20 May 2022

Book Review: 'Struck by Love' series by Syrie James

Struck by Love series

Floating on Air by Syrie James
I was delighted when Syrie James asked me to read and review the two books in her Struck by Love series of short contemporary romances. Both stories, set in the 1980s, concern themselves with strong heroines trying to carve out their places in the world (usually male-dominated worlds) and heal from past relationships.

The settings are very evocative and help drive the plot. In Floating on Air, our heroine Desiree is a radio DJ and lives in Anaheim, California. The local beaches and Catalina Island feature prominently in her journey to love with successful businessman Kyle. I used to work in radio so liked that side of the story as well.
Two Week Deal by Syrie James

Music is also a key theme in this book, which is beautifully done.

In Two Week Deal, we are off to Lake Tahoe and Heavenly mountain. I love to ski and spend time on the water so the setting appealed to me very much. Kelli is trying build a freelance career as an illustrator in the cutthroat advertising industry. An impulsive decision leads to an irresistible proposition which could jumpstart both her career and her love-life. The hero's domineering ways didn't sit well with me, although Kelli decides in the end that he can compromise after all. Kelli is Kyle's younger sister, and it's great to see his story continued in this one.

Syrie's prose is so gorgeous and lyrical that sometimes it feels like poetry. A joy to read.

Both stories quickly progress from attraction, to infatuation, to love and talk of marriage (in a matter of days!). I am not a fan of insta-love, but after reading the author's note I see it's like a family tradition which is so lovely. You can read more about the real-life inspiration behind Floating on Air on Syrie's blog.

Both books also wrap the endings up quickly, with not much time between the black moment and the end - but I suppose this must be common in shorter romances.

Overall, these are two marvellous books with plenty of spice, strong heroines and incredible heroes. Highly recommended as escapist reads with tons of heart.

21 February 2022

Hearts of Amberley: An Update

The Hearts of Amberley series

Hello, my dear readers!

I do hope you are all well in these strange times.

It's been a while since I've provided an update on where I'm at with book 3 in the Hearts of Amberley series. I assure you, this is far more frustrating for me than it is for you!

Progress on the third book has been hampered by a few things: the birth of my second child and the subsequent madness which ensued, various Covid lockdowns requiring full-time childcare and exhaustion, and of course just various life tasks and events which pop up along the way. It is still my hope that one day, I will have some "day-job" time to devote to writing, but at the moment that's not possible.

And so, book 3 has been limping along - always at the back of my mind, and more often lately, at the forefront and on my fingertips. It look a huge effort to get the headspace to finish plotting it out, but now that is done I am doggedly working through the draft, about two thirds of the way through. I hoped to have it done last year (or the one before lol) but come hell or high water it will be done this year.

I do have considerable uneasiness about writing a book about an established villain who has sinned so absolutely. But his story begged to be told, the WHY behind his actions nagging at my conscience. And the lady who would challenge him became a potent force in my imagination. As I have written, the tone of the book has changed somewhat, and I have changed the title from "Mr Barrington Meets His Match" to "Heart of a Gentleman". When you read the book, you'll see how fitting this is :) I hope with all my heart that you will find it a sensitive and satisfying read.

I am also looking at release the first two books in other formats - Hardcover and Large Print. I'd love your feedback if you like to read either of these formats.

I hope to be able to reveal the cover of "Heart of a Gentleman" before too long! Make sure you're signed up to my email newsletter or following me on Facebook for any updates.


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30 January 2022

Book Review: The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

This is exactly the type of book I like to read – and write! There’s a heroine who is intelligent and independent, an unlikely yet swoon-worthy hero, a vivid period setting, and plenty of delicious romance without gratuitous love scenes. The Siren of Sussex is book one in a new series of Victorian romances entitled “Belles of London”.

The story centres around Evelyn Maltravers, a country miss attempting to save her family from scandal by making a good match. She enlists the help of habit-designer Ahmad Malik, who takes a chance on the dowdy bluestocking after he witnesses her unparalleled horsemanship. Their escalating chemistry is as both tantalising as it is forbidden – he is in trade, after all. Will Evelyn be able to save her family’s fortunes and find true love in the bargain?

