Friday, July 25, 2014

Taking Back the Reins

I loved my publisher. Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books is an outstanding woman, a marvelous judge of literary quality, and over the course of our publishing relationship of seven years, I've considered her a good friend.

She believed in me. Yes, for the duration of fifteen published books and more.

But I write fast. I can't help myself, the books just pour out of me. And they started to back up in the publishing queue over the years to the point where I had multiple books unpublished and waiting to see the light of day.

One of my crit partners, Robin Waldrop, of the Blood Moon Series, encouraged me to consider going out on my own to publish. She'd done so very successfully with her books and said it was a breeze. Well, maybe not a breeze, but it was doable and "everyone" was leaping to self publishing now.

"It's chic. It's the in thing," many of my writer friends told me. "You'll have control, and you'll make more money."

This was quite a change in the industry's take on self-publishing, because I remembered years ago when my first book came out with Publish America (I know, I know...) and soon after that, I was never so happy as when I signed a contract with Twilight Times Books. Not only did I feel "validated," but I could get rid of all those naysayers who told me I'd self-published, and how horrific and embarrassing that was... Seven later, here I was considering going "back" to that awful place.

I had NO problems or concerns with my publisher. I loved her. Still do. Sure, she had other authors besides me. (the nerve!) But I trusted her and knew she would always do her best for all my books.

My problem was I was writing far too many books for her to handle in her usual production queue of books by admittedly amazing TTB authors. The queue was growing, and I was still writing pretty fast. Last fall I had seven books waiting in the queue, some I hadn't even submitted yet. I broached the subject of "trying one on my own," and after a fair amount of discussion, we both decided it could be a good thing. I would keep all my previous books with Twilight Times Books, and because many were mystery series, we would help each other. If I sold a book in the series through my own publishing endeavors, readers would likely want to go back and buy additional books from TTB. And vice versa.

I discussed this issue with several of my best selling author pals, including Michael Prescott, whose thrillers have been selling very well and who has been doing this on his own for years now. He recommended it and gave me plenty of tips. My friend S.W. Vaughn also held my hand along the way, patiently teaching me how to format my Word document manuscripts for Kindle and others. 

Since last fall when Lida and I had this discussion, we've published an omnibus (four of the Gus LeGarde books) and I've put out five new books. Yes. Five. I've written a new one (Devil's Lake), and have three more books to get released this year. I'm loving it.

I've heard that the more books an author has out there, the more money he can potentially make. Of course, it goes without saying they must be good stories, well-written, and carefully produced. That said, even if it's just a few dollars per title trickling in every day, it can add up. And that actually has proven to be true in my case. I'm not rolling in dough yet, LOL, but the sales from The Seacrest (my first love story) paid for our vacation this year. First time that's ever happened. (huge grin)

There's also a nice feeling of artistic control that comes with self publishing. I am very happy to be working with an outstanding cover artist with whom I can tweak and improve my covers all day long. And if I publish an eBook and find a missed typo - I can fix it in a few minutes, without having to ask someone else to do it. I love that!

I still will likely submit some of my series books to TTB in the future. After all, it's nice to be linked with such a high quality operation. And Lida can submit my ARCs to the big review houses, like Publisher's Weekly and Booklist, which at this point I don't believe I can do on my own. 

It's nice to have options, isn't it?

I've elected to go through the Kindle Direct Publishing Select option. After messing around with my first self published book, The Seacrest, on Smashwords (which sells through many avenues including Barnes and Noble, etc), I found that I really wanted to offer some of my titles for free to try to bring up the readership and to spread the interest in follow on books.

You can't offer your book for free on Amazon unless you're in this program, and you have to pull your book out of the other channels to be eligible. Other formats, however, like print books and audio books, can be sold elsewhere. I'd also heard about the "halo" effect of getting lots of exposure using email promotions like BookBub (a daily email program that goes out to hundreds of thousands of readers offering eBook deals) to offer your book at a discount, and then seeing residual sales on the wave that followed. So, I pulled The Seacrest out of Smashwords, and six weeks later, enrolled in KDP Select.

The Seacrest did exactly as I'd hoped and shot like wildfire to the top of all free eBooks on Kindle, fiction and nonfiction. It saw 59,000 downloads, was #1 for the whole weekend, and then had a decent wave of residual sales that sold enough, as I said, to cover this summer's vacation. Now - remember this is a love story, with horses and the ocean and lovers on the cover. Rather appealing to the masses and more popular than most other genres. I tried this approach again with Lady Blues: forget-me-not (BookBub put it into the "literary fiction" category, which is much less popular than romance). We had about half the action for this book on freebie (29,000 downloads), and only sold about one quarter the books. But it still worked and I made a small profit.

