Every single time I write a book, there seems to be a kind of story behind the story. I guess it makes sense that something so personal and so time-intensive would wind up tying itself up in my life. This book was different than my usual experience in a lot of ways, so I'm going to break the post down into sections to keep it somewhat easier to follow.
A lot of my stories take place in big cities. Maybe I just enjoy writing about environments that are massively different than my own. Who knows? But out of 30 or so stories, I think my only "small town" romances so far have been Miss Matchmaker and Single Dad Next Door. So the choice to bring this series to a small town was actually a really exciting one for me. It has been almost two years since I moved a story outside the city, and I felt like I had a lot of fresh ideas to make that a meaningful and fun part of the book. West Valley is the fictional town where Anyone But Rich takes place, and I had a blast coming up with ridiculous town events that run almost weekly. It became a bit of a running joke throughout the series, but I also wanted the ridiculousness of having town gatherings for things like "Pig Week" to be the backdrop for some important scenes in the books. I even wanted readers to feel the same kind of longing to live in a place as connected as West Valley where it feels like things go back a little to older values. My other big goal with this series was to find a way to grow from my Objects of Attraction series. If you're new to my books, I essentially transitioned from writing books that were largely serious and dramatic to a very light and humorous tone with my Objects series. Fortunately, the series was a huge success, with four top 10 bestsellers overall in the Amazon store and two top 30 bestsellers. As awesome as all that was, it absolutely creates a sense of pressure for me. I know so many new readers have started to follow me because of the Objects series, and I wanted to be very careful about how to handle those expectations. Personally, I have begun to struggle more and more with the idea of expectations as I've moved along in my career. In the early days, it just felt like I was trying to find a way to get noticed. Once I got noticed, I still didn't feel like I necessarily had devoted readers who were going to keep up with my new work. Even if I did, I hardly had enough of a resume to feel tethered to one trick or one style. So I did what came natural and experimented. I wrote what I was in the mood for, whether it was a broody BDSM book or a somewhat lighter fake marriage book. But this time it felt different. One factor was that the success of my Objects of Attraction series got me noticed by some traditional publishers and opened a few doors. I decided to sign a three book deal with Montlake Romance, which coincidentally ended up being the Anyone But series. I knew Montlake was interested in helping me to launch a series that was similar to what I was currently doing well with, so I also had my publisher's expectations to think about added onto the plate.
The natural question was what to do with those expectations. I could try to subvert them--to do something different for the sake of being different or to shock my readers. That has never been my style, though, and I saw no appeal in going that route. I could try to copy myself and stick as close to the "formula" that worked for me in my Objects books. This one is tricky, because I don't think a lot of readers actually would have minded. The problem is that I rely a lot on my own excitement as a writer to power through the long task of writing a book. I've got to feel excited every day when I sit down to see where the story is going to go. If I feel like I'm just retracing my steps down an extremely familiar path, it becomes more tedious, which also could bleed into my writing. So I did what felt like the only good option. I tried to think of a way to take what worked so well, but evolve from it. My plan was to keep the light, often irreverent sense of humor (which conveniently happens to be my own, immature sense of humor). I still wanted characters to say and do ridiculous things that you can't help laugh at. But I wanted to use the extra 25,000 words I tacked on to my usual book length of 50,000 words to make everything more polished, more cohesive, and more real. "Real" is always a big goal of mine, even though it's highly subjective and hard to define.
For me, the more real the characters are, the better everything in the story works. Sometimes, I think you can kill the reality of a character by giving into convenience just one time. Maybe you planned for them to go along with somebody's idea, but when the time comes, it really doesn't feel like they would after all. Following the character's intuition instead of your own plan for the book is often more work and messier, but I think if you force characters into your boxes as an author, you wind up with a bunch of cardboard cutouts instead of flesh and blood people. I also wanted to use some of my extra length to weave more of a sense of "place" into the book than I normally do, which goes back to my ideas about the small town. Ultimately, the real test of whether I succeeded or not will be up to you if you choose to read the book. But from my end, I know I'm extremely happy with how they turned out (Yes, I've already finished all three! I'm just in the middle of the several stages of edits for book 3, Anyone But Nick). Traditional Publishing Versus Self Publishing
Whoo. This is a big one. I could write a ton on this and probably bore you to death, so I'm going to do my absolute best to put my writing skills to the test and condense this into its smallest parts. First, what the heck is the difference? Self publishing is what I did for all my previous books. It just means I'm the one in charge of all the little jobs that go into launching a book. The main jobs there are Writing the book, designing the cover or hiring a cover artist and working with them, setting up a marketing and promotional plan or hiring an advertising agency to do it for you, and managing all forms of social media or hiring someone to do it for you, and finally editing your book or hiring someone to do it for you. Being the control freak that I am, the only thing I hire out is an editor, but I still edit myself as well. A traditional publisher takes all those jobs off my hands. My main responsibility when I work with Montlake on a book is to write the book and participate in the editing process (approve/deny suggestions and work with the developmental editor to tweak and change things as we see fit). In the production phase when I'm just writing and up until publication, it's honestly so nice compared to self publishing. Instead of feeling like I have twenty things buzzing around in my head all the time to distract me from the actual writing, I can just focus on one thing. I'm not constantly alt tabbing to tweak my cover, managing emails from newsletters or authors I'm trying to book promotions with, and fiddling with stock images for Facebook ads. It's just writing, and that was so great. I also thoroughly enjoyed the rigor of the editing process, and think it contributed to making this series some of the best work I've ever put on the store. After the book launches, it's a bit different, and maybe not all in good ways. So, one thing that I did love about self publishing is that I have all the information. I know how much I'm spending on advertising and when. I know what my expectations are for the book. I know what my definition of overperformance and underperformance is. So when it comes time for the book to launch, I'm not in the dark about anything. If I see that the book peaks at rank 70 and then compare that to what kind of advertising campaign I was running, I can pretty confidently say... "Yikes. I may have pushed this one too hard and not got enough in return for that." Or maybe I can say, "Wow. I went really light on the advertising here and it still got to rank 70? Awesome!" With Montlake, all I know is that they're advertising. I don't know what their expectations are and I feel too awkward to ask. For all I know, they're thinking this is a failure if Anyone But Rich doesn't wind up going to the top 5 overall in the Amazon store. Or maybe top 100 was fine with them. Maybe the rank is irrelevant because they've got some iron-clad plan to make it stick around for months and months to slowly earn back their investment. Who knows! And as a bit of a control freak, I've found myself feeling more anxious than I think I should these past couple days since launch. I can watch the rank and say, "Rank 34 only 24 hours after launch, that seems really good!" But again, that seeming really good is entirely based on my past expectations for self published books. For all I know, the people at Montlake are running around like their hair is on fire and wondering why they ever risked working with me. To Wrap It Up
Anxiety aside, I'm just lucky, and I know that. I'm lucky for so many reasons, starting with the fact that my "job" is writing romance books. When I think about how many times I daydreamed about doing this in class, at night when I was in bed and just staring at my ceiling fan, or when I was doing anything else... It's really amazing. How many people are fortunate enough to say they are living their dream? So when I get really stressed or anxious, I try to just think back to that. I guess the problem is the reason I have so much stress and anxiety is because this is my dream and I really, really don't want to screw it up. Even if the work is hard more often than not, this is such an awesome opportunity, and I'm thankful every day for every one of you who have ever cracked open one of my books and given me a shot. Thanks for reading, and if you haven't already, I hope you'll consider taking a peek inside Anyone But Rich. I can say pretty confidently that if you were a fan of the Objects of Attraction series, this book is going to be exactly what you're looking for.