Please welcome author Trish McCallan, who's going to talk about her phenomenally best-selling indie romantic suspense, Forged In Fire. Despite this being her first release, she's got a legion of voracious fans and a ton of outstanding reviews behind her already.
Blurb: Beth Brown doesn’t believe in premonitions until she dreams a sexy stranger is gunned down during the brutal hijacking of a commercial airliner. When events in her dream start coming true, she heads to the flight’s departure gate. To her shock, she recognizes the man she’d watched die the night before.
Lieutenant Commander Zane Winters comes from a bloodline of elite warriors with psychic abilities. When Zane and two of his platoon buddies arrive at Sea-Tac Airport, he has a vision of his teammates’ corpses. Then she arrives—a leggy blonde who sets off a different kind of alarm.
As Beth teams up with Zane, they discover the hijacking is the first step in a secret cartel’s deadly global agenda and that key personnel within the FBI are compromised. To survive the forces mobilizing against them, Beth will need to open herself to a psychic connection with the sexy SEAL who claims to be her soul mate.
Forged in Fire is your first published book. How many manuscripts did you complete before Forged? How long did it take you to write Forged?
I completed three manuscripts before writing Forged. The first manuscript (titled A Matter of Trust) I wrote twenty years ago—more or less—and it was Bad. With a capital B. I had no crit partners back then, no beta readers. Nor did I belong to any writing organizations. After I finished A Matter of Trust, life got complicated, and I quit writing for a very long time. About ten years later, I wrote Yesterday’s Child. I came very close to snagging an agent with that book, and it finaled in a ton of RWA’s first chapter contests.
My third book, The Cat’s Meow, is the first book in a light-hearted paranormal mystery series. The series has this romance that’s going to play out across the entire series, with the hero and heroine going from detesting each other, to trusting each other, to friendship and eventually love. I’d finished the first two drafts on this book and was halfway through the first round of revisions when Forged in Fire took over my brain and I couldn’t focus on anything else. So I dropped TCM to work on FIF. It took me a year to write Forged. I’ve never been a fast writer, and I was limited to writing two hours a day and Saturdays. My plan was to go back and finish TCM after I got Forged out to agents, but then I decided to self-published and all my earlier plans went whack-a-doodle.
You mentioned to me that you had a lot of agent interest in the book but then decided to pull the book from consideration and self-publish. Tell us about that and why you made the decision.
I finished Forged in Fire and started querying agents a week before SEAL Team 6 hit the news. Within a few months I had the full out with four agents and the partial out with even more. And then a friend sent me a link to an essay about why an unpublished author should not hire an agent—the essay was by Kris Rusch, of the The Business Rusch.
The Business Rusch was a wakeup call for me. Kris Rusch covered everything that was happening in our industry, and for the first time I questioned whether selling to New York was the smart choice. I spent days reading through all the essays Rusch had written on the industry, read through all the comments, followed links to other industry blogs and became convinced that selling to New York would be a death sentence to my career goals. If the traditional houses were already reeling, and we hadn’t even hit the tipping point yet, what would the climate be like in two-three years when my book debuted? (Assuming it sold quickly) Once the tipping point hit, and the majority of the book sales were digital, how would a debut author stand out? Print outlets were declining at an alarming rate, eventually everyone but the bestsellers would be selling mostly digitally through the huge online bookstores like Amazon and B&N. So how in the world would a new author find a reader base? I’m on a lot of readers’ loops, so I know there’s tremendous anger at the traditional houses for the prices they charge for eBooks. A lot of readers won’t even buy digital copies of debut authors’ books because of the price.
