And the Winner is...

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to tweet, comment, or share my ESSENCE anniversary post. It meant so much to see how many of you were excited about my debut novel's one-year anniversary, and I am so thankful for your support.

An exciting announcement...

The winner of my ESSENCE Anniversary Giveaway is...

Drum roll, please...

ASHLEY F!!!

Ashley will be receiving an autographed copy of ESSENCE, as well as two commemorative ESSENCE pins. (Woohoo, free stuff is fun, right??)

Congratulations to Ashley, and thanks again to everyone who entered. Have a wonderful day!

ESSENCE's One-Year Anniversary

This time one year ago, my debut novel ESSENCE was released into the world. It was a life-changing day for me, the realization of a dream held close to my heart. It was a beautiful day, and it was a kinda tumultuous one. ESSENCE's release was thrilling--obviously--but it also brought up a host of emotions I didn't expect to feel that day.

Just before I headed out the door, just before my release party and an incredible night filled with so many more friends and family members than I ever would have expected, I jotted down some reflections. One year later, these feelings still ring true. 

The truest statement among them is this: GETTING A BOOK PUBLISHED WAS SO MUCH HARDER THAN I EXPECTED.

Please enjoy a repost of "ESSENCE's Release Day" below, and please scroll all the way to the bottom for a chance to win an autographed copy of ESSENCE and two commemorative pins. Thanks in advance for your support!

June 3, 2014

Today is ESSENCE's Release Day. I truly can't believe this day is finally here. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be an author. I wanted to be an author before I knew how to read a word, or write a sentence, or turn on a computer, and I worked steadily at this dream for most of my childhood and nearly all of my twenties. 

I failed more times than is reasonably necessary, but I finally found success last summer when Strange Chemistry acquired my debut novel ESSENCE. Today, almost exactly one year later, ESSENCE is being released into the world. 

Wow. This is really happening.

As of today, perfect strangers can now purchase ESSENCE on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They can read the words I have written, and they can be transported to a world that--up until this point--has mostly only existed in my head.

Wow. This is kind of a big deal, isn't it?

I'm not sure how I expected to feel today. Giddy, I think. Dancing on air. And to an extent, I am. I have a wonderful book signing planned at Inkwood Books in Tampa tonight, and I may even bust out a new dress and do a reading of some sort--all the while surrounded by family, friends and even some perfect strangers.

I'm elated. I really am. But what's interesting is that instead of feeling like I won the lottery, I really feel like I earned this. And that sense of accomplishment is accompanied by a bone-tired weariness that borders on exhaustion.

GETTING A BOOK PUBLISHED WAS SO MUCH HARDER THAN I EXPECTED.

I'm not talking about the obvious hardships--writing the book, finding the literary agent, finding the publisher... Those pursuits were incredibly challenging, and they are certainly worth a mention, but I am more talking about the hardships I didn't expect: the sacrifices, the struggles for validation, the doubts and the second-guessing and the fears and the heartbreaks.

This sounds dramatic, but trust me, it's not. Because the thing about book-writing is, it doesn't exist in a vacuum. When you chose to dedicate yourself to it, you must make sacrifices in other areas of your life.

As many of you already know, I got divorced during the course of this journey. My book certainly wasn't the reason my ex-husband and I decided our lives weren't headed in the same direction, but I would be lying if I told you it wasn't a contributing factor at all.

I wasn't actively writing when my ex-husband met me, and then suddenly I was. It was all I wanted to do sometimes, and he didn't understand nor appreciate how intrinsically connected it was to my soul. He just wondered why I didn't want to spend as much time with him anymore, and his bewilderment over my strange new hobby highlighted a fact that neither of us wanted to admit: we were growing up now, and the fabric of our shared life was slowly unraveling.

My dedication to my writing--and to the travels and adventures that inspire it--has affected me in other ways as well. I have never owned a house or lived in one town longer than three and a half years, post-college. I have never painted a wall or planted a garden, and I have left soulmate friends scattered in every corner of the world. 

I have sacrificed all these things in the pursuit of something I couldn't quite explain, and that something is what has led me to this moment.

It is ESSENCE's Release Day. 

I published a book.

I accomplished that thing I said I was going to accomplish, and if I play my cards right, I may get another Release Day with another project some time in my future. 

