Maybe some authors are able to write a book without what basically amounts to a blooper reel of material to reflect back on, but I'm not one of them. I'm going to go over everything from what worked, what didn't work, and what my goals are for the next book in this post, so buckle in!
I figure I should start with the good before I scare anyone who has wandered into this post away from giving my book a try. I want to show a more realistic peek behind the curtains at what a frantic mess it can really be to write a book, but I also know it bears mentioning that I am quite happy with the finished product.
His Treat ended up being what I aimed to make it. With this series, I've been trying very hard to almost think of every book as a member of a family. If you knew five brothers, they'd all have their own unique approach and perspective, but you'd likely also feel that common thread of similarity and more importantly, familiarity.
To say it more simply, I wanted His Treat to feel right at home with the tone of the series, but also to have its own unique voice within that scope. I'm happy to say it came out better than I expected.
For example, His Banana was my first large step into a much heavier, comedic tone. However, it also was a somewhat zoomed-in picture of Bruce and Natasha without many "wide lens" shots to give spotlight to side characters. It was almost a case-study on what would happen if an OCD, buttoned-up, routine-oriented man fell for a walking disaster, accident prone woman. I thought the result was a really funny, sexy ride, and I was really happy with how it turned out.
Then you have Her Cherry, which is its own animal entirely, largely because of William Chamberson, Bruce's brother. I've never had a character take over a book like William did. Not even close. When I started writing him, I was overcome by feeling that I was writing a slightly exaggerated version of my husband, and from that moment on, William took on a life of his own for me. It was like I couldn't stop him from doing the bizarre, crazy kinds of things my husband does that I can't help but love him for. But Her Cherry also spread out the focus a little and brought back Bruce and Natasha, while also introducing Grammy, Ryan, and Lilith (who didn't get named as anything except William's secretary until His Treat).
And now with His Treat, I've written a book that feels less like a zoomed in picture for the entire story. Yes, it's still primarily zoomed-in, but it has a lot more going on in the background and a lot more focus from background characters like William, Steve, Lilith, Grammy, and more. It was really fun for me to bring them all back because I've grown so comfortable with who they all are that it's extremely natural to let them slide into current events. I also personally didn't want to be done with them, so that was my other excuse!
Maybe the part I'm most proud of with His Treat is how I feel like I was able to squeeze in an underlying message. I don't set out to do that, which is probably for the best, because otherwise it'd likely result in a book that felt preachy, weird, and off-putting. But when I was doing my re-read, I couldn't help notice a kind of underlying current of something I really enjoyed. I don't want to spoil what it was, but Ryan does pretty much come out and say it in the epilogue, so if you're watching for it, it's there!
Anyway, as much as I like patting myself on the back, I think it's more fun to talk about all the difficulties I had in getting it where it is.
Sigh... The cover. I have a misplaced sense of confidence that I'll eventually get every cover I ever work on to a point I'm happy with. It's what gets me through those early drafts when nothing is looking how I imagined. And thank God for that, because my early drafts for this book really were depressing.
My original idea was that a single piece of candy corn would be the perfect cover object for this book. It telegraphed "Halloween" immediately, it was cute, and it was an interesting object that would look good. I thought.
As it turned out, there were two unexpected obstacles. One: no photographer ever seemed to think it was a worthwhile idea to take a high quality photograph of a piece of candy corn on a white background. There were *piles* of candy corn, but nothing isolated that looked good enough to be the showcase for a cover. Two: Candy corn has a white tip, which, surprise surprise, looks bad on a white background.
This was probably the closest example of what I was imagining that I could find and it's just... dull. I guess because candy corn doesn't really have highlights and it's not an interesting texture, it looks underwhelming. So I scrapped that idea early on.
Idea two was a pumpkin, because... Halloween! I wasn't as crazy about it as an object that was sexy or as something that fit with a good title, but I tried anyway because I was struggling to think of something.
Ultimately, it just looked so boring that I decided against it. This was one of my last drafts with that idea.
So it wasn't horrible by any means, but "treat" really didn't make a whole lot of sense on top of a pumpkin. I also couldn't find a solution for the way the stem kept covering the "S". I tried putting the "S" behind it, manipulating the stem, photoshopping stems in from other pumpkins, etc. It just didn't work that well.
Bonus fact: Pumpkins have really gross skin when you look up close. It looks like it's full of blemishes, so I spent a long time photoshopping a more "clear complexion" on this pumpkin (lol - the things I do for romance).
Ultimately, I found this image, and I decided if I could turn a cupcake into a Halloween-themed cupcake, it would be perfect.
And that's how the cover was born! Trial and error, like always.
I keep a pretty tight deadline schedule by author standards, and it's probably borderline insane by normal-person standards. My goal is to write a book every single month. I know a lot of readers assume we write them ahead of time and release them in batches or something, and some may do that, but I've never sat on a finished book for more than a week before publishing it.
Basically, my writing process is a very last-minute, down to the wire sort of affair.
The point of bringing all that up is that I usually don't have the luxury of going back and making significant changes. It's a fun challenge, but it's a significant one. I don't like to outline my books because I end up feeling trapped inside a cage as I'm writing, but that freedom also means I can wander into the wrong places at times, or spend the first half of a book wandering in a boring direction.
I had so much trouble finding Ryan's character for this one. I'm not sure what it was. I think it could've honestly been the aftershocks of writing such a strong character like William just refusing to let go of my brain, because every time I tried to make Ryan unique, I kept having to fight the gravity of turning him into William.
