Category Archives: Ask a Mermaid

A Very Mermaid Valentine Message + Giveaway!

Love, love, love, love, love. It’s Everywhere! We hope you enjoy this sweet Valentine’s Day message from the fantastic fiction writers that are….Us! The Waterworld Mermaids! Please get comfy and watch as Alethea, Kerri, Pintip, Kim, Carlene, Masha, Denny, Susan and Dana share some of our love worthy favorites…

Thank you so much for tuning in and letting us share. So now we’d like to know, what are some of YOUR romantic favorites? We’re talking books, movies, television shows, poems, plays, couples, quotes, guys, gals, desserts, songs, flowers, etcetera. We’d love to hear from you!

GIVEAWAY: We will randomly select one lucky commenter to receive a wonderful bundle of books, including Besphinxed (ebook) by Alethea Kontis, The Darkest Lie (ebook) by Pintip Dunn, Falling for the Right Brother (ebook) by Kerri Carpenter, Sidewalk Flower (ebook) by Carlene Love Flores, and Welcome Home, Katie Gallagher (paperback) by Seana Kelly. Winner will be notified here in the comment section of this post on Sunday, February 18th, at 8:00 pm Pacific time. Good luck!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

With lots of love,

The Waterworld Mermaids

(Thank you to each of my fishy sisters for sending me their words and letting me read them for you! xox)

Ask a Mermaid: More of Courtney Milan’s Profit and Loss Secrets Revealed

Ask a MermaidjpgNormally, Ask a Mermaid is limited to one question and a handful of answers. However, when Courtney Milan agreed to answer all of our questions about determining profit and loss, how could we say no? The conversation started after this discussion on Dear Author about the hidden costs of 99-cent books. In the comments, Courtney revealed she runs a profit and loss analysis for each of her titles.

We had to find out more and Courtney agreed to come hang out in the Waterworld Mermaid lagoon and explain it all. It was all so awesome that we had to drag her back into the pond for a second day. (You can read day one here.)

How could a writer implement this in their business plan?

Here is my shocking answer: I don’t really know. I don’t have a business plan besides: “Write books, hope people buy them.” I know that it seems contradictory in comparison with the fact that I have this huge, massive, detailed P&L procedure, but I’ve read about business plans and every time I think of doing one, it sounds boring so I don’t do it. Bah humbug. I like examining trees. I don’t care about what the forest looks like.

I have now horrified every accountant who was nodding her head about my P&L procedures.

Do you do a profit/loss projection for every title?

I do a profit/loss projection for every discrete project, not just every title. Let me explain. After I decided to self-publish, I got an introduction to a German translator, and the opportunity to have her translate my novella into German. I already had a few of my first books translated into German, and so I thought, basically…well, is this worth it?

So I ran a P&L. I estimated I would pay a little more than $2,000 for the translation and proofreading. Since I was planning to sell the book at €1.99, I’d make about 83 cents per sale—meaning I’d have to sell about 2,400 copies to make a profit on that particular project. At the time I had literally no information about the German digital market. At the time when I agreed to do this, there was almost no digital market to begin with! had only just opened its doors—in fact, I started talking to Ute, my translator, before went live. Apple’s iBook store was open in Germany, but the volume was super-tiny. I used estimations from the early US ebook market percentages to do my P&L, and I figured that I would be lucky to make my money back in two years. Worst case scenario was that I would get about $50 in income, making a loss of $1950. Best case scenario was that I would make about $2500, which was an infinitesimal profit.

So…why did I do it anyway? Because when I was looking at the income side of the column, I realized there were intangibles in the income side. Having a low-priced short would catalyze sales of my other books, which increased the chances that I would be able to sell foreign rights for my other books. I was also purchasing information—I wanted to get some idea of what the size of the market was for German language books, and this would allow me to know what sales looked like, and to get some idea of when the German language market was ready to take off.

Luckily for me, the market took off much faster than I thought—and I learned a ton about selling to new areas where I hadn’t yet broken in. One of the big things that I learned was that reviews were important to sales. My sales did a huge jump when I got my first review on So when I put up my second book, I contacted a number of reviewers and sent them review copies in exchange for an honest review. That in turn meant that my second book started with an even bigger bump in sales.

