Yesterday was my 5 Year Publishing Anniversary (or “Pubiversary” as some of us call it. Authors are allowed to make up words, right?). The day was a busy one for unrelated reasons, so I didn’t get to celebrate as I should have. But five years is a long time, and my celebration will come in the form of reflection.
The last five years might as well have been fifty for how much has changed for me as a direct result of publishing my work.
Let’s back up further, to 2000. I was watching TV with my husband (we weren’t married yet, though; not until the following year). A single line popped into my head: “It was raining the day I buried my wife.” Depressing, right? But if you’re a creative type, like me, depressing ideas often become opportunities. I was struck with the overwhelming certainty I was meant to write this line down, and more, that this line would become the beginning of a novel. Now, I had been writing since I was in the second grade. I’d won awards for my stories, and was known for being the girl who’s “imagination would get her in trouble one day.” (For the record, it got me in trouble more than a few times). But I was notorious for never finishing anything I wrote, except short pieces. No matter how much world building or planning I’d do, I was great at starting, okay at the middle, but a complete failure at tying it together into an ending. Endings were scary. Endings required commitment in a very final way.
Worse, like most writers, I was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. And I had no one to tell me nothing ever would be. I had to learn that on my own.
I’ve written before about how St. Charles at Dusk, which started with the line above, took me over a decade to write. If you’ve read the book, you’re probably asking: How?? The answer requires an essay of its own, but the short explanation is perfectionism and crippling self-doubt. Two things authors are intimately familiar with.
Then one day my husband came across some articles on Amanda Hockett and her success in self-publishing and encouraged me to give it a shot. Up to that point, when I thought of self-publishing I envisioned the middle aged man with boxes of his magnum opus sitting in the garage, waiting for him to drive around and peddle them to random strangers. Obviously, things had changed if a young girl could sell over a million books without anyone in the industry guiding her. This was a chance to get my work out there, without the stress of finding an agent or a publisher. A toe in the water. What did I have to lose?
Nothing, as it turned out. Instead, I had everything to gain.
Outside of a few Google searches, I knew absolutely nothing about self-publishing. I had no idea where to even start, and, at the time, I didn’t know any other authors (nor did I have a clue where to find them). I met a designer (referred to me by a friend) for coffee and tried to articulate the book and my vision for it, and failed miserably. He ended up designing a stunning cover, but it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I blame myself. Learning to articulate my work clearly and concisely was a skill that would come later. But it was a professional cover, and I published St. Charles at Dusk with it.
Formatting took me weeks to get right. I must have ordered ten proof copies before getting it passably correct. Figuring out where my books should be published (outside of the obvious choice of Amazon) was another mountain. My sanity was tested.
And then, on September 26th, 2011, I released St. Charles at Dusk to the wide world. No fanfare beyond a few excited friends and family members (I remember who supported me in those early days, and I love you all so much for it). Holding my own book in my hands for the first time is a feeling I cannot begin to describe, so won’t even try. If I got tagged in a “5 Best Moments of Your Life” post, that would be on there for sure.
Then… nothing. I had no clue how to market my work to anyone beyond my contacts, and my built-in humility made it hard to do even that. In 2011, I made exactly $53.24 (while I couldn’t sell books, I’m an ace at financial tracking). I’m fairly certain I could attach names to every one of those sales, too.
The first half of 2012 was no different. In fact, I made less. $49.50. I marketed the book exactly zero times, and the excitement I had in late 2011 from this accomplishment died from “I’m an author,” to “I published a book once.” I would daydream about the next book, but the ideas never made it to the page. I was The Queen of Concepts.
Then, as always, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I had a trip to Turkey and Morocco planned for late November, so I knocked out the entire required 50,000 words in twenty days. And I loved the story! It wasn’t exactly a sequel to St. Charles at Dusk (which was meant to be a standalone, but I found I couldn’t bear to leave that world). In fact, it felt like a beginning to something more. The Storm and the Darkness was, in my own way, a love letter to introverts. Ana Deschanel and Jonathan St. Andrews were my best attempt to show the world what it is to feel isolated and awkward, and to search for your place in the world. It was also the true start to what became The House of Crimson & Clover Series.
