Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guest Post by the author of Just for You


Contemporary Romance / NOVELLA
Published: July 31, 2014

No shirt, no shoes, no … problems?

Hemi Ranapia isn’t looking for love. Fun, yes. Love, not so much. But a summer fishing holiday to laid-back Russell could turn out to be more adventure than this good-time boy ever bargained for.

Reka Harata hasn't forgotten the disastrously sexy rugby star she met a year ago, no matter how much she wishes she could. Too bad Hemi keeps refusing to be left in her past.

Sometimes, especially in New Zealand’s Maori Northland, it really does take a village. And sometimes it just takes a little faith.

NOTE: This 36,000-word (120-page) novella begins about six years before the events of Just This Once, and yes, it gets a little steamy at times, because Reka and Hemi are just that way. It can be read as a stand-alone book, even if this is your first escape to New Zealand.

She’d noticed him even while she’d been walking down the aisle in the wharenui, wearing the stupid strapless dress of blood-red satin that Victoria had chosen, a dress she was definitely not going to be wearing again, a dress that had “bridesmaid” written all over it. She’d been supposed to be paying attention to her pace, and instead she’d been looking at the man sitting at the end of the row, up there to her right. A man who was looking right back at her. A mate of the groom’s, she knew, because Victoria had told them all he was coming.
Hemi Ranapia, the starting No. 10 for the Auckland Blues, one of the year’s new caps for the All Blacks, and about the finest specimen of Maori manhood she’d ever seen. His dark, wavy hair cut short and neat, his brown eyes alive with interest as he watched her. A physique to die for, too, his shoulders broad in the black suit, his waistline trim, the size of his arms and thighs making it clear that the suit hadn’t come off any rack, because that had taken some extra material.
She’d stood in her neat row to one side of the bride throughout the service, had done her best to keep her attention on the event, and had felt his gaze on her as surely as if he’d been touching her. She’d had to will herself not to shiver, and the look he sent her way, unsmiling and intent, when she walked back up the aisle again told her she hadn’t been imagining his interest.
She’d still had what felt like hours of photo-taking to come. Standing around endlessly, smiling in the sunshine, arranging and rearranging herself according to the photographer’s instructions, being flirted with by one of the groomsmen, with Hemi in and out of her view all the while. His suit coat off now, his tie loosened, white shirt stretching across chest and shoulders. A beer in his hand and a smile on his face, having a chat with the other boys, being approached, at first shyly and then with enthusiasm, by the kids.
And by the girls, she saw with a twinge of jealousy that made no sense at all, as one after another of them smiled for him, touched her hair, touched his arm. It looked to her like every unattached woman at the wedding, and more than one of the partnered ones as well, was going out of her way to chat him up. And he wasn’t exactly resisting. But he was looking at her all the same. Every now and then, she glanced across and his gaze caught hers, and she saw an expression on his face, an intensity and a heat that were making her burn.
By the time the photography was done and she was released at last, the wedding party moving into the wharekai so the eating and drinking and dancing could begin, she was well and truly warmed up, and tingling more than a little in every single place she could imagine him touching with those clever hands, the hands she somehow knew would handle a woman as deftly as they handled a rugby ball.
The band began to play, the bride and groom stepped into their first dance, and she saw him edging his way around an animated group towards her, a glass in each hand. He reached her side, handed her the flute of champagne with the flash of a smile.
“Think you earned this,” he told her.
She took it, and he touched his glass to hers.
“Cheers,” he said with another white smile, the heat in his gaze unmistakable at this range. He tipped his brown throat back and drank, and she mirrored his action, felt golden bubbles popping against her tongue, the cool liquid sliding down her own throat. Drinking together like that somehow felt as intimate as kissing him, and the tongues of flame were licking every secret spot now.
“Took your time, didn’t you?” she asked him with a cool she wasn’t even close to feeling.
He laughed. “Didn’t want to seem too eager. Doing my best to be smooth here, but it’s hard going.”
Another long drink, another long look as Victoria and Mason finished their dance and the band began another number, a fast one, and couples started filling the floor.
“Think I can get a dance?” he asked.
“Mmm, I think you could,” she said. “Maybe so.”
 Rosalind James
Guest Posts
Dear New Zealand: Here’s What I Love About You
I originally wrote this post for the Romance Writers of New Zealand’s March 2013 newsletter.
1. The Tall Poppy thing. Where I grew up (hint: rural!), bragging about yourself was considered obnoxious. But U.S. popular culture is increasingly full of that. Randy Moss announced before a recent Super Bowl that he was the greatest wide receiver ever to play the game. Yes, that remark was met with derision (he isn’t), but the fact that he’d even say it is illustrative. An All Black would NEVER call himself the “greatest ever.” They go out of their way NOT to say that.
2. Behaving well. Especially amazing to us: the high standard of behavior to which NZ sportsmen and sportswomen are held, and the outrage when they behave badly. U.S. athletes will tell you that they aren’t role models—and with some exceptions, they aren’t! I’ve found the least attractive quality I can show in New Zealand is arrogance, the attitude that “I’ve got a problem, and it’s your job to fix it RIGHT NOW.” You’re polite! We love that!
3. Safety and quality of life. Yes, I know that there’s more crime and social unrest in New Zealand than is evident in my books. Still, it always makes me chuckle to hear Kiwis (or Aussies) complain about things like public transit, crime, litter, etc. It is just so much NICER where you live. In the U.S., public toilets are virtually nonexistent. That might seem like a frivolous issue--until you need one.
4. Being responsible for yourself. The simple fact that you can’t sue for personal injury changes everything. The first time I swam at Mission Bay, I kept looking around for the markers that would show me where I could go. It took me the whole swim to realize that there weren’t any! It was up to me to keep myself safe.
5. The “she’ll be right” thing. A B&B operator was talking to me about Americans. She described them coming into the main house all worried, saying, “There are no forks! What should I do?” And her bemused response, “Well, you can ask me, and I’ll give you one.”
6. Work/Life balance. We don’t have it and you do. When I was working at a, you know, JOB, I expected to put in a good 60 hours a week. My husband still does. Everyone has such a good time when they come to Australia or New Zealand to work! The idea that you can take the weekend off—believe me, that’s novel.
7. Maori culture is cool.
8. It’s pretty. And the All Blacks are good-looking, and wear tight jerseys and short shorts. What can I say. It’s true.
Why I Don’t Get Writer’s Block
 “What do you do about writer’s block?” I hear this question all the time. Short answer: I don’t get it! After ten years as a marketing writer, I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent toiling to make alphabet letter tiles or fireplace inserts sound sexy. Writing stories about two people falling in love? Piece of cake!
The longer answer is that the techniques I developed to keep myself on track while writing about Building Your Classroom Library or Our Salon Services have continued to serve me well in writing fiction. Here they are:
1.      Take a walk. Or a run, or a bike ride, or a swim. We’re not just giant disembodied brains. Something about moving my body makes the left brain/right brain combination work. I don’t try to force my story to come to me, just let my mind wander. For the first ten minutes or so, it DOES wander. Then somehow, without any direction, it comes back to the book. Often, the scene that appears isn’t even the one I thought I was working on. I’ve learned to trust the process, and go home and write the scene that came to me. Maybe that other scene will appear next time—or maybe it wasn’t right after all.
2.      Try a different spot. I often take a notebook to the coffee shop in the morning. The walk up there gets my mind working (see #1), and the change from my normal writing place shakes up my mind a bit. The difficulty arises when I’m scribbling a particularly steamy scene in longhand, hoping devoutly that nobody can look over my shoulder and read what I’ve written—or that they’ll guess why I’m concentrating so hard!
3.      Just write. Don’t worry about getting it perfect at first. Your words may start out stilted, but the act of writing will make the ideas start to flow, and you can go back and edit later. I often don’t start at the “beginning” of a scene, as that bogs me down. I start with the “fun” part, the part that presents itself most insistently. Afterwards, I’ll come back and write the graceful introduction.
4.      Give it a day. I start each day by going back over what I wrote the day before. I can always improve it. It also jump-starts that day’s work by getting me back into the book.
5.      If you’re stuck, move! This goes back to #1. If I’m blanking out, I get up and make a cup of tea, empty the dishwasher, anything to shake myself up. The right idea always comes once I stop trying to force it.
There you go. I hope my tips help. And happy writing!
I Hated This Book! Or, Coping With Negative Reviews
To be honest, I thought this one would be easier. I should be able to dismiss the ones I’ve received as outliers, or shrug and say, “can’t please everyone,” right? Alas, it’s not so easy. It’s like somebody telling you your baby is ugly. It still hurts. Here’s what I’ve found:
1.      People love it or hate it for the same reasons. For example, “Just for Now” is a tender, funny story about family, without a lot of external drama. It is many readers’ favorite of my books. But other readers haven’t been crazy about it, for the same reason. Too much family, too much about the kids, not enough excitement. It’s personal taste.
2.       An apropos quote. Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” It’s one thing to examine your negative reviews, or negative comments within positive reviews, for anything that is truly HELPFUL. Was the ending rushed? Do you have grammatical errors that need to be fixed? That’s helpful. That your book didn’t appeal to someone’s personal taste—not helpful.
3.      Your mileage may vary. I’ve written ten books, and just in my little critique circle, I think there are eight different favorites! My readers share the same diversity of opinion. When I think about my own favorite authors, I don’t love all their books equally. Some of them I don’t even care for very much. I’ve never been a huge fan of “Mansfield Park,” because Fanny Price is kind of a drip, isn’t she? And she and Edmund seem set to have a mighty virtuous and boring life. And yet I’ve read it at least three times, because Jane Austen writes so well. 
4.      It goes double for sex. Think people’s opinions differ about your heroine? Get reviewers going about the sex in your book! I’ve had people say, about the SAME BOOK:
“I loved … that the sex scenes weren’t so intense.”
“I found the sex scenes to be a little kinky for my taste.”
“Too much explicit sex.”
“Plenty of hot steamy sex.”
Bottom line (so to speak), there is a huge variation in steam levels in contemporary romance. When your books are just getting known, people are finding out if they like the way you write, and in particular, the way you write sex. You are finding your audience. And that ain’t everybody.
5.      The acid test. I realized, after wrestling with the “ping-pong ball” effect, where I’d think: “It’s good!” “No, wait, it’s bad!” “No, it’s good!” after every review, that the REAL questions were, “Did I write the book I wanted to write? Did I do my best?” And in all ten cases, I answered, “Yes, I did.” That is all I can do. And it’s all that matters. On to Book Eleven.

Why I Don’t Respond to Reviews
You wouldn’t think that “should I respond to a reader review?” would be a topic for discussion anymore, but there seems to be a movement now among some authors to go ahead and respond to readers’ comments on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., whether positively (“Thanks for the awesome review!”) or negatively (“If you don’t like books with sex in them, maybe you should choose your books more carefully.”) (OK, that last one I’ve thought about saying.) Here’s why I don’t respond:
1. From a marketing standpoint: My author persona is my brand. I write feel-good books about decent people (well, mostly). Books that, I hope, make the world feel like a nicer place, leave readers with a happy little glow. Acting in any way that isn’t in line with that, whether it’s a Facebook post, responding to reviews, whatever, diminishes my brand.
Sure, we can all point to big-name authors who’ve done it, and got away with it. Hard to damage a well-established career. But I’ve been at this two years. I’ve been lucky enough to have been discovered by a few readers who are very active in the romance-reading community, and who talk about my books on various forums and provide that invaluable commodity, word of mouth. Those people tend to have book blogs and belong to lots of groups. And they also tend to be pretty passionate about what they see as badly behaving authors. If, instead of promoting me, they were slamming me? Well, it sure wouldn’t help me. And if I didn’t have those people, if I were at Ground Zero in terms of getting myself known? I wouldn’t want the first thing potential readers saw about me to be a negative interaction with somebody else, no matter how merited.
And yes, in my opinion responding is simply unprofessional. It makes you look like someone who spends her time checking reviews instead of writing books. I would like to project the image (even if it’s aspirational!) of somebody who is secure in her success and isn’t anxiously looking at what everyone said about her today.
On the other hand, interacting on Facebook, Twitter, my blog, via email, etc.? You betcha! I do that big-time. Those readers have literally signed up to interact with me, whereas a reviewer is giving her opinion to other readers. (If I choose to take something from that as well—or not—that’s up to me.)
2. From a logical standpoint. My negative reviews aren’t “abusive.” They’re just responses from people who don’t like the way I write, at all, or didn’t like this book, at all, and want to tell other people so. They have a right to that opinion. And, much as I cringe at them, a few one-star reviews can legitimize your 5-stars, or let people know that there’s some controversy about a character, or “too much sex,” or whatever–things that can actually help sell your book.
3. From a personal standpoint. Some people enjoy combat, find it stimulating. I don’t. It hurts. And while I can use negative feelings in my work, I find that my supply of painful life experiences is adequate to fuel anything I’ll ever write. So for a sensitive plant like me, yes, the negative reviews hurt more and make me want to engage even more than for people with a thicker skin who can shrug off criticism. But engaging just prolongs the agony. Better for me to feel the pain of it, then let it go.
The goal for the next year of my publishing career? Look at reviews once a week. My success rate so far? Umm … Improving!
Don’t Let Rejection Get You Down (Yeah, Right)
“Dear Author: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately . . .” And your heart sinks again.
You tell yourself that Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times. That over a hundred publishers turned down Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries. That Tom Clancy, after everyone else had said no, finally found a publisher for The Hunt for Red October—the Naval Institute Press.
But still, what you’re hearing is that your book stinks. And that nobody, anywhere, will ever love it. So how do you keep from getting discouraged? Here are some thoughts that may help.
1.      Publishers are risk-averse. Also agents. I worked in the publishing industry for 20 years, and have been on the other end of this one many times. If a publisher thinks a book has a 40% chance of making $100,000, he will take that bet over a 5% chance of making $2 million. What does this mean? More of the same! They want more of what’s been selling lately (BDSM romance, anyone?), because it’s too hard to predict what will sell tomorrow.
2.      Success stories. I decided to self-publish on the day a major agent told me that she enjoyed my book very much, but “New Zealand rugby” would be too tough of a hook in the U.S. market. Avon’s new ebook line turned me down on the day I offered that same book for free on KDP Select and gave away over 14,000 copies. I sold 2,000 books in my first month, and 20,000 books in my fifth. And I’m not the only one. Being turned down by agents and publishers doesn’t mean your book isn’t good, or that the public (as opposed to the publishers) won’t buy it. You can choose either to keep trying, keep polishing your query and your manuscript, sending out a few queries at a time until you land that fish, or … 
3.      Consider self-publishing. We are living in a unique moment when the barriers to entry have come crashing down. Yes, this means some books are being published that probably shouldn’t be. But it also means that authors whose books sat rejected for years are putting them out there, and guess what? People want to read them!
4.      The downside: What downside? If your book succeeds, the publishers may come to you. (It happened to me!) Maybe you’ll finance a little bit more writing time. And if it doesn’t sell much, what have you lost? Some time and the money for (I hope) a professionally designed book cover and professional editing. So make sure your book is the very best you can make it, do your research on producing and marketing your work, and give it a try.
