The Story Behind the Story 5: Family Jewels

Another late one, I’m afraid. Not due to illness this time, thank goodness, but having a stubborn manuscript to deal with that just…won’t…end. Nearly 120k words done of Take Me Home, with at least another 10k to go.

But on with the show! Family Jewels — how did it come about? Years ago. Like, years ago, I had a conversation with a friend-who-is-no-longer-a-friend about how hot a particular celebrity is and I ain’t gonna lie, this is how an awful lot of my backlist started off.

It’s always been my belief that consent doesn’t seem to be a terribly popular concept in BDSM romance (come on; how many heroes have you read who are simply arseholes?) and I’d always said that if I ever wrote in the BDSM subgenre, I’d make damn sure consent was a thing. But I didn’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to go full-on St. Andrew’s Cross, spreader bars and cat o’ nine tails. So, I began playing around with the idea of what I dubbed “BDSM-lite”, concentrating on the mind control aspect of domination and submission. Obedience training, orgasm denial, edging, that kind of thing. That, I felt I could more respectfully honour in my writing than the hardcore dungeon-level aspects of BDSM.

I must have started writing Family Jewels somewhere around 2010 or thereabouts but it wasn’t outlined from scratch; parts of it are cannibalised from a book I wrote in my early twenties, called Rain. The heroine’s father owns a jewellery business, and the events of Rain are hinted at in Family Jewels under the guise of being the heroine Riley’s relationship backstory.

I picked away at the book piecemeal over the years, putting it away and picking it back up again in between other projects — usually, books for which I’d signed up with publishing houses and which had contractually-obligated deadlines. Of course it’s flattering for an editor to buy a book from you before you’ve even written it, but there’s usually a sense of panic that kicks in somewhere along the line. This manuscript I was writing just for fun, wasn’t as important in the grand scheme of things, as the books which absolutely had to be written.

Too, there were occasionally novels to which I’d retrieved the rights and had decided to self-publish. They jumped ahead of Family Jewels in the queue as they were complete, ready to go, able to earn me money. (God willing.)

And the job I had at the time took a lot out of me emotionally, and that told on my ability to truly give Riley and Devon (the hero) the attention they deserved. So it was the tail end of 2016 before I finally had the time and headspace to read over what I had of the manuscript so far to refresh my memory, and to finish off the book. Riley is one of the most sarcastic heroines I’ve ever written, which is why sparks fly when she meets Devon Scott, her father’s Acting Manager. Technically, if Riley inherits the family business someday (as her father’s only legitimate child), she’ll become Devon’s boss but a) he’d have to stick around for a while until that day and b) good luck on trying to make him submissive to anyone.

It was definitely tough writing some of the scenes because I wanted to show Devon as a Dom, not necessarily a control freak, and he had to butt heads with Riley a few times without coming across as an arsehole, or she as a little madam. I hope I managed it.

While reading the novel over, it did make me laugh out loud a few times, and I hope you as a reader agree that the humour in the book really hits the spot. Or maybe I’m just twisted; who knows?

Family Jewels is probably one of my backlist favourites because of that aforementioned humour and the feels I wrote into the black moment at the end of the book, Riley’s heartbreak. And yes, I used the word feels. Blow me.

Or, you know, you could just buy and read Family Jewels.

* * * * *

Riley Cameron is the original poor little rich girl but with access to everything money can buy, she still feels something is missing.

When she visits her father’s jewellery business to liberate a favourite bauble from the office safe, she may well have found this ‘missing something’, in the form of Acting Manager, jeweller, lapidary and Dominant, Devon Scott.

Riley’s equal in all the ways that matter, Devon wants commitment not secrecy, but Riley knows if he finds out about the past she’d hoped was locked away like a tiara in a safe, she could lose something more precious than gold.

* * * * *

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Playing catch-up

Another late post, but since I’ve been ill (again) I feel like I’m eternally playing catch-up. Still, at last I’ve figured out how to edit blog posts in Classic Editor on WordPress; this new ‘blocks’ pish makes me wonder if anyone at WPHQ has ever thought it might be preferable for blog posts to be simple and easy to publish. Nah, course not; why bother when you can fuck around with people’s ability to type in normal paragraphs and to insert photos, links and formatting?

*sigh*

So, how have things been this week? I’m still writing, but my estimated final word count for Take Me Home is now somewhere in the region of 130k, which will make it by far my longest book ever. The first draft for Long Time Coming was just a smidge under 150k, and Plus One came in at 125k, but they were reduced to 85k and 75k respectively during the editing process.

As I write cleaner first drafts these days, my first draft totals give a truer picture of their final word counts, so I expect Take Me Home will remain somewhere around the 120k mark if I’m lucky. I know I’ve said this time and time again but it really does amaze me how much longer my books are getting, far, far above my estimated or planned word counts when I’m at the outlining stage.

I honestly believed there was enough story for around 40k words, if that, but when I started getting into Afton and Glenn’s backstories? Not so. And their romance progresses at its own speed. It works better, though. I’m not a fan of instalove or magic peen or wrapping things up in a tidy little bow because  the author says “You get this many words and no more,” but Lord, how I wish I had any sort of ability for guessing how many words I’ll take to write Scenes X, Y and Z.

I’ve scribbled out a schedule for the coming week in a notebook and I’m actually thinking of keeping a time tracker until TMH and another half-written novella (!) are done, to double-check that I’m using my time as wisely as possible. A time tracker is the opposite of a schedule — instead of planning in advance what you’re going to do (although I’ll have a schedule as well), a time tracker is where you report after the fact what you did with your time, so  you can get an overview of your efficiency once the day is done.

God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll finish Take Me Home on Tuesday and jump straight into edits. I have two other authors waiting to read it and I really, really want them to like it given that that book sprang from conversations with both about its subject matter.