At this point I started researching epublishers and self-publishing. One of the things I did was track the books on Amazon’s bestselling romantic suspense list in the Kindle Store. This list ranks the books by how well they are selling. The higher up the list they are, the better they’re selling. And I made a startling discovery. The books that were selling the most copies and were at the very top of the bestsellers’ list, (the top twenty bestselling romantic suspense) were all self-published. They were either traditional authors’ backlists or unknown authors’ original titles. And they were mostly 2.99 or below. I started tracking traditional authors’ new releases. And discovered that while some of the bestselling authors in my genre might hit the top twenty with their new release, the book only lasted a couple of days at the top before it plummeted. Yet all those cheaper, self-published titles that had been there when the new release hit, were still there when it tanked. It was obvious that readers were buying on price in my genre, not name recognition. At that point I decided to self-publish. I could control the price if I published the book myself. I couldn’t control the price if I went with a traditional house or an epublisher.
Your book is a military romantic suspense with paranormal elements. Did you find it hard to balance the two genres (ie keep one from overshadowing the other)?
The paranormal elements in my books tend to be light. They aren’t as strong as the romance or the suspense. In fact, my stuff tends to be more suspense focused than anything, the romance often takes a backseat to the plot. I want the paranormal to weave through the plot, the plot can’t exist without the paranormal element, but it generally stays in the background. Yet somehow, the paranormal and suspense twine together at the end. This has happened with every book I’ve written. At the end of the book the paranormal element is critical to saving the day.
What is your writing process like? (Plotter/pantser, how long it takes you to outline/draft/polish, etc.)
I’m an odd combination of a plotter and pantser. What works best for me is a combination of both approaches.
I find that it’s freeing to fast draft the first draft. I sit down and write the first draft as fast as I can, without thinking, without plotting, just letting the character and events unfold. This goes quickly. I wrote Forged’s fast draft in four weeks while working full time. Once it’s done, I print the book off, read it and then delete the file. Then I plot out the book from opening to ending. This is a detailed, chapter by chapter outline that encompasses both plot and character growth. There is always a lot of plot to fill in, elements that weren’t in the original draft, so I added them to beef up the conflict.
After the first draft I have a good sense of characters and events, but the growth is uneven, and plot points are missing. The second draft is basically framing the manuscript. Before each scene I list a set of goals I need to accomplish, things I want to work into that scene. But once again I write the second draft as fast as possible. (But keeping my outline in mind) I print that draft off, read it in one sitting while making notes in the margins and then once again delete the file. From that point on the work becomes intensive and much slower. I start from the beginning. I read the first scene, take a moment to visualize the scene clearly in my mind and start rewriting it. The stuff I liked in the original version, are reworked in the new scene. But there is always new stuff that mixes with the old. I’d say I keep 20% of the previous draft and the rest is all new.
I can’t revise off an existing draft early in the process. When I’ve tried, the scene has never gelled, there was always something missing. When I’ve compared scenes that I’ve tried to revise, verses scenes I’ve completely rewritten- I realized that the new scenes have major elements that are missing in the old scenes. It’s like my subconscious can’t fix an existing scene, but if I rewrite the scene completely, I can craft it the way it needs to be done. This holds true even later in the process. If a scene doesn’t work and I can’t figure out why, if I delete the scene and rewrite it, my subconscious will “fix” it.
During this draft, (the third one) I take my time. I labour over everything. I keep revising the scene over and over until it matches what I envision in my mind. Once it’s perfect to me, I send it to my CPs and move onto the next scene. When I get my CP’s feedback, I go back and revise the scene again. Once the entire draft is done, I print the book off and read it, make notes, and then do another revision based off things I noticed in the read through. At this point I also go through every character’s scenes in one long run. For example, I will go through all of the heroine’s scenes and all of her dialogue to make sure her growth and character is consistent. Then I will go through all the hero’s scenes and dialogue, then any secondary characters, then the villain. Once I have gone through the whole book this way, I send the book to beta readers. Another revision off beta feedback and then it’s time for my last revision. This last one is all about language, combing through for repetition, for unnecessary words, for too much detail, and I sharpen the language as I go. I also do a ton of cutting. I tend to overwrite, so there is always lots of cutting. I cut 19K words out of Forged and 20K words out of Yesterday’s Child. Once this draft is done, it’s ready to go to the line/copy editor.
Your sales have been astounding, especially considering this is your first book. For other authors looking for promo tips, what steps have you taken to get the book “out there”?
