Archive for the 'Readers' Category

On the Lighter Side of Wallets
by Annette McCleave on March 23rd, 2010

Sorry to be posting so late. I’m deep in the final days of finishing off a manuscript and when I’m writing I lose all track of time.

The other day, I went to the bookstore and parted with forty-one dollars to buy a handful of mass market paperbacks. As I handed the cashier my money, I felt a momentary twinge of guilt. This reading habit of mine keeps getting more and more expensive. Forty bucks is a fair chunk of change. But then I thought about the last time I went to see a movie at the theater. Thirteen dollars for the ticket, another ten for the drink and popcorn (I CANNOT go to the movies without buying popcorn, even if I’ve just had dinner). That’s twenty-six dollars for two hours of entertainment.

The books I bought will keep me contented for at least six times that amount of time. And I get the added value of using my brain.

If I go to a hockey game (Go Sens!), it costs me $42 to sit in the nosebleed section up near the roof. And that’s without food. If I go to a concert, I can double that price at a minimum.

Hardcover books aside, aren’t books a great value? What do you think? If you mostly pick up your books at the library, what motivates to actually lay down the cash for a book?

Cover lovin’
by Jessa Slade on March 22nd, 2010

Currently working on: Organizing a writing challenge for my Romance Writers of America chapter
Mood: Inspiring

Writing can be a lonely endeavor.  The stereotypical writer (okay, ME) spends a lot of time at her keyboard, mumbling to herself.  On rare occasions, she is booted — blinking mustily — into the sun to confront other people.  People like… readers.  Oh noes!  What to say?!  (This is especially terrifying to some writers — okay, ME — who will be attending in the next four months three booksignings, two conventions and a conference where there will be LOTS of readers to talk to — yikes!)

So we decided (barricaded safely behind the interwebz) that this week’s topic is “Questions we’d like to ask readers.”

And my question is “Does Liam have a great butt, or what?”


This is my second cover for the second book in The Marked Souls series.  And it was every bit as nail-gnawing exciting as waiting for the first cover.  Here’s the back cover blurb:

The war between good and evil has raged for millennia, with the Marked Souls caught in the middle, but the new girl doesn’t play by old rules…


Liam Niall never meant to be a leader.  Barely surviving the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine with body and soul intact, he escaped to Chicago…where he lost half his soul and gained a wayward band of demon-possessed warriors.  Now, as the talyan face a morphing evil, Liam grows weary and plagued by doubt.


Then a new weapon falls into his hands.  Her name is Jilly Chan.  To save his talyan and her demon-ridden soul, Liam must win her to his battle and his bed. 


Waging a one-woman war against the threats to the street kids she mentors, Jilly stands her ground against danger in all its guises.  She won’t be any man’s woman…or weapon.  But Liam—with his hard eyes, soft brogue and compelling hands—is a danger to her rebellious independence…and her heart.


These two halved souls sharing one fierce passion will sear a fresh scar across the city.  Who’s in danger now?

Book 1 had Archer’s chest.  Book 2 has Liam’s butt.  My goodness, what will Book 3 show? ;)

That was a rhetorical question.  My real question to readers was going to be something along the lines of “How important is a great butt cover when you decide whether to pick up a book?”  But I decided that’s a dumb question (and yes, there are dumb questions) because OF COURSE a great cover is important.  Maybe not the deciding factor, but a beautiful, intriguing or shocking cover can inspire the hand to reach for it.

And most writers have zero control over the cover.  Actually, there’s a lot that the writer doesn’t have control over, like — for a completely random, not-desperately-whorish-at-all example, ahem – the importance of preording FORGED OF SHADOWS at major bookstores…


But I do have some alleged, nominal control over me, myself and I.  And I since I will have to inspire readers IN PERSON (did I mention terrifying?) my question to readers is this: 

“What do you want from authors in real life?  What makes a great author/reader interaction?”

Besides chocolate, I mean.

To sweeten the pot in a non-caloric way, I have a signed ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of FORGED OF SHADOWS to give away.  It comes with a Pepto-pink cover similar to this font color, not Liam’s handsome butt, sorry.  Comment on any post this week for a chance to win.  Heck, comment on EVERY post this week for more chances!