But I may not. No matter how much I want to publish another novel, this may just not be in the cards for me. 

So... It's funny to sit here and hold ESSENCE in my hands. It's proof that I have reached my goal, but it's also so much less and so much more than that.

It's just a book. A book you can read in a few days and then go on with your life.

But it's also a love story. To adventure, to independence, to my adolescence, and to people I know and don't know. To that summer in Yosemite that changed nearly everything.

It's a dream. A pledge. A promise I made with myself. 

It's a blood contract and a shackle. The end of one life and the start of a new one. 

It's a heartbreak. A prayer. A song in my head and a light on the horizon.

It's the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me.

It's time to set it free

 

Thanks again for sharing ESSENCE's One-Year Anniversary with me. To celebrate, I would like to offer an autographed ESSENCE paperback and two commemorative pins to one reader. Please enter below (U.S. only), and thanks so much for stopping by. The winner will be announced next Wednesday, June 10th!

Can't wait that long? Click =>HERE<= to purchase ESSENCE on Amazon!

Leaving Your Footprint

Photo Courtesy of Elliot Moore

Photo Courtesy of Elliot Moore

When many writers hear the word "branding," their throats tighten, and their palms begin to sweat. "Branding" is jargon, and it has become quasi-synonymous with "that marketing crap we wish we didn't have to do." Many writers don't feel comfortable marketing anything--let alone themselves--so the thought of packaging their identity as a commodity and hitting the streets with a billboard that says "Buy My Books" is enough to induce a panic attack.

Here's the great news: this is not what branding is. A better way to look at the word is to realize all it means is knowing yourself as a writer and deciding what kind of footprint you would like to leave on the world.

Here are the obvious questions you have probably already asked yourself:

  • What do you like to read?
  • What do you like to write?
  • Typically, how old are your characters?
  • How long are your books?
  • Is there a specific genre where your work usually falls?

Here are some slightly less-obvious questions:

  • Do you consider your work literary or commercial?
  • Are your stories mostly serious or light-hearted?
  • What are your thoughts on violence? On cursing? On sex scenes?
  • Do you prefer stand-alone novels or series?
  • Are your stories character-driven or action-driven?
  • Are there any specific, reoccurring themes?

This is where most people tend to get frustrated, because they don't want to feel "boxed in" by specific genres and categories. They also tend to feel a little overwhelmed by so many cut-and-dry questions--particularly when they are just getting started. How can you possibly know who you are as a writer when you are just beginning your very first book?

Here is the most important thing I want to tell you: don't stress about your author brand while you are writing your first novel. It usually won't present itself until you are midway through your second or third book.

Take my experience for example: 

  • My first (shelved) novel, The Mermaid Gene, is a Young Adult Paranormal Mystery about beluga whales, poachers and mermaids. It is set in Alaska, and it features an aspiring marine biologist, a set of dreamy twin deckhands, and a PG-rated love story.
  • My second novel, Essence, is a Young Adult Near-Future Thriller about cults, adrenaline junkies, greed and corruption. It is set in Yosemite National Park, and it features a sheltered cult defector, slack lining, rock climbing and a much more PG-13-rated love story.

Some of the similarities between the novels are obvious: both fall into the Young Adult genre, and both feature love stories set in wild and scenic natural areas. Both have a component of mystery, and both feature young women "finding themselves" by overcoming scary obstacles.

There are other similarities as well. Both stories are written in first-person, past-tense, and both take place in a fairly short amount of time: over the course of a summer. Both feature protagonists who doubt themselves and adults who can't be trusted, and both have high-action conclusions, where the novel's outcome isn't (hopefully) apparent until just a few pages before the ending.