Like my own books, Matthews doesn’t take the well-worn route of writing about Dukes (the period equivalent of billionaires), and I applaud her for writing about an immigrant of a different race. It is much more interesting to read about characters who face true challenges in a multi-layered society and come to depend upon each other for their happiness. The author draws you into their world with lots of historical details and equine knowledge. A cast of rich supporting characters complete the picture – although it is obvious from the outset that Evelyn’s friends will be the heroines for future books. There is a plot element relating to spirituality that isn’t my cup of tea, but apparently a fascination with these elements of the occult is historically accurate.

Overall, this was a complex and satisfying romance with delightful characters and an original plot. I’d give it 4.5 stars and will definitely be seeking out more books by Matthews.


About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | PINTEREST | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

Thank you to Laurel Ann from Austenprose for asking me to participate in the blog tour for The Siren of Sussex.

The Siren of Sussex Book Tour Schedule    

14 June 2019

The Results of My BookBub International Deal

The email newsletter
Finally...

About a month after releasing GLOVED HEART, my second book, I submitted the first book (in the same series) for a BookBub deal in all markets after not trying for a couple of years. I nearly fell off my chair when I got the email through saying I’d got a featured deal for THE VAGABOND VICAR. When I calmed down enough to understand the text in the message, I realised that the deal would exclude the United States – it was “international” only. (I put that in inverted commas because I live “internationally”.) This means it is sent to customers who are registered for the markets in Canada, Australia, India and the UK (who are interested in historical romance). I was actually a little relieved about the deal being more limited, as publishing an indie book is expensive and I was apprehensive about spending the huge fee for a US deal. This would be tipping my toe in the water.


I haven’t paid for any significant advertising before. I’ve only boosted a couple of Facebook posts on releasing my books. To be honest I want to wait until I have at least three books out before I start doing any regular advertising. But everyone says to keep trying for BookBub and I thought it might be a good way to have people read through to book two. So did it work? Did I sell enough to get my money back? And are there any long-lasting effects?

Time Pressure and Pricing

The first thing to note is that I was told about getting the featured deal on May the 9th. The deal was to be on May the 19th (US time). Ten days is not really enough time to plan much other paid activity to coincide with the deal (except AMS and FB). I looked at some other major websites like ENT, and I was well short of their deadlines. So I have no idea how people manage to coordinate everything, except that they must already be planning a deal and give BookBub fixed dates. The people at BookBub do say that being flexible with dates will help you get accepted – so it’s a catch 22. The only things I did to promote the deal was to post on Twitter and Facebook.
My feature in the email

While on the subject of getting accepted – the main thing I did different this time around was to follow Bella Andre’s advice and put lots of good reviews and write-ups in the comments part of the submission form. So maybe that helped? Don’t be modest! I also submitted a deal for $0.99, when I’ve only really tried $1.99 in the past.

Kindle Countdown and Royalty Fail

I set up a Kindle Countdown deal in the UK first, as keeping the 70% royalty sounded good. It also puts a countdown timer on your listing which must drive some urgency. This is my first term in KDP Select for either book, so this is the first time I’ve tried this stuff. Figuring out the UK time zone vs the US one was a bit of a mind-bend (particularly when you live in a different time zone again!).

When I went to change the prices in the other markets a few days before the sale, I found that in order to reduce my prices to $0.99 or equivalent, I had to change to the 35% royalty in ALL markets, including the UK. So the main benefit of doing the Kindle Countdown deal was taken away. The countdown deal was also quite stressful as you are relying on Amazon to change the price at the right time, and not being registered for Amazon UK I had to ask people over there to check the price for me at obscene times of the night. Being able to change the price yourself in advance (even though you may have to wait 72 hours) at least gives you a good chance of it actually happening for the sale date.

Of course I only got 35% for sales in the US as well during the promotional period, even though the deal didn’t apply there. I do wish Amazon would not apply a global royalty percentage to allow you to run promotions more effectively. Right! On to…

#1 bestseller in Canada and Australia
The Results

BookBub tells you how many subscribers the email will go to and the “average sales” for each book featured. (There is no information on clicks or anything else that might be more helpful.) Going by that average, I would have no problem breaking even on sales alone (not accounting for KU page reads). On the morning after the deal went live (about 12 hours in), I eagerly checked my phone expecting hundreds of sales. There were 80. Which is outstanding for me on a regular day, but less than I’d been hoping for.