5.      Keep writing! Whichever way you choose to go, don’t stop writing. If people whose opinions you genuinely trust are telling you your work is good, and you believe in your heart of hearts that it is, you owe it to yourself to keep going, and to find a way to put your books out there for the market to judge. Nobody’s tombstone ever said, “I wish I hadn’t pursued my dream.”
Helen Keller said it best. “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
Creating Your Book Cover
You can judge a book by its cover—and people do it all the time. Your cover has to convince YOUR target buyer that this is her type of book, and that it’s a good one. The tips below, gleaned from ten years in marketing for the publishing industry, helped me create my own covers. I pass them along in hopes that they help you too.
1.      Hire a professional. It isn’t as expensive as you may think. Three eBook covers cost me less than $100 per book: A small investment that has already paid for itself many times over in book sales.
2.      Choose the right professional. I did a web search to find designers in my genre (Romance), then looked at their websites and portfolios. Who designs covers that appeal to you and make you want to buy the book? When you’ve found somebody whose work you like, ask for a quote.
3.      Know your market. Think about authors whose books resemble yours. Those authors have succeeded in attracting your market. Look at the covers of their books, and you’ll see trends. (Shirtless heroes? Flowers? An ornate font, or a simple one? Big, bold block letters on a red background, for a thriller?) Copy the links to your favorite covers. You’ll want to share them with your designer.
4.      Define the effect you want to achieve. Your cover is your brand. Even if you only have one book out there now, you’ll want a “look” that people identify with your style. A good designer excels in translating “feelings” into art. This is the direction I gave my own designer (Robin Ludwig): “I want a simple, tasteful, intelligent cover (no half-naked heroes!) Something that still says ‘romance,’ but not ‘embarrassing.’ The books are funny, playful, sexy, and occasionally tearjerking. Not completely frothy, a serious story in there too. I want to convey that--plus ‘exotic New Zealand locale.’”
I also had three books, with a fourth to come, so I needed to tie the covers together. The designer achieved that with the use of color and layout.
5.      Research stock art. You’ll get better results and help your designer if you take the time to find stock imagery that conveys the look you’re going for. I used Dreamstime.
6.      Work the design, and get feedback. After you get the designer’s first pass, ask people who have read your book for their reactions, then evaluate the feedback and give ONE response to the designer. If it isn’t quite right, keep working. (It took me three or four rounds to get it right.) Don’t give the designer specific direction (“could you put the title under the picture?”) Instead, try to explain the “feeling” that isn’t quite right (“It doesn’t look playful enough”).
7.      Admire your beautiful book cover! I hope it sells great!
How to Write a Romance Blurb
Blurbs scare indie writers. They can write a whole book, but the blurb—that’s a killer. I wrote this post in response to requests from my fellow indies.
As some folks know, I spent my misguided youth—all right, all right, my misguided middle age—as a copywriter. Which means that writing blurbs for my books was a piece of cake, right? Wrong. I had to learn how to do it, because writing one type of copy isn’t the same as writing another. But maybe it was a little easier and less scary to learn. So, OK, here are my tips for Writing Your Kickass Romance Blurb.
1Look at other blurbs. (You thought this was going to be some technical post, huh?) I learned to do it by going to the library and pulling down books in my genre from the paperback rack. Somehow, it was much easier to spot trends and pick out blurbs I liked from physical books. I read and took notes for an hour. I noticed what I hated as well as what I liked. Which blurbs made ME want to read the book? Because I write the kinds of books that I like to read. After I did my research, I came home, and …
2. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t expect to “write your blurb” and be done. The general rule in copywriting is: the shorter the copy, the longer it takes to write. Every word has to count. It may be hard to think the blurb up in your head. Instead, start writing, then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. And after that, walk away, come back, and polish. Rinse and repeat. It usually takes me a week to be completely satisfied with my blurb, though the total time I spend on it is perhaps four hours. Besides the time when I think it up, generally on a walk or a run, towards the end of writing the book.