I’ve also got Patreon and Ko-Fi posts to catch up on which I want to complete by the end of today, so that’ll clear the way for the coming week to be all Glenn, all the time. (I hope you see that, Jenny Trout.)

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The Story Behind the Story 4: Deep Screw

First up, apologies for this blog post being a day late. I’ve recently had some problems with my head, and thought last week’s migraine was done and dusted, but apparently not. I took some codeine on Monday evening and completely lost Tuesday to a painkiller haze. But I’m back now, bathed and washed and dressed and vaguely conscious again.

So, to continue with the Story Behind the Story series, this week we’re discussing Deep Screw, which I wrote in late 2015, early 2016. I had the title for ages, before a story came to me. The title, and the fact it had to be a M/M romance given that the world of professional snooker is overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) male.

I’d been a fan for years and before anyone asks me to prove my fan credentials, yes I’ve been to various tournaments to watch it live, yes I’ve met countless players and Rob Walker nicked a sweet off me at a Scottish tournament, then one of the security team sat down with me and said I could eat in the auditorium if I shared my rhubarb ‘n’ custard with him and promised not to crunch too loudly when the players were at the table. And Jan Verhaas is tall. Like, super-tall.

Not that I told them what I write for a living…

Because the title Deep Screw sounds dirty, I thought it would be perfect for a snooker-based romance but I swear it’s a move in the game of snooker.

From Deep Screw’s front matter:

Deep Screw – a shot whereby the player hits the cue ball hard below its equator, causing it to spin backwards even as it slides forward on the table. After contact with the object ball, the backspin on the cue ball often causes it to reverse or otherwise change direction and return to its original position.

All of which kinda relates, I hope, to the ‘hero’ of the book, Cameron Carmichael, who can’t make up his mind about the love interest, Ryan Miller. Is it a fling, or does he want something more? How will it impact on his reputation and his career? Ryan’s career?

And you know something else I’m proud of with this book? I got more familiar with Scrivener during the writing of it, and figured out how to section the books not into chapters, but Frames, as another nod to the game of snooker.

Deep Screw was, after all, the first book I wrote and completed and self-published without having sold it to a publisher first, and waited to get my rights back. It was my first-ever all new self-published work. Just a smidge under 50k words, so probably best described as a novella. And believe it or not, despite the smutty title, it’s probably my book with the least sex in it…or should I say, there’s sex, but the two main characters don’t go all the way. Sometimes that’s just how things work out. Given out unsure the two main characters are about their sexuality and the future of their relationship, it seemed more natural to have them hold back sexually, to show that reluctance to commit.

After I finished Deep Screw I dived straight back into Family Jewels, which will feature next week. Talk about switching sub-genres of romance — that’s a M/F BDSM-lite novel, whereas Deep Screw is a M/M sports-related novella with no ‘full sex’ scenes.

Maybe a good place to start if you’ve not read any of my M/M before?

* * * * *

Cameron Carmichael used to be on top of the world – literally – as a World Snooker Champion and World Number One. These days, his mood is sinking faster than his ranking. Only thirty-one and barely holding on to his top-16 placement, his automatic pass into all the big tournaments, Cameron’s considering retirement.

It might be time to hang up his snooker cue; the only thing keeping him on the circuit is a taste for the finer things in life and snooker does pay very well. And there’s something else he has to deal with – an unavoidable attraction to Ryan Miller, a cocky young challenger with an eye for the trophies that used to be Cameron’s.

* * * * *

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Home stretch

Ugh, so, it looks like I’m stuck with this new compose-a-post interface in WordPress. Man alive, have none of these internet companies heard the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”

Evidently not.

Anyway, this will just be a quick blog post to keep to my plan of publishing something every Tuesday and Friday.

Earlier this week I was listening to a particular song, just noodling around with the outline of Take Me Home, wondering which scene to tackle next (I have four or five left to write), and an alternate ending, prompted by the song, dropped into my head. Not exactly an ending, more…the exact circumstances leading to the couple’s happy ending. How they get through the black moment. This way it makes better sense and involves a bit more effort on the hero’s part — in short, more grovelling — but it necessitates adding yet another chapter to the outline. It used to have 16; now it has 27.

Fuck’s sake; will this book never end? MS Excel now threatens 115-120k. And to think I originally planned for this to be a 40k-word novella!

Upshot is, yes, there’s an extra scene in the book now, and it makes it all better. And though it bumps up the prospective word count, I still expect to finish Take Me Home in the next two or three days. So expect an “It’s fucking done at last!” announcement by this time next week.

The desire to finish this book (which is a polite way of saying I just want it to be fucking over) doesn’t leave me much time for anything else, despite lockdown having me stuck at home, still. Even if I’m more productive, that production is all on the same behemoth of a book.

So, that’s been my week. Playing Whack-a-Mole with all the extra chapters that are popping up in this book, as if I could ever have control over my own characters.

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The Story Behind the Story 3: Burn

Burn is the shortest book I’ve ever had published; 17,782 words according to its Scrivener file. (Interesting as my current work-in-progress is the longest book I’ve ever written.) For those keeping track, it was the 8th book I wrote — in the autumn/winter of 2011 — and also the 8th book I had released by a publishing house — in this case, the now-defunct Musa, in January of 2012. Interestingly, it was also the 3rd book I sold before I’d even written it.

How it came about was, by the end of 2011, professionally, things were going quite well. I had multiple editors and publishers approaching me to ask me to write for them after some modest success with By the Book in particular. A few I said no to. Politely, of course. “I don’t think I have any available manuscripts that match up with what you’re looking for,” being a much more professional way of saying, “Hell to the fuck no, Ellora’s Cave.” Yes, I did just name drop. It’s my blog. Blow me.