I’m only touching on Amazon, because I have never found any promo that targets any of the smaller retailers. My Amazon sales made up 99.9% of my sales back before I opted into the Select program. There are some people who sell extremely well to B&N and Apple, but they don’t know why. Nor did any specific promo I tried affect my B&N, Apple, Sony or Kobo sales, not like the promo impacted Amazon sales.
The key to successful sales on Amazon is knowing what promo opportunities work well with Amazon’s algorithms, and using logic instead of emotion when considering your choices. For a book to sell well, it needs to hit its genre’s bestsellers’ list.
When it comes to Amazon’s bestsellers’ lists, there are three things to take into account: price, (the books that climb the highest are almost all $2.99 or below) how long the book’s been for sale, and slow but steady sales to trigger the algorithms. If an author can get movement on their book within the first month of release, those sales will trigger Amazon’s algos. Once you trigger the algos, Amazon will start sticking the book in other book’s also boughts and recommends. The more the book sells, the more also boughts and recommends it get stuck into. The goal is to get the book onto the first page of your genre’s bestsellers’ list, because thousands of readers buy off that list. Once you reach the top page of the bestsellers’ list, people will find you and buy just because of the book’s location and visibility. With each sale, your book will find its way into more also boughts and recommends, which leads to even more sales. It’s a self-feeding cycle and can last for weeks, even months.
The two promos I’ve found to be the most effective to get on the bestsellers’ list is a virtual blog tour with reviews—or, letting the book go free for a short space of time. What got my book on the first page of the bestsellers’ list was a month long blog tour. The tour needs to start as soon as the book’s released. Most books are only given a one to two month window by Amazon to prove themselves. In that first month or two, it takes fewer sales to get a book into some also boughts and recommends. Amazon basically gives promising new books a break. But after two months it’s much, much harder to get a book on the bestsellers’ lists because it takes a lot more sales to trigger the algos. So your best bet is to promote the book as soon as it goes up. The sales generated by a blog tour seem to stimulate Amazon’s algos and can often launch a book onto the bestsellers’ list. From there, the book’s price becomes key, because books priced over 2.99 usually don’t climb as high, or stay on the list as long. The higher a book climbs, and the longer it rides the top of the list, the more sales it brings in.
What got you interested in military heroes?
Up until Forged, all my heroes were homicide detectives. And I still have a soft spot for them. I dreamed the opening sequence of Forged in Fire, and the men in my dream were SEALs, so that’s how I ended up with military heroes. But there is something inherently courageous and yet slightly dangerous about military heroes. These are men who have been trained to kill. Yet they use this skill for protection. They use it to protect their nation, their brother-in-arms, their families, and the people they love. They’re willing to sacrifice themselves, with no hesitation if the need arises. There’s something incredibly sexy and courageous about that. About a man willing to die for what he believes in, or willing to die to protect the people he loves. It’s the essence of a true hero.
What sort of research do you do for your books? Do you hire a freelance/copyeditor to go over the book before you publish it?
I did a ton of internet research. Thank God for my crime scene loop. But I also lurked on a SEAL board for months and picked up a lot of slang, although some of the terms are so crude they never made it into my book. I also connected with an EOD diver who’d actually been assigned to ST7, and he was a huge help in keeping my facts straight. I did hire a cover artist, a copy/line editor, a proofing editor and a professional formatter when I produced the book. I wanted to mimic New York standards as closely as possible. For the next book I’m adding a developmental editor and a second proofing editor.
Do you tend to identify more easily with your heroes or heroines?
The heroes come very easily to me. The heroines are much harder. I’ve been told my heroes read/sound like real men, which probably comes from working in a male dominated world for 13 years. I was the only woman on a crew of 250 men, and my co-workers forgot I was female. I spent years ease dropping on their conversations. LoL .
What else do you have coming up for us in the future?
Right now I’m finishing the last round of revisions on Yesterday’s Child. I’m planning to publish it the middle of March. Then it’s back to work on Forged in Ice, the second book in the Forged series. I’m planning to publish Forged in Ice on July 15th.