Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stop and Smell the Roses Blog Bouquet

For the writer, a new release can be the greatest high there is, or the beginning of a shock-wave. Following the release of my latest book, I began to panic. "Me? Market?" I laughed. "Why, I couldn't even sell magazines door-to-door. I was totally out of the running for the prizes they passed out at school after the six-week campaign."
Then, slowly, the light dawned. In today's publishing world a writer is expected to help sell their books. That wasn't the case with my first book, published some ten years ago. But with my recent release, Jeanne of Clairmonde, a medieval romance from The Wild Rose Press, I've waded knee-deep into marketing. I've blogged about the war that wrenched Jeanne from her home, the conditions in a medieval prison, and the dog that the French queen (a secondary character in the story) may have owned. But there is much beyond blogging. What I learned may help other writers.
First, get a nice website. Anyone interested in your book wants to know a little about you. And a website can be a "place-holder" for links that connect you to the reader/writer world.
My next piece of advice is to go to conferences. Scour the internet for writers' conferences in your area. I just came from the Historical Novel Society conference, where I met three women who were not writers but readers. Conferences are great networking opportunities. Heck, you can never get enough endorsements for that new release!
Lastly, and probably most important, take advantage of any workshops or classes around. We can never know enough about our craft, and even if you've been writing for years, you can always carry away that little nugget which might be the very thing that makes your next book rise to the top.
You can find Jeanne of Clairmonde at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore. For a chance to win a free download of my book, please leave a comment. My daughter will pick a winner at random. Check back in 24 hours to see if you've won.

Visit the blogs below for more chances to win a prize. Remember, winners on all the blogs will be drawn in 24 hours.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why I Read and Write Regency

When I was a youth, I read almost everything, especially sci fi and fantasy, but was always more interested in the interpersonal relationships and romances than the plot itself. I started reading Romances when I was about 14 or 15, and was immediately attracted to historicals of all kinds.

You’re going to laugh when I confess how clueless I was, but I didn’t really know what a Regency was until I started really researching it. Until then, I couldn’t have told the difference between a Regency and a Victorian. But I love historicals overall. I grew up on Little House on the Prairie books, Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables. Historicals are like a whole new world, totally different from the modern world in which I live. Regency in particular is fun because the manners and mores of society are so formal and lavish (unlike my reality). Besides what’s not to love about men who can dance? Not to mention that there are few things as manly as a man riding horseback or fencing or willing to engage in a dual to protect his honor. Or that of his lady love. I have a thing for medieval romances, too. Love those knights who are all about duty and honor.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to choose Georgian, Regency or Victorian until I really did my research. I discarded Georgian because I detested the white wigs and the wide panniers women wore then. I chose Regency over Victorian for a number of reasons: it was during and right after the Napoleonic war, which provides the perfect backdrop for the tortured hero still haunted by the horrors of war (my favorite kind of fictional character); it was a unique period, people were more free thinking and also their days were filled with huge, lavish parties which adds an element of fantasy or magic (yeah, still soooo not like my real life); I like the clothing styles and part of the fun of a historical is getting immersed in the ‘world’ which includes describing clothing; and a large part of my decision to go with fantasy is because it is a solid market niche which helps with marketing.

To do research, I read a lot of Regencies, but the most helpful resources are books actually written by authors who lived in that era, which is why Jane Austen is used so much by Georgian/Regency Era authors; she lived during that time, so what she writes is how things were, rather than someone’s perception of how things were. Georgette Heyer is also hailed as the "Queen of Regency" because of her uniquely believable voice. I've heard she wrote her books using the same terms and speech as her grandmother (who was born just after that time) used which is how she so easily achieved that voice. I also read a bunch of research books. And I joined an online writer's group called the Beau Monde which is for authors of the Georgian/Regency Era. The members are a plethora of information and can sometimes just answer questions, other times they can recommend sources for what members need.

In addition to the Beau Monde RWA group, some of the best sources for that era are:

The Regency Companion, by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa L Hamlin
Georgette Heyer's Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester
Dee Hendrickson's Regency Reference Book (now on CD)
Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England, by Carolly Erickson
The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, by J.B. Priestly

I love Regency because of all this and more. Mostly, I love it because of the men. Or at least, my perception of the men. They were all about honor and duty. They were so wrapped up in honor that they were willing to die for it. And that is a character trait I find immensely attractive.

Donna Hatch is the Author is "The Stranger She Married" and "Troubled Hearts," both available on, The Wild Rose Press, and her website,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Query letters and Books, Oh my!

Historical Fiction was Queen of the Day in Chicago this past weekend. I attended the Historical Novel Society conference, an international gathering of novelists who talked historical fiction for three days. I was in heaven. Our keynote speaker was none other than Sharon Kay Penman (The Sun in Splendour and other great books).
Our welcoming tote bags held 9 (you read that right—nine) free historicals. As if that weren't enough, anyone who took part in the Costume Pageant Saturday night received three more, from the likes of Phillippa Gregory and other famous authors. (That's me on the right in my medieval tunic, complete with alms purse.)On Sunday morning we were scrambling to mail our books home, but the bookstore kindly offered boxes, saving the day.
The workshops were awesome, as always. I moderated a panel of two agents and two other authors, titled Query Letters that Worked. The room was filled, and we had an overflow that spilled into the hallway, all authors intent on hearing how to craft a query letter that would succeed.
Now I have to come back to earth and finish revisions on my next book, The Tapestry Shop, due out in 2010 from Five Star.
Wishing all of you good reads and great writing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Guest Blogger: Masha Holl

Today I've asked Masha Holl to talk to us about the importance of having a good website to showcase our books, but her advice applies to anything we want to bring before potential buyers. It's about letting the public know about our product, but with books, we have to give our readers a taste of what's to come. I believe Masha's input will help us come to terms with that dreaded word 'marketing'.