Anyhoo, an editor who worked at Musa who I still consider a friend (sorry if you read this, it’s true) asked me if I wanted to be part of an anthology called Love Notes; four short stories based around the concept of a relationship being sealed by a written communication. “What constitutes ‘short’?” I asked. “Between 15-20k,” came the reply, and that suited me down to the ground. It was a guaranteed manuscript sale, and wouldn’t put as much pressure on me to produce as a novel-length manuscript would. So I went for it. It would be something of a palate cleanser before my next ‘big’ project, still unspecified.

I batted a few ideas back and forth with the editor concerned to make sure what I came up with would sufficiently match the anthology’s requirements and she pretty much told me, “That sounds good, get it written and we’ll publish it.”

So without wanting to sound too selfish about it, Burn was a book I wrote not because the characters came to me and I simply had to tell their story. It was manufactured, if you will, but gave me a project with which to occupy myself until I decided which full-length story I wanted to write next.

Because it was so short, I didn’t even bother outlining it even though by this time I’d become an outlining convert. Or pervert, however you want to phrase it.

And my editor was…is…quite keen on a certain Scottish actor, so I cast him in the role of “James”, the anonymous love interest, so dubbed by the point-of-view character, Austin. James apparently riled one reviewer so much they dinged me in a review by saying “it’s like the author is trying too hard to sound Scottish”.

You’ll never guess in which country I was born, and in which country I now live.

Yes, that was a head-scratcher all right. How can I try too hard to be what I am?

As mentioned, Burn was first published in January 2012 as part of an anthology, but got its own individual edition in September of that year. However, by 2013-14 it looked as if things at Musa were winding down and I have to say, unlike other epublishers which go under, the end for this one was handled extremely well. Everyone (as far as I know; if you know different, please speak up) was kept informed, was paid all monies owed on time and had their rights returned to them from the official date of closure.

I self-published Long Time Coming in November of 2014 and in February of 2015 it was the turn of both By the Book and Burn. They’ve been through a couple of covers each since then, but I’m happy with the one Burn now has. But who knows? I might give Austin and “James” a new overcoat at some point. But knowing those boys, they’ll soon tear it off…

* * * * *

BurnAustin Lombard isn’t into names. For tonight, at least, he’s only up for an anonymous encounter and he insists that the irreverent Scot he meets in a bar not surrender his name. That’s how people begin to get attached, and Austin doesn’t want to get burned again.

* * * * *

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Universal Book Link for BURN showing all available vendors.

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Website recommendation ‘n’ shiz

It’s Friday evening again, another week has passed, and how much progress have I made in the past week on Take Me Home? The goalposts keep moving; in the past couple of days I’ve added one or two chapters to the outline and now MS Excel is telling me the projected word count total is 115k words. Le sigh.

I’ll get there eventually, God willing, within the next couple of days.

Perhaps with the help of a website brought to my attention by a Twitter buddy. MyWriteClub is basically a group pomodoro project, and you know how fond I am of my 25-minute writing sprints. You can link the main writing window (which no-one else sees; it’s visible only to you) to your Dropbox account to back up your work, and…that’s pretty much it. It’s a simple website, but it does the job. Those of you with a competitive spirit can race against the other writers who are online at the same time as you. You could, if you prefer, start up your own private word sprint group to which you invite only your friends.

Again, it’s something to make writing more fun — it gamifies the production of words — but sadly, it doesn’t write the book for you.

Aside from that, things are pretty much ‘same old, same old’ here. Lockdown continues, mainly because I live in Scotland and thankfully the First Minister has a brain in her head, unlike that sexually-incontinent barely-sentient mop down south. Lifting restrictions this early for the sake of the economy will all but guarantee a second spike, centred on London. You can quote me on that. But Tories don’t care.

(Oh, have I offended any Tory-supporters by saying that? Sorry, I gave my last fuck 40 years ago.)

Right, I’ve just remembered I have apple pies in the kitchen, so I’m going to schedule this blog post for the evening after I write it, go stuff my face, then grab some sleep. I’ve got an early start on the word-smuttery front, first thing in the morning.,,which will be in the past by the time you read this. Am I blogging or time-travelling?!

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The Story Behind the Story 2: By the Book

By the Book was the fourth book I wrote (I started work on it during NaNo of 2009, after I’d finished Long Time Coming, Dark-Adapted Eyes and Plus One earlier that year.)

LTC was half-written by the end of 2008 and DAE had been drafted a couple of years before; I ‘only’ rewrote it in 2009. It sounds like I was a lot more productive than I really was, because Plus One was the only novel I wrote in its entirety in 2009.

How did By the Book start out? Firstly, with another name, The Devil You Know. Why was it so called? Because the love interest, Daniel Cross, has two angel wings tattooed on his back. Okay, okay, call that cheesy if you like, but back in the day I was seriously into inked guys. Still am, if you want the truth, and angel wing back tattoos weren’t the romance genre cliche in 2009 that they have since become, over a decade later.

My God, I can’t believe I just typed that. By the Book is over a decade old.

I’d freewheeled LTC and DAE; Plus One was the first book I ever outlined — more on that later, in its own dedicated blog post. But I got a taste for planning my work, after swearing up, down, sideways and back to front that I was not, absolutely not an outliner. What I like about the method I have since perfected (in the sense of it fitting my work style perfectly) is that it enables me to work out of sequence. I can jump to whichever chapter I fancy working on, on any given day.

And that’s what I did with TDYK, or BTB as it later became. Almost immediately after finishing Plus One, I outlined a story in advance of NaNoWriMo, and decided, “Yep, this is the book I’m going to write.” Plus One had positively jizzed out of my fingers; I swear, it was the easiest book I’ve ever written. 20k words in three days at one point, without even trying. What was different? I’d outlined it! Problem solved! I’d never have sluggish work days again, right?