It’s okay to choose to do a project that you think you’ll lose money on if you think you’re taking that profit in other coin—goodwill, information, as a trial run, because you like working with certain people and want to continue doing it…

This will freak some authors out. Should it?

Courtney_075webIf this really freaks you out and you don’t want to do it, nobody’s holding a gun to your head. My P&L statements are something that I think are of more use to me in determining when not to spend money (and thus reduce expenses), to make me think about what I’m getting from taking on a project. But as noted above, I don’t even have a business plan and don’t plan to write one because I think it sounds boring.

So. I’m not one of those people who will say, “If you don’t do it my way, you are doing it wrong!” Do it whatever way works for you.

Does this only apply to self-publishing or can traditionally published authors use this tool also?

I think that for me, the purpose of running a P&L is twofold.

1. It makes me think about the expenses I incur. Are they worth it? Really? What am I buying for my money’s worth? I had to ask myself, “If this expense is the one that meant I didn’t think it would be profitable to run the project, would I think that it was necessary?” In that sense, running a P&L is like keeping a food diary.

So, for instance, the P&L made me reconsider the expense of attending conferences. What are they getting me? What are they costing me? Does it make sense to spend $2,000 to go to MegaCon just so that 15 more people buy my book, or is there a better way to get 15 people to read my book?  That was a question that I wasn’t doing a good job of asking myself, and it really helped me clarify my thoughts and curtail spending on unnecessary things that weren’t advancing my bottom line. And that’s something that I think every author can benefit from.

2. It makes me think about the non-monetary value that I get from things. There are some projects that I’ve taken on despite the P&L. For instance, I make large-print editions of all my works available through CreateSpace. It costs me $25 to put those versions in expanded distribution, and it’s perfectly clear that I may very well not earn my money back on those. I still keep doing it, though, because I think that it’s important to keep my books accessible to readers who want to read in print but can’t read small type. I get non-monetary value out of making my books accessible. The P&L forces me to admit that I’m doing something for the nomonetary value.

Just because the P&L isn’t favorable doesn’t mean I have to say, “Well, screw it, it’s not profitable enough.”

It does focus my efforts, though. Both of these things are useful for all authors.

What else should we have asked that I didn’t?

You didn’t ask about the value of an author’s time or opportunity cost. (These things are related, of course.) But there are already so many words in this interview that I think we’ll all be happier if I just shut up now. 🙂


We don’t know about you, but we could sit in the lagoon with an adult beverage and chat with Courtney for another few days.

Ask a Mermaid: Courtney Milan Explains Author Profit and Loss

Ask a Mermaidjpg

Have a question for Ask a Mermaid? Shoot us a line.

Normally, Ask a Mermaid is limited to one question and a handful of answers. However, when Courtney Milan agreed to answer all of our questions about determining profit and loss, how could we say no? The conversation started after this discussion on Dear Author about the hidden costs of 99-cent books. In the comments, Courtney revealed she runs a profit and loss analysis for each of her titles.

We had to find out more and Courtney agreed to come hang out in the Waterworld Mermaid lagoon and explain it all.

In writer terms, can you explain a profit/loss analysis is and why authors should implement one?

A profit/loss analysis is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a document (officially, I use a spreadsheet) that forces you to figure out what you would have to spend to do a particular project, and that projects what the potential profits are. In order to do this, you need to be able to figure out what you will need to spend money on—this is the easy part, although there are some tricky things involved—and to project about how much you’ll make.

Where were you at in your career when you start doing profit/loss extrapolations on your titles?

I did my first profit/loss when I was considering self-publishing. I compared what my contract offered me, and considered what my potential income was from both a self-publishing and a traditional publishing contract.

But there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have done one for my publishing contracts! One of the things that doing a P&L does is it forces you to think about what the return is that you’re getting on your investment.

What did you base your formula on or did you create it from scratch?

