Monday, November 15, 2010

Encouraging authors out of their shells...

Charlie has given me the thumbs-up to second victim has been pestering me for two months to give her some space. This might be what she meant.

So, I posted this on Facebook, just the other day:
Imagine that you have written a book, and market it as well as you might, for a very long time. Then - with just the right connection, just the right promotion - you end up #1 on an list, and your book gets downloaded 10,000 times. Bam!
Does your head spin? Do you cry with joy? Ask Darcia Helle she knows the... answer now. :)  'Enemies and Playmates' is well deserving of that notice.

She replied:
Thank you, Joel. The answer is, you sit and look dumbfounded at the screen, trying to figure out who could have made such a ridiculous error in calculations. :)  And now she's had nearly more than 30,000 hits!

See the end of the post for a rundown of the Kindle Boom that rocked Darcia last year.

Darcia Yvette Helle (pronounced HAY-LAY) ;)  is another someone a bit rare in self-publishing; she is an author who devotes most of her time just talking books with others. Eavesdrop her conversations on the web, and you will hear encouragement, humor, compassion, sympathy, and - most helpfully - honesty about what this game entails. Plus, she agonizes over reviewing books which are not particularly well written. (It is not easy to mentor authors, none of us have any flaws....) The generous Darcia is simply a hoot to know, and that is at odds with her writer's nature. That Darcia (which means 'dark' in French) would be wondering if your legs have to be chopped to put you in that box.

Her heart must match her hippie-chick smile, wide open and happy. One new place where all those good qualities come gushing from the screen, is - a haven in a confusing self-pub landscape - it's a product of her website QuietFury Books. While other bookish sites are slowing, or dying outright - just from too much junk on the pages, BsB is attracting members from all over. And those members are welcome to blurb and promote their books. Upon arriving, they seem to sigh with relief. The entire site is cool, smart, clean, easy, and the talk about books just comes naturally. Her success in this blog/forum arena is due to her great personality and web media savvy. I ask her about that below: she is one of three founding members, and she takes almost no credit for what is growing there (the demure Darcia). I'll let her remain humble. Sometimes, all it takes is a good seed.

There is no question that she can write; her characters are expertly defined. But, they are only themselves, and not much guided by her. When her characters speak - Darcia seems to just step aside. Skye Summers, her MC in 'The Cutting Edge' is a perfect narrator, and Darcia's natural talent with humor just shines.  Sometimes you can feel an author trying to be funny; not with Darcia.  [blatant theft of quote from her website] Here is how she describes the characters in her head: "The characters that float through my mind can be unrelenting and often lead me in too many directions at once. They become like children who lack discipline. And apparently I lack parenting skills."

That is a writer.

Did I mention that she is an accomplished murderer?

Read her. People DIE. And she giggles about it. I squealed at her, when she shattered my nerves with 'The Cutting Edge'. But, she defeated my wimp. I've read her twice now, and still squeal. She puts images in my mind that are too real. I need that - the riveting visuals that make the stories wonderful to read. Then she brought back some torments from my past, with 'Enemies and Playmates'. She made me wince, and keep reading. It is not easy to make people feel what you have written. There are hundreds of mass-pubs out there who still cannot do it.

Oh! Was stone-house publishing just mentioned in a derogatory manner?  It should be! Have a chat with Darcia about how little mass-pub does for authors. No conversation with Darcia strays very far from publishing, whatever the form. She champions self-publishing, for a simple reason; it is bringing very talented people out of the shadows so they can be read. Take a look at an open letter to Amazon, which she penned shortly after launching BsB.

Remember now, she just had 21,000+ people chose her book - on Amazon - all she needed was visibility in the marketplace. But, traditional publishing is looking at the Indie phenomenon, using the same twisted logic the music industry tried to apply - if the product does not fit their marketing outlines, it must therefore be inferior. Everyone in this game knows now, traditional publishing refuses to embrace anything 'Indie' as a good product. When you begin reading Indie works, you quickly realize how blatantly stupid the publishing world has become. They are ignoring the biggest change in publishing in our lifetimes, and self-published authors are finding alternate ways into the market, with a very good product.