Writing these novels has also taught me a few important lessons about my strengths and weaknesses:

  • I hate writing about magic and things that "aren't real." I struggled so much with the mermaid reveal scene in The Mermaid Gene that I ended up coming up with a ridiculously complicated "alternative evolution theory" that explained the biological reasons why being a mermaid actually made sense. I also came up with this whole story about how European mer-ancestors followed the lines of human expansion by trailing sailing ships. This is why most Alaskan mermaids didn't look like Alaskan natives.
  • I am too lazy to write science fiction. I am generally science-minded, so I expected myself to jump at the chance to dive into this genre. However, I quickly learned that I don't have the patience to research the plausibility of most of the technology. Since I can't handle writing about things that "aren't real," I never felt confident making up the difference with my imagination.
  • World-building doesn't really interest me. Essence is set in the near-future, so I had to do a little bit of world-building to explain what was different about this new place. This included writing a new earthquake into San Francisco's history and creating the framework for a cult to rise in its wake. I really struggled with this process, because I was so excited to dive into my characters' stories that it was a challenge to spend time fleshing out these (very important) details. 
  • "Sense of place" really DOES interest me. So far, both of my novels have taken place in settings I know well, and it has been very important to me to get those places "right." That means I rely heavily on sensory details: how things look, sound, smell, feel and taste. (So far, my readers have really appreciated this, and many have even said my settings are so vibrant they are almost a character themselves. *Happy Face*)
  • I am good at creating complex characters. I have always loved observing people and trying to figure out why they do the things they do. I think I am able to channel this in such a way that even when you don't like some of my characters, you understand why they make their choices. (My readers have also given me pretty consistent feedback that this is one of my strengths, and I'm absolutely thrilled by this.)
  • I am also good at writing dialogue. I began writing dialogue in my middle school diaries, because I didn't want to forget the exact words people used when they spoke with me. This skill has apparently carried over into my novels, because I am often told my dialogue is believable and authentic.
  • I like character-driven novels. Like, a lot. I always scratched my head over my favorite novels--Catch-22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Cannery Row--and then it hit me. All three were character studies, and all three featured a well-rounded cast of unique personalities that were thrown together and made to interact with each other. I realized this was my favorite part of my own novels, too. Even my more action-oriented scenes were written with an internal stream of consciousness that focused more on what the characters were feeling than on what was actually happening to them.
  • People dig me when I am vulnerable. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I sometimes talk about personal stuff like my travels, my car accident, my divorce, my fears and my insecurities. What you may not know is that I have been floored by how many of you have taken the time to reach out and offer words of encouragement whenever I have written one of these posts. This has shown me that people like the "real" me, not the bad-ass, independent adventurer I may sometimes feel I should pretend to be.
  • People also dig my characters when they are vulnerable. My first protagonist, Kai Murphy, was super likable yet not always accessible. My second protagonist, Autumn Grace, was super accessible yet not always likable. I have learned there needs to be a very specific balance between these two qualities, and I intend for my next protagonist to more fully encompass both traits. I also intend to push her vulnerabilities to the next level, because I can channel my lessons from taking risks and exposing my own soul to the world.
  • Authenticity and self-confidence are kinda my jams. I have spent most of my life trying to craft who I am around who I think I am supposed to be, and it is only recently that I have begun to fully embrace my authentic self. I feel like this lesson is so important--especially for young girls--so my desire is to inspire them to always be true to themselves and to never settle for anything less than their absolute best.

What about you? What sorts of issues keep you awake at night, and what makes your heart race when you think about including it in your stories?

I encourage you to spend some time dwelling on these questions. I would also like you to ask yourself what three words you would like people to use when they describe your style. I have chosen "Passionate," "Brave" and "Genuine" for mine, and I use these three words to guide me whenever I make a decision--whether it's in my personal life, when I'm brainstorming a new story idea or when I'm trying to pick a design for my website.

After all, the only thing that makes our writing unique is the specific footprint we choose to leave on the world. The better we know ourselves, the bigger that footprint can be.

P.S.- It's only one month until the one-year anniversary of Essence's debut! To celebrate, I will be resharing my nine-part "Path to Publication" series every Wednesday and Friday this month. I also plan to host an anniversary giveaway soon; please stay tuned for more details!

Author Branding for Unpublished Writers

Photo Courtesy of CollegeDegrees360

Photo Courtesy of CollegeDegrees360

As a novelist, you are often asked to define your "brand." This is a tricky question for aspiring writers and first-time authors, because we are so consumed with writing our stories that we often don't think about our brands. Many of us don't even know what a writing "brand" is, because we are so used to hearing about the word in terms of marketing merchandise. 

If we take a moment to stop and think about it, however, it becomes much easier to make the connection between branding merchandise and branding yourself as a writer. Allow me to give you a few examples...