Not so.

Something about the outline for BTB didn’t feel right. Then I realised — the love interest (the aforementioned Daniel) was a self-confessed slut, but it wasn’t Georgia from the couple established at the beginning of the book that he fell in love with.

It was Reece.

Apparently the story would flow better, just felt ‘right’, if the story was about Reece discovering his bisexuality, not Georgia deciding she loved the cock so much she’d quite like some more, thank you please.

After all, Reece and Georgia already had a kinda sorta open relationship, with occasional threesomes. Where was the conflict if BTB was about…a threesome? No, there would be no conflict, no story, unless one of the characters did, or discovered, something new.

So the point of view character became Reece, rather than his girlfriend, Georgia. And once I realised that, well, the words just flowed.

Kinda.

The first draft came in at around 65k words or thereabouts, but it took me 4 months to write. I won NaNo that year, but that means it took me until the end of February to write another 15k words. Was I burned out? Well, not quite, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write much at all. I think it was simply a case of looking at the manuscripts I had piling up on my laptop (three at that point), wondering what I was going to do with them.

During November of 2009, I’d subbed LTC to an agent and received a polite rejection, and later thought it was probably a better idea to try to get into digital-first publishing. You see a return on your investment much quicker doing it that way, and erotic romance was really beginning to take off back in those days. So while I was writing BTB, I was at the same time trying to decide what to do with LTC, DAE and PO, which publishers to send them to, etc.

Anyway, you’ll know from my previous ‘The Story Behind the Story’ post what I did with LTC and how that came to be published. But, while I was writing By the Book, I hadn’t yet sold it, so that and two other novels were still loitering on my hard drive while I got on with By the Book.

As mentioned, it took me four months to write, but in the end I was pretty satisfied with it. Added to which, I’d written it much tighter than my previously-outlined manuscript, Plus One. That book had come in at 125k words, far too long for most publisher’s requirements for an erotic romance. BTB was a much shorter book, but better for it, in my opinion.

I used to have a spreadsheet where I tracked all my submissions, which I’ve since deleted, but I do know that I submitted The Devil You Know as it was still then called, to Samhain, in the late summer of 2010. That came back as a no, which disappointed me greatly, because back then, Samhain was the shiz. (Since gone out of business, so who’s laughing now, not that I’m bitter of course…)

Thereafter, I subbed the novel to Loose Id, the other of the ‘big two’ epubs. (Yes, there was also Ellora’s Cave, but there were already rumblings of shady behaviour there so no thank you.) I tried to forget about the submission and went about my business — editing and submitting other books, writing more.

One evening I’d been out and something had gone wrong with the transport. Either I didn’t have change for the bus, or a friend who’d been supposed to give me a lift home couldn’t make it, something like that. Anyway, I had a long walk home and just wasn’t in the mood for anything. I got home, kicked my shoes off, put the kettle on, and went to check my emails. Back in 2010 mobile phones weren’t as swanky as they are nowadays and my goodness, I feel old saying that. Upshot is, the phone I had at the time sent texts and took photos; that was just about it. I could get online but it was clunky and awkward and used up too much mobile phone credit, so unless it was an absolute emergency I stuck to checking my emails on the laptop at home.

I got excited when I saw the email from Loose Id, but my heart soon sank when the words ‘sorry’ and ‘not at this time’ in the message. Buggeration. So I stomped off in a huff to finish making my cup of tea, and to stuff my face with consolation cake.

Everybody likes consolation cake, right?

Then once I’d calmed down I decided to go back to the email and see if, on the off chance, they’d told me exactly what it was they didn’t like about the book. It’s rare for publishers to do this, because generally speaking a no is a no; why would they give editorial advice to an author they’re not going to sign? It would be a waste of their time to tell someone how to improve their writing then let some other industry professional benefit from their input when the book is finally contracted elsewhere.

But hope springs eternal, as they say, and I did think it would be better to read the email properly this time instead of insisting on hazzing a sadz for the rest of the night.

I was tired and emotional though, after a difficult day where a few annoying, inconvenient things had happened. I hadn’t been paying proper attention when I’d first scanned the email. Turns out Loose Id hadn’t been saying an outright ‘no’, they’d been saying “No in its current state, but probably yes if you make these changes.”

That’ll teach me to read properly.

I still felt just a smidge upset because my literary masterpiece was perfect as it was, right?

Wrong.

I read the editor’s suggested changes and decided which ones I’d be willing to make. I can’t remember in detail what those changes were, but they were along the lines of “Your writing’s good, but can you amalgamate these two scenes and strengthen Daniel’s motivation?” That kind of thing. I emailed the editor back to say I’d change X and Y, but didn’t feel it was necessary to completely rewrite Z, because that would necessitate writing a whole new novel with completely different plot threads. She politely said she looked forward to reading it, I dropped everything else I was working on at the time (probably outlining another book or writing synopses for other people to lazy to write their own when I was willing to be a doormat for them) and got to work with the rewrites.

In the end they didn’t take too long. I think I had the book ready to resubmit within a fortnight. The word count of the book remained pretty much the same, but I’d rewritten some chapters then plastered over the cracks (heh) to smooth transitions between scenes or chapters. Basically I made it look like the book had been written that way all along.

Within days of me sending it back, I received a contract offer. Naturally I jumped at the chance to sign. I mean, we’re talking one of the two biggest epubs of the time. (Again, ignoring Ellora’s Cave because ugh, rapey romance and financial shenanigans.)

But the tears didn’t end there, no! When I got my first round of edits back, I burst out crying because the manuscript was covered in red. I remember staring at my computer screen and wailing, “Why did they contract it, if it’s so awful?”