And finally, a parting shot…


My first romance… Novel, that is :)
by Jessa Slade on February 22nd, 2010

Currently working on: Just finished page proofs on FORGED OF SHADOWS, the last step before June 2010 publication
Mood: Good luck, little book!  Now get out

rose-in-winterDoesn’t everyone remember the first romance novel they discovered?  Back in the day, I stumbled upon my mother’s copy of A ROSE IN WINTER by Kathleen Woodiwiss.  A charming rouge, a burned-out manor house, an auction-block marriage, a winter ball, and a Beauty and the Beast twist.  Oh my!  After reading that, I was ruined forever.  Kinda like your typical swooning historical ingenue.

I think the right first romance novel is very much like the right first kiss.  You want it to be special, deep and meaningful, a memory to cherish.  So, like a fairy godmother picking out a prince, I take a book recommendations very seriously, especially when I am recommending a first romance novel.

Romance novels already suffer from red-headed stepchild syndrome with some (silly!) people, but I love when I can win over a new reader.  I’m always discovering new great books that I just KNOW will turn on the most hard-hearted cynic, and I also have a few gold standards that I can fall back on.

Romantic comedy
I always like to start off easy on a new romance reader.  I find a contemporary romantic comedy can be a good beginner romance because:

  • The contemporary settings are readily absorbed.  There are no Austenian social mannerisms to maneuver around, no “och, wee lass, do ye ken mah claymore yearns fer ye?” historical diction to decipher.
  • Rom-com movies often pave the way in reluctant psyches.agnes
  • The fun covers sometimes don’t even give away that it IS a romance.

Anything by Jennifer Crusie is a great “starter” because her dazzlingly delightful dialogue will win over non-believers.  And it’s so convenient that she’s writing with Bob Mayer now, because you can even spring these books on unsuspecting male-type readers because — hey! — there’s a guy’s name on the cover!

Historical romance
For the slightly uptight, a good, corseted historical can help loosen them up.  The trick with “reading” a reader who might like a historical is figuring out whether they’ll sway toward a more correct historical interpretation or if a rollicking adventure would more tickle their fancy.

But as far as tickling goes, a spicy, saucy story like Delilah Marvelle’s are sure to please.  And by pleasure, I think we all understand what I mean ;)

Of course, there are also category romances, romantic suspense, inspirationals, straight contemporary, women’s fiction (with a strong romance)…  And, of course, paranormal romance :)  But as you know, paranormal romance isn’t for the faint of heart.

Finding a first romance novel for the people around me isn’t just a job.  It’s a passion!

And how lucky I am to be able to indulge my love as a tax write-off ;)

What’s the first romance novel you recommend to newbies?  Have you ever made a romance reader for life (or — in the case of paranormal romance – afterlife)?

Talking Turkey
by Annette McCleave on November 24th, 2009

As the end of 2009 draws near, it’s a natural time to reflect. The old year is settling back on its heels, and the new year is bright and shiny and just visible around the corner. Sometimes it’s hard to see that brightness, especially when things have been particularly dark, but the light is always there if you look for it.

I’m grateful for many things this year…

1. The roof over my head and the food on my table. So many people, especially now, are going without. I’m lucky, and I know it.

2. My health and the health of my loved ones. Having been hit hard by cancer, my family is particularly conscious of how short life can be. We’ve learned to make every minute last.

3. My family. The product of a military life of the move, my family has always been tightly knit, but amazingly, as the years pass, we seem to grow even closer.

4. My dreams. Two years ago, my dream of becoming a published author was just that, a dream. This year, it’s reality. If I had never dared to dream, if I had never pursued that dream with passion, my reality would be very different.

5. The people who inspire me. The world news delivered to our door each day can be harsh and cruel and dispiriting. But time and time again, I’ve been blessed to see and hear stories of courage and selflessness that make me proud to be human. Sometimes those stories come from people I don’t know, sometimes from my friends and neighbors. Sometimes they’re about little things, sometimes large and wondrous things. Many times the inspiration comes from unexpected sources, including honest and heartfelt comments on blogs like this one.

6. My readers. This one is new, and absolutely amazing. I’ve received wonderful letters from readers who’ve connected with my characters. That they’ve taken time out of their busy lives to write me and tell me so has repeatedly put a huge smile on my face.

I hope all of you have a terrific Thanksgiving holiday. Stay safe, eat well, and be loved.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
by Our Guest on April 30th, 2009

So, you’ve sold a book. Finally, someone has told you that you did all the right things in the right genre at the right time, and all your stars have fallen into place. The next year or so will be one of the best of your life. Oh, there will be revisions to work on, new proposals to submit, but during those prerelease months, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be driving around in your car, or at the grocery store, or at sitting at work with the biggest, goofiest grin on your face, and sometimes you’ll even laugh out loud from happiness, making those around you ease away slowly.

