A Quick Review; No Chaser

Purchase it Here!

Song of Smoke: A Dragon Shifter Romance is book 1 in Jillian James’s King’s Series.  It was independently published in August of 2018 both in paperback and Kindle formats and is a quick read for all you romance lovers out there. Honestly, I devoured this book. The characters were compelling, the writing was good, and I love dragon-shifter books. As for world-building, Jillian James does an excellent job of creating a universe that can sustain many more books.

This book’s beginning was dark and a little disturbing. Seda is living in an extremely abusive patriarchal society where women are property. Humans live most of their lives underground because of the war between humans and dragons but women find themselves thrown into the dungeon for the smallest offenses. Despite her circumstances, Seda comes across as a spunky, strong-willed heroine that I could immediately embrace.

Dederic is the insanely handsome and dangerous hero every dragon-shifter book should provide, and the chemistry between the two main characters was tangible in this slow-burn romance. There was one secondary character, Odin, that caught and held my attention. I hope James will return to him in a later book to give him a mate of his own.

There were the occasional spelling and typo errors but I’m beginning to accept this new reality in all published books whether self-published or traditionally published. Either way, the mistakes weren’t enough to slow down my reading or dampen my enjoyment.

All and all, I would highly recommend this series to any fantasy romance fan. Book 2 in this series, Whisper of Water, will be available January 19th according to her website and I am looking forward to reading it.

Going Wide in 2020

Photo by Alex Woods on Unsplash

For the past few months, I’ve been watching my Kindle Unlimited stats and I’m not thrilled. Despite my marketing efforts, the hours I spend agonizing over tags and descriptions, and the promised advantages of being enrolled in Amazon’s Select program, I’m not seeing enough bang for my buck. Amazon arguably has the biggest share of the ebook market, but after a while, exclusivity becomes limiting and expensive for authors with more than one or two books to promote.

So after publishing 3 books in 2019, I’m faced with a fork in the road. I either have to stick to the Amazon exclusive program or go wide.

Going wide means offering my books everywhere books are sold online. It seems like a no-brainer, no? Actually, it is a more time consuming and longer road to travel for authors. It’s simply easier to remain exclusively with Amazon. But having all your eggs in one basket has its own set of risks. Amazon can derail all your efforts if they decide to drop some of your hard-earned reviews. (That happened to me early in my publishing career.) Or, if they change your genre or tags without explanation….like moving a romance book into erotica. (That has also happened to me. I got it fixed but it took a herculean effort on my part to get two of the Darkly books back into the romance category where they belonged.)

A lot of an author’s success in going wide has a lot to do with name recognition as much as it has to do with the quality of their books. More markets mean more time on social media, more ad placements, and pretty much just more of everything before you see any results.

I tried going wide in 2010 and 2011 with Smashwords and it didn’t really help me. Their platform was okay back then, but it wasn’t slick or exactly easy to use. And because that experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I’m going with Draft2Digital this time. The interface is easy, the graphics are appealingly modern and fast loading, and the support staff is wonderfully responsive to issues that authors run into while trying to market their novels.

The ability to make universal links for my books is probably my most favorite feature. With a single click, readers are given a choice of online bookstores from which to purchase the ebooks. So if you like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or others…it’s all there in one place to find.

For example, here’s a list of my books with their universal links.

Enchanted Darkly
Bound Darkly
Kept Darkly
Surrendered Darkly
Resurrected Darkly

The Love of Gods
The Fate of Wolves

If you’ve clicked on any of them, you’ll notice that Resurrected Darkly is on preorder and that The Love of Gods and The Fate of Wolves is still available through Amazon only. That will change at the end of this month once my three-month exclusivity commitment to Amazon is fulfilled. You will also notice that Draft2Digital and Books2Read has provided a landing page for authors. Not only do you get the book cover and blurb, but you also get access to the author’s bio and shown other books by that author. I have to say, it impressed me. That level of simplicity and professional design should help me keep my social media ads clean-looking.