And thus began my tradition of, when I’m upset about something publishing-related, giving myself twenty-four hours to weep and wail and feel sorry for myself. Then I suck it up and get on with things.

After all — I’d been so upset at that first email from Loose Id, hadn’t read it properly, so I figure when I’m over-emotional it’s better to step away from the task in hand and go do something more fun, like drink tea, binge watch something with a hot guy in the lead role, or masturbate.

Hell, all three.

There were a number of rounds of edits and at one point, once I’d settled into Loose Id’s way of doing things, I even challenged my editor Antonia by saying, “Go on, tear me a new arsehole. I want this book to be as good as it can be.” And her reply was something like, “No need for such violence! You’re a good writer; the book just needs to be polished up a little, now.”

I mentioned in my blog post for LTC that through my dealings with Loose Id, I acquired an ITIN (International Taxpayer Identification Number). Basically what this meant was after the contract was signed, but before the edits had taken place, I had a metric shit-ton of paperwork to fill in regarding my residency status. Sent it, along with my passport, to the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London (since moved, I believe, but this was its location at the time). Once they were satisfied that I was a U.K. citizen and not a U.S. taxpayer, they issued me with the precious ITIN and returned my passport (since expired). I remember going to pick it up from the post office depot and them asking for I.D.

“Driver’s licence?”

“Don’t have one.”

“Passport?”

“Listen, I’ve told you — that’s what’s in the bloody parcel.

In the end I offered to open it in front of him and show him who I was after the fact, and that was that.

Now I had my ITIN, I could use that on my royalties-related paperwork with Loose Id so Uncle Sam wouldn’t skim 30% off the top before the money reached me. In fact, I still use the ITIN today for other  U.S.-based publishers or ebook vendors such as Amazon or Draft 2 Digital.

But back to the title change — that was nothing more than Loose Id already having a novel called The Devil You Know in its back catalogue, so to distinguish between the books, I had to change the title of mine. It’s only fair; the other author concerned had been there first, after all. I sent my editor a few suggestions and right from the off, we both favoured By the Book. Reece Hutton is a librarian and Daniel Cross is a fiction author, so the puntastic title worked for both of the main characters.

I was nervous about how the book would be received because it was my first attempt at a M/M romance and writing from a male point of view. Would you believe it, even down to this day, it’s my absolute bestseller. It seems to be the book that, if people are asked to recommend a Scarlett Parrish book, tops the list. Apparently it’s the most ‘me’ book I’ve ever written. (Is that good or bad, given that it was the fourth book I wrote and the second one I sold?) No other has even come close to By the Book in sales. In its first month, it earned out its advance and made a few hundred dollars on top of that. A modest amount, but enough for me to buy some new furniture and a couple of DVD box sets of my favourite shows.

Why is the book now self-published? Well, the full story also affects my only other title with Loose Id, A Little Death, and I’ll go into more detail on its dedicated blog post. Suffice it to say I had payment issues and problems with Loose Id’s staff not taking the matter as seriously as they should. So I asked for — hell, demanded — my rights back as soon as contractually possible, and decided to put the book up on Amazon myself. At first it was in the Kindle Unlimited programme but now, distribution is wide.

* * * * *

Two’s company; three’s allowed.

Reece Hutton conducts his life between the covers – of books and beds. A librarian by day, in the evenings he’s a man whose tastes are anything but vanilla. So when local writer Daniel Cross appears in the library one afternoon with the aim of doing some research, Reece has a hard time not noticing how attractive he is, or what feels like chemistry between them. They exchange a few words and Daniel’s business card, an interlude which Reece puts down to networking rather than flirtation.

After all, he has his girlfriend Georgia to go home to and her best friend: a threesome to help his birthday go literally with a bang. Reece, being a gentleman (most of the time), has no objection to returning the favour, especially as his new friend Daniel seems all too willing to be their third for the evening. Georgia sees their triangle as nothing more than a temporary bit of fun but Reece…? He’ll eventually have to own up to breaking the unwritten rules of their relationship or close the book on a growing attraction to Daniel.

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 1: Long Time Coming

Today I’ve been published for exactly a decade. Ten whole years of having my smut out there in the world for other perverts to enjoy. Now, I did have plans to mark the occasion, but…*gestures at the entire world*

I was going to publish a new novel on this very day, organise all sorts of online celebrations, and here we are. In the middle of a global pandemic which I guess doesn’t stop me doing online stuff; in fact, it makes online work more suitable.

However, earlier this year I had a lot of real-life/family stuff to deal with, and I do not yet have a book ready to publish. So instead, to mark my first decade of publication, I’m going to tell you the story behind the story of each published book, one per week.

Long Time Coming was the first book I had published, and also the first book I self-published when I later got the rights back. But how did it come to be?

I started writing it in November 2008, for NaNoWriMo. Earlier that year I had finished a particular retail job — its contract had simply come to an end — and reasoned, it’s about time I got on with writing something fit for publication. Time was a wastin’ and I wasn’t getting any younger.

I signed up for NaNo but didn’t have a clue what I was going to write, right up to the first of November. However, a friend at the time (doesn’t take a half-Witt to figure out to whom I refer) said “Make up a bunch of characters, get them drunk and have them fuck a lot.”
And that was pretty much how I went into the writing of Long Time Coming. No outline, just writing as I went, not entirely sure what I was doing. I hadn’t read many erotic romances before and those that I had read seemed a bit…okay, I’m just gonna say it…rapey. I didn’t see the appeal of banging a caveman, so I at least wanted to make sure the hero in my book respected the heroine’s boundaries and autonomy.

I named each character as they appeared in the book, with very little forethought. Each day I’d send what I’d written to my then-friend and we acted as each other’s alpha readers. (Like a beta reader, except an alpha doesn’t read a polished manuscript; they look over the first draft as it’s hot off the press.)