The lesson learned here is that there is no guarantee that every book that comes out on BookBub is going to succeed. Cover appeal, genre, storyline, and luck will always play a part. 

One of the side affects of doing this free offering promo is that you bring in lots of new readers, and plenty of new reviews. The Seacrest saw an additional 100 reviews after it's offering and Lady Blues received another 50 reviews.

What about print books? Well, Amazon has another company, CreateSpace, which has helped me produce my print books at no cost to me except for the actual books, which cost me only $4-5 each including shipping. (I buy several boxes at a time). The final product has been consistently excellent, the covers glossy and beautiful, and the inner pages feel very high quality. Although there is a learning curve for this, too, and it can be frustrating at times, if you work through it using the CreateSpace interior review program, you will get there. You also have the option for your print titles to appear all over - so now my print books are in Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc.

I've written many articles about audio books, which I still do as a part of the book production process. You can read about it here and also please follow the links to the series of pieces I've written over the years as I've learned about tips and tricks to make the audio book production smoother.

All in all, I'm happy with the decisions I've made over the years. Becoming "validated" by an industry respected publisher was a good move and I'm glad I did that first. Now, being able to produce and create books on my own feels right. The timing was perfect, and I'm really enjoying the process!

Here are the new books that I've released over the past 8 months, including the omnibus released through Twilight Times Books. Just click on the covers to see the Amazon listing.

If you love to write, remember to write like the wind. ;o)

Aaron Paul Lazar
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Finn McGraw disagrees.

He was just seventeen when he had a torrid summer affair with the girl who stole his heart—and then inexplicably turned on him. Finn may have moved on with his life, but he’s never forgotten her.

Now, ten years later, he’s got more than his lost love to worry about. A horrific accident turns his life upside down, resurrecting the ghosts of his long-dead family and taking the lives of the few people he has left.

Finn always believed his estranged brother was responsible for the fire that killed their family—but an unexpected inheritance with a mystery attached throws everything he knows into doubt. And on top of that, the beguiling daughter of his wealthy employer has secrets of her own. But the closer he gets, the harder she pushes him away.

The Seacrest is a story of intrigue and betrayal, of secrets and second chances—and above all, of a love that never dies.

Lady Blues: forget-me-not: Past and present collide when an Alzheimer’s patient’s fragile memory holds the key to solving mysteries dating back to World War II—including a long lost secret love affair.

Music professor Gus LeGarde is just doing a favor for a friend when he agrees to play piano for church services at a local nursing home. He doesn’t expect to be drawn into a new friendship with an elderly Alzheimer’s patient dubbed “the music man” or to stumble across a decades-old mystery locked inside the man’s mind.

Octogenarian Kip Sterling doesn’t know his own name—but he speaks Gus’s language, spouting jazz terms like “cadence” and “interlude” and “riff.” He’s also obsessed with “his Bella,” but nobody knows who she is.

When Kip is given a new drug called Memorphyl, he starts to remember bits and pieces of his life. Gus learns Bella was Kip’s first and only love, but their relationship was shrouded in scandal. Intrigued, Gus agrees to help search for her. Could she still be alive?

Horrified when the miracle drug suddenly stops working and patients begin to backslide, Gus panics. Can he help Kip find his beloved Bella before his newfound memories disappear?

Spirit Me Away: Boston, Massachusetts: It’s the summer of ’69—the parks are flooded with flower children and a hot new band called Led Zeppelin is set to appear at the Boston Tea Party. But for one newlywed couple just beginning their lives together, there will be no peace.

In the cradle of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll, Gus and Elsbeth LeGarde are music students attending the New England Conservatory of Music, after a wedding kept secret from their families. When they discover a bruised and sobbing teenage girl on the Boston Commons who can’t remember who she is, or how she got there, the couple decides to “adopt” her to help find her identity.

But Gus and Elsbeth aren’t prepared to be plunged into a violent world of rape, abuse, and a ring of white slave traders who’ll stop at nothing to take back their property—or to acquire new flesh in the form of Gus’s beautiful young bride.