Then, a few weeks before the big day, reality sets in. Or, rather, you realize the reviews will start coming in, and suddenly that confident smile wilts to be replaced by sweating palms and a budding ulcer. Oh. My. God…what if no one likes it? What if it’s totally panned? You find yourself forgetting all the wonderful reasons your editor bought the manuscript in the first place and second guessing things like…the hotness of your love scenes. Too much? Not enough? What about the hero and heroine’s first meeting. Does she come off as an air head? Is he a macho jerk? Can I please just make a few last minute changes?????


Yes, pretty much overnight I went from fairytale princess communing with the birds and little animals of the forest to one of those horror movies where the girl wanders off alone into the darkened woods as the scary music builds, and we wait, tensed and breathless, for the monster to jump out and eat her.


OK, turns out it wasn’t so bad. For the most part in fact, pretty darn good. There were a couple I’ve erased from my memory banks, but icky words like “mediocre writing” (for Dark Obsession) remain like smoking brands on my writer’s psyche. And then there was that “Meh,” although I forget which book that was for. Unlike joyful praise or scathing criticism, judgments of mediocre and meh imply that I simply failed to elicit an emotional response - and that’s the worst thing you can say to a writer. I’d rather the reader loathed me, ranted and raved about everything that drove her crazy, because then at least I’d know I struck a chord and got some passion out of her!

So my best comments…I can’t deny that the words, “Best Historic Romantic Gothic of 2008″ have gone a helluva long way in boosting my confidence and making me feel like I’ve come of age as a writer. The competition was stiff, I felt sure I’d never win and just being nominated is an honor… Well. Occasionally I still wonder if there’s been a mistake.


But the comments that have made the most impact on me came from a reader who experienced what I can only call a horrific tragedy in her life, which I won’t go into, but she said reading my books helped her see that while events can snowball out of control, self-forgiveness is key to recovering and getting your life back on track. Not only was I humbled and touched that this reader chose to share her story with me, but it drove home the point that as writers we have a responsibility to present human emotions as truthfully and realistically as we can, because there will always be someone out there who has experienced, in some form, the nature of what we’re writing about. Yes, romance is foremost an entertainment genre, but fiction is a powerful medium, and as writers we should always respect the power of the words we set to the page.

I really should have kept the android sex
by Sharon Ashwood on April 28th, 2009

barefeetYou know those anxiety dreams where you show up for a final exam that you haven’t studied for and you’re naked and on prime time TV with an audience of millions? That’s what publishing a book feels like. Your inner self is out there for all to see and criticize and—guess what—for good or ill, feedback happens.

I’ve been fortunate. With few exceptions, the response to RAVENOUS has been very supportive. Still, I get that “erk” feeling whenever someone darkens my in-box with a “check out your review here” link. Now I know what a partridge feels like in the shooting season. You’re game, baby, and someone has a rifle pointed at your butt.

Don’t get me wrong. An author (or anyone who puts their work before the public) rarely objects to constructive criticism or balanced reviews. No one is perfect. It helps to know where, as an artist, one is missing the mark. Beyond that, not everyone is going to like every book. That’s why there are 7,164 sub-genres of romance.

My only complaint about having the metaphorical gun pointed at my metaphorical tail feathers is that the intrinsic anonymity of the Internet does not enhance civilized dialogue. Which is a nice way of saying some folks are just plain off their meds some days.

Worst comment? Someone said RAVENOUS was so boring they quit reading halfway through. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to say what they thought was missing. More dead bodies? Polyandrous android sex? Ghouls doing the can-can? Who knows?

Best comments? Well, here are some nice ones I grabbed off my website:

I urge anyone who is a fan of urban fantasy and paranormal romance to put Sharon Ashwood at the top of their list! – Night Owl Romance, Reviewer Top Pick

With its splendidly original heroine and dangerously sexy hero, surfeit of sizzling sexual chemistry and sharp writing seasoned with a generous dash of wicked wit, “Ravenous” is simply superb. - Chicago Tribune

Intriguing and darkly entertaining — not to mention sexy. Ashwood is definitely making herself right at home in this genre - Romantic Times Book Reviews

Nice, but I really like the ones from private individuals who drop an email to say, “Hey, I stayed up all night to finish this. Good work!” Those are the folks who keep me going in the cold, still hours at the keyboard.