In November I wrote 50k words and ‘won’ NaNoWriMo. In December, half as much again, for a total of 75k. I believe in January I only wrote 10k for a total of 85k and in February, nothing. (What was I doing in that month? Probably spending a bit too much time on fluffing someone else’s ego rather than advancing my own career. You live and learn.) By the time March came around, I was getting really annoyed with the fact my manuscript hadn’t written and completed itself, and vowed to get it done. By the middle of April I’d gotten my word count total up to, I am not kidding, just a smidge under 150k words.

For a first draft.

For the rest of that year, I did some work on an early draft of Dark-Adapted Eyes I’d written a couple of years previously. At first it was an urban fantasy, then became an erotic romance with urban fantasy/paranormal elements, but more on that later. Rather than ordering this series according to when I wrote the books, I’m organising it in self-publication order, and Dark-Adapted Eyes is due to be featured on this blog on Tuesday 30th June as the ninth book I self-published.)

So, there was monkeying around with a manuscript I’d had sitting on my laptop for a while in 2009 but the balance of that year was spent wasting way more time than I should have, helping someone else build a career. Still, at least it was practise for writing my own synopses and submission packages in the future. [Edited to add: having checked my records, I now see Plus One was first written in the autumn of 2009, so that book should be added to my year’s tally, too.] And of course there was NaNoWriMo 2009, which led to next Tuesday’s book, By the Book.

By early 2010 I had three [no, four] manuscripts on my laptop (Long Time Coming, Dark-Adapted Eyes, [Plus One] and By the Book, then still titled The Devil You Know) and no contracts of my own to celebrate. Hell, I knew I was capable of selling manuscripts; I’d done it plenty of times for someone else, so why not myself? Trouble is, 150k words was way, way too much for a newbie writer’s first erotic romance, so I knew a shit-ton of that had to go.

Back in those days I still had a printer, so ran off my first draft — yes, all of it, though in 1.5 line spacing rather than double, to save paper — and got to work with a highlighter pen, some Post-Its and a biro. How did I edit it? I didn’t do a pass for dialogue, a pass for characterisation, all that jazz. My philosophy was ‘highlight all the shit that’s got to come out; make notes if ya gotta’.

Once I got into the editing process, I realised I could lift out entire chapters whole cloth without too much cosmetic cover-up work being required. Just goes to show how dreadfully overwritten my first draft was, and how unnecessary many of the characters. The heroine, Piper, had an encounter with another woman called Victoria which didn’t make it into the published copy and there were a couple of nights out and pub crawls I got rid of. (That whole ‘make up a bunch of characters, get them drunk and have them fuck a lot’ advice might have led to a first draft, but that draft was extremely baggy, so. Don’t take writing advice from someone who needs a babysitter for their own work.)

Upshot is, if it didn’t serve the story, it was gone. A scene should either advance the plot or reveal character, which is why I even dropped chapters featuring characters who remained in the book. Gray lost a few scenes (yeah, sorry, I wrote an erotic romance featuring that name, although spelled differently from that book) and even the hero, Leo, did too.

Fun fact: the hero, Leo Carson, didn’t originally have a middle name, but I gave him one because I realised he’d then have the same initials as the book itself. And given how open and honest I am about having the hots for a particular Irish actor, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who he’s based on.

In the end, it took me a fortnight to edit the book down from 150k words to 85k. I’d been aiming for 75-80k, but I’d wrung it out ‘til the pips squeaked, picked off every excess bit of fat and there was nothing else to be deleted. Of course if I wrote the book today it would be different. I’m a different writer, after all. But at the time, I did all I could. And it was pretty easy. I know many writers like to angst about how stressful and demanding writing erotic romance is, but…it just isn’t. Oh, I’ve had my days of wondering why I’m bothering, but that’s usually been to do with Romancelandia drama rather than questioning the quality of my own writing. The actual process of writing, of putting words on paper (or screen)? It’s hardly slaving away at the coalface, is it? It’s all the aforementioned Romancelandia drama that spoils it, but actually making shit up and making it available for other people to read is actually quite fun.

I did consider printing the edited draft out and doing copy/line edits on paper but decided that would be a waste of paper and ink. The bulk of the work was done; I now had to smooth over the joins, take out any pet words and repetitive phrasing, and generally give it a spit-polish. That could be done on-screen. (Back then I used MS Word on a Windoze Vista laptop.)

Due to my experience with writing submission packages for other people, it didn’t take me long to come up with a two-page synopsis and a submission letter. Read over the book again, printed out the first three chapters and sent them to an agent. I soon got a rejection back by return of post which really, I’d been expecting. And I decided, why not try digital-first publishers instead? You got paid much sooner with those and I thought it would be a good idea to build up a readership online which might make it more likely for an agent to sign me in future? Who knew?

So I decided to sub Long Time Coming (first three chapters and synopsis) to a Canadian digital-first publisher, Carnal Passions, around about end of March/beginning of April 2010…almost exactly a year after I’d finished the first draft. See? I wasted a year. I could have had that damned book out, earning its keep, much, much sooner.

It wasn’t long before Carnal Passions requested a full — only a day or two later, I think. That, I had ready to go so sent it off. Roughly a week after that they offered a contract, which is why I like to say, even now, “I sold my first book to the first publisher I subbed it to.” Sure, there was that agent who’d refused it, but still…it sounds good, right?

