Preview: The Two Ringmasters

I’m so excited about this short story I wrote for The Peculiar Lives of Circus Freaks anthology. This anthology will only be available for 6 months, and I’m honored to join 7 other incredible authors with their work. I had so much fun writing my short and I have all kinds of fun prequel ideas for Sheffield and other Donovan Circus characters. I wanted to share a bit of my short story, The Two Ringmasters, with you – here’s the opening number of this exclusive Sheffield Donovan/Donovan Circus prequel. Read anything that rings a bell?

The Two Ringmasters

(A short story appearing in the anthology
The Peculiar Lives of Circus Freaks)

Sheffield Donovan was tired, weary right down to his bones. It wasn’t because of the jam-packed circus season or the small road trip he was on to an old friend’s carnival. In fact, he welcomed the brief change, the newness that came with unfamiliar grounds and staff. As Donovan Circus ringmaster and owner, Sheffield needed it, perhaps more than he realized. Calloused hands on the worn wheel and a cigarette between his lips, Sheffield contemplated the last two weeks with concern.

Boston had been a rewarding tour stop, complete with a new Firestarter who was sure to be a crowd favorite. Nikolas, Sheffield’s favorite protégé, was also a Firestarter, and he was eager to gain a gifted brother on the road. Sheffield had immediately noticed how well they balanced each other, their instant camaraderie something to appreciate. Their show would surely be some insane feat with fire and motorcycles, if Nik had any say. The new guy, Keegan Larson, didn’t appear to have any problems with adrenaline. He’d fit in well.

No, Sheffield was tired of losing friends. Of the constant battle to maintain his status, of the fight it took to keep his circus family out of debt and out of any humans’ spotlights. He’d had a brother on the road once, a soulmate of sorts, if one could be found in a best friend. His brother had passed, thankfully of natural causes, but too soon and too far away from the people he called his family.

Sheffield Donovan had gotten the call nearly the moment they’d left Boston. He’d hardly flipped open the phone before the heartbreaking sob carried across the line. His heart cracked before a single word was spoken. Lenny Sullivan, his best friend since childhood, was dead. Sheffield had first confirmed the heart attack before asking about Lenny’s small daughter, perhaps not so small anymore, he’d mused, as Lucy was in her teens.

So Sheffield had made the journey down to Virginia where Lenny had hidden his child, hugged and soothed his extended family and paid his regards. Lucy had turned down his job offer, more than likely due to her mother’s nerves (although she had every right to be nervous, given their reason for leaving the Donovan Circus). Sheffield wasn’t deterred, however, confident he’d see Lucy Sullivan again sooner rather than later. It would only be a matter of time until she would want to rejoin her gifted world; Sheffield vowed to be there for her, by her side no matter what.

The Peculiar Lives of Circus Freaks, an 8-story anthology, now available for ebook and paperback.

Buy links:


The Peculiar-ebooksmIt’s Release Day! I’m so excited about our anthology, The Peculiar Lives of Circus Freaks, releasing today, April 1. My short story is a Donovan Circus prequel, and all 8 stories takes place in the Kipling Carnival. The 7 other amazing authors are Tia Bach, Author, Amy Evans, Allyson Gottlieb, Kelly Martin, Misty Paquette Provencher, Mindy Ruiz Books, and BJ Sheldon!! Thanks to Regina Wamba for her hard work on this beautiful cover!! Note: This anthology will only be available until December 31, 2017, so grab your copy before it’s too late!

Buy links:

How to Properly Pitch to Magazines


As an Associate Editor for a regional magazine publisher, I’m often tasked with working with freelance writers, as well as branching out to grow our network of writers. With my position as the director of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, one of the big things I talk about is submitting to our magazines, as many attendees are local writers searching for new opportunities. My publisher has several regional magazines as well as custom publications and inserts, and we’re always looking for writers to help create great content. For those writers interested in freelancing for a magazine, perhaps these 5 tips will help in your path to published.

