NYT best-selling authors share secrets, build bonds, at beach retreat

Published by Daleen Berry on

While the rest of the East Coast was waiting out (or wading out from under) Hurricane Sandy, I was learning how to be a better writer. I also learned one indie author’s secret to selling a million e-books in a year. The lessons came from some women who have perfected the art of creating a compelling story.

My training occurred at an annual retreat at the Isle of Palms, S.C., at the invitation of Nina Bruhns started out writing romance novels for Harlequin. (And she’s garnered some of the most prestigious writing awards in the industry, along the way.) These days she’s a senior editor for Entangled Publishing, a fast-growing publishing firm. She’s organized the Lowcountry Romance Writers of America (LRWA) Jumpstart Masterclass for the last decade or more.

I’m not sure who enjoyed the workshops more—the teachers or students. Bruhns said she’s sure the program “will undoubtedly help take my career to the next level. This year’s teachers were incredibly knowledgeable and gave us a tremendous number of practical suggestions to improve the quality and visibility of our indie books. This was just the boost I needed right now.”

Of course, holding the Masterclass at the beach makes the training that much better. “The beautiful surroundings and camaraderie make this retreat my hands-down absolute favorite, Author Virna DePaul said. “It attracts both newbie and experienced writers . . . everyone has something to offer, be it an encouraging smile or a frank discussion about publishing realities.”

Author Cathy Perkins believes the “intimate setting encourages not only networking but really getting to know each other . . . this class generates lifelong friends.”

After being an instructor for five years in a row, NYT Best-selling Author J. Lyons said “what sets it apart is the unique setting and the collegial atmosphere where instructors and students alike share information, encouragement, and brainstorm ideas.”

It’s all about helping other writers. “Being able to share my knowledge . . . will hopefully help others develop both their craft and business skills and I’m honored to be able to pay forward what I can,” NYT Best-selling Author Caridad Pine said.

And jumpstart is the perfect adjective, because you literally jump in and go to work. Some authors who attended the event also edited manuscripts they then published while there. Those e-books are now online and available for sale.

The term Masterclass is equally apropos, since you work with masters in their particular genre—masters who taught us about everything from writing strong book proposals to navigating social media waters.

Fortunately, classes were held just minutes away from my husband’s family, so we decided to combine work with pleasure during our first vacation in years. I’m so glad we did. But here’s the thing: I don’t write romance. Or fiction. At least, I haven’t in the past 20 years. But I once wanted to, and I have many real-life stories I can’t tell well without changing some details. So I’d like to learn the elements of fiction and perhaps give it a try.

Pineiro’s networking class (which could also be called “Manners 101” or “Why You Should Never Push Your Manuscript Under the Door of a Literary Agent’s Restroom Stall”) was an insightful presentation about what not to do, when promoting your work. “Don’t stand up in crowd and ask a question to deliberately draw attention to yourself . . . and don’t steal the workshop (by talking too much),” Pineiro said.

She also gave practical advice about attending writer’s conferences. For instance, she thinks trying to pass out bookmarks or business cards while in a food line is rude. “The coffee line is not the place to sell your book,” Pineiro said. Instead, she said writers should try to “engage (literary pros) in a personal way, and they’ll be so thankful to you, for not treating them like a commodity.”

In what Lyons called a “renaissance age for writers,” where the publishing industry has been turned on its head, we learned about more than writing and networking. That’s because now we have to worry not only about the art of writing—and finding an agent and publisher—but also about social marketing, and the computer programs necessary to navigate this brave, new literary world.

Everyone came away with a realization that if you’re an indie publisher—like I am—that means you’re running a business. And you have to treat it accordingly. “When you’re self-published, you’re a publisher first and an author second,” Author Stephanie Bond said.

Bond should know. She has written more than 60 novels (many for Harlequin), and has tried both publishing routes. Bond taught us savvy business tricks, while providing tips to tell if self-publishing is for you. It could be if you’re a legacy authors who has gotten your rights back to your books. Or if you’re an unpublished writer with finished projects, and you’ve received good rejection letters and even some writing awards. Published writers who are disenchanted with traditional publishers, as well as prolific authors, could also benefit from self-publishing, Bond believes.

Lyons fits that criteria. She primarily writes thrillers, has been published traditionally, but has also published independently of the Big 6. No matter how they’re published, her books sell very well. For instance, by July 2012 Lyons had sold one million copies of her 10 indie e-books in just over one year. (That doesn’t include her print books.) And her newest book, Blind Faith, hit number two at the NYT earlier this year, after Lyons self-published it. Since then, St. Martin’s Press bought the rights to the book. It’s now slated to become a series.

One of Lyons’ favorite traditional publishers is Sourcebooks. “I love what they’re doing for me. They’re a smaller publisher and they’re doing some really innovative marketing stuff so I wanted to work with them,” Lyons said.

On the other hand, it’s never been easier to self-publish, especially digital books. “If you are able to use a computer, trust me, you can all upload your own book,” Author Tina Folsom said. “You don’t need anyone to format or upload . . . you just need to be detail-oriented.”

With 15 titles under her belt and strong international sales, Folsom has become an expert indie publisher—because she had no other choice. “Everything (I’ve published) is indie. Nobody wanted me. No agent, no publisher . . . but I found my own readership,” Folsom said. She sure did: her vampire novel Zane’s Redemption is on Amazon’s Top 15 list in Germany.

I gleaned much during the Masterclass. These women are smart, innovative and hard workers. They’re also successful. Perhaps because of that, they aren’t afraid to share their trade secrets with other aspiring authors.

They’re also like me: some of them are admittedly lazy about their writing, or thrive on deadlines. Others have done it all themselves: not just written a book, but published and marketed it, too. Several of them also designed and regularly update their own websites. Others have what they term “street teams,” groups of passionate fans who help market their books.

All of them have one common goal: keeping their readers happy and giving them what they want. And that’s what the LRWA’s Masterclass is all about. “It truly shows that writers aren’t in competition with one another—after all, readers out there are ravenous for more good books, so by helping each other, we’re simply keeping readers happy,” Lyons said.

* * * *
Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

If you want to read more than 100 reviews, go to free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.

Categories: Writing

Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: https://www.daleenberry.com. Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.

1 Comment

Georgeann Swiger · November 18, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Thanks for the great article. I would love to on day attend this writing retreat. It sounds like you left it with a zing in your step and ready to take on writing a new novel.

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