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What do you think about when you think about the brand Tommy Hilfiger? Clean-cut, classic American styles? Maybe afternoons on sailboats and summers in Martha's Vineyard? 

This is no an accident. Here is an excerpt from Tommy Hilfiger's mission statement: "The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation is dedicated to the living spirit of the American dream. We believe the spirit of youth is our greatest inspiration."

See? The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation has keyed into those exact images and evocative feelings, and every decision they make is based upon holding true to them. 

Photo Courtesy of Kurt Kulac

Photo Courtesy of Kurt Kulac

Let's move on to something a little less tangible. What do you think about when you think about the actress Jennifer Lawrence? Most people see her as funny, self-deprecating, approachable and strong. This is no accident, either.

Is Jennifer funny, self-depracating, approachable and strong in real life? Probably. But--just like everyone else--I'm sure there are many other sides to her character as well. She can almost definitley be reserved, sexual and aloof as well, but these are typically not the first words that jump into the public's mind when they think of her.

This is because of branding. Jennifer (or her publicist) has probably determined that fans "like her best" when she displays those funny, self-deprecating tendencies, so she is consciously aware of them whenever she is in the spotlight. (What is interesting about Jennifer, however, is that she can "play" very serious roles in the films she selects, and these don't interfere with her personal branding. This is--in my opinion--a sign of a very successful and talented actress.)

Photo Courtesy of Kelly Cutrone

Photo Courtesy of Kelly Cutrone

Let's move on to an author (and I'm going to give you a very easy one). What do you think about when you think about Nicholas Sparks? Most people agree that Nicholas Sparks' novels follow a very predictable pattern: intense, emotional, young love followed by something disastrous--usually a life-threatening illness or injury. 

Some people see this formula as boring and predictable, but die-hard Nicholas Sparks fan clamber to pick up his next novels the moment they are released. This is because they love his brand, and they know what to expect every time they read one of his stories.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Let's move on to another, well-known author: Nora Roberts. She is obviously a very multi-faceted and creative writer, and her interests lie far beyond the world of women's romance. This is why she--like many other authors--has chosen not to limit herself to just one genre or style.

Nora has released several mystery books as well, but she has chosen to write these under the pen name J.D. Robb. Everyone who knows anything about Nora Roberts knows that she is J.D. Robb, but she still uses the name to designate her departure from her women's romance line. If you pick up a J.D. Robb novel, your expectations are different than if you had picked up a Nora Roberts novel.

I tell you these things--not because I want to bore you with facts you probably already know--but because I want to help you create your own author brand.

I have been working on my author brand for quite some time, and the more I create new stories, the more I begin to see it coming together. I feel like I know myself more than I ever have before, and I believe I will be able to use this knowledge to help continue to take my stories, my brand and my career to the next level.

I hope you will join me in two weeks as we chat more about some of my experiences, as well as the questions you should ask yourself before you begin creating (or refining) your own author brand. 

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Bringing it Back for 2015

Good morning, everyone, and thanks so much for stopping by my blog! I know this place has been a ghost town lately, but I am working on a brand-new manuscript at the moment, and I have been completely consumed by that for the past few months. 

Nothing like a shiny, new idea to keep you busy, right?

I have been missing you guys, so I'm going to make a concentrated effort to become more regular with my posts. I also have all kinds of new ideas for topics--particularly in the realms of knowing yourself (as a writer and as a person), letting go, trusting the process and taking risks. (2015 has been a big year for me so far, so I'm pretty sure my personal life may slip in from time to time as well.)

I would be honored if you would join me for these posts, so please take a moment to "subscribe" to make sure you don't miss any updates. (I plan to post every other Monday or so. You can subscribe in the top left column below the search function, or you can subscribe at the bottom of this post near the comments section.) 

I typically post more often on other social media sites, so I would be honored if you would join me on the following pages as well:

  1. Facebook: http://facebook.com/LisaAnnOKane
  2. Twitter: http://twitter.com/LisaAnnOKane
  3. Instagram: http://instagram.com/LisaAnnOKane
  4. Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/LisaAnnOKane
  5. Google+: http://plus.google.com/+LisaAnnOKane

Thanks in advance for your support!