The lead time from contract to publication was little more than a month. Shockingly short compared to other publishers, but my submission manuscript was pretty clean, the publishing house was small, and more importantly, the cover artist they used at the time came up with some droolworthy covers — Amanda Kelsey, if you’re interested. Some small presses churn out cover art that’s…not good…but all credit to Carnal Passions; back in the day their covers were second to none and that saying, “Never judge a book by its cover?” Complete bullshit. We all judge books by their covers, much as we’d like to deny it.
Selling my first book had me bouncing off the walls with excitement and I’ve, of course, never experienced that same feeling again. You never forget your first time, as they say.
I requested the rights back in early 2014 due to dwindling sales and a reluctance to continue working with the same publisher (no great fall-out, just a desire to move on) and had the manuscript hanging around on my hard drive until November of that year when a friend talked me through the process of self-publishing on Amazon.

Due to the fact I had by then acquired an ITIN (International Taxpayer Identification Number) through my work with another publisher, Loose Id, the process was pretty easy, the tax paperwork being dealt with in mere minutes, if I’m honest. I won’t bore you with all the details here, but once I signed with a US-based publisher, I needed to fill in a lot of paperwork to prove I was a ‘non-resident alien’ and thereby avoid being taxed by Uncle Sam. The result of that process was, the IRS awarded me the aforementioned ITIN, which I now use on all paperwork involving American publishers (and Amazon) so I don’t get taxed on my royalties by the US government.

At the time, Kindle Unlimited paid authors per borrow (as opposed to its current risible rate of half a cent per page read) so it was worth my while putting Long Time Coming in the programme. Now, I’ve gone wide with publication as I have with all my self-published works. If you’d like to read the book that got me started as a smut-peddler, the blurb and buy links are as follows…

* * * * *

Piper Holt’s only after one thing: a man who’s only after one thing.

Previous lovers demanded either subservience or her heart, neither of which are up for negotiation, so Leo Carson’s attitude makes him her ideal match. Handsome, shameless and equally impulsive, he appears to want nothing more than a white-hot overnight liaison.

‘Overnight’ somehow develops into the entire weekend but come Monday morning, pride keeps her back turned and Piper walks away. Denying her own feelings doesn’t mean that Leo has none though, and if she’s going to atone for hurting him she’ll have to admit the ‘one thing’ she now wants is the man she’s in danger of losing forever.

* * * * *

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It’s gonna be May

So that’s April over and done with; it was only ten years long.

But seriously, I can’t believe it’s May already. I’ve not published anything in 2020 (yet!) but that wasn’t through lack of plans. Oh, plans I had in plentiful supply. However, I also had some real-life shiz to deal with. I’d love to say the global pandemic is what’s getting to me, but to be honest, staying home a lot doesn’t offer too much of a change to my lifestyle. Of course there’s a difference between choosing to stay home and being on government-mandated lockdown, but really? I have a roof over my head and food to eat, which is more than many people have.

I’ve also had a few highly-productive writing days. A couple of 10k days in March and in April, I actually managed to beat my all-time best, and cross the 12k barrier in one day. I believe I started work around 8am and finished at midnight (taking time in between for chores or rest or to ‘socialise’ on Zoom) so that was spread across 16 hours.

Lemme just check my writing app (it records all of my pomodoros and word totals).

12,036 words across 6 hours, 15 minutes of hands-on-keyboard writing time.

Bear in mind that wasn’t me going full pelt for six hours; that would be impossible. As I said before, that was with rest periods in between times. But I’ve always known I’m a feast-or-famine writer and clearly, short bursts of activity followed by rest periods to recharge my batteries work for me.

And for some reason, quarantine hasn’t killed off my creativity. Not like me to be contrary, is it? 😉

So, what of May? I’d like to write 100k words in a month; that’s a double NaNo and works out at roughly 3k words per day. Eminently doable. But that would have to be every day. Which leads me to the second item on my wish list – to write literally every day, to not ‘break the chain’.

Take Me Home is threatening to hit 110k words, and my menage novella needs roughly the same number of words to be complete. 20k on each book for a total of 40k leaves me with 60k words to play with on another story or two. So we’ll see what happens.

I’ll only be counting fiction, so the Ko-Fi blog post I need to catch up on won’t count towards my 100k total. I best get to work!

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Homemade covers and masturbediting

Because things had been so peaceful in Romancelandia lately, I thought it was about time I inserted myself into a random Twitter argument, because I just love the aggro. And what’s the latest nonsense that sent my blood pressure sky-high? The allegation made by…oh, somebody I’d never heard of before they were retweeted into my timeline…that self-published authors should always hire cover artists and editors.

Not so controversial, you might think, but wait! There’s always room on social media for someone to talk bollocks.

When I asked something like, “And if a writer can’t afford to pay cover artists’ or editors’ fees, should they just not publish at all?” I  was told by a bunch of…well, arseholes…who steadily shat their privileged opinions all over my notifications, that no. Poor people shouldn’t publish at all.

Several writers — more than is healthy, to be honest — have told me on Twitter that, if you cannot afford to pay for a quality piece of cover art and detailed, stringent edits, you should give up (for now, at least) and save your pennies until you can afford to outsource the work, which is the most privileged, elitist bullshit I’ve read in a long time.

Why? Because it’s gatekeeping. I don’t care what anyone says; it’s gatekeeping to effectively say “Poor people shouldn’t publish their work until it meets some arbitrary standard I choose to set.”

A lot of the objections I read online seemed to equate self-editing or homemade covers with rushed-out pap full of typos and plot holes, and slapped-on, badly-Photoshopped cover art, which is an insult to the integrity of self-published authors who are genuinely doing the best they can, with the resources they have.

I’ve self-published fourteen books, and of those, eleven have homemade covers. Why? Because I can’t fucking afford hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay someone else. Now, as someone told me on Twitter this evening (Monday as I write this, although this post will be scheduled for 9pm Tuesday my time), “There are some premade sites which are relatively cheap.”