Masha, I'll turn it over to you. Why not begin by telling us a little about yourself, then, if you would, elaborate on why we need a website, what we should consider before settling on a design, and whether or not it's wise to try do do our own as opposed to having a professional design our site.

Hello! I'm not sure who I am today. The writer? The web designer? The graphic artist? The teacher? Or just the mother whose kids are going to come begging for something any moment? It doesn't matter that the oldest is graduating today and is headed for college next fall, she still finds things that only Mom can help her with.

In the meantime, I write romantic science fiction and fantasy, create web sites, teach online workshops, and try my hand at 3-D graphics. Check out my sites here, you'll find my Wild Rose Press books and more:

or my blog:

Everybody and his brother seems to have some sort of website today. My kids have their MySpaces, Facebooks, YouTube accounts, and various other playgrounds on the Web. They're taught how to design a web page in high school. HTML, links, tags, and embedding are as common in their vocabulary as, well, um... less acceptable words (ah yes, they are teenagers).

Most of us writers, however, come from a different generation, and even those who are comfortable navigating the Web are not necessarily up to the task of building an entire web site.

Skills are one issue. Time is another. Inclination, desire, patience... There are so many reasons to do or not do it yourself...

The primary concern that we poor writers have is usually money. Should we or should we not invest in a custom-designed web site?

No, that's not how the question should be asked.

Here are the facts: if we're serious about being published authors with an audience in today's world and market, we need a web presence. In order to maintain a web presence, we need a web site.

What does it mean? What do we really need?

Is a MySpace enough? A Facebook page?

Would a poster on a bulletin wall be enough in the hard-copy world?

Social networking pages are limiting and generic. They cannot replace your personal home on the web.

However, they can be a good way to start and get your feet wet. Without spending money. While you build your real home on the Web.

So what should your personal space on the Web be?

Your web site, of course.

Why a web site and not a web page?

Because if you're an author, you'll have a site that consists of several pages, such as the front (home) page, the about me page, a books page, and maybe a links or some other goodies page.

You must start building your web presence already knowing what you will put on your site (the content). Then you can decide, at the very least, how you don't want your site to look (too dark or too light, too cutesy or too modern, too many scrolls or too many sharp angles—the design).

Now come the really hard questions. Do you have a budget? Were you going to spend any money at all on your web presence?

If you do and were, decide how you're going to distribute the money. Some if it will have to go into maintaining your site. Every year. Maybe every month.

But you may have some left over, or you may budget some extra: you can spend this on design.

Let's assume this is the case. You do have a design budget.

Should you hire a professional?

(YES! DO! I'll do it for you!)

[clearing throat] Pardon me. Completely out of order here.

Seriously, though. It's the simplest way to go: have someone else do it.

What's the downside? The worse that can happen? You'll pay for it... and you won't like it. And you won't know how to fix it.

The upside? There are certain warranties that should be included in the contract about the design and usability of the site that will protect you. And you don't have to worry about learning anything technical.

But even if you hire someone, there is a wide range of services and prices available to you, from a full design from scratch to a slight modification of a pre-made template.

In other words, you can find a free, ready-made design on the web and hire a high-school student to set it up for you as your site.

How do you know that you're creating a professional-looking, efficient, attractive website, whether you hire someone or not?

The website is your parlor: it says a lot about you, but it must be welcoming for your visitors. And not just welcoming. It must be enticing, fascinating, alluring. It must make them curious and make them want to stay. And most of all, it must make them want to read (and therefore buy) your books.

Look at other authors' sites. See which ones attract you. Find out who the creators are (hint: the name of the designer is usually in the page footer, normally as a link).

What if you really don't want to spend the money, if you're willing to do the work, put in the time and the effort?

Why not!

But it involves learning HTML and CSS (and no, I'm not going to explain this: if you're confused, I made my point). Maybe you'll want to invest in authoring software to compose your pages. You'll need to learn about design and web practices, and to get into the whole Internet thing because you may need to learn how to display book videos on your site, do a blog or at least link to one, keep your email secure, and figure out how to get (and keep) your domain name. Just because it's all there ready to be called up on your screen doesn't mean you can create it as easily as type in a URL.

But it's really not that hard. I'm doing it. But then I have fun doing it and I like spending my days at the computer and making it do whatever I want. Yeah, it's a power trip (that's important when your two teenagers are constantly undermining your authority).

The question is then: what are you willing to invest: time or money? And how much of each can you budget for your web presence? Because in today's world, you need to budget some.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Historical Books

One of my favorite books, which I stumbled upon quite by accident, is a little-known book, a curious hybrid between a historical novel and a scholarly non-fiction. The title is Wise and Foolish Kings, and it covers the Valois dynasty, kings from 1328 to 1498. Anyone writing during this period would do well to secure a copy of this wonderful book.
Remarkably, I picked it up at a library sale for $2, but to me it's worth hundreds. It covers the reigns of Philip VI (to the right), Charles the Dauphin, Louis XI, Charles VIII (below)and others. She includes interesting facts about their lives, their loves, their travels, and their foibles.
This book was translated to English in 1980, and was written by Anne Denieul-Cormier, a French historian.
Her narrative flows, her descriptions are unforgettable. You may be lucky enough to find it in a used or antiquarian bookstore.