At times nostalgic, heart-stopping, and breathlessly dramatic, Spirit Me Away is a thrilling romantic mystery set against the colorful backdrop of the sixties—with an unforgettable conclusion at the greatest rock festival of all time.

The Liar's Gallery: The last place Gus LeGarde expects to find his old friend Byron Cunningham is in a plane that crashes in a field near his farmhouse. But that’s just the first surprise in a series of shocking events beginning with the discovery of a Monet painting crammed into the plane’s fuselage. Is it real? Or fake? The trail leads Gus into a twisting trio of dangerous art world conspiracies.

Gus fends off some very pushy collectors and soon realizes he may have crossed paths with treacherous criminals, putting his family at risk. As if that isn’t enough, he must also contend with a problem that’s close to his heart: his daughter, Shelby, is growing up too fast. She’s determined to sing professionally and is now under the spell of a wolf in tenor’s clothing, handsome Greek student, Dmitri. When she vanishes with the family car, her frantic parents desperately chase the fading trail.
A slew of Facebook messages on Shelby’s computer lead them to The Eastman School of Music, where both Shelby’s new flame and Gus’s old friend have been hiding secrets linked to the art scandal. There’s a real Monet out there somewhere, and nothing—including murder—will stop the desperate man who wants it.

Devil's Lake: After two years of brutal captivity, Portia Lamont has escaped and returned to her family’s Vermont horse farm—only to find her parents gone to New York to try an experimental treatment for her mother’s cancer, and her childhood friend Boone Hawke running the farm. The man Boone has become frightens her to near paralysis, but she’s too traumatized and physically devastated to put up a fight.Like the rest of her family, Boone has never given up hope that Portia would return. But when she turns up battered, skinny as a twelve-year-old boy, afraid of everything and unable to talk about what happened, he does the only thing he can—try to help her heal. He summons the town doctor and Portia’s parents, and sets out to put this beautiful, broken woman back together again.Through her family's love and Boone's gentle affection, Portia gradually comes back to herself, and starts to fall for her old friend in a whole new way. But one thing threatens her fragile hopes for recovery: The man who took her promised that if she ever escaped, he'd kill her. Slowly. And someone is definitely watching her...waiting to make a deadly move.

Book 1. Double Forté - Gus LeGarde's life essentially ended four years ago, when his beloved wife leapt to her death. Today, Gus lavishes love on his family, trying to bury the pain. But trouble arrives when his arrogant son-in-law's business partner goes missing, and Gus's innocent friend is set up to take the fall.
Book 2. Upstaged - When Gus LeGarde agrees to play piano for the high school drama club's production of "Spirit Me Away," a sixties-style musical he wrote in college, he doesn't expect to face a barrage of menacing pranks played on his fiancée Camille and the drama club. Who's sabotaging the show? And what do they have against Camille? Gus must unravel the mystery before the backstage saboteur stakes his final, deadly claim.
Book 3. Mazurka - Join Gus LeGarde in this European rollercoaster ride where he unearths a scandalous family secret linked to a nineteenth century composer. When brother-in-law Siegfried is framed for a neo-Nazi’s murder, they’re plunged into a sizzling cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal.
Book 4. FireSong - What would you do if your country church was hit by a rogue tornado during services? What if the shrieking winds unearthed the bones of a missing parishioner in a nearby wheat field? Now add the discovery of heroin in your elderly minister's bloodstream. When Gus LeGarde is thrown into the middle of the mess, he knows life's finally gone berserk in East Goodland, New York. Join Gus as he's lured into a bizarre network of underground tunnels to expose the most shocking discovery ever to rock the Genesee Valley.

Gus LeGarde is a Better Man Than Me (or is he?), by Aaron Paul Lazar
My readers often ask, “Are you Gus LeGarde?”

I laugh and tell them, “Hardly. Gus is a much better man than me.”

I genuinely mean it when I say it. But is it really true?

When I started writing the LeGarde Mystery series, I planned to base Gus on my father – a wonderful Renaissance man and a talented pianist/music professor. At the time, he’d just passed away from cancer, and I was overwhelmed with grief. The idea of starting the series as a testimony to him was appealing, and it provided some serious therapy.

Dad and I were a great deal alike. We both nurtured huge gardens, cooked, and loved kids and dogs. So, as I began to write, particularly in the first person POV, Gus ended up being a lot like me.

So, am I Gus LeGarde? And is he a better man that me?