I didn’t touch the manuscript again until early 2013. I’d been laid off at work, and I needed something to keep me busy. I started blogging, mostly about travel and Tolkien topics, and met some amazing people, many of whom I’ve continued friendships with into today. I met other writers. I started to get a broader view of the industry beyond the small piece I occupied by myself. Inspired by being around other artists and rediscovering a sense of purpose, I dusted off The Storm and the Darkness and published it in June of 2013, a month after starting my new job.
Before, I’d told myself it was too difficult to balance a full time career in the outside world with a career in the writing world. Now, I was determined to ride this newfound excitement and momentum and prove myself wrong.
Flourish came in August of 2013. The Illusions of Eventide followed in December. Shattered in February of 2014, and then another four titles that same year. In 2013 I made hundreds of dollars. In 2014, thousands. Somewhere between Darkness and Flourish, I started learning Photoshop and began to design my own covers, which was an evolution in itself. Inspired by my good friend Becket, who had learned to design his own as well, I decided I could do anything I put my mind to, and if I practiced enough, I could do it well.
In 2014 I was invited to be a featured author at Anne Rice’s Undead Con in New Orleans. I was invited back in 2015. I had a chance to speak with Anne personally and tell her what her work had meant to me, and how she had inspired my work almost more than any other author.
Somewhere between those two events, Christopher Rice (another one of my favorite authors) picked up The Storm and the Darkness and declared it one of his favorite books, much to my incredible shock. He featured it as a Favorite Read on his Dinner Party Show. I still don’t know how this happened. It still takes my breath away.
I busted my ass and by the start of 2015 I had nine titles. But what I did not have was a solid marketing strategy.
Around this time, I finally envisioned the design that would define my brand. I spent endless hours redesigning my series, my website, my marketing materials. I began to understand that the reason I struggled to market before was that I was inconsistent in how I saw my work, and that included picking a genre and sticking with it. By focusing my brand into something others could see and recognize as mine, I was able to target the readers who should be reading my work.
In 2015, I published seven more titles. I became an Amazon Bestselling Author for the first time on my own (several times), and hit the USA Today list twice in anthologies. My sales went from four to five figures. I started to get emails daily from readers instead of monthly. I began to see the impact my work could have on others. My income moved from the four digits into the five. I was able to re-invest back in my business and grow it further.
Now, in 2016, five years after I hit publish with shaking hands, I have 22 titles under my name. I’m beginning to branch outside of The House of Crimson & Clover, and I now have a system that works- for writing, getting a book to market, and getting it before readers. And despite all that, I know I still have so much more to learn.
The accomplishments I’m most proud of in 5 years:
If some of this feels less than modest, that’s because there’s something else I’ve learned to do in five years: Not be afraid of success. In any other career, we are encouraged to go after promotions and opportunities, and we are equally encouraged to find pride when we get them. There’s a certain level of shame in admitting when you’ve done well as an author, as if the career choice is not viable in comparison to others. So this is me saying, I am thrilled with where my career as an author has taken me. And I’ve even more excited to see where it goes.
Most of all, though, I want to say thank you. To my readers who keep reading. To my author friends who keep me going. To my family and friends who believe in me. Writing is a very solitary profession, but having a support system makes it just a little bit less lonely.
Onward to the next 5 years.
I know you are hurting. We are hurting too. From Bossier Parish all the way down to Vermilion Bay, and in the places in between. From Slidell to Natchitoches, Ruston to Houma. Every one of us who loves this great state sees your plight, and we’re here to shoulder the burden. Side by side. Arm in arm.
You’ve been knocked down and you might think no one cares. You’re on your back scared, afraid… drowning. You may believe all hope is lost and the sun will never shine again. Reach inward, Louisiana, dig deep and you will find the light inside of you.
You were born with an indomitable spirit, and though there are parts of you that sit below sea level, you rise. You are a mix of faiths and races and you march to the beat of your own drum. You draw…
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Over the years I’ve gotten the feeling that The Prince’s Psalmwas a novel that was meant to be somehow. Along the road to publication, people told me the book was too old fashioned, too modern, too long and too short. There are more than a dozen drafts and scores of rewrites.
And every time I have thought to put the book aside, it has come up again, on its own.
There are plenty of books I want to write. Ideas that have been orbiting around up there, waiting on their chance, for years. I’ve written books that are moldering away on old, actually-floppy discs and some that are big-banded and stuffed into long forgotten stationery boxes.
I published Write Murderlast fall, the first in a murder mystery series I’ve always wanted to write.
There is a folder in my files entitled “I Think Maybe” that has little scraps…
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The Eric Shaw Quinn trilogy for #ThePrincesPsalm, all in one place. Check it out!
Publishing a new book is a great way to find out who your friends really are! And I don’t mean that snarky. A novel is a big ask of anyone, even a close friend. And a big fat, historical, biblical, gay romance, well that really gives your bestest, besties the chance to rise to the occasion. I apparently have a lot of really wonderful friends! So many people have taken time to help me promote my latest in a busy and indifferent marketplace. From astonishing posts to head spinning reviews to standing up for me against the online homophobes to showing up and getting a book signed or buying a copy and reading it, I feel very lucky so far. I can only hope that the enthusiasm of so many dear friends will translate into success for my dream project. Case in point: I have no idea what I have done…
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From time to time, I like to check in and let readers know what I’m working on.
In somewhat random, somewhat relevant order:
The three-part Eric Shaw Quinn series, as part of The Prince’s Psalm Blog Tour, concludes with Part 3 of 3: An Exclusive Excerpt on … And Then There was Sarah.
This is the post you’ve been waiting for. Eric Shaw Quinn, New York Times bestselling author and co-host of The Dinner Party Show, released on June 7th his most exciting and ambitious work yet: a biographical narrative of the powerful love between biblical heroes David and Jonathan. Now, you can read an EXCLUSIVE excerpt from the novel, right here.
The series began with an “in his own words” guest post from Eric, continued with an interview, and, finally, the best for last: an exclusive excerpt from The Prince’s Psalm!
Note: The below excerpt is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.
Their small party sat on cushions on the cool tiles of the floor in Nitzevet’s sewing room. David played as the women spun wool and flax into thread for the winter weaving. The sun drooped lazily under the eyebrow of the thickly overgrown arbors that shielded the rooms of the large house. A breeze blew in from the central courtyard.
David’s voice and music were like pale wine. Sharp at first and then soothing. The pure sweet notes took away the late summer heat of the month of Elul and eased the drudgery of the mundane tasks the karmel demanded.
“Oh God, do you believe in me?” David sighed as he plucked absently at the strings of his lyre.
His mother looked up at him from under a disapprovingly arched eyebrow and then back down at her work.
“I know I believe in you, Lord,” he went on. “One has only to behold the night sky or feel the heat of the Hamsin winds or witness a streak of light fall from heaven and split an oak to feel your presence. But what would you have of me?”
“David,” his mother scolded gently without looking up. She sighed wistfully but remained intent on her task, twisting wool onto her distaff. “You mustn’t say such things.”
“Does the Lord know of me or care about me?” David continued as though his mother hadn’t spoken, making a song of it as he accompanied himself on his lyre. “Though I have many blessings from him, he’s never answered a single one of my prayers. Can he not hear me? Or does he just not care? How do I find comfort in either answer?”
“David, you are such a terrible boy,” his sister Abigail giggled, more amused than disturbed by her younger brother’s regular proclamations on such grand topics.
“Yes, it is most fortunate that he can play the harp and sing so well. God would surely frown on such presumption otherwise if he didn’t make it sound so pretty,” his eldest sister, Zeruiah, confided loudly to Abigail.
“The Lord could not frown on such a gamila,” cackled Maha, the serving woman attending the three ladies.
“Little girl?” David translated Maha’s Arabic slang indignantly.
“Pretty little girl,” Abigail corrected with a prim smirk.
“I may be the eighth of eight brothers,” David threatened, striking an ominous cord on the lyre strings. “But I am still a man in this house.”
“And you look better in a silk tunic than any of the women who live on your father’s karmel,” Maha sniffed as she refilled the water cups.
“Maha,” David said sternly, plucking two dissonant notes to echo his tone. “You forget yourself.”
“Indeed,” Nitzevet said sternly, still not looking up. “My son has the best legs in all of Bethlehem, not just the karmel.”
Even David had to smile as the roomful of women dissolved into a musical chorus of chirping laughter.
“Is it not bad enough that I must be treated this way by my father and all my brothers?” David moaned, resuming his playing with a doleful tune. “Sisters, even your sons regard me more as their aunt than their uncle. I was doomed by the Lord’s malice to be a servant of my brothers before I even learned my prayers.”
