to get myself organized. I’m hoping to give myself a time table of how long to take for each of the activities I need and want to complete which will have to include a good diet, exercise, mindfulness, and entertainment. I can’t keep killing myself as I’ve been doing for the past year basically working two full-time jobs. I need to take it easy.

I’d love to hear about different ways you get organized. Do you keep a schedule? Thirty minutes every morning dedicated to marketing, two hours daily for writing, one hour to network, etc.? Maybe your suggestions will light up a fire in this tired brain (and body) of mine.

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A Community of Writers

As tempting as it is to address the craziness of recent events and a certain writer’s lack of common sense, I will abstain from that. While what she did was selfish, uncalled for, and served no purpose other than burning all her bridges in the literary world, I don’t subscribe to the idea of name calling or finger pointing–be it in person or in cyber space.

What I would like to talk about today is professional courtesy and respect. When I first got involved in the romance publishing world, I was like most “virgins”–starry eyed and naive. I’ve never been good at making professional connections and having no one to guide me in this new world, I was pretty much a fish out of water–flopping around and gasping for air.

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Little by little, I learned the ropes, or at least enough to start getting some air into my lungs to survive. One of the things that hit me the most–in a positive way–was the camaraderie and professional interaction and support from other writers.

I have met amazing people both online and in person who have enriched my life not just as a writer but also as a human being, some of which  fill me with awe with their willingness to give. I hope one day to be able to return the favor, but for now all I can dish out is my half-baked advice, companionship, and support.

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It saddens me when things go awry, when authors turn against each other instead of talking it over. When authors become so deluded and full of themselves that they see nothing wrong with sabotaging other writers’ success. And most of all, it’s heartbreaking when a writer who has achieved a reasonable measure of success attack those who, unlike them, are still struggling to make ends meet in the publishing world.

Those of you who excel by respecting and supporting your fellow authors, I salute you. I would have been lost without you. You have taught me the ropes, supported me when I was drowning, and brightened my days with words of encouragement. That is what it should all be about.

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Writing Across the Rainbow

Last weekend I attended the Washington Romance Writers’ retreat and I’ve been itching to write about it but alas, time has been very limited. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about it.

One of the running themes of the retreat was diversity and feminism in romance novels. If you been following me for a while you know those are two subjects close to my heart, so I was a happy camper 🙂

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During one of the sessions (I believe the one led by the great author Sonali Dev) we participated in a small exercise that brought my journey as a writer more into perspective for me. We were all asked to think back to the first time we had written something that made us realize we loved writing. That took me all the way back to when I was in second grade.

At the time I was living in Angola in Africa and I wrote a poem (I believe I titled it, Lágrimas, Tears) about something that, as a child, I had just realized. Never being one able or interested in expressing my thoughts out loud, I wrote them down.  Lágrimas was a short poem that expressed my young view of the world–that people were simply people no matter what color, what religion, what nationality.

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The memory surprised me–I hadn’t thought about that in a long time–but it sure made my love for everything multicultural make a lot more sense to me. That was possibly the moment when my future as an author was sealed. Not only did I find my love for writing, but I also discovered how interested I was in writing multicultural characters.

Since I was published in 2016 I have written characters from different racial and ethnic groups (see Desert Jewel and Loved You Always), characters with disabilities (Blind Magic and Her Real Man), and characters with different sexual orientation (Lavender Fields). My only hope is that I didn’t misrepresent any group. I write romance (with a touch of mystery and humor) so all I want to do is to create characters that accurately represent the world and its inhabitants. And to make the point that no matter who we are or where we come from, in the end we all have the same basic needs and a wish to be loved.

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Books and Heartgasms

This weekend I learned a new word. One that totally describes what I feel when I read good romance: a heartgasm. It’s a perfect term for that feeling I get when reading about a loving relationship between the pages of a book. A relationship between equals, between two people who respect and love each other despite their differences.

Those of you who follow this blog or my Facebook page know that I have strong feelings about certain things that have became a part of the romance novel scene (some that have been around from the beginning, other things that came later but are just as insidious). In the heels of E L James’ success, a lot of other romance writers and readers were sold on the idea that disrespect can be sexy.  I have quit reading many a romance book because of that idea. Including romances that have been international best sellers and critically acclaimed.

Old vintage books and cup with heart shape on wooden table

Outlander is such a book. After hearing my friends and acquaintances praising the series as the most romantic book in years, I bought and began reading it. At first I absolutely loved it. What’s there not to love? A strong woman travels back in time to Bonnie Scotland to find the love of her life in the shape of this amazing, hunky Scot. The best part about Jamie Fraser is that he is strong but sweet, respectful, willing to lay his life down for the woman he loves, and in total awe of her beauty and strength. Even though there is way too much unnecessary sex in the story (my opinion) it didn’t bother me–it was loving and mutually satisfying.