Darcia writes a damned fine product. EVERY TIME SHE WRITES. Some whimpering agent should improve their stats next week, lighten their workload, by picking up a copy of Darcia's work. 21,000 people understood what they were doing when they clicked to download 'Enemies and Playmates'. I'm so thrilled for her I can't express it properly.

Here are the links to my reviews of 'Cutting Edge' and 'Enemies'.
Here is a link to her website store: look to the bottom, to the cool carousel widget.

And Charlie was kind to remind me of something I can't do. (I love it when women do that to me) : "Joel, don't forget to mention that people have the chance to win "Hit List" by Darcia Helle at the Gratitude Giveaway (begins this Wednesday) Nov. 17th at Bitsy Bling Books." What I can't do, is give you that URL today. Keep watching - it will post here in a couple of days.

Darcia was very sweet to allow me a few questions, but, as I have said, she enjoys a dangerous streak. It suits her, quite nicely:

Forgive the teasing about your name. I want to call you Miss Hell, and you've known that a good while; your books and posts all reveal a bit of a feisty personality. Spell your name phonetically so I can ignore the proper way to say it.
I like being called feisty. Thank you! My name (both first and last) is mangled more often than not. I find it rather comical now. I’m typically called Darsha Hell. Here is the phonetic pronunciation:
Dar-SEE-ah HELL-ee. In French, the ‘e’ on Helle would be silent. I kind of like it that way. :D

When did you realize, "Oh my! I'm going to write a book!"?
That happened about 15 years ago, when I was a few chapters into my first book (which I have not published). I always wrote. At that time, I’d written a lot of dark and probably horrible poetry and a few short stories. I’d run scenes through my mind each night. Honestly, sometimes I’d lie awake for hours, “writing” this entire story in my head. I couldn’t tell you now what prompted that first book. A character stepped into my head and wouldn’t go away. I sat down and wrote a scene. That scene turned into a chapter and I haven’t stopped since. Click to see her latest bit; a free short story.

Your readers know well that you love dogs, and are a vegetarian; those elements are prominent in your books. What have you likewise revealed, that readers might not pick up so easily?
I think we writers sprinkle bits of ourselves in all of our work. A running theme an astute reader might notice is that I am a wee bit obsessed with the why behind human behavior. I’m not content to write about a vicious killer, unless I can explore what caused him or her to become that way. The majority of murderers are not born sociopaths. Something made them that way. I need to look inside and see what that was, then show it to my readers.

I recognized your desire to explain Kyle in ‘The Cutting Edge’.  His near-conversations with his mother gave me chills, as Norman did in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’. But, I don’t recall any effort to define Alex’s madness in ‘Enemies and Playmates’. Did I miss it, or did you really not go there with him? (Alex is piercingly accurate, BTW. I’ve seen the self-love, and its fallout, first hand.)

Alex was a bit harder to portray, since he wasn't a POV character. I tried to give hints of his decline, through brief memories and observations by his family members. His obsession with power and control as he rose in stature within his profession and his community was his ultimate downfall, though, for me, Alex was one of those people who was born with a missing link. Kara overlooked those signs early in their relationship. She was searching for that American dream, with a successful husband allowing her to stay at home, comfortable, to raise her children. Kara reacted as many young women do. She didn't see (or perhaps chose to ignore) those early signs of Alex's controlling nature. Often, we see what we choose to see in our relationships.

I'm thrilled that you think Alex's character is accurate, though I'm sorry to hear that you've had personal experience with someone like him. I don't think the general public realizes how easy it is for a woman to fall into that kind of relationship. It happens for a variety of reasons and rarely does it begin at a full level of abuse. As I'm sure know, given your own experience, men like these can be remarkably kind when they choose to be. They show the world a different face.
Now I want to go back and kill Alex all over again! :))

Your books embrace a lot of physical danger for your characters. Can you sit and watch movies like 'Saw: Parts I-XXVII' ?
No! I’ve never watched any of those 'Saw' movies. However, I can watch psychological suspense or even thrillers with lots of violence, providing the violence is interspersed with a good story. For me, movies like 'Saw' feed on the graphic gore and don’t offer enough substance.


You have six books; an impressive bit of work. Which took the least time to complete?
The Cutting Edge, my last one, was the quickest to write. That was also the closest to anything autobiographic in content. Skye Summers, the main character, is a hairstylist suffering from serious job burn-out. I was a stylist for 15 years in a salon in the very same small town I set the book in. One reviewer recently said that I had created the most obnoxious (and I’m paraphrasing here) clients ever to walk into a salon. That comment made me laugh out loud, since every single one of those clients was closely based on a real client in that real salon.
I should take a signed copy of that to my stylist's shop. The ladies there would love it.

Which of your books is actually your favorite?
That’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite. It depends on the day!  :D

Do you ever open them again, and twitch to make some edits?
I have not actually read any of my books since publishing but, yes, I do twitch to do some editing. Once the book is published, I don’t think about editing in the sense of reconstructing sentences, etc. At some point, you have to let go and be satisfied with the word choices. That, for me, comes at publishing time. However, I did all my own editing at first and that is not something I recommend. I read my own work so many times that I was regurgitating the words in my sleep. Still, I missed things. My mind was seeing what it was supposed to say, not what it truly said.
I now have an awesome editor! His name is Bob Helle and he is, oddly enough, not a relative. Or, if he is, those ties are distant somewhere in my husband’s ancestry. He edited 'The Cutting Edge' for me and has just finished 'Hit List'. I’ll be making the corrections and releasing the revised edition soon. I hope to have 'No Justice' done next.

What other book have you read more than twice?
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book more than twice, particularly fiction. There are millions – billions? – of books on the market at any given time. About half of those are on my to-read list. (Seriously, you should see it!) I don’t have time for all the new ones I’d love to read, much less time to re-read the old ones.

What other author have you read completely?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I read a diverse amount of genres and topics, both fiction and nonfiction. When I was younger, I faithfully followed a handful of my favorites, which included Tami Hoag and John Sanford. But different authors and different genres soon distracted me. Now I’ve been veering off into the Indie world and exploring a lot of new authors. Aside from authors who only have one or two books out at this point, I can’t name any offhand whose complete backlog I’ve read. Though there are many whose work I do want to read every bit of.

Have those books and people influenced you?  What did?
Yes and yes. Each book, good or bad, influences me somehow. As writers, we read differently. Or I do, at any rate! I pay attention to sentence structure, word choice, characterization, etc. Even when I’m lost in a book, somewhere in my subconscious I’m aware of what that author is doing or not doing to keep me turning pages.
As for people, all of them absolutely influence my writing. The people close to me who support me and the readers who take a moment to send me a note and/or write a review for one of my books encourage me, whether knowingly or not, to keep writing. People that I meet, even briefly, influence a trait I give a character. An exchange between people that I overhear in a store might spark an idea for a scene or a complete novel.
Life, with its great moments and its misery, are strong influences in everything I write.

Do you get to write as much as you would like?
No! The balance between marketing, promoting, networking, working on various projects and writing is incredibly difficult to maintain. To make matters worse, I am absolutely not a morning person. I’m not a late sleeper but my brain cells continually misfire until around 11 a.m.

Indie marketing is a complex activity, (duh!). How much of your day is spent with your online connections?
A very good example of letting your books have
the loudest voice on your webpage.
I was going to say ‘too much’ but that wouldn’t be accurate. Over the past few months, I’ve developed an amazing network of fellow authors/friends and I do spend some time each day interacting with them via email and on our message board. But a lot of my marketing time is a more solitary activity, in which I organize projects, write interview questions, seek out promotion ideas, etc. It’s still too much time, time that I’d like to use to write.

We've discussed query letters on BsB, you say you've given them up. Were you ever obsessed with sending out query letters?
The mere mention of query letters causes me to shudder. Yes, I was obsessed. Then disappointed. Then dejected. Then obsessed again. A ridiculous cycle. When I first set out to become published, the Indie world wasn’t even a fantasy. Self-publishing options consisted of those horrible vanity presses that will publish anything for money. I was a neophyte and had no idea how difficult the publishing world was to break into. All those form rejection letters were disheartening, to say the least. Agents based their opinions on a one-page query letter. How do you judge creativity based on one formal query?

You are at the helm (approaching 1,000 posts) of the explosively popular Has that success surprised you?
I’d love to strap on my ego and say that I expected it to be a success. But, in all honesty, I am surprised. I created the message board on a whim. I’d been trying to find ways to network and had joined a variety of reader and writer forums. The reader forums were, for the most part, unfriendly. I often felt like some sort of pariah. Writers were forbidden from discussing their writing on any level. If you crossed that line even slightly, you were publicly berated. I understand limiting self-promotion or even banning self-promotion. However, writing is what I do. It goes hand-in-hand with reading. Other members discussed their hobbies and their jobs but I was not allowed to discuss either. Where did that leave me, as far as how to interact? The writers’ forums were all about self-promotion. That’s all they did. No one discussed books they read or authors they enjoyed. Members would pop in, talk about their books, and leave. There was little support or interaction and no discussion of books other than their own.
I’m sure this is not the case for every forum but it’s what I ran into. I wanted a place where readers and writers could hang out and discuss the things we love without fear of persecution. Since I couldn’t find that place, I decided to create it. But I need to be clear in stating that all I did was create that spot. The members are the ones who make that place special.

What do you single out as the most pleasing feature of that site, for you?
The absolute unwavering support each member offers the others, regardless of background.
I need to point out that Stacy Juba and Maria Savva are her partners in the BestsellerBound creation. Both are accomplished and acclaimed authors as well.

If you could put your book in a certain person's hands, who would that be, and what book do you wish they would read?
Such a great question! With each of my books, I take on a subject that I would like all of society to think about, perhaps on a different level and/or from a different perspective. If I had to choose one book for one person, I think I’d pick Enemies and Playmates. I’d put it in the hands of one woman who is making excuses or blaming her own behavior for the husband or boyfriend who has raised a hand to her.

What's the next D.H. book?
I’m working on the third book in my Michael Sykora series. No title, yet.

If you are going to curl up with a book, what are you snacking on?
I don’t often eat when I read. Usually, I’m too absorbed in the world unfolding with the words. Plus, I don’t want to risk getting my books or my eReader smudged. But my favorite snack is ice cream from Marble Slab, Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs.

Audio books. They are becoming popular! Could you read your own book for a recording?
No. An emphatic no. For one thing, I don’t think I have the right tone of voice. To make a good audio book, you need to have the type of speaking voice that is strong and soothing, like a radio announcer or actor. That would not be me. Also, I have difficulty with speaking aloud and maintaining that type of concentration for any length of time, due to neurological complications from chronic, late-stage Lyme disease. I’d be tripping over my own words and stuttering. That might make for a comical break but I doubt it would be a big selling point.

Thank you, DeeCee. This has been a fun chat. Don't be surprised to get a new question before the week is out.
Feel free to pull bits of me from wherever you find me!
Cannibalizing text? That would be just like her....
Darcia loves arcane facts, bizarre subjects, (one of them linked above) and loves to post articles about the stuff she digs up, like here; here; here; here; She posts like an insomniac on BsB, which, BTW, is an outstanding readers site - anyone who loves books is welcome to join. Just register and introduce yourself. Hers will be one of the first welcoming posts you get. She Twitters, too, but those are mostly tweets about dogs and cats...or her shrunken head collection... @DarciaHelle

What exactly DID happen between Kindle and Darcia? Somehow, they decided her title 'Enemies and Playmates' was worthy of placement on their Free Download list. She is also available in e-book on Smashwords, and was offering that book free there. Amazon prefers to be the lowest Kindle e-book price available, and state they will match lower prices. Apparently, they keep tabs of pricing on titles in the Kindle format, and Darcia somehow became visible to them. They have yet to communicate with her about any of this - so, it just happened. Boom.