  1. Do your research. This is perhaps the most important part of the process, because if you don’t know anything about the magazines you’re submitting to, then prepare for your emails to be instantly deleted. I can’t tell you the number of emails I’ve gotten for bridebook from people all over the world offering to write articles – but it’s clearly an outlet for local weddings in our SWVA region. Blue Ridge Country is another great example – we get plenty of emails with story suggestions, but more often than not, they’re for places way outside of our region (it only covers the 7 states with Blue Ridge Mountains, and is quite clear in our website). If you pitch me a story about some neat piece of odd history that took place in the Blue Ridge, however, that’s right in our wheelhouse and something we might want to cover – and shows us you’ve at least flipped through an issue at some point.
  2. Address the correct person. Perhaps this one falls under “research” but nevertheless, it’s important. As someone who gets emailed with “Mr. Long” (nope, sorry) or “Leslie” (Liz…3 letters, guys), that’s an automatic disqualification, much like when a writer incorrectly queries an agent. I can almost hear you saying it: All these magazine websites only have generic contact forms, not specific names! Okay – then pick up an issue, or have a peek at the digital issue online. Within the first 3 pages will be a pub box, with publisher, editor and rest of staff listed. That’s where I’ll be, and you can get an actual name to go along with that website contact form email, which will ensure that email is forwarded to the correct person rather than tossed into the “file for later” pile. If you can’t take the time and care to get the right editor, how can I trust you to do the same with your articles?
  3. Have an angle. Unless a magazine has specifically requested suggestions for a particular piece, you should have an idea of what you’d like to pitch to an editor. This shows not only your care and thought, but motivation and, to some extent, imagination. I don’t want to hear the same old “Roanoke is great” article. I want to know specifics – is it about a business or restaurant, or the new brewery opening down the road? Tell me the 5 W’s: who, what, when, where, why. Show me why you think this article would hit home with readers.
  4. Include writing samples. This one’s easy. Don’t just send me a resume. That tells me nothing, other than your career history. I want to know your writing style, if you’re any good or just throwing things together, if I’m going to have to edit the hell out of typos and grammatical issues. On the other hand, if it’s sparkling clean and interesting to read, I guarantee you’ll catch my interest – and probably a reply email.
  5. Understand timing. The Roanoker and Blue Ridge Country are both bimonthly publications, meaning they cover a span of 2 months. That means when you pitch me coverage for an event in May, you need to contact me in February or March (the sooner, the better, honestly). Many magazines are monthly, but all of us work way ahead of the calendar year (trust me; I’m working on Christmas themes in August each year). It’s important to remember that magazines want to write about what’s happening, not what’s happened. Don’t wait too long to pitch an idea, or you may have to wait until the following year.

How BookBub Made Me a Bestseller

Boy, I bet that headline got your attention now, didn’t it? I recently had a huge sale on my Donovan Circus boxed set (from $6.99 to $0.99) and bear with me on the lengthy post, but I wanted to share a little bit about how I ultimately surpassed my goals thanks to a layered marketing plan, and of course, a gigantic BookBub ad that was the motivating factor. Because you know what happened? I got that very special little orange flag on Amazon, along with #1 spots in several categories that snowballs into the algorithms of #61 spot in overall Kindle sales:



So how did I do it? Let’s break it down by platform, price and overall results. And remember, because of the $0.99 price, I’m only making a 30% royalty. About 33 cents a book, give or take, so to make my money back, I HAD to sell hundreds and hundreds of copies. It was incredibly nerve-wracking the week leading up; trust me, I was up to my ears with anxiety, worried about everything: that it would fail, that I wouldn’t make money back, that it WOULD do well and then everyone would hate it, etc. (You can see where being an author is an exhausting process in more than simply writing the books.)

BOOKBUB – $574

This is obviously the biggest piece of the puzzle, and one that came at an unexpected time. I submit a suggested deal to them at least once a month, and I’ve only ever had one stick (Witch Hearts, 4 years ago when I put it up for free, and had over 20,000 downloads). So when I tossed out the Donovan Circus boxed set from $6.99 to $0.99, I was stunned when they accepted it. (After nearly falling off the couch, I literally ran to my computer to pay them before they could change their minds.) So, I had the BookBub deal going out on March 3. How would I capitalize off that to really build off this promotion? First off, I made absolutely sure the boxed set was $0.99 early – about a week and a half before the promotion. Because I don’t sell a lot of sets (most readers buy the individual books), it was no skin off my back to put the price down. In fact, by doing that, I sold several more copies ahead of time, thus helping my ranking.

The BookBub ad went out to emails on March 3. It resulted in 1,891 sets sold internationally. So it’s not just US readers, but the UK, Australia, Canada and more. (Totaling about $567 in Amazon sales in just that one day.) Here’s the screenshot from their website (also how great is their write up of the series?):


Facebook – $120

I ran Facebook ads in the week leading up to the sale in hopes of building up my ranking to make it easier to climb once the sale officially hit. (Originally set it for $150, but cut it off a couple days before when costs were getting too high per click. You want to keep them low, below $0.50 if possible, so while it started out strong, $1.26 per click is too pricey for me.) This also includes a $20 boosted post on my FB page’s “day before” post, targeted towards my page fans and their friends. It gave me approximately 20 sales – doesn’t sound like much, but remember, it was all about getting the best ranking possible before the big day.