When I finally managed to get to my computer and check on detailed category rankings (toddler wrangling taking priority for a few hours first), I was thrilled to find a “#1 bestseller” banner on my Canadian listing. Australia followed soon after. The UK peaked at #2. India never really fired – only a few sales (although it did get to #61). I got pretty high in the overall Kindle rankings too - 57 in Canada, 103 in Australia, 613 in UK, and 1,754 in India. I stayed high in the rankings all day, and for most of the next day.

#1 in Regency Romance
Sales continued to trickle in for the rest of the first day, reaching 110. Page reads were 1,182, which was a few hundred better than I’d achieved in the few months I’d been in KU. The next day, sales dropped to 53, but page reads went up to 3,296. It was quite frustrating seeing the tiny royalties with the 35%, but I just had to think about the visibility I was getting as the main bonus. Days 3-6 (the rest of the sale) were at much lower levels for sales, but the page reads stayed consistent between 2,200 and 3,200 every day.

GLOVED HEART did get a few sales/reads as a result of the promotion, I think. It also cracked the top 100 in the UK (#68 when I remembered to check).

Once it was over I could add up everything, convert the earnings to my currency (NZD) and figure out whether it was all worth it.

Return on Investment

When I look at how much it actually cost me for the deal including currency conversion and fees, and then converting the royalties back again – I almost exactly broke even. Sales accounts for 58% of the revenue, KU page reads 42%. (Of course I could only estimate the revenue from KU page reads based on previous payouts.)

Total sales during the period were 187, well short of the “average” 390. I’m figuring the BookBub average sales number accounts for authors who have their books available on all the retailers, not just Amazon. But given Amazon makes up at least 75% of the ebook market, I don’t think this would have made too much different – the KU reads would make up the gap for most authors I think.

So I didn’t waste money, which is nice, although it would have been nicer to make some!

The figures above include sales of GLOVED HEART which were 2 ebooks and 3,412 page reads.

Longer-term benefits

It’s three weeks since the featured deal ran. Sales have gone back to trickling in, but they are trickling in those other markets (not counting India) which is great to see. Most of my sales have been in the US in the past, so having this visibility in those other markets really has been valuable.

More reviews are coming in too. I have had bloggers posting features and reviews for book 2 in the meantime which would have helped things along.

What’s changed – my KU page reads have remained much higher, ranging from 1,100 to 3,000 daily (previously they were 0-700). This is not an income by any stretch, but it’s a nice base to build on if and when I do more marketing in the future. And I can see that people are reading my books which is quite rewarding in itself.

The Amazon algorithms got to do their thing, with a lot of also-boughts popping up (when Amazon chooses to put them on and not just sponsored ads).

I got a handful more FB followers, email sign-ups and BookBub followers.

To sum up

It's nice to know that it doesn’t matter how long a book has been around for, you can always give it a boost with a targeted promotion. THE VAGABOND VICAR has been out since October 2014, but it now has many readers discovering it for the first time, and many of them also going on to read or purchase GLOVED HEART. I don't think book 1 not being a new release was any disadvantage.

Was it worth it doing the BookBub deal? I think undoubtedly yes. I didn't lose money during the deal, and I am still enjoying the benefits - mainly in page reads. I still think it would be more beneficial if I had more books out, but as it is I got to enjoy being a #1 best seller and some lovely feedback from readers. I'd encourage authors to keep applying for a deal, you never know when you'll get your moment in the sun.

27 February 2019

Forging Ahead

When I published my first book in October 2014, I never expected it would be such a long time before the second one was done. What happened? Life intervened. In the best possible way.

I met my husband shortly before book #1 came out. My life was filled with dates and dreaming. Soon I was planning our wedding and honeymoon, then we renovated our house and sold it, while designing and building another. While I was pregnant. Then, after the baby came (and we moved house), I entered the brain-fog known as motherhood. It wasn't until I went back to work after a year that I managed to get some sort of headspace back, and the energy to write again.

And now here I am, with the final draft of the next book done and with an editor, and my cover ready to go. I am about to ride this crazy roller coaster all over again. And I hope to do it again before too long!

The second book in the series I'm calling "Hearts of Amberley" is entitled GLOVED HEART. It follows the stories of two of the minor characters from the first book, THE VAGABOND VICAR. 