The next step in my 2020 marketing plan is to create and publish an ebook box set for the Darkly books through Draft2Digital so readers can download the entire series at a discounted price. I hope it will encourage readers to try out this fey romance-adventure and breathe new life into a series that I love.

I’ve also gotten a firm deadline from my editor for The Dreams of Demons, book 3 in the Legends of the Pale series. So now, I can confidently begin laying the groundwork for its June 1st release. And at this point in time, I’m committed to the “go wide” marketing plan. More and more I’m finding that not everyone likes Amazon.

I guess that’s all I have to report today. Thanks for checking in with me here at the Chalkboard. I’m just getting back into the swing of things after taking time off from writing to be with family over the holidays. In the coming days, I’ll be posting several book reviews from my holiday read pile. Otherwise, it’s back to work on book 4, 5, and 6 of the Pale series.

May your 2020 be the best year yet!

Fighting Preconceived Notions: Romance

For some reason this week I’ve been running into the same wall. It usually begins with an eye-roll from the other person after I explain that I write romance novels.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Ah, where to begin…

For some reason this week I’ve been running into the same wall. It usually begins with an eye-roll from the other person after I explain that I write romance novels. Somehow my being a romance author makes me less than in their eyes; less talented, less serious, less theme-based, less thought-provoking. Dismissable.

“Really? You don’t like things like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Anna Karenina, The Notebook, Time Traveler’s Wife, Outlander…?”

Before I know it, I’m defending the entire genre and explaining that my books aren’t like the princess driven trade paperbacks they might have read in their youth. The entire genre is now woke, where consent and diversity are addressed, and strong female leads are the norm.

If the conversation manages to get past the first roadblock, I’m then justifying the sex scenes in my books and that of other authors.

“Why do they even have to be there in the first place?”

That question usually leads to my explaining the very big genre differences between romance and erotica. Sex as a plot device versus sex for sex sake. I might even launch into a diatribe on the lingering dislike of romance as another subtle form of slut-shaming. Luckily, that usually only happens after a glass of wine…or two.

The final nail in my conversational coffin occurs when I explain that I write paranormal romance.

“Yes, paranormal.”

“No, that doesn’t necessarily mean vampire. It could mean ancient gods, werewolves, shifters, demons, or any other supernatural being.”

“Yes, I realize vampires aren’t real.”

“Oh, I’m sorry you don’t enjoy fantasy. Shame really. Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland. They really were fantastic books.”

At that point, the conversation is over. There’s no reason to explain the difference between paranormal and fantasy. They don’t understand me, and I don’t understand them. How do you live in a world without a touch of magick?

Ick.

I’d like to say that these conversations only happen with individuals of a certain age or gender, but I can’t. This week it’s been weirdly random. The fact that I’m running into it more at Christmas time than earlier this year is even stranger since this is supposed to be the most magical time of the year.

Christmas is when we should celebrate love in all its forms. Real or fictional.

So yes, judge a book by its cover and quality of prose but don’t limit yourself by genre. Take a risk. Try something new this season. You just might encounter undiscovered worlds and characters that find a permanent home on your bookshelves.

The Holidays are Here!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I have to admit that 2019 has been especially good to me. I’ve published a total of three books this year and have been allowed to devote all my energy to writing. The new Legends of the Pale Series has been highly praised by readers and reviewers alike which is a wonderful gift for any author. And, the Darkly Series is now complete a series of five books I can be proud to have written.

Literary Titan has been especially exuberant with their kind words and with their acknowledgment of the Legends of the Pale and Darkly books this year by bestowing Gold and Silver awards to many of them.

I do have one more book signing this year at the Madison Artist Guild on Saturday the 14th, but then I’m taking a short break to be with family before attacking the new year and the first draft of book 5 in the Legends of the Pale series.

Next year, I plan on attending several book festivals between book signings… and of course, books 3 and 4 will be released in 2020. Soon the Legends of the Pale books will be available at the Southern Pen Bookshop, in Monroe, Georgia. Be sure to check back from time to time for the latest news on my progress.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Tarrant

Soon my books will be at the Southern Pen BookShop in Monroe, Ga.

