I spent much of the weekend with butterflies in my stomach. Why? Because I just wrapped up the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of the first book in a brand new trilogy that is launching in September.
Over a hundred published books under my belt, and still I’ve got those New Book Butterflies. Apparently, it never stops.
The thing is, it really doesn’t ever stop. Those butterflies are persistent little buggers, and they show up for each and every book I write. Sometimes, though, they’re not small, lazy little things. Sometimes it’s a hoard of bat-sized butterflies.
In this case, the butterflies are about the size of pterodactyls.
I love all by books and all my characters, but some books just have more riding on them, for whatever reason. My very first book, Nobody Does It Better, published twenty years ago by Harlequin Temptation had me more nervous than the first time I appeared in court to argue a summary judgment motion for my client. (Probably proving that, yes, leaving law to write full time was the right decision.)
The nerves, of course, were tied to both how much was riding on the book career-wise (will sales be enough that my publisher will want more books from me?) and emotionally (will readers like the book, thus validating my choice to try to be a professional author in the first place?).
Thankfully, the book did do well, my editor loved it, reader response was great, and I moved quickly to selling not only more short contemporary romances to Harlequin, but also longer paranormal romances to Dorchester, even hitting the USA Today bestseller list with Aphrodite’s Kiss (now titled So Very Much More Than The Girl Next Door) – another book that had those nerves tingling because at the time there weren’t many (any?) romances about superheroes.
Those butterflies decided to band together into a little kick-line when, even before the book was published, Hollywood came calling about Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom. Somehow, someone in LA had gotten a hold of the synopsis and first chapter I submitted to my publisher, and so I had a film deal with Warner Brothers and 1492 Pictures even before the book was released.
Yeah, that was nerve-wracking. What if they hated the finished book? What if readers did? The nerves on this one were off the chart, allayed only by the fact that I’d just had my first baby (bouncy seat on the desk while writing the book). And New Mommy nerves win out big time over New Book With Movie Deal nerves.
Ultimately, that series has become one of my most beloved, with six books in the series, and a seventh to come. Alas the movie wasn’t made for various reasons, and after many, many years, it is no longer under option with 1492, but it is still kicking around Hollywood and stuff is in the works. Fingers crossed.
All of the above were published under the Julie Kenner author name.
Fast forward to 2012.
The story about how my bestselling series that begins with Release Me and features Damien Stark is basically a story in and of itself. The inspirational, don’t give up, career roller coaster ride kinda story often told as the keynote speech at a writing conference.
Suffice it to say, that I was in need of a break as a writer. Shit had happened, a book series was not picked up, indie had ramped up and traditional publishers were closing lines, resulting in limited opportunities for authors in traditional publishing.
Then my awesome editor at Bantam called. Did I want to write a book in the erotic romance space that was taking off in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey?
At first, I wasn’t sure. I’d written sexy books, of course. (My Harlequin titles were all with the sexiest, most contemporary category romance imprints) but I’d been thinking about moving to something more in the women’s fiction space. Still, I needed work and it sounded intriguing, so I wrote a proposal and fell in love with the characters as I did. The characters were deeply flawed, the story complex, the emotional backstory detailed and damaging, and the sensuality off the charts.
I wrote a few chapters and sent them to my editor and she and the folks above her loved them. Not only did they love them, but they used those chapters to sell the foreign rights. And suddenly I found myself in the odd position of having earned out my advance even before the book was finished.
With expectations high, a one-book deal turned into a deal for a trilogy.
And, yes, that’s when the pterodactyls spread their wings and started flying around in my stomach. But OMG, it was worth it. I loved (and still love) writing these characters. The emotional depth, the layered plots, the secondary character stories, and the intricate backstory. Most of all, the flawed but compelling characters.
And then, suddenly, Release Me came out and introduced Damien Stark and Nikki Fairchild to the world. And still, the prehistoric butterflies danced … then danced again when books 2 and 3 came out. Basically, the nerves never let up, and I had so much riding on this book not only because of the expectations due to early foreign sales, but because I was so emotionally invested. I’d fallen for these characters, and hard. As with my children, I wanted them to make a splash. And, thankfully, they did.
Ultimately, Release Me became my first New York Times bestseller, staying on the list for multiple weeks. Both books 2 and 3 (Claim Me and Complete Me) hit the #2 spot, and the characters became fan favorites (the “trilogy” now has six full length novels and almost a dozen novellas, plus various spin-off series).
I continued the series when I left traditional publishing to go indie in 2018, and while I continued to write Nikki & Damien and their spin-offs, I also wrote some unrelated short form series. But those series (Man of the Month, Blackwell-Lyon Security) include significantly shorter stand-alone stories with a focus on a single plot-line. I love them, but the books were intended as a quick delicious meal rather than as the full-on dining experience of the Nikki & Damien books.
Which brings me back to the ARC that I’ve just finished and sent out for bookstore sales reps. It’s for My Fallen Saint, and it comes out in September of 2020, and this is the first time since I left traditional publishing that I’ve gone back to the layered, complex plots and emotional intensity of the Stark books and the other trilogies I wrote while at Bantam.
But now … well, I’m about to introduce Ellie Holmes and Devlin Saint to the world. And, yeah, I’ve got the butterflies!
Charismatic. Confident. Powerful. Controlling. Devlin Saint is a man with a dangerous secrets that he hides behind his life as a philanthropist. Both he and Ellie are deeply damaged, and their story is emotionally compelling with a layered plot full of surprises. And, of course, love scenes that set fire to the page.
The book was both a joy and a challenge to write. Usually, I can shut out the world, but apparently global pandemics distract even me, and my usual “hide in my cave” ways failed me.
The first draft was finished as things were really heating up in the US virus-wise, and by the time I dove into revising it, schools had been shuttered and Stay Home, Stay Safe orders issued. I finished it in the mental state of “I don’t know what day it is in the real world, but, dammit, I know what these characters are doing.”
I’m sure other authors will agree that it’s been a strange time for creating content. But ultimately, I love this book so much. Devlin and Ellie burst onto the page for me, becoming a bit of a lifeline through the early days of the pandemic.
Now, it’s time to send them into the world, and I don’t think I’ve been this nervous since 2013 when Release Me came out.
I’ve told author friends how nerve-wracking this is, and they get it. But commiseration doesn’t settle nerves. That will only happen once the book releases and I get reader reactions.
Fortunately, I’ve had a few readers already. I sent the final version of the book to beta readers, all of whom loved it (yay!) and I asked Laurelin Paige (New York Times bestselling author of Rivalry, among other awesome books) if she had time to read and, possibly, quote the book.
In the email, I told her pretty much what I’ve said in this column – big time nerves. I also told her that, considering how easily distracted everyone is these days, I totally got it if she had no time or desire. (Thus giving her a polite out if she truly had no time and/or didn’t like the book but didn’t want to tell me. Ha!)
She said she would try, but was swamped, so I wasn’t holding my breath. So imagine how much it soothed the butterflies when I got an email from her literally as I was formatting the ARC that said I had no reason to be nervous about the book (WHEW) … and offered me this incredible quote that took a bit of the edge off my nerves!
“J. Kenner knows how to deliver a tortured alpha that everyone will fall for hard. Saint is exactly the sinner I want in my bed.” – Laurelin Paige, NYT bestselling author.
Now the book is starting to go out to reviewers and bloggers and sales reps and the press. Soon, other opinions will start rolling in.
And, of course, the opinions that matter the most are the readers. But September is a long way off. Hopefully the pterodactyls won’t do too much damage to my insides before release day!!