Write it, mess with it, print it out, look at it, scribble on your paper, go back to the computer and mess some more. Experiment with changing Paragraph 2. Leave both versions there. Print it out again. Etc.
3. General rules. In romance, my formula is
Kicky tagline. (Some people don’t like this; I think it sells books. I put mine in bold.)
Heroine or hero’s situation.
Hero or heroine’s situation.
(Possibly) summation.
Also: Paragraphs! White space! Don’t make people look at a big block of text. Short sentences–heck, sentence fragments–are your friend. (Well, fragments are always my friend. Sue me.)
When you wish upon a star …
Alec Kincaid has never met the obstacle he couldn’t overcome–or the woman who could resist him. And it’s not going to happen now, not with his star shining more brightly than ever in the high-stakes arena of San Francisco’s software industry.
Desiree Harlin doesn’t believe in fairy tales, and she doesn’t waste time wishing. She’s learned the hard way that dreams don’t come true. And with her reputation and hard-won security on the line, succumbing to temptation isn’t an option.
But things aren’t always what they seem. And even stars sometimes fall.
5. Deconstruction
When you wish upon a star …: Disney movie; hopefully makes you think of the song and of wishing for dreams to come true. It has a twist, which all my books and titles have—they are all ironic. See second paragraph of blurb for the twist: our heroine doesn’t believe in fairy tales. She doesn’t believe in Prince Charming or happily ever after. But guess what? She’s going to get both of those things anyway. You know it. Hey, it’s a romance novel.
First paragraph: Do I tell you he’s a player and a millionaire CEO? No, but you get it, and that the story takes place in San Francisco, and that it’s about the tech industry. You get that he’s cocky and on top of the world, and you get the feeling that he’s about to meet his match and get taken DOWN, and hopefully you’re already rooting for Desiree to do it.
Second paragraph: Again, it’s not going to work out the way she thought. And do I tell you she’s a workaholic who’s come up the hard way, has zero stars in her eyes? Nope, but you get it. Just like with writing the book, you want to show rather than tell. Also: using the words “succumbing to temptation,” ONE HOPES, will alert sex-in-books-averse ladies that there is sex in this book. (To be on the safe side, I also include a “steam warning,” which I try to make fairly mild and humorous, as I’m not really that far up the steam-ometer. The steamier the book is, the more “cues” I try to put in the blurb. I still get shocked readers, but it’s not for lack of trying to warn them off.)
Third paragraph: What does it mean? Does it mean Alec falls? Or that something mysterious goes wrong? Both, sort of. This book has some suspense, though it’s primarily a romance, and I wanted to imply that without, again, hitting you over the head with it. “But mysterious forces are at work. Forces that will threaten both Alec and Desiree, as well as their growing relationship …” Ick. No. I wanted to find a way to tie it in to the tagline, and to intrigue the potential reader. Speaking of which …
6. The goal of the blurb. Not to give away the story. Not to explain that this is a “fast-moving tale that will keep you turning the pages and make you laugh and cry.” Again, don’t tell them, show them. Write it in YOUR voice, the same voice in which the book is written. (If you look at my books, you can tell from the blurbs, I hope, that some books will be funnier than others.) I try to give my blurbs a “funny, smart, sexy, tender” vibe, because I think (I hope) that matches the books. You want to give readers the sense of what they can expect from the book. The goal is to intrigue them enough to either a) Look inside the book; or b) BUY the book.
That’s it! Those are the tips. Best of luck!
About the author:

Rosalind James, the bestselling author of the Escape to New Zealand and Kincaids series, is a former marketing executive who discovered her muse after several years of living and working in paradise--also known as Australia and New Zealand. Now, she spends her days writing about delicious rugby players, reality shows, corporate intrigue, and all sorts of other wonderful things, and having more fun doing it than should be legal.

Rosalind’s website:
On Facebook: rosalindjamesbooks