Sunday, September 18, 2016

Spend a Year in Cupid's Coffeeshop: Info for writers about serial publishing.

Fellow Kindle Scout winning author, Courtney Hunt, joins us ThrillWriters and ThrillReaders to talk about her year-long writing project, Cupid's Coffeeshop.

Fiona -
Welcome Courtney. Can you set the stage by telling us a little bit about your writing and your project?

Courtney - 
I prefer to write in the contemporary romance genre, though I'd like to eventually branch into women's fiction. I also have some paranormal and sci-fi ideas rattling around that I hope to get to before 2050.

As to how I became a writer, I've always enjoyed writing down the stories I created. I pursued traditional publishing for about 10 years before giving up after the birth of my son. In my day-job I'm an attorney for the federal government. When we furloughed in October 2013, I suddenly had the life I'd always dreamed about. My son was in school and my husband at work. I wrote 54k words in 17 days. I self-published my first novel in July 2015.

Fiona - 

You are working on what I would call an ambitious if not daunting adventure. Can you explain how you got this idea? And tell truth, was this a dare accepted over too many rum and Cokes?

Courtney - 
COURTNEY HUNT - author page
No, but there was some cough syrup with codeine involved. Like many writers, I often write in coffee shops and thought that a coffee shop would be a great "meet cute" place for a hero and heroine. But, I couldn't settle on one hero and heroine. Finally, while I was sick with bronchitis (that's where the cough syrup with codeine comes in) and lying in bed, I jotted down a list of 10 story ideas. From there, I got the idea to do one per month throughout 2016. Still on the cough syrup, I came up with the three core characters who own the coffee shop and the Cupid's Coffeeshop series was born.

Fiona -

Would you take us through your production process? Writing a first draft is simply a step on the path to a reader's hands.

Courtney -
When I structured the Cupid's Coffeeshop series, I based it more on episodic television writing than a traditional romance series. So, I had the three main characters, who each get their own "very special episode" in their own books. And then, from there, I branched out to the other stories.

I have a four stage process--Capture, Development, Drafting, and Production. I use Evernote to capture all my story ideas. I usually tend to think in series, probably because as a life-long romance reader, I enjoy reading romance series. Once I decide to develop an idea, I do some basic research and character work to build an outline. I have to limit myself on the character work because I'd spend months on it if I let myself. I usually work on it for about a week and have a few favorite character exercises, like Holly Lisle's the Shadow Room and the intimacy questions. Once I have an outline or a scene list, I draft from beginning to end. I usually write 2-5k words a day on my writing days. Once a first draft is done, I consider the book in production. It goes to my developmental editor, my copy-editor, my formatter, my cover designer, and it's up on Amazon.

Fiona - 
If someone else were to think this was an awesome idea, first they should download all of your books and see what you did and how with the stories, but second could you share some of your insights? What worked? What didn't? How would you change things if you were to do this again? And would you consider doing this again? Ha! I piled on this time.

Courtney -
First, yes, I absolutely would consider doing this again. In fact, I have ideas for two different year-long series that I'm seriously considering pursuing in the future. 

Having said that, yes, there are some things I'd do differently. I would have all the stories written before I published the first one: 

  • I wouldn't be writing under so much pressure.
  • I'd have had the same editors for the entire series. My copy-editor abruptly closed up shop over the summer which left me scrambling to find another. 
  • I would make them longer so I could charge $2.99 per book. Right now, I have them at about 50 pages and 99 cents. The sales volume has been very good but the revenue is lower than what I'd prefer.

As to what worked, I had all the covers designed at one time so they are well-branded and look great together. I also released a boxed set of the first four which I had made into an audiobook that has sold really well.

I also think setting up a core story, with the three main characters that appear in each book, helped a great deal with writing it. It always comes back to the three owners. And, while two of the owners have already found their happily-ever-afters, the last one doesn't until the final book. Readers have been clamoring to know what happens to Patrick.

I also think I've built up a core of really loyal readers who love this series and that's been great too. So, overall, it's been great to get a lot of titles up on Amazon quickly (I've been published just over a year and have 12 titles for sale and 3 for pre-order).

Fiona -
You brought up the idea of branding through your cover art. Who is your audience, and how did you develop your branding to appeal to them?

Courtney - 
The books are small-town contemporary romance. I was really going for a Gilmore Girls vibe with the books. However, writing such a long series, I've been able to have an older couple (Cherry Blossom Cappuccino features a couple in their 70s) as well as a high school couple (in November's Thanksgiving Dream). I've also had some college-aged heroes and heroines. So, even within the small town vibe, I've had young adult, new adult, and--what do we call older adults? Hen lit?-- opportunities. The books also vary in their heat levels from sweet to mainstream steamy. So, by varying the ages and the heat level, I've attracted a wide swath of contemporary romance readers.

As for the branding part, I've used the same cover designer for all my books (Kim Killion) and she also designed my Cupid's Coffeeshop logo. I've used to get some great promotional photos to use.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about the big author time suck, marketing. You have a great story to tell, you've wrapped it up in a pretty package, and now you need to get it out into the world. Can you take us through your strategy?

Courtney - 
Marketing has been a challenge for this series because many of the popular sites, like Bookbub, don't advertise novellas. I spent a good amount of December setting up promos for the first book, Java Frost. 

To celebrate each new release, I've put the prior month's book up for free for 5 days. I have a newsletter and send that out each month. I'm also just starting to use Facebook ads after Mark Dawson's class. 

I think having each book up for pre-order for 90 days helps too. I had just 29 pre-orders of the first one and the more recent ones are in the 150 range. So, that's been better. I have a review crew too that has helped spread the word. But, like with all author promos, it's never enough, and I have to limit it or I'll never get new words on the page.

Fiona - 
What do you wish I had asked you but didn't know enough to ask?

Courtney -
How difficult it is to change course with a series like this. For example, I realized in the spring that 99 cents was just too low to be very profitable. But I had 8 more months, and I didn't want to triple the price because I felt I'd already set reader expectations. 

Also, when I got sick in April and got behind on my writing schedule, I'd spend the next few months frantically working to catch up. When I do this again, I'll have all 12 books done before I start publishing. 

But for the next few series, I think I'll stick to the trilogies and quartet model for a bit.

Fiona - 
As always, ThrillWriting would love to hear about your favorite scar.

Courtney - 
My c-section scar because it gave me my beautiful son.

Fiona -  
You can stay in touch with Courtney here:
twitter at @courtneyhunt71 


Courtney's current new-release is Apple Cider:

The boxed set of the first one is here: Cupid's Coffeeshop boxed set

And here is Courtney's Kindle Scout winner! Lost Art of Second 


As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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