Updates from an Author’s Life

Jackie was an early reader and supporter of my Darkly Series. It was so wonderful to see her at the signing.

Saturday turned out to be an impactful day for this indie author. I’m happy to report that sales at my book signing at In High Cotton were brisk. I love the opportunity to introduce new readers to my series and connect with past readers who already know and love the characters from previous books.

And if that weren’t enough to warm this author’s heart, I also had a review notice from Literary Titan hit my email box. I was pleased to discover that the reviewer had given The Fate of Wolves five stars. But it was what the reviewer wrote that stunned me. It also brought me to tears right there in the middle of my big day.

Here’s the passage that got the waterworks going:

The Fate of Wolves, by Tarrant Smith, is the second in The Legends of the Pale series. From cover to cover, Smith delivers insanely well-drawn characters and enough moments of levity to keep this paranormal romance moving along at a brisk pace. Never does Smith’s work lack. As the author bounces from one subplot to the next and back, she keeps readers on their toes and deeply involved with each of the main characters and their tragic lives.”

But that’s not all:

“I would be remiss if I didn’t address Smith’s opening lines. It’s not often that I rave about the beginning of a book, but in this case it’s a must. From the first sentence, Smith had me hooked.”

Wow. Just Wow. I know I’m not supposed to take any single review to heart. I actually try not to pay too much attention to my reviews because even a small flaw pointed out by a reader has the power to mess with my confidence as a writer. And honestly, reviews are for readers, not authors. They are subjective comments about a book that potential readers use while deciding whether to buy or invest there time.

But, this particular review might get a special place near my writing area just to remind myself that the hard work and effort to produce my best possible work is worth all the hours of writing, the self-doubt that no one will read it, and soul searching that goes into crafting what I hope will be the perfect story.

***

In other news, I have one more book signing coming up. December 14th at the Madison Artist Guild will be my last signing of the year. So please, mark your calendars. Details can be found on my Events page.

Also, I hope to announce very soon that the Legends of the Pale books will be carried by the Southern Pen Bookshop in Monroe, Ga. I’m meeting with the owner this week to work out the details.

Lastly, I’d like to report that I am hard at work on book four in my Legends of the Pale series. I’ve nearly completed the first draft of The Souls of Witches. So as we all march toward the holidays, I can say with all certainty that I will have two completed unpublished books in my stocking this Christmas. That means The Dreams of Demons and The Souls of Witches will be released in 2020. You can view their covers on my book pages.

Read with confidence, my friends. There is so much more coming in this series.

A Quick Review; No Chaser

Kulti

Kulti by Mariana Zapata wouldn’t have been a book I’d automatically pick up. Though it’s a contemporary romance, it’s also set in the world of women’s soccer which is something I don’t follow or have ever played as a kid. It’s a doorstop of a book. My copy was 560 pages long. I like long books, but in the romance genre it’s at least a hundred pages too long. The main character’s love interest is a retired legend of the sport, and he’s German. I’m sure there are plenty of friendly Germans in the world but I rode dressage for years. I’ve had several German coaches. They’re typically difficult as hell and demanding beyond words.

Mariana Zapata is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. This book has 1, 193 reviews on Amazon. The majority of readers like this book. So despite my very personal issues, I dug in and tackled my book club’s choice.

It wasn’t awful. As a matter of fact, mostly…it was quite nice. The writing was good; the internal dialogue funny.

The pacing of the romance was slow to the point of painful, which is a problem that I can’t ignore since this is supposed to be a romance first and a sports novel second. Two hundred pages in I couldn’t help but think, what the hell? Why didn’t her editor bother to rein in this author? I sighed, rolled my eyes, and then reminded myself that this is a bestselling author. That should mean something. Yes? There must be a big payoff coming. Hopefully. And then, I’d start reading again.

Sal, the main soccer-playing character, is in her late twenties. Despite being a leader, focused and driven to excel in her sport, and arguably the best player on her team, her reaction to Reiner Kulti is extraordinarily adolescent. I’m sure this might be endearing to some readers but not to me. I’ve been a tomboy all my life; horses, basketball, golf, cycling. I understand being competitive, giving your all, and hating to lose. Teenage crush or no crush, being a female athlete doesn’t automatically make you socially awkward.