Fiverr – $10

EllaGibson, the user I’ve hired a few times for book blasting in promo groups, is a bargain and saves me tons of time. For $10, she posts your Kindle book deal in 77 FB Groups and Google communities of 1 million people. While this is a great way to hit promo groups with dedicated readers, honestly, it’s the time saver that I pay for here. I work full-time, so I can’t do all that during the work day. If she does, however, the word still gets out and quite frankly, it’s well worth the $10.

Bargain Booksy – $40

eBookHounds – $35

BookSends – $35

JustKindleBooks – $15

Kindle Book Review – $20

Hot Zippy – $0

Newsletter – $0

In addition to regular Facebook posts (both on my page and personal profile), I sent out a newsletter on March 1 to my 4,628 subscribers about the deal (again, did it early to build up momentum as well as offer a subscriber exclusive). I have 2 mailing lists, one is my regular author newsletter (extremely dedicated readers), and Instafreebie emails, who download a free book through random promotions I sign up for in order to build the newsletter (so, they are not dedicated to MY books specifically, but readers nonetheless who take chances on cheap reads – something to keep in mind when your clicks aren’t as high as you’d expect).

For the March 1 newsletter #1, 30% opened, with 208 clicks to the Amazon sales page, 17 to KOBO page, and 12 to iBooks page. On March 3, I resent to the unopens (2,166) which got me a 7% open rate, 14 clicks to Amazon, and 1 to B&N. On March 5, I sent a “Last Chance” email that got a 5% open rate, 20 clicks to Amazon, and 1 to Kobo. This tells me that, unsurprisingly, most of my readers are using Kindle and the first newsletter is always strongest.

Author Help – $0

I try not to ask for a lot of favors, and help out where I can for others when they have promo needs. This way, when I DO ask for a favor, my friends know it’s important. When I asked 18 author friends, all of them heavy hitters in their own genres with core reader groups, for help with the promo, 17 authors responded almost immediately to help. They used the HTML blog posts/social media posts/images I provided for them (I made it as easy as possible for them so they didn’t have to do a bunch of work, that’s key) and blasted it out to their folks.

Social Media Postings – $0

This one’s a no-brainer, but let’s not overlook it. All it took was time on my part to create a couple key images to use (and share with friends). In addition to Facebook and Instagram, I also sent out tweets throughout the days using key hashtags and accompanying links.

Uh, excuse me, I sold next to Harry Potter? Pardon me while I take a moment to rock in the corner in disbelief. I’ve often said I don’t write for the money, which is true, so when little moments like this one happen, that is such a huge win for me.


Now, here’s the business you came here for:

Total Investment: $849
Total sales on Amazon from 3/2-3/6: 2,724 (roughly $1,001)
Total sales on D2D (combo of B&N, iBooks and Kobo) from 3/2-3/6: 845  (roughly $534)
Results as of 3/6 (last day of sale): 3,569 ebooks sold
Overall total sales for the month of March (as of 3/6): $1,535

Which equals to a rough estimate of: +$686 (i.e. made money=surpassed goal of breaking even)

And of course, this is only the first week of March. Technically, the sale is still on today, so I might have a few extras in there by midnight. Of course I expect sales to tailor off for the next few weeks, but knowing that I’ve made my money back is terrific, because it means everything else is a bonus. I can rest easy and refocus on other things (and in fact did, as over the weekend I even took a nap on Saturday afternoon!). It all funnels right back into my book business, and motivates me to get the 5th book done ASAP to hang onto those DC readers.

The BIG takeaway here, however, is the brand awareness and name recognition. Because when I woke up Saturday to 35 FB notifications and 5 text messages, THIS screenshot from my friend Kelly Martin was waiting for me:


I mean, are you kidding me? For however brief a time, I was ranked right alongside NEIL EFFING GAIMAN!! Excuse me while I pinch myself a few times to make sure I’m awake. In addition to the sales, I’ve had a boost of website traffic (hi, new readers!), sales across the rest of my bookshelf, new followers on social media and now hopefully my name will be a little more recognizable in the book world. (Much of that last part is speculation, I know, but the optimistic side of me stands by it.)

So. It appears I owe a lot of people a lot of thank yous, because there’s no doubt that while the marketing helped, it was also all of the posts, shares and excitement from my author and reader friends. I can’t wait to see where the rest of the year takes me – and in the meantime, uh, hey Bookbub, y’all got any more of those ad spaces available? Cause I’d like to buy one every month, please.