Suddenly, with the featured status, and the free price, Darcia's book was flying out in downloads. But, remember, it was a free book. She did not earn a dime on all the action. Neither did Amazon. What the entire whirlwind of notice brought, was only that. Kindle had a massively attractive author on their list, and Darcia found herself in so many hands she couldn't believe it. She is being read on nearly 30, 000 Kindles by now. Way more than that...remember, this is an old post.

There is a huge debate over the way pricing is structured, and the way commissions are paid. At first glances, it is difficult to understand. Darcia could have earned on those downloads, but was unable to see the event shaping up. Amazon might have overlooked her, if she had been structured to actually receive commission on any is now a case of could have, should have, but isn't the whole thing wonderful!

Yes, it truly is. We all dream of being read in such numbers. Darcia is no longer free on Amazon, and is selling so well that her book is now on the opposite top 100 list. Her other titles are enjoying an upswing as well. She's had her picture on the Amazon Kindle front page, so to speak. Darcia is an author whom TENS OF THOUSANDS can read. I bet she would squeal to have the whole thing happen all over again.

It could. Read one of her books. You will come back for more. So will almost 30,000 other readers. 50-60K by now?


  1. Joel, you are far too kind. I am stricken speechless by your praise.

    I love that you gave me a new middle name! I can use that when I want to go undercover with my chainsaw. :)

  2. I enjoyed reading this interview and learning more about Darcia. Besides being an accomplished writer, she is so innovative in how she markets. BestsellerBound is an excellent site. I enjoy being a member. She's a murderer as well? I'll keep that under my hat. :)

  3. Sandra, I only murder evil people. That doesn't count, right?

  4. Joel, don't forget to mention that people have the chance to win "Hit List" by Darcia Helle at the Gratitude Giveaway (begins this Wednesday) Nov. 17th at Bitsy Bling Books.

    Since reading Ms. Helle, every time I go in for a hair cut, I wonder which 'client' from the Cutting Edge I most closely resemble. I've always been nice to my stylist, but now I'm super extra nice -- and always on time, which is difficult for me. :)

    Also, what did you do (marketing) to get ebook numbers to explode? What was the 'magic' price or did you offer the book for free?

  5. I really enjoyed reading this, Joel & Darcia. Darcia, I actually believed that your middle name was Yvette!! I should know Joel by now! Now I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what he's going to make up about me...
    Very entertaining interview, and very informative :) (at least the bits that are not lies LOL)

  6. Charlie, I offered my first novel, Enemies and Playmate, free on Smashwords, which also feeds Barnes and Noble, Sony, etc. However, I list on Amazon for Kindle separately and Amazon will not allow authors to list their own books free. Only publishers are allowed, which is a whole other issue to rant about. Anyway, I did it for the month of October as a promotion. I had about 1,000 downloads but no big rise in my sale numbers on my other titles. Long story short, Amazon picked up on it being free on B&N (I assume) and matched it. That was 6 days ago. My numbers instantly exploded. E&P was downloaded more than 28,000 times and I've sold more Kindle titles in 5 days than I did the entire rest of the year combined! Great marketing ploy, if you can get Amazon to cooperate.

    Maria, I think perhaps Joel mixes up the real world from his fictional world at times. He names people the way he names his characters. :)) My real middle name is actually Marie. I'm going to start calling Joel Mr. Bojangles.

    Speaking of Bojangles, where is he hiding out? He puts me on display, then disappears. So like him, isn't it?

  7. It's so great that 'Enemies & Playmates' has been downloaded so many times on Amazon. I really enjoyed reading that book. I agree with Mr. Bojangles that as soon as those 30,000 people have read it they will want to read more from Darcia Helle!!

  8. Thank you, Maria! You know, I need to point out that I don't work any harder or write any better than countless other indie others who continue to languish in obscurity. So, to all those people (typically the rich, successful ones) who claim that hard work and perseverance is all that's necessary to succeed, I say - What a bunch of garbage. What we need is for the right door to be cracked open long enough for us to sneak through. Now, if I have my way, I'm going to tug a few of my friends through that door with me before it slams shut on all of us!

  9. Thanks to all of you guys for your support and experienced words. I will watch, listen, and learn.


You are more than welcome to leave a comment. We reserve the right to remove anything unseemly.