The best, though, came when I was talking to a friend (who is also one of my beta readers) about the plot for book three. I was saying something about the heroine and she turned around and said, “No, you can’t write that. That’s wrong. Ashe wouldn’t do that.”

Oh, the proud mother moment. My characters have lives and worlds of their own and are negotiating with my readers behind my back. Alive! They’re alive!

However, I’m checking my credit card statements carefully.

I gave a few of them expensive taste.

A Well-Placed Word
by Annette McCleave on April 28th, 2009

Major congrats to our own Allison Chase for winning the 2008 Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historic Romantic Gothic at the Romantic Times Convention this past weekend!

* * *

As a ‘not-quite’ published author, I don’t have a lot of reader feedback on my books yet. Still, feedback was instrumental in smoothing out the many bumps in my road to publication.

In the beginning, when I first started writing seriously, most feedback took the form of responses from judges in contests that I entered. For a writer flexing her wings for the first time, wondering if she had the talent to turn her dreams into reality, those initial comments were precious gems chipped out of the gloomy rockface of self-doubt. I once got these words back on an entry:

“You have a lot of talent! Never, never quit! You will be published.”

Can you imagine the power of receiving that feedback on the same day the mailman delivers a flurry of rejection letters from agents? Yes, I’m sure you can.

I used to pull all the positive comments off my contest entries and store them together in a file. Never any negative comments—they had their place, but not in this document. Then, whenever the world felt particularly heavily and I considered giving up, I’d open up that file and read all the lovely things people said.

“You are a wonderful, talented writer with a magnificent voice. I’ll be looking for you in print.”

Bolstered by a few very kind words, I’d find the strength to send my newest manuscript out into the cold, cruel world.

The closest I’ve come to a reader comment was an email I got over a year ago, after I finaled in the Brava Novella Contest, where the top 20 entries are posted online. Mine was a medieval historical, set in France. Out of the blue I received this:

“I would like to purchase the book title: A Righteous Seduction, but I have been unable to find the seller. Would you by any chance be able to supply me with a name? This book sounds interesting.”

I practically danced on the ceiling. Someone wanted to buy my book. Okay, it was only a novella, and it wasn’t actually published yet, but someone wanted to BUY my book. Responding to that reader to let her know the story was not in print—and might never be—was soooo hard.

I’m looking forward—yes, with nervous anticipation—to getting reader feedback on DRAWN INTO DARKNESS in my mailbox. The good and the not-so-good. I’ll read the not-so-good ones, look for lessons to be learned, then put them away. But the good ones? You guessed it—I’ll be storing those in a special file I can open up every now and then and savor.

If you’re a reader (which most of us are, LOL) and you love an author’s books, I heartily encourage you to visit her website and drop her a quick note telling her so. We writers are a strange bunch—chock full of prose-induced confidence one minute, lost in the depths of uncertainty the next. Trust me, your words will be incredibly, marvelously appreciated. Even by the big names.

How about you? Did you ever receive a compliment or a pat on the back at just the right moment? Something that kept you slogging forward, despite the challenges you were facing? Willing to share?

The Same Old Stories — But NOT!
by Our Guest on February 5th, 2009

What do readers want?



A touch of DANGER:

Let us not forget UNBRIDLED PASSION:


Sound a little cliched? There’s a reason for that. It’s been said that there are basically seven stories in the world and they’ve pretty much all been written. Over and over and over again. (These would be: Defeating the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth.) Each of these classic stories is peopled with archetypes. Without getting all literary and in-depth, archetypes are those quintessential characters we recognize the minute we see them. The Mother, the Hunter, the Wanderer, the Mentor, the Shadow, the Reluctant Hero (a favorite in romance), etc. — these all embody certain personality types with very specific behaviors, and readers are able to connect and empathize with these characters right away. Think fairytales and myths, and stories like The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter. Aragorn, Frodo and Harry are reluctant heroes. Wolverine in X-Men is another. Each has a Mentor — Gandalf, Dumbledore, Xavier — each must fight a Shadow, etc.

But archetypes are also where the idea of stereotypes comes from. In writing, archetypes are good; stereotypes are bad (actually, stereotypes are always bad). The trick, always, is in finding a fresh approach to every new story, and to use the archetypes as guides to create original characters while avoiding the cliches of stale old stereotypes. Easy? NO! But don’t let me scare you! The beauty of it is that you really don’t have to be actively aware of any of this, or even know what the seven classic stories or archetypes are to put them to good use. A lot of it is instinctive.