What was far more endearing was her panic attacks around cameras. That sort of character flaw was palatable because it doesn’t play to stereotypes. Who doesn’t get nervous when a microphone is shoved in their face?

The very German Kulti, a David Beckham styled character, is not likable at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact, he’s not all that likable for most of the book. That’s mainly because Zapata only sticks to Sal’s immature point of view. At the very end of this book, there’s a payoff of sorts. It’s not a huge payoff, but I can now understand why the single point of view was done.

Here are my final thoughts… If you like feel-good books or movies about sports, then Kulti is for you. If you are looking for your next steamy read-in-a-day romance, this book is a hard pass.

***

I plan to leave this review on Goodreads.com. For other book reviews scroll down the Chalkboard.

The Unfinished Pile

Photo by @plqml | @feliperizo.co on Unsplash

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

“Tain! Tain!” and the Simplicity of Joy

I’ve noticed that I have lapsed into giving you profound truths with each journal entry. This gives my musings a preachy, feel-good, warm and fuzzy feeling, the kind of self-absorbed drivel that I detest. This was not my initial intention when I set myself the task of penning my memories, so I should take a moment to apologize to both you and the reader. To elevate the sweetness for all of us, I decided today to rummage in the photo bin for inspiration.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I keep all my precious photos in a plastic storage bin. The baby pictures are mingled with school pictures, which rub up against the horse and automotive pictures, as well as pictures of family gatherings, client portraits, and artsy product photography such as chocolate and rope. You must remember that we were in the photo business for many years. The prints weren’t very important to us because we could reprint copies at will. The truly important stuff was the digital data. Those CD’s are, of course, crammed into another storage bin.

So, there I was sitting on the floor of the hallway with a plethora of images swimming about me when your father happened upon me. I flashed the photo I had chosen at your father and we share a smile.

You are approximately six months old and in your father’s lap behind the office desk at Fotoworks. Around each of your heads is a band of 35mm film. I assume it was something he had shot and developed for a client and no longer needed. We have a storage bin full of rolls of miscellaneous negatives, so your wearing a filmstrip headband or bracelet was not that uncommon. But on this day, your headband has one lone feather sticking out of the back. A nice touch from your father, I think. You are drooling profusely, bubbles cascading down your chin, and both of you are grinning from ear to ear while you try to smash your chubby fingers on the computer keyboard as your father half-heartedly tries to restrain you.

You loved computers from the very beginning. The first trick you learned was that pressing the reboot button on the computer’s tower could send your parents into a panic, and you into a fit of giggles. After we realized you weren’t going to tire of this game anytime soon, we raised the towers onto the desktops to keep them out of your limited reach.

While I’ve been musing, I realize that we thought nothing was wrong with taking you to the lab; a place full of sharp objects, corrosive chemicals, and fumes. Given my confessed shortcomings as a parent thus far, you can see why this is just now dawning on me. But I would not have remained sane for long without my half-days spent at the office. Not to mention, you were good for business. Your fan club rivaled that of your father’s parrot, Kooka, who also inhabited the front of the store.

Kooka came to live at the photo lab because she had begun to mimic the sounds that I made during sex. At first, your father and I thought it was funny, but she gave a repeat performance in the clear light of day and in front of company. Sounds like that are private and I did not want to encourage her panting and moanings, so she was relocated to the lab before the noises became apart of her usual routine. I will say no more on the matter. Just that I was lucky that she soon found the office phone more interesting than me.

The photo lab’s first home was an old gas station located near a train trestle. Every day the train came through town, blowing its horn. This sudden blast of noise scared you at first, but once you understood that it heralded the great metal beast’s daily arrival you were hooked. Shortly after you mastered the words “Mama” and “Dada”, you learned to utter the word “tain”; your best attempt at the word train. Like clockwork, the horn would blow and you would cry at the top of your lungs, “Tain, Tain!” To your delight, one of us would then snatch you up and dash out to the parking lot to watch the train roll slowly past.