Gus and I are very much alike. So much so that my friends always think it’s me in the stories, and I often get asked questions like, “What was the name of the book where you and Camille went to Europe with Siegfried?”
We do look alike. We have the same wavy dark hair with silver sprinkled at the temples. The same hazel eyes. The same shoe size. But he’s twenty pounds thinner and more fit than I am. Hey, I’m allowed to dream, right?

Gus and I grow expansive gardens, cook lush feasts for our families, adore our grandchildren, and dote on our dogs. We’re good husbands, and responsible citizens. We live in big old houses in the country, and are crazy about nature, particularly the Genesee Valley and Finger Lakes regions of upstate NY. We love to ride horses and love to swim. We devour mysteries and read in bed before going to sleep.

However, Gus can run for miles without getting an asthma attack. He can hold his own in a fistfight, lucky devil. I get out of breath if I jog for more than a half mile, and I’ve never been in a fistfight in my life. Call me a pacifist. I’ve always used words better than fists, I guess.

Gus can play a flawless Chopin etude without even looking at the music. His artistry is perfect, his skills precise. I struggle through the simplest Chopin waltz. is drawn to trouble, ferrets out the villains, and fights to uphold honor for the common good. I struggle get through my day to day existence and only write about courage and upholding justice. I sure believe in it, but I don’t really participate, do I?

Let’s talk about church. Gus is a better parishioner than I ever was, even when I regularly attended our local Methodist church. He’s on all the committees; plays organ for church services when needed at local nursing homes and prisons, and is an outstanding parish leader. I used to do some of that, until the committees took up far too much of my writing time and we lost the best pastor we’d ever had. I became discouraged and let the organized religious part of my life go – especially when my grandchildren moved in and going to church meant losing precious hours with them. Right now, they’re foremost in my life. I know God understands. ;o) And I will go back to church when they’re older and life settles down a little. I miss it.

Wait just a minute, now. Gus has a lot more time than me, doesn’t he? Hmmm. There may be something to this line of reasoning. He lives five minutes away from his job where he teaches music at the local university. I drive 35 minutes each way to work, twice a day. That’s a lot of driving. And he teaches a few classes a day and is free to hunt scoundrels and investigate evildoers to his heart’s content. I’m stuck at work at least eight hours a day.
Now I’m starting to get jealous. Which is really sick, since he’s my own invention.

Gus also has Siegfried, his gentle giant brother-in-law who chops his wood, mows the lawn, feeds the livestock, and cleans out the horse stalls. Wow. Gus really has it easy. No wonder he has time to chase down the villains!

I’m warming to this angle. Let’s see…

Gus has another advantage – Mrs. Adelaide Pierce! I’ll admit, I always wanted the “real” Mrs. Doubtfire, and I invented Adelaide because I longed for her in my own life. During the weekdays she shops, helps with the grandkids, does mountains of laundry, cooks meals, and cleans the house. Sigh. Those jobs fall to me most of the time, since my wife is disabled. And I do lovingly care for my sweetie pie, bringing her meals, monitoring her meds, and generally loving her a whole lot. We both weave chair seats on the side, to make extra money. Hey! There’s something Gus can’t do!
And I just thought of one more thing. I take photos. Some of them are nice. And Gus doesn’t have a clue about photography. He’s got a good eye for art, but he leaves the photography to his adopted father figure, Oscar Stone. But Oscar’s a better photographer than me. He’s published coffee table books galore. Wait a minute, let’s not get off on that tangent.

The next time a reader asks me if I’m Gus LeGarde, I might hesitate before spouting my usual answer. really are one and the same soul – with a few minor perturbations. His thoughts are my thoughts. When he mourns his first wife, I tap into the feelings of fear and grief I experienced when my wife almost died, when the threat of her demise hung over our family. When Gus mourns his father’s passing, it’s my grief he’s feeling. He cherishes his grandkids like I do mine, with the same fierce sense of adoration and protection I feel toward my little buddies, Julian and Gordie. And when he picks his sun-ripened tomatoes, or his juicy plums, or his aromatic basil, he’s raiding my garden. Each meal he cooks has been my real-life creation, and every book he reads I’ve read.

And there’s one important fact here we must address…I created Gus. He wouldn’t have “life” it it weren’t for me. Ha. So there!

It’s an interesting relationship, this author/character thing. Kind of crazy. And impossible to ignore. Now that I’ve analyzed it to death, though, I think I’ll get cracking and let Gus take me on another mission. ;o) 

Best wishes always,


PS You can see all my books here: