Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Susan Aylworth - An Author Interview in the HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Susan Aylworth. She is the award-winning, bestselling author of the Rainbow Rock Series.

Author Genre: Romance, Contemporary and Historical; Family drama; Historical; Paranormal Mystery

Website: Susan Aylworth
Author's Blog: Susan Aylworth, Author
Twitter: @SusanAylworth
E-Mail: susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
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Pinterest: Check Out Pinterest

Author Description:
Susan Aylworth started her first book when she was nine. "It was called Buff, The Proud Stallion. I wrote eight whole pages." For her fifth grade career day, she stated her ambition to become "a rich and famous author." Decades later, she is pleased to have achieved the 'author' part of that goal. A former university professor, she enjoys researching backgrounds and careers for her novels. "It's one way to live many lives all at once."

Servant to two spoiled cats, she lives in northern California with her husband of 44 years, also a writer. She loves hanging out with her seven children, their perfect-for-them spouses and 23 grandchildren. When she can't be with her blood family, she hangs with her fictional characters, the children of her mind. She has twelve novels available and a lucky 13th scheduled for publication in June 2014. Susan loves words “in all polite forms” and has also published poetry and a one-woman play. She loves to hear from readers. Contact her at www.susanaylworth.com, susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com or @SusanAylworth.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

Let’s start with what’s next. Rumor has it that you have another book on the horizon called EASTWARD TO ZION plus a book set coming soon. Can you tell us the timeline for their release and give us a little tease?

I’m so glad you asked! I have two new releases coming this month [April]. One is a box set of the first three Rainbow Rock Romances. Called THE MCALLISTER MEN, it features Jim, Kurt and Chris McAllister, the handsome blond brothers whose stories start the series. Also in April expect to see DANNY’S GIRL: Book 8 in the Rainbow Rock Romances. We met Danny Sherwood as a teen in Book 4 and he’s a major character in Book 7. Now a trooper with the Arizona Highway Patrol, Danny gets his own story in Book 8. It was fun to see what kind of woman could turn Danny’s head, but he finds his match in Manon DuPre. Although this story deals with some tough issues—domestic abuse and co-dependency for two, it continues the Rainbow Rock traditions of commitment and community.

EASTWARD TO ZION is a June release from Covenant Communications. It’s my first historical and I had great fun writing it. My great-great grandparents met and married in Sydney, Australia in the 1850s. There they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and decided to gather with other church members in the Rocky Mountains. Although this story is fictional, it is based on their history and includes many details from their lives. While other “Mormon” pioneers were crossing the Atlantic and the plains, they crossed the Pacific and the desert. The research was fascinating.

If the muses stick with me, I will have more coming in 2014, possibly including the first book in a brand new series and a second book in the Maggie Rising Case Files. Then there’s always Book 9 in the Rainbow Rock Romances. Wait ‘til you see what I have in mind for Lottie!

You have a great following on twitter. Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your current success? How did you build your following in your niche? Did you use forums, newsletters and methods like that? How much has it changed your book launch process?

I was a reluctant convert to Twitter. When I first heard about people tweeting, “I’m sitting on my porch with my cat on my lap,” I wondered why anyone bothers. Then at a writers’ conference, I saw what some of my friends were doing with Twitter. My reaction was a wide-eyed, “Ohhhh!” In the past couple of years, I’ve become a devoted disciple and proselytizer for book promos and teasers shared in 140 characters. I haven’t the time to keep up with everything and I’m still a newbie when it comes to forums and newsletters. As for how I grow my Twitter account and Facebook followers? The more active I am on them, the more they seem to grow themselves.

You have great covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

The backgrounds for the Rainbow Rock covers are all paintings by Ken Spencer: www.jkenspencer.com. Like me he lived in the Red Rock country around the Four Corners and he already has a large body of work depicting that area. When I’m ready to create a cover, I start with one of Ken’s paintings that fits one or more majors scene in the story. Ken sends a high-resolution electronic copy which I turn over to my designer. We go to a favorite website that sells stock photos and choose a portrait with models that look like my characters and then Alisa, my designer, puts it all together.

There’s usually a bit of tweaking involved, but I’ve been very pleased with the outcome. It’s taken us eight covers to refine this process, but we know what we’re doing well enough now that I chose the portrait models for the couple in DANNY’S GIRL before I started writing and made the descriptions fit the models instead of the other way around. That simplified the process enormously. So far we haven’t involved the readers in cover creation, but it’s a fun idea. Maybe for Lottie’s story.

You do a lot of book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? When and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?

We’re in the process of refining an appearance and signing schedule for EASTWARD TO ZION, but this year is so full that I’ll be staying closer to home, trying to do justice to all the great story ideas I have in mind. I love to hear from readers via email and social media. My Facebook account (www.facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author) and Twitter @Susan Aylworth are good ways to reach me, but the fastest is probably susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com. A few readers who’ve found me via email have now become beta readers for future books. I count them among my friends.

I like the idea of bundling a series of novels. You have put together a set of your novels coming soon. Can you tell us a little bit about the set? What is your main objective in bundling your novels?

Some years ago, I was writing hardbacks for Avalon, a small New York City publishing house. My editor liked my proposal for a series of books built around three blond brothers and those stories became the first three Rainbow Rock Romances. The editor loved them and asked for more, so I went into the series and looked at secondary characters in the early books who deserved romances of their own. That’s how books 4, 5, and 6 were born. In 2012 I updated these six books (now all the characters carry cell phones) and self-published them as e-books.

When readers started asking for more, I wrote RETURN TO RAINBOW ROCK. The title has double meaning for me since Marcie, whom we met in Book 4, was returning to the town and I was returning to the series. Now Rainbow Rock seems to have a life of its own as readers keep asking when the next book is coming. It’s fun to revisit the town and the people. I’ve no idea how far this series may go, but as long as both the readers and I keep enjoying it, we’ll Return to Rainbow Rock over and over again.

Now we’re bundling those first three books in the hope that readers will appreciate the deal—just over half the full price of all three purchased separately—and will get a good enough taste of the series, they’ll want to come back for more.

With your busy schedule, how do you have time to keep up with your followers? Between your book writing, blogging, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?

Stephen Covey, in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, taught a basic principle of time management that I still use: I schedule in chunks. When I see that my time is full from seven a.m. to ten p.m. on Tuesday, I know I won’t be writing Tuesday, but I’ll see a four-hour block on Wednesday and plan that for writing. By building my schedule by the week rather than by the day, I can see where the writing time will come and plan for it.

I learned another trick from a career writer colleague: When I end one day’s work, I plan the first task for the next time I return. That way I can jump in almost instantly. In between there are always those moments when I’m standing in line or stuck in traffic. I’m not always disciplined, but I try to use those periods of enforced idleness to keep my mind running, working out a particular thorny plot element or deciding how a character might respond to a situation. In that respect, I’m ‘writing’ even when I’m away from the keyboard. For me, it works.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

Reduced prices are a good way to draw the attention of readers who may not otherwise notice books by authors they don’t yet know. I’ve dropped the price to 99 cents a few times on different books. I’m more cautious with free. For me, free books are what retailers call a loss leader. I’ve only offered a free book once for just a few days in a well-advertised promotion. That book was the first in my series of seven—soon to be eight when DANNY’S GIRL appears. The number of free downloads was impressive; in fact, the book ranked #1 on the Amazon Free List for a short time. I was betting that readers who liked the first Rainbow Rock Romance would come back for more. They did. That ad ran in early November, and five months later, I’m still seeing increased sales of the other stories in the series.

How do you start your book launch process for a new book? Give a brief outline of the steps you go through to get your book to market. What methods were the most successful?

Whew! That’s a tough question for me since I’m still figuring out how to launch a book properly. So far I’ve either relied on small promotions by my publisher (for my traditionally published books) or made large announcements on my social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook for my indies. My cover designer does reveals on both her Pinterest page and mine. So far I’ve been experimenting. If I ever hear of a great formula for doing a perfect book launch, I’m there.

You are using a personal on-line store to make it easier for your readers to buy your books. Do you know it that has had an impact on your overall sales? Is the software available for other authors to purchase or did you have it built in house?

The store grew organically. When I designed my own simple website, it contained a list of my books with pictures but no buy links. As the business end of my business grew, I brought in a designer who rebuilt the site with “buy” links for each of my books. The next step came when I realized all those links went to Amazon. Then another career writer colleague told me about her “Amazon Store,” available to Amazon Associates. The next logical step was obvious as we (my designer and I) built an Amazon Store to sell my books. The step after that, recommending other books I love and linking to those as well, was equally logical and organic. That step led to the final one: listing the recommended books by their ‘ratings.’ Many of my readers prefer books with no on-screen sex or violence, books they can share with their 12-year-old sisters, daughters or granddaughters. By categorizing the books with their sensuality and violence levels in mind, I’ve included works for a variety of tastes, but I’m still keeping faith with those readers.

What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?

When I published my first book, a successful novelist told me, “The good news is your book is available. People are going to read it. The bad news? Your book is available and people are going to read it.”

Every writer I know has a love-hate relationship with reviews. We want them desperately and yet we’re terrified. We start sounding like George McFly from Back to the Future: “What if they don’t like it? What if they tell me it’s terrible?” We all have readers who don’t like our work. In that respect, it helps to remember that large portions of the reading public don’t like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Nora Roberts, or Stephen King. No writer is popular with everyone. The trick is to reach your audience, your niche of the reading public, and get them to tell others how much they love your work. Five-star reviews are an excellent way to achieve that, and so writers beg for reviews, hoping to see stars.

How do we get them? Don’t ask me; I’m still figuring it out. Suffice to say, I try everything: I seek professional reviews (and by the way, I’ve had some excellent ones in the online magazine for independent authors, InD’Tale.) I seek reviews from readers who’ve lauded my past work and when they send me good ones, I put those out via social media. As a final plea, at the end of every e-book I add a shameless appeal which in essence says, “If you hate this book, please don’t tell a soul. If you like it, tell everyone you know. If you LOVE it, please write great reviews everywhere and plug it to everybody.” Of course I’d love to have many more reviews and I’d love it if they were all five-star tributes singing my praises. Like all writers, I’m grateful for those who take the time to write at all.

Author's Book List
Return to Rainbow Rock
When Marcie Carmody was in her teens, Rainbow Rock, Arizona sas home. Though she spent holidays and a couple of weeks each summer in southern California with her mother, she lived most of the year with her dad and new step-family. Then she graduated high school, went to college in California, and never looked back. A decade later, broken by a failed relationship, Marcie is coming home to heal. Little does she know that she will soon meet Mr. Right, or that loving him will present her with even more need for healing.

Ryan Fields never realized his ex-wife’s fascination with online role-playing would lead him to leave a successful legal career in Sacramento to go to work with the Navajo Nation, nor that he would have to drive long distances to visit his children on alternate weekends. He certainly doesn’t feel ready to trust again, even when the whirlwind called Marcie enters his life and turns everything upside down. Little does he know how the bumps in the course of true love will alter both their lives.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Maggie Rising
Maggie is a 17-year-old senior who grew up learning the art of psychic reading from her Great Aunt Betty. Now in her senior year, she works part-time as a psychic, hoping to put herself through college, but it’s just for fun. There’s no such thing as true psychic awareness . . . or is there? When Maggie befriends a ghost and is arrested for her new friend’s murder, the two girls—one dead and the other in jail—have to solve an ugly crime and persuade the police to believe them when they discover the truth. And Maggie thought calculus would be tough!

A paranormal mystery with sass, MAGGIE RISING asks all kinds of fascinating questions—and even answers a few.

Order the Book From: Amazon
Zucchini Pie
When Karen Burnett receives word that 100-year-old Granny Adelaide is fading fast, she and her husband rush to the hospital to say their good-byes. As the end draws near, Granny reveals her dying wish: she wants each member of her fragmented family present at her funeral, as well as at a picnic dinner featuring nostalgic family foods. In her last breaths, she calls upon her granddaughter-in-law, Karen, to carry out this seemingly insurmountable task. With cherished recipes in hand and a determination to follow through with her promise, Karen sets Granny’s plan in motion.

Karen’s husband, Tom, however, is less than enthusiastic about his grandmother’s meddling. He hasn’t seen his father—the man who abandoned Tom, his mother, and younger siblings—in decades, and the years have done nothing to diminish his bitterness. As the day of the funeral approaches, Tom must decide: will he allow himself to be consumed by his anger, or will he embrace the potential for peace? Zucchini Pie is a heartfelt novel of connection: of a struggling family and the food that one wise old woman trusts will bring them back together.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Ride the Rainbow Home
Meg Taylor has never thought of Rainbow Rock, Arizona as home. The daughter of a serial-marrying mother, Meg has lived in many places—and most of them were kinder than this little town where she was the principal’s daughter. She returns after ten years only to help a dear high school friend.

Startled by the changes, Meg is pleased to see that her other high school buddy, Little Jimmy McAllister, isn’t little anymore. In fact, he is one of the most attractive men she has ever met. As she finds excuses to spend time with him, their friendship begins to blossom—but Meg has seen marriages come and go and she has no faith in happily ever after.

Can Meg let go of doubt, grab on to happiness and ride the rainbow home?

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
The Trouble with Rainbows - Rainbow Rock Series
Joe Vanetti was deeply in love with his late wife, Roberta, and even thinking of another woman feels disloyal. Although he feels his emotional life has ended with his wife’s, he still has their children to raise. He has returned to Rainbow Rock to bring them near his family. He is not looking for romance and surely does not expect to find it with the high school Ice Queen he remembers as being so aloof and “stuck-up,” so far above him.

Angelica DeForest feels her life has never begun. Painfully shy and socially inept, she has spent her adult years tending aging, bitter relatives. She promises herself she will try to be bolder, to reach out to others and maybe even (gasp!) socialize. She certainly does not intend to begin experimenting with Joe Vanetti, the high school Golden Boy she remembers as being so perfect, so far above her.

Do Joe and Angelica have more in common than a mutual attraction and the misery of loneliness? To build a future together, they will have to discover healing, recovery, and the will to begin again.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
A Rainbow in Paradise - Rainbow Rock Series
Eden Grant has a successful child care business, a painful childhood, and an allergy to marriage. She has resisted ever returning to Rainbow Rock where the pain and the allergy originated and is only going back now to be part of her friend, Sarah’s, wedding. She certainly isn’t looking for romance.

Handsome Logan Redhorse, an attorney to the Navajo Nation, can’t help his attraction to Eden. Holding her feels like Paradise, but marriage is out of the question. He has made promises to his generations—both those before him and the children who may come after—that he will marry a desert child, a daughter of the Dineh. Eden clearly does not qualify.

It is clearly impossible for Logan and Eden to have the paradise they both want while still keeping their promises to themselves. Or is it?

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
A Little Night Rainbow - Rainbow Rock Series
Max Carmody was married once. It wasn’t pretty. Now he finds himself stuck for the summer with a thirteen-year-old daughter he barely knows and a sister who will take her in, but not unless he comes with her. Marcie tells her dad she wants him to marry again, but the last thing this Mozart-loving car parts manufacturer needs is romance. Why, the odds of his ever marrying again are about as likely as … as finding a rainbow in the night sky.

Cretia Sherwood was married too and it definitely wasn’t pretty. She is finally healing and regaining some independence. The last thing this Mozart-loving mom of two needs is to submerge herself in another man. She assures her daughter she might marry again—when she sees a night rainbow.

When love brings them a rainbow, both Max and Cretia have to choose between the security they know and the risks of loving again.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Don't Promise Me Rainbows - Rainbow Rock Series
When he calls the local vet to help him through a birthing crisis with his prize sows, farmer Chris McAllister does not expect an officious Amazon to answer. He’s a healthy bachelor looking for some good times—and help with his pigs. What he isn’t expecting and doesn’t want is romantic complications.

Behind her composure and professional demeanor, pretty veterinarian Sarah McGill is hiding some deeply painful personal secrets. The last thing she needs is some handsome cowboy stirring up trouble, digging for answers, making her feel emotions she never wanted to feel again.

When a project for the Navajo Nation throws them together, they must decide whether they can risk making promises they may not be able to keep.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
At the Rainbow's End - Rainbow Rock Series
Kurt McAllister has everything going for him. So why does he feel so discontent? Alexa Babbidge has just earned her first great break as a screenwriter. So why does bad luck find her now? Kurt and Alexa have differing ideas about what constitutes success and their differences may be too great to bridge. So why are they so drawn to one another?

This heart-warming love story examines Navajo weaving, small town living, and the nature of independence versus inter-dependence. Can a small-town girl grown big-time find happiness with a small-town cowboy? And can they agree on what fills the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end?

Order the Book From: Amazon
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the following blogs:
eBook Author’s Corner and
HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

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