Soon our customers caught on to your fascination. They didn’t seem to mind when on more than one occasion they were left to stand, waiting to pay or drop off their film. Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t have to whisk you out to see the trains. Your personality didn’t lend itself to angry tantrums. We were simply motivated by the sight of your joy, as it bloomed fresh each time on your face with the sounding of the train’s air horn. The disruption at work was infinitesimal compared to the reward to us; the gratification of feeling your entire body quiver in excitement while you marveled with a kind of thrilled fascination at the mundane boxcars as they lumbered and clanked down the tracks. As a parent, these are the memories that stay with you.

So, while I sat in the hall this morning, surrounded by old photos, it only took two words to bring a tender smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Similar to a well-rehearsed dance, or a punch line to a favorite joke, your father and I said them at the same time.

There is no point to this entry; at least none that I will endeavor to make. I will simply leave you with two words to ponder.

“Tain, Tain.”

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

Lessons from an Indie Author

An impromptu holiday book photoshoot.

I’m not new to writing. I’m not new to marketing. I’m not an extrovert. I’m not a natural salesperson. My books aren’t listed in Amazon’s top 100. Not yet, anyway. But I’ve learned a few simple lessons that I see so many writers ignoring.

You don’t have to be a genius to know that one of the first rules of selling is to tell people that you have a product to sell in the first place. (And by sell, I mean sell. Don’t give your work away without compensation of some sort. If you don’t value you, they won’t value you.) If you’re an author that means you’ve probably got lots of books stored at your house. If you are a blogger, a poet, or content writer then talk about it!

Americans love to ask each other what we do for a living. Your first response should be that you are a writer and not that you are a teacher, accountant, waitress, or whatever you do to pay the bills. You are a writer first! That other thing you do is just a forty-hour a week side hustle to keep food in the fridge and the lights on.

I’ve discovered that despite the fact that I hate talking about myself, most people are fascinated that I write full-length, honest to God books. They immediately want to know what genre and if they sell. My answer is, of course, romance and yes they do. I then try to mention as casually as I can that they have won a few awards and that they are paranormal which is a very popular subgenre of romance.

Look what Santa left under the Christmas tee!

Then comes the next lesson, and that is, to make a sale you have to put the product in the hands of the customer. Authors, bloggers, writers…carry a copy of your book, business card, or promotional something with you at all times. If you are an author, at the very least you need an eyecatching bookmark. The bookmark or postcard-sized whatever should have your book cover and all your contact information on it. You want the person you’re chatting with to take it home with them.

As a woman who is never without her oversized purse, I’ve made it a habit of carrying my latest book with me everywhere I go. I have one of those large makeup bags that has never been used for makeup. Two of my books fit perfectly inside it. I also keep bookmarks and my business card in that bag.

This magical technique works for any writer. If you are still plugging away at your book, carry a business card with your social media contacts listed on it. If you’re a poet, a blogger, a content writer the same thing applies. Every time you meet someone, it is another opportunity for you to gain a follower or a fan. But they won’t remember your web address, the title of your book, or your name in some cases if they don’t have something physical to reference later.

Ho Ho Ho Santa says, “Give romance for the holidays.”

Yesterday a fellow author and I visited our local downtown shops. At first we were just killing time. Neither one of us had been very productive that morning at the coffee shop. But as we ducked in and out of the holiday-decorated stores, I began taking pictures of my books among the Christmas decorations. We chatted with the manager of one shop about the possibility of them creating a section in their store dedicated to books by local authors. We told strangers about our upcoming book signings. And, I walked away with a slew of early holiday promotional pictures I can use across my social media. All that potential possibility in such a short time because I carry my books with me!

A little over a month ago, I helped a friend with her yard sale. I talked about my books as I chatted with shoppers and made sales while sending others home with bookmarks.

I ran into a friend while I was leaving Goodwill last week. She’d been following my progress on Facebook and we spent ten minutes talking about my writing. We exchanged business cards and I know that eventually that encounter will pay-off in some way.