“David, practice your music,” Nitzevet said sharply, looking up. She tired of her son’s all-too-familiar verses. “It’s too hot for all this again just now. Play something soothing if you’re going to stay in here.”
With a respectful nod to his mother, the only person from Dan to Beersheba and all of Israel in between who could command from him more than a haughty head toss, David resumed his playing. He began an amusing song of a shy young shepherd extolling the virtues of his great love, who turned out in the final verse to be his finest sheep. Nitzevet only rolled her eyes at the clever lyrics and their implications. It was a little coarse for the company but easier to hear than David’s endless poetic writhing against his fate.
Though she knew there would be little for David at the time of inheritance, she took some measure of comfort in the certain knowledge that there would always be a place for David at Eliab’s table. Nitzevet gave thanks that her most precious one would always have a fine home and a comfortable future in his brother’s house. If only David could be more at ease with his place in the world, she thought in her own silent psalm.
As if in answer, David took up a bittersweet love song. His voice drifted out with the light breeze that cooled the fine limestone house. Set high in the hills above the city, Jesse’s imposing home commanded a fine view of the sprawling farm. The large open rooms inhaled the steady sea breezes that coursed in a heartbeat the three-day journey across the plains of Philistia. Ruffling the sycamores and scrub in the rugged shephelah and climbing into the hills of Judah, they arrived cool and calm in Nitzevet’s sewing room.
The music, the summer day, and the hard work lulled everyone into a drowsy repose. Nitzevet alone saw Eliab. She smiled in response to Eliab’s pleading sign behind David’s back. He stole in through the courtyard garden.
The house was at peace and in order. Then, David’s legs were flying through the air as his benevolent but unseen assailant tossed him over his shoulder kicking and screaming. The disturbance spread as Eliab ran away with his little brother.
David wasn’t startled for long. He knew his brother’s playful grasp all too well.
David had passed the days of his youth stuffed into oil jars, stranded on tree limbs, and tossed into every body of water large enough to get him wet and muddy. He had also had the best seat at every festival, sacrifice, and trip into town: his brother’s broad and sturdy shoulders.
Though three summers had passed since David had stood up as a man to read from the scroll, they had neither of them outgrown this, their traditional greeting. Eliab was of age to marry. Only his desire to go adventuring in the king’s army kept him single. His stay in town was filled with as many women as there were nights in his visit.
Still each year it was the same. Eliab abducted David; David screamed and struggled like a virgin being captured by Amalekites to be sold into slavery.
The custom was well kept that evening. David shouted the house down as Eliab bore him on a wild and circuitous ride to the mule trough. There, as always, he dangled David above the murky water until the pleading and threatening brought the intervention of ultimate authority—Nitzevet.
“Eliab, you put me down this instant or I will poison your wine at table,” David howled, swinging wildly and without much malice toward his brother, his arms too short to afford his fists any serious purchase.
“Ah, little brother,” Eliab teased, splashing water onto David with one hand and dipping him dangerously close to the water’s surface with the other. “Is that any way to welcome your loving older brother home? Besides, you look as though you could use a little mikveh, and the mule trough is so refreshing.”
“Eliab.” Nitzevet’s voice rumbled from the distance like thunder coming over the hills before a summer storm. Her determined stride drew her quickly nearer to play her part in the ceremony. She tried not to smile as she approached, happy and relieved at replaying the old fun and not the old fight.
“What about my welcome home?” David demanded. Still upside down, he folded his arms and looked up into his tormentor’s face. “Why not come home with a casket of jewels to show your affection for your favorite brother rather than this primitive rite to prove your manhood? I’m hardly challenge enough to be much of a trophy.”
“I think you’d make an admirable trophy,” Eliab said, holding his brother up for inspection. “In fact, I think I’ll have you dipped in bronze and mounted on marble like a little Canaanite god. We could keep you in the kitchen to scare away evil spirits, or at least vermin.”
Eliab laughed loudly and alone at his own joke, though it was an effort for David not to join in.
“Put your brother down at once,” Nitzevet shouted as she arrived, breathless. The contest always and inevitably ended at the stables. There were only fields, orchards, and hills beyond.
“Now you’ve done it,” David said, checking his nails for dirt and evenness as casually as if he was standing upright.