GLOVED HEART is now available for pre-order, and I've just revealed the cover which you can see below this book description. Now, to work on getting the word out there!

Can she ever trust again?

Amy Miller is struggling to come to terms with her new life as a mother, while being a reluctant guest in a rigid gentry household. A victim of abuse, she is determined to never trust a man again.

Henry Russell has loved Amy for as long as he can remember, but his family want nothing to do with her. A chance encounter with Amy rekindles a friendship which might save both of them.

The discovery of a secret which holds the key to Amy’s past will change them both forever, and jeopardise any chance they have for happiness. Can Henry show Amy that true love will give her everything she could ever need?

31 July 2018

Embracing the Middle Ground

So recently I got this rejection:
The tone of your novel was a bit confusing: you place it alongside Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer (which is appropriate for the plot and we love them) but there is clear lust between the main characters which feels more appropriate to a steamier kind of regency romance (such as ones by Lisa Keyplas and Lindsay Sands, who we also love). We wanted you to decide if you wanted something completely restrained or completely indulgent but not halfway. Our taste is subjective… etc etc
This is the first time I’ve received this particular critique about the level of steaminess. Usually I get comments like – this is half way between historical fiction (literary) and historical romance (commercial). So this one threw me for a bit of a loop. And it made me wonder – are there really no books out there that are neither sweet nor spicy? Really?


The thing is – this middle ground is what I love to read, what I want to binge-watch: stories, whether contemporary or period-based, with spine-tingling, tear-inducing romance, but without explicit sex or anything crass. Think Patricia Veryan, Carla Kelly, or Kristan Higgins, and think Downton Abbey or Gilmore Girls. I want to feel the longing, see the conflict, eat up the tension, but I don’t need to actually see or read them getting it on. In fact that middle-ground between the initial attraction and the eventual fulfillment is the best part. That’s the heart of the romance, for me. A kiss (or kisses) is enough to show they are on their way to a happily ever after that is physically as well as emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

So many times I have seen the advice: write what you love, write what you want to read, write what only you can write. I embrace that. I embrace wanting to be in the middle of high- and low-brow. I embrace loving romance, wanting maximum romance, but not crossing the line into “steamy”. I don’t see why I should be “completely restrained” or “completely indulgent” when I can have my cake and eat it too, in the middle. And I’m not the only one… am I?

16 July 2018

Mummy Brain – The Struggle is Real!

Sleepless. Overjoyed. Frustrated. Elated. Isolated, but no time for me.

The life of a new mother is relentless. So rewarding. So punishing. So brain-numbingly tedious but emotionally stressful. At the end of the day creativity is at an all-time low, and the struggle to get the rear end off the couch or do anything other on the laptop than peruse emails or social media is all but hopeless.

But I know I need to fuel the creative fire to feel alive again. To feel like me. I am a writer. And that means that occasionally, once in a while… I should actually create some words. Fictional words in extraordinary worlds which only live in my imagination, where stories dwell that only I can tell. It’s just even harder than ever to find the headspace, let alone the energy, to let the juices flow and feel the wonderful reward (as well as the agony) of creation. All my mental power is consumed by nap times and durations, creating ever changing menus, getting to activities on time and whether I'm doing white or colours washing. I can't even remember what I did this morning. Creating fake people from scratch is a little challenging.

My most productive period in the past was after 8:30pm, when I gave myself a deadline each night to turn off the TV/internet/whatever and just write something, even for half an hour. That would frequently turn into two hours or more once I was in flow. Now at 8:30 my husband and I tend to look at each other and drowsily debate what else we will do before going to bed.

You would think that being home all day would lead to more productivity, not less. But naptime is dominated by trying to catch up housework, life admin, attempting to connect with other humans and… maybe, personal hygiene. And given I may have been up for much of the night before, mustering the drive to be creative is challenging to say the least.

Now I am back at work, and needing to cram in mothering/wifing/lifing into even smaller slots. On the weekend my husband is so busy trying to be helpful, it’s very difficult to have him be solo-daddy for an hour or so, so I can get into my writing.

But I know I need to give myself the time and space to write. I need to make a routine, the same way I do for other essential parts of my life, now that we have more structure in our lives. I don’t have the answer yet. But I have the will. And I hope that is a good start.

How have other mothers got their mojo back? Please share your strategies for regaining this important part of becoming yourself again!