So, OK, what was the question? Oh yeah, what do readers want. As a reader, I want believable, identifiable characters I can relate to (yes, even the villains), whose actions remain true to who they are, yet who are capable of growing (don’t forget that character arc), who set off on extraordinary, action-packed adventures, face danger, discover passion and, in the end, learn that love is the greatest power on earth.

Did I leave anything out?

Great Expectations
by Annette McCleave on February 3rd, 2009

I believe each reader opens the cover of a book armed with different expectations. Those expectations can be based on all sorts of things, including past experiences, likes & dislikes, and even what kind of day they’ve had. But I also believe most readers have general demands of their literary investments—they want to lose themselves in the story from page one, they want a riveting story that makes it tough to put the book down, and they want to close the book satisfied.

At least, that’s what I want when I read. :grin:

When I write, I try to keep the reader in mind. Not so much in the first draft—which is mostly about capturing the story and getting it down on paper—but definitely as I revise. The story in my head is full of wonderful details that make it come alive, but I sometimes forget to drop some of those details onto the written page. So, as I revise, I layer more of those details in.

One of the ways I try to factor in the reader experience is to read the story like an unbiased reader. Obviously, this is impossible to do when you’re the author. But to gain a bit of objectivity, I take step back and let the manuscript sit for a while. Wander off, read or write something else, take a break. For a couple of weeks, if I can manage it.


When I return to the manuscript to tackle the next draft, I see things I’ve missed: descriptions that didn’t quite capture the mood, clues that weren’t dropped, emotions that were lost in translation to the page.

Whether I’m successful in giving the reader what she wants is up to the reader herself—you’ll have a chance to judge in September—but my ultimate goal is to write a story that entertains.

Certain genres of novels come with inherent expectations: romance novels need a happily ever after, mysteries need to be solved, fantasy novels need the bad guy to get his ass kicked. In addition to those, when I plop myself down with a book, I bring along my individual wants: a hero/heroine who isn’t TSTL, a plot that I can follow without getting lost, and some humor.

What expectations do you have when you bend back the cover?

What a reader wants
by Jessa Slade on February 2nd, 2009

Currently working on: The big 3/4 fubar
Mood: Gleeful

I consider myself first and foremost a reader. I learned phonetics with LOTR. (Ar-Sakalthôr, anyone? How about Tar-Ancalimon? Númenor didn’t fall to hubris but to unwieldy names — Sorry, I should’ve called geek alert first). I read Black Beauty 11 times in a row. My bookshelf spilleth over. I am reader; hear me slap down plastic at Powells Books!

That said, I have no idea what readers want. When I go through Powells endless stacks or I search my library’s collection online, I am amazed at how many choices there are, especially when I can’t quite imagine who those titles might appeal to — or why.

Sample these delights from Bookseller’s 2008 oddest book titles:

  • I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen, by Jasper McCutcheon
  • Cheese Problems Solved, edited by P L H McSweeney
  • If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs, by Big Boom
  • And of particular interest to the writers among us: How to Write a How to Write Book, by Brian Piddock
  • Though the impossible urge is to please everyone, I’ll have to go with what my mother told me about my story. My mama said: It better have a happy ending.

    Demons were okay by her. And premarital sex (in fiction, at least). And some other fairly intense questioning of various “truths.” Fine, fine. But there better be a happy ending.

    So maybe that encapsulates what every reader wants, from any genre she is reading? She wants a happy ending. Maybe not a great love between the hero and heroine as is the case in romance, but the happiness of a story that comes to its promised — if not necessarily expected — conclusion. The killer is caught. The mystery solved. The world is saved. The cowboy rides into the sunset. Ah.

    Scientific analysis of a dog’s ‘happy end.’

    As a reader, when I turn the last page, I want to be left in ‘ah.’ As a writer, I seek that ah-ful, ah-some moment of Happily Ever Ah-fter.

    Besides, I figure, if I can’t please everyone, I can at least please my mom.

    Out of curiosity, what have you done — or refused to do — to meet the expectations of your mother or someone else who mattered to you? In the end, did it feel right or wrong? How do you balance the expectations of others with what you want for yourself?

    P.S. Mom, you’re all good; stories with happy endings were the only ones I ever wanted to write.