Until a scene about half way through the book when Jamie sort of forces himself on his wife to “show” her who the boss was. I couldn’t read anymore after that. Before that scene there was the whole issue of a beating to put her in “her place”. However historically correct that may have been, the Jamie that I fell in love with in the beginning of the story ceased to exist and was replaced by someone very willing to do the unthinkable to prove to himself and the other men in the clan that he was man enough. Disrespectful and power-driven. I was very disappointed because the book was well written and the premise for the story was just up my alley. After all the first full length novel I ever wrote, way back before the new millenium (yes, I’m that old) was a time-travelling romance set in beautiful Scotland. My hero was from the same era as Jamie’s but he would never, ever disrespect his girl.

Heart icon. Vector illustration.

So back to the heartgasm. Throughout the years there have been many novels in different genres who have given me one. There have been YA novels, science fiction books, fantasy, women’s fiction, classics, and of course romance. It so happens it is the feeling I want to give my readers with my heroes and heroines, with their relationships and the way they overcome difficulties and obstacles together. The way they love and support each other while tackling their day to day life with all its troubles. That kind of thing–not the tough sex, the hot billionaire or the sexy biker–never fails to give me multiple satisfying heartgasms. What about you?

Romancing The Taxes

Tax season leaves me with an ambiguous feeling–I’m not sure whether to be happy I’ll be getting some money back this year or depressed because I spent so much more than what I earned even after working overtime for the past three years.

In 2017 I totally neglected to claim my writing expenses. Being a rookie with three books published by then and royalty checks that wouldn’t feed a fish, it never occurred to me that I could indeed claim all the expenses I had incurred in my writing career. In fact, come to think about it, neither did my husband who is normally on top of that kind of thing.  I didn’t claim the laptop I bought so I could write my novels, or the marketing materials, or the workshops and conferences I attended, or the writing craft and references books I collected that first year.

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It almost happened again this year. My husband, like many people, does not consider my writing a real job. The fact that I spend every waking hour when I’m not at my teaching job glued to a laptop, writing, editing, marketing, researching, networking, learning, etc did not seem to be a good enough hint this was more than just a hobby. The trips we took to conferences, book fairs, book signings, workshops also didn’t register as similar to all the work trips he does for his job. Like him, most people consider writing just something you do for fun. Without realizing it, I must have bought into this mentality because even the loss of my social life in favor of time with my writing didn’t register as “hell, this is a second  full-time job!”

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I cannot thank Neece McCoy, author herself and tax-expert extraordinaire with The Write Services (well, she knows a lot more than me) enough, for reminding me that this is indeed a job and that the huge amount of money I’ve invested in my writing business should be claimed come tax time.

Now that I’ve actually sat down and picked through receipts and bank statements to file my taxes, two things have surfaced. 1) I’m going to get some money back for the first time in years, and 2) Shit! There is such a chasm between my expenses and my income that it’s painfully obvious I have yet to experience being a mildly(ish) successful author.

 

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So, I’m divided between jumping for joy and crying my eyes out. I’ll keep working and hoping that one day I will be able to claim I’ve actually made a profit from the inordinate number of hours I’ve spent working on a craft that most still consider a hobby–while trying not to get too upset when readers complain that my book costs too much (less than a frapuccino at Starbucks).

A Writer’s Nightmare

As most of you know, I’m a traditionally published author (small, awesome publishing house). Being the weirdo that I normally am, I wrote a sci-fi/dystopian romance in 2016 told in three POVs and holding two separate romances–one F/M and another M/M, never once stopping to wonder how difficult it would be to market such a book (do you market it to the F/M romance readers, or the M/M?). The first sign that I was in trouble was when friends or beta readers began complaining about different things–too much romance (the sci-fi readers), too much sci-fi (the romance readers), main characters are too sexual, main characters are not sexual enough, it’s too intense, it’s not intense enough… I had one reader that actually tried to change the whole thing including the way I write and erase my voice. Holy shit!

After I submitted it to my publisher, I was told what I already suspected–that I either changed the manuscript radically, which meant breaking it into two separate romances, or they couldn’t publish it because of the potential marketing nightmare. At that point I had to totally agree with them. I had poured my heart and soul into this manuscript (which at times was emotionally very difficult to write) and I wasn’t willing to change it at that time. I was not being arrogant, just overwhelmed with it all. For me that story was one and I couldn’t imagine breaking it into two. It would be like leaving a part of myself behind.

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The manuscript had already gone through one round of professional edits, but after I had unsuccessfully tried to modified it to better fit the marketing woes, I knew it was back to a mess. So I hired my usual editor for another round of edits with the growing idea (which terrified me) of self-publishing it in the future. Unfortunately, my editor  broke the trust I had in him by doing an extremely superficial edit and taking off with my money. I may be trusting but I also know when I’ve been had.