So when I read back over my initial 25,000 words (half of the book), I was a little disappointed. I had fun scenes and moments I really liked, especially from side characters, but my feature romance and leading man needed a dose of excitement. So I pushed back my release to give myself time to slowly read back through everything and make some strategic tweaks. Little by little, I started to get a better feeling for who I wanted Ryan to be, until eventually, it felt like he was doing it on his own, which is kind of the goal when it comes to characters.
So characters aside, I also had a little bit of a plot dilemma. My original idea for this story was inspired by a movie I watched a month or two ago called Game Night. The premise is that this group of friends have a game night tradition, and the rich brother decides to make it the best game night ever by hiring a staging company to pretend to kidnap someone and force them to find clues to solve the mystery.
Of course, real kidnappers show up and everybody thinks it's a game for much of the movie, which creates a ton of fun moments.
I wanted to do a spin on that without having it take center stage. I was originally going to have the story start out with William (from her Cherry) inviting everyone to a cabin in the woods, but it was all going to be an elaborate set up so he could have actors pretend to keep doing increasingly scary/traumatizing things that he imagined would push Ryan and Emily closer together. I was thinking robbers, people in monster costumes, etc. I was mostly drawn to this idea because I thought the climactic scene could be worth the work, where they'd have long since figured out all these seemingly scary scenarios were just pranks, so when the real bad guys showed up, they wouldn't take it seriously, and they'd kind of goofily save themselves as the bad guys were confused out of their minds.
Like a lot of my ideas, it sounded fun in my head, but once I started writing it, tons of problems cropped up. For starters, I'd lost sight of one of my guiding principles when it comes to writing romance: never let anything be more important to the story than the romance.
When you start getting too crazy with the plot, it also gets really easy to turn the book into something else. Maybe not something bad by any means, but not the book I'm trying to write. So even though it meant scrapping a lot of really fun scenes, I ended up re-writing it and going a different direction with the plot.
This is something I always have struggled with when I'm coming off a successful book or two. Expectations often feel like a physical weight on my shoulders. There are the expectations I have for myself in terms of the quality of the book and trying to not only lives up to the standards I've set for myself, but exceed them. Then there are the expectations I have for myself in terms of what feels like "success" in a commercial sense. If the book peaks at rank 80, is that a success? What about rank 150, or 250, etc.
I can drive myself crazy with all of these expectations, but I don't know if I'd rub a magic lamp and make them vanish, even if I could. High expectations are part of my formula. They drive me to get better and to work harder. They make me look myself in the mirror almost every day and ask if I did enough. They make me look at books that underperform and get critical with myself: where did I go wrong, what can I do better next time, how can I get there?
It's a constant buzz in the back of my head. Probably the hardest part is keeping myself from letting my standards of commercial success fluctuate as my results fluctuate. For example, if I just wrote three books in a row that failed to crack the top 100 and didn't earn any money, it's hard to take solace in the fact that I thought the books were great books. Miss Matchmaker is a perfect example of this, for me. At the time I wrote Knocked Up by the Dom (I've talked about this in previous posts, so I'll try to be brief) I still felt bitter. I felt like Miss Matchmaker was what a romance book should be, and hardly anyone read it. I think it peaked at maybe rank 500 and fell out of the triple digits in less than a week. Knocked Up by the Dom felt like a really addictive book when I read back over it, and I was really happy with how it kicked off, but anyone who has read both books will tell you there's a big difference between the two.
Miss Maker has a kind of sweat, hopelessly romantic undertone to it and a couple that I felt had some of the most seriously genuine connections of any I've written. Everything felt special, and I felt more personally wrapped up and invested in their romance than any I'd written before. On the other hand, Knocked Up by the Dom was a really dirty, smutty book that didn't devote as much page space to the romance as it did to the sexual tension and the dynamic going on there. Personally, it was farther from my preferences in what I like to write, and it's kind of why I haven't spent much time returning to that style even though Knocked Up by the Dom did very well commercially.
So what's my point? The point is judging your success by your own feelings about a book is a tricky proposition. Miss Matchmaker has just under 2000 copies sold to date, with 1,900,000 pages read. Knocked Up by the Dom sold 29,000 copies with 22,800,000 pages read to date.
When those results are staring me in the face, it's hard to honestly tell myself "Miss Matchmaker was a better book." After all, if it really was a better book, why did it only reach a tiny fraction of the readers Knocked Up by the Dom reached?
All of this is my way of saying that I do get caught up in the commercial side of my books. Any author who says they don't is likely lying to you. Whether you care about the money that comes with the sales or not, we're all wired to look at money as our sort of personal high score in life. It's society's way of telling us we did something valuable.
What inevitably happens, then, is one book doing extremely well suddenly sets the bar almost impossibly high for the following books. His Banana reached rank 8 at its peak, so if Her Cherry hadn't reached a higher rank, was that an indication that I'd regressed or not done a good enough job? Then Her Cherry reached a peak rank of 5, so now I'm really not sure how I can even have a distant hope that His Treat could ever reach that kind of success.
Whew, sorry for the peak into my screwed up, success-failure poisoned mind. Maybe it's simpler if you only ever do well and never have the huge, terrifying down periods I've had, but history has actually taught me that success only lasts for two or three books, and then I'll spend half a year clawing and trying to climb my way back to a space where I feel comfortable, only to repeat it all over again.
To Wrap It Up (finally)
You'd think as an author, I would've learned not to ramble so aimlessly every time I touch a keyboard. Sorry for the long and often wandering post, but if you've been following my blog, you've hopefully figured out that it's not exactly something I'm aiming to win recognition for. It's just a place for me to kind of be myself, let my guard down, and hopefully provide content that is at least mildly interesting for anyone who cares to read it!
So that's that! Don't forget to grab a copy of His Treat if you haven't already (Click here!)