Of course I wouldn’t know this already, having only been published for a decade.

[Edited to add: Which reminds me, glory be to mansplaining in the highest, for the chode who assured me that if I worked hard enough, maybe one day I could have a story published.]

Plus, the key is ‘relatively’ cheap. Relative compared to what? Other cover artists who charge thousands? Added to which, this alleged cheapness only applies to one-off covers. When it comes to series or author branding, the cost jumps up. I did those eleven homemade covers because I could afford a few bucks for several stock photos, and wanted to give my backlist some sense of uniformity. (Blurry effect on the photos, a very slight colour wash, similar font styles.)

Now, when it comes to editing, the costs are even higher.

Because of that, I edit my own books. Well…of those fourteen self-published books I mentioned earlier? Nine were previously published at various publishing houses and so had already been edited. I reissued them after a spit-polish and a bit of a buff. Five of my books were all-new and yes, I edited them myself. Given the choice between paying the household bills and spunking away money I don’t have on hiring an editor, I’ll go with buying the groceries, thanks. Asda doesn’t accept goodwill and “But I’m a starving artist!” excuses in exchange for food.

Interestingly, the only review I’ve seen in which I was dinged for ‘bad editing’ was for a novel which has been through two publishing houses and was edited at both, according to their individual house styles. Mind, during this review I was also accused of churning out fanfic of a TV show which I’ve honestly never watched, so it just goes to show how wrong people can be. This same book was accused of being riddled with typos — after being through edits at two separate publishing houses, mind — which later turned out to be nothing more than the UK spellings of various words, as opposed to the clearly more acceptable US versions.

You can’t win.

I’ve been told to not publish until I’ve ‘saved up my pennies’, to give up my daily coffees and to put that money towards ‘professional’ covers and edits, because mmm-hmm, I just love being patronised, especially by people whose books I’ve never heard of before. First up, despite their denials, telling someone not to publish until they’ve attained a certain income level to plough back into their work is gatekeeping. And yes, if I may say so, poverty-shaming. Who the hell are you to tell anyone they shouldn’t publish until they’ve saved up a set amount of cash you find acceptable?

And when it comes to being counselled to give up my daily coffee? I don’t fucking drink coffee.

Yes, yes, I know it was a metaphor for anything we buy on a regular basis, and which we don’t really need. My expenses, however, are already cut down to the bone. I’ve been open about the fact I’m a minimalist — a combination of choice and necessity. I do, however, still treat myself to things occasionally because without the occasional treat, life would be miserable.

Oh, and if you think the poors shouldn’t have nice things? Fuck you.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, treating myself occasionally. I could forego my occasional bag of Fruitella sweets, or that pretty notebook on sale in Home Bargains for a pound, and if I did? How long would it take me to save up £500 for a ‘professional’ cover?

Oh, only about a fucking decade, you steaming bucket of arse-gravy. And meanwhile, I’d have lived ten fucking years without anything to make me smile, but wait, I don’t deserve nice things, do I? Because…well, I don’t know. Because some walloper on the internet said so, I guess.

Don’t be so fucking ridiculous.

Christ, people are stupid. But you know who isn’t stupid? Jenny Trout. I interviewed her earlier about the first couple of editions of her bestseller The Boss and when I say ‘interviewed’, I mean I DM’d her with a few questions on Twitter in the vague hopes it would drive traffic to my blog and make complete strangers online like me because their opinion matters to me so very, very much.

Please like me, poverty-shaming elitists. I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t buy my books with their knocked-up-in-Canva covers, because of my twisted belief I should have food in my kitchen cupboards and the ability to switch the heating on at home.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Jenny Trout. Her bestselling book by far is the first in the utterly filthy The Boss series (written as Abigail Barnette), and I asked her a few questions about it because I’ve been aware for some time that the first edition was self-edited, with a homemade cover.

~*~

1) How did you go about creating the first cover for The Boss?

I took a photo of the lid of this antique silver bowl, doodled around with the picture in a free photo editor, and slapped the title on it.

2) How long was it before you changed the cover to something a bit more professional?

Very quickly. Within the first month. When I saw how much The Boss made on debut at $0.99, I felt comfortable “splurging” on stock art for it.

3) What sort of re-investment from your initial The Boss earnings did that take?

Basically, the money I reinvested was for that stock photo, which I converted to black and white. The covers for that series are all made by me, and they’re all very simple, black and white, one photo. It’s given them a distinct look; you’re not going to confuse them with anything else on the market. So, I started with a standard licensed stock photo and upgraded to an extended license once the book blew past 200,000 when it became a free ebook.

4) Compared to your next best-selling book, how much better has The Boss done?

The Boss has moved more copies because of word-of-mouth and the fact that it’s now totally free. When The Girlfriend came out, it didn’t matter that cover was yet another pattern from the inside of a weird antique in my house. People were hungry for it. The first and second books in the series both started out with weird bowl covers.

5) I’m nosy…and I want to shut up those wallopers who say you shouldn’t publish until you can afford ‘professionally-made’ covers. Are you willing to give us some idea how much The Boss made when it was first published?

It sold 2,000 copies within an hour of going up at $0.99, and in its first month, I made in the low-to-mid five figures…I don’t make that now, LOL. But even if I hadn’t been able to afford those covers and editing, I would still have gone on with the series. Because I believed in it.

~*~

The Boss, the first book in the series, is free to download on Amazon US and Amazon UK. (Other countries’ Amazon sites to but gimme a break, it’s nearly 4am as I type this; you want me to wipe your arse as well?)

Jenny’s website is,  so she claims, a one-stop procrastination shop. And it’s here. So there.

~*~

Now, if you’ll excuse me…my Scarlett senses are tingling. Someone’s being a dickbag on the internet, and I must avenge my people…

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