I had a couple more people read it for content feedback and I was again disappointed that no one was willing to read my manuscript to the end. Beta readers were giving up after a couple chapters. It didn’t bode well. I almost gave up on the idea of publishing it. But in the end I couldn’t give up on my characters and the world I created. I felt I owed it to them to stay the course.

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I contacted a book cover designer I have admired for a few years and asked them to design my cover. I was delighted with the results. That cover is amazing (cover reveal to come in the near-ish future).

I changed a few things according to suggestions and critiques from others, tightened up the writing (I have a tendency to be wordy), and hired another editor to do a final round. After the edits were done, I went over it again twice, tightening it even more, paranoid as I am now that my writing truly sucks. I went over it once more after a friend of mine had formatted it for publication (and amazing friend that she is, she was willing to do it again after subsequent changes).

My book now has an ISBN and I have to choose a publication date in the next couple days. I’m already paralyzed by all I will have to do. Because I have a couple more books releasing this year, there is a very short window to publish this one so it doesn’t conflict with the others. Which means I have to do it within the next month or so.

Frightened and stressed young business woman

My nightmare is not over yet because after suffering so many setbacks and getting bad feedback for two years, I’m terrified of how the public is going to respond to it. I have now invested more money into this book than possibly all my other six together and, being my first self-pub, I’m sailing in uncharted waters from where I expect a monster to jump out at any moment.

Do you think I did the right thing sticking by my story or was I a total dunce and should have just scrapped it?

Snow Jewel-Cover Reveal

Title: Snow Jewel
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Release Date: June 30, 2018
Cover Designer: Soxsational Cover Art
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 Preorder now for half price! 
Amazon links coming soon!
All other links: books2read.com/snow-jewel

A princess on the run, an ex-slave returning home. Together they must battle prejudice and superstition if their love is to survive.

When Princess Milenda arrives at Isvärld, a land of snow and ice, she’s hoping for a quiet life with her new husband, Jaali. What she gets is anything but.

Even though happy he’s returned, Jaali’s people can’t see past the color of Milenda’s skin, a color she shares with the hated Mabaya Warriors who have been stealing and selling their children into slavery for centuries.

Freya, a goddess of the icy kingdom, tasked with protecting the princess and her man, doesn’t seem trustworthy, and their only true ally is Milenda’s flying lizard, Mjusi. But even the mutsi is acting strangely.

Will their love for each other and Milenda’s special gifts protect them from the dangers around them or will they meet their doom in the one place that promised them safe harbor?

Snow Jewel is the second book in The Jewel Chronicles. A unique interracial romance set against a breathtaking fantasy world with complex characters and twists at every turn. Let Snow Jewel take you to another world.

 Preorder now for half price! 
Amazon links coming soon!
All other links: books2read.com/snow-jewel
Author of We Will Always Have the Closet, Desert Jewel, and Loved You Always, Natalina wrote her first romance in collaboration with her best friend at the age of 13. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes.

After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she has taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.

Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.

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Her Real Man-Release Day

Her Real Man

Available Now

Title: Her Real Man
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Cover Designer: Soxsational Cover Art
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All other links: books2read.com/RealMan
An imperfect firefighter defined by his past.
A determined author on a mission for the truth.
When Ana Mathews searches for book-boyfriend inspiration, she gets more than she expected from Gavin McLeod. Her quest to find imperfection could be the spark that brings to life their chance at happiness, or the burn that could destroy it all.

The Barbie Factor

I read something online about Barbie dolls the other day, which I believe was meant as a joke but made me think, “Hey, that’s exactly how it was for me.”

The post was about how Barbie dolls had been so much more than dress-up toys for this woman writer–the dolls were a tool for her to practice how to take over the world.

In my country we didn’t have Barbie dolls, but we had something very similar. Mine was a Susi (which I still have today) and yes, I dressed her, combed her hair, and admired her perfect made-up eyes and lips. But Susi was so much more than that.

Susi Dolls

Susi dolls

She was my prop to recreate all the stories I had in my mind. I’d plan and put together elaborate stories and play them over and over again, adding details, perfecting it. I remember one particular setting I seemed to favor–not sure why: a baby bathtub which I had filled with every supply my doll and her family would need. The plot was simple; they were escaping some kind of calamity and they were stuck on that ship until they found a safe harbor somewhere.

Even though Susi had a husband, she was always the one in charge. She took care of the whole family and was the one who found solutions to every problem. She might have been tiny–hubby was a full size doll–but she was fierce.

Barbie

Because of that I always roll my eyes at the whole controversy about said doll. I never looked at Susi and thought, “I want to look just like her and be perfect, thin, and helpless.” Instead, I thought, “Girl, let’s go do something awesome and worthy of the kick-ass heroine you are.”

I projected my inner goddess into the lifeless doll and practiced my writer’s imagination and my female super-powers 🙂

Susi

My original Susi with the medieval dress I made for her. (sorry it’s so blurry)

What did you do with your Barbie dolls?