I went to support another author’s book signing last month and after mentioning that I too am an author to those who lingered to order drinks, I sold two of my own books because I carry them with me.

My latest book, just in time for Christmas and looking picture-perfect.

It’s not about being pushy or obnoxious when it comes to the topic of who you are and what you do. The lesson I’ve learned is a fundamental one and I hope you too will embrace it. And that is, dare to put your writing at the forefront of who you are. It’s a change in mindset that I’m talking about. Yes, you’re probably going to have to drag yourself out of bed to punch that damn time clock again today, but that’s not who you are. You’re a writer first. An author first. A blogger and a marketing guru first. Tell the world and yourself that narrative. Be brave. Own it!

Embrace that mindset and then the sales, followers, and readers will naturally come afterward.

A Quick Review; No Chaser

Broken Promises

Broken Promises by Quell T. Fox is a paranormal romance and the first in a trilogy. It is written in first person, which is something that I don’t usually enjoy but after reading the book I realized that this story couldn’t have been told any other way. There are flashback/memory vignettes that are more impactful with the first-person point of view. The writing flows easily and once I’d started the book, I didn’t want to put it down until I’d finished it. It took me a day to read. With that said, I did stumble across several mistakes that could have been caught with another pass by a proofreader or by having Microsoft Word read the book aloud, but the mistakes weren’t jarring or frequent enough to set the book aside.

Broken Promises deals with love and time, favorite themes of mine. Asha’s character is introduced as a serial leaver. She leaves relationships and people as easily as she abandons places. She has always felt like she’s searching for something—but she doesn’t know what, where, or who that may be. This is a classic the heroine doesn’t know who or what she is book. Andrew is Asha’s drool-worthy boyfriend at the beginning of the book. She knows she’ll eventually leave despite moving to Rhode Island with him, the hot sex, and his sweet nature. She just isn’t normal and she knows it.

After arriving at Andrew’s family home, unusual things immediately start to occur. Eventually, the reader is clued in that much of the phenomenon is Jacob trying to find her. This book would have fallen into the love triangle troupe except that both Asha and the reader are already aware that she’s going to leave Andrew regardless of the unusual future Jacob is offering.

Be prepared to dwell over Quell’s explanation of what immortalites are and how they come to be. It can get a bit confusing but if you absorb that bit of information then you’ll probably want to read the rest of the series once book two and three are released. Also keep in mind that this a trilogy. Being a romance, the reader is going to get a happy-ish ending, choices will be made but Asha’s story-arc will not be wrapped-up in a tight bow and that might leave some readers unsatisfied.

To learn more about Quell T. Fox and her other books, check out her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/632201927243401/

She Persisted…

She persisted has become my mantra when it comes to this crazy writing thing I do.

When I check my lagging book sales and social media feels like I’m yelling into a void; I take a deep breath, turn on my laptop, and write another chapter. When the book reviews don’t magically appear, I tell myself that there are people reading the books even if they don’t leave a review behind. When I hear someone say that they don’t really have time to read or they don’t like reading at all, I shrug it off. I’ve visited the worlds and befriended the characters they’ll never know. When my own family congratulates me on publishing yet another book but never takes the time to read or share it, I sigh and give the people I love a pass. I write romance and the sex scenes probably make them uncomfortable.

Some days I persist out of sheer stubbornness, just a big f*ck you to the world at large. Some days I persist because I’m too afraid to admit that I’ve failed at the one thing I am really good at doing. Some days I have to remind myself that there are so many creative souls who come and go and who’s work is never appreciated — and yet, they managed to keep true to their creative voice. How could I do less?

When I had no money and wrote after a full day’s work, I persisted. Despite not knowing if my first book would be published or if it was all just an exercise in self-indulgence, I persisted.

When I’m depressed, I persist. When I’m frustrated, I persist. When it’s a struggle to string the sentences together, I persist.

Persisting makes me annoying for some people, but persisting has become a habit with me. It means that I’ll continue to put words on paper. It means the stories that take root in my mind will find their way into the world. And as long as I do that, then I’ll eventually reach the heart of the reader I’ve been writing for all this time.