“Where is your father?” Nitzevet demanded, smacking Eliab on the back of the head as she caught up to them. “You two will turn me into stone one of these days, carrying on like a Philistine invasion.”
“I rode ahead so I could surprise my brother,” Eliab said, upending David and crushing him to his chest like he was hugging a Canaan shepherd pup. “And why scold me? You might have warned him when you saw me coming, if you’re so concerned about the state of your delicate nature and our refined household.”
“Mother!” David accused, joining his brother in shifting the focus of torment to her. “How could you?”
“Oh, throw him in, then,” Nitzevet called over her shoulder. Turning her palms heavenward, she raised her hands above her head as she stalked back toward the house. “Your father will be home soon. I need to speak with him about disinheriting you both.”
“Well, there goes nothing for me, though a sad loss for you.” David sighed. Eliab stood him upright before again crushing him in an overzealous embrace. “Let go of me, you big oaf.”
“Oh, little brother,” Eliab said, putting an arm around David’s shoulder and dragging him back up the hill toward the house. “You’re too pretty to worry about such practical matters as inheritance.”
“That’s easy to say when you’re the eldest and the ugliest,” David groused as he feigned a struggle against his brother’s iron grip.
“Perhaps you’ll marry a rich husband?” Eliab said, pinching David’s cheek. “Your sisters haven’t done so badly.”
“Neither have their husbands,” David said, managing to tuck the back of his brother’s robe into his sash unnoticed.
“Speaking of which,” Eliab said, freeing David enough to allow him to walk alongside. “I ran into your betrothed, Micah, after Rosh Chodesh at temple last new moon.” They paused as they came into the small, fragrant kitchen garden fringing the side of the house.
“You are such a simple beast.” David groaned, trying to hide his excitement about news of Micah. “Just because you were born in the country is no reason to act quite such the son of Belail.”
“Oh, so sorry to waste your time with my like,” Eliab said with a humble bow. Picking up his stride, he easily left David behind. “I guess you don’t care to hear any message Micah sent for you by such as me,” he called back over his shoulder.
“No, Eliab,” David said, doubling his shorter stride to catch up and trying not to plead. He pursued Eliab into the thicket of fig trees that sheltered Nitzevet’s kitchen garden from the wind. “Micah’s a good friend, and I have hardly seen him since we were in town for Passover worship.”
“Well, which is it, little brother?” Eliab demanded with a devilish gleam in his mahogany eyes. He wheeled so suddenly that David collided with him and was once again in the vise grip of his brother’s arms. “Do you want to hear the message from your sweetheart or don’t you?”
“Eliab,” David wailed.
“Which is it?”
“Micah’s off to join King Saul’s army for the spring campaign,” Abinadab said, emerging suddenly from behind the fig trees and smacking Eliab’s bare backside. His delight in spoiling Eliab’s torment of their younger brother was unconcealed.
“You jackal,” Eliab said, dropping David into a bed of coriander in the confusion. He struggled to untangle his robe from his sash and cover his naked ass as he attempted to capture Abinadab.
Eliab found this brother’s capture and punishment a more formidable task than the previous round. Abinadab, only a year Eliab’s junior, was almost as tall and more stalwart. They were as much in league as men as they had been as children. Nitzevet called them the twins, as one was always to be found about the same designs and mischief as the other. They were as evenly matched. Their battles grew titanic as they grew into men, splintering furniture and shattering crockery with their struggles to resolve whatever argument brought them to blows. The best anyone could do or hope for was to stay out of their way until they’d reached some truce or agreement or were just too tired to battle on. Most simply fled their clashes. Their father Jesse laughed helplessly. Only one possessed the bronze to still their storms like rain on a brush fire.
“Abinadab, David, Eliab bin Jesse,” Nitzevet bellowed, emerging from her kitchen like a she-bear from her lair. “Get out of my garden and stop that at once.”
The men scrambled like boys as they scattered and made to deflect the wrath of their beloved mother.
“Go and get yourselves cleaned up for supper, and don’t let me hear any more of this nonsense until after the harvest is in,” she said, striking Abinadab with the wooden spoon in her hand, simply because he was the nearest.
Eliab snatched David out of the coriander before his mother could see the damage. They all filed past under her withering glare. Each son kissed her check as they went inside. They left her to find water, oil, and linens and make ready for the homecoming feast they’d smelled all the way up the hill from Bethlehem.