Courtney_075webA very long time ago, I read an article on a publisher’s P&L statement from Anna Genoese (available here), who is now a freelance editor, but at the time of writing, she worked as an editor for Tor. When I read it, I was still an infant in the world of publishing, so I took it simply as an interesting note—something to think about what publishers did.

When I was thinking about becoming a publisher myself, I decided that I needed to do a P&L statement of my own.

As Anna Genoese says on the linked page, the calculation there is firmly rooted in the old print era. But you can get the basic idea of what it’s about: You need to figure out all the places you’re going to spend money, and then try to figure out how much money you’re going to make.

Can you outline how you perform a profit/loss projection?

In order to do a P&L, you make two columns: Income and Expenses.

The easy column to figure out is expenses. I say that column is easy not because it’s not time-consuming, but because it is composed of expense items that are knowable before the fact. Your job is to figure out how much you are likely to spend on the production of a title. In order to do that, you need to walk yourself through the process of what you’d do to put the title out.

If you’re traditionally publishing, you might include:

  • A prorated portion of expenses related to your computer, printer, internet connection, and office;
  • The cost of research materials and research trips related to the project;
  • A pro-rated portion of expenses for attending writing conferences during the year and dues paid to writing organizations; and
  • The cost of print mailings, e-mail newsletters, bookmarks, promotional items, contest giveaways, and other forms of advertising.

If you’re self-publishing, you might include all of the above, plus:

  • The cost of a developmental editor, a copy-editor, and proofreading;
  • The cost of a cover;
  • The cost of formatting a book;
  • The cost of a copy-writer;
  • The cost of an ISBN; and
  • The cost of copyright registration.

Some people will be able to avoid a few of the line item costs by using their own time or the time of friends as a substitute, or by skipping some items altogether. For instance, most people write their own copy, or get friends to help them with it, and many people don’t get ISBNs, and those are perfectly reasonable choices to make.

The costs of these things are discoverable. Do research. Find out what average costs are for editors and covers and formatting. Ask yourself what a reasonable amount to spend on advertising is, and make yourself justify whether it’s worth the cost. Add a buffer amount, because inevitably, especially when you’re first starting out, you will make missteps—you’ll hire a proofreader because they’re cheap, and discover that they’re not actually very good and you have to pay someone else to redo the book. (I’ve done that, yes I have.) You’ll get a cover and send it to friends and they’ll say, “You know what? That’s terrible. You can’t put that out there.” (I have done that, too, yes I have.)

This will take a little work and research on your part, but it’s work and research that only needs to be done once; after you have your stable of good people, it’s a lot less work on a going forward basis. The first time is definitely the most time-consuming.

The hard part for a self-publisher is trying to estimate income.

(This is hard for traditional-publishers, too—you don’t know if you’ll earn out your advance, if you’ll sell foreign rights, etc.—but at least you know what your advance actually is.)

To estimate income for self-publishers, we use a trick used by traditional publishing. They estimate income by looking at “comps”—that is, it tries to identify books that are comparable, and uses the sales from those books to estimate the sales potential of your books.

So in order to project your income, you need to figure out who you are comparable to, and that is not easy. This is what you need to do. You need to identify authors who are already publishing who are (a) at your approximate stage of your career, (b) write in the same subgenre, and (c) have the same reach as you in terms of social media and fanbase. You need to estimate what their sales are.

Pause for a second. You may be wondering how you can estimate another author’s sales. There are three methods that I can think of.

1. Find people who share sales numbers—there’s a lot of them in self-publishing! Look for people in your subgenre who are most like you.

2. Identify people who are like you and ask them directly if they’re willing to share sales numbers. Many of them are. If it’s someone who is a friend of yours, they may be more willing to share. If they’re someone who seems upfront about things, they’re probably willing to share. If it’s someone you don’t know who has never posted about their numbers? Enh. It can be considered kind of rude to ask about numbers, so don’t go around badgering people willy-nilly

3. Take a look at books written by people who are like you, look at their Amazon rank, and use Theresa Ragan’s handy-dandy sales ranking chart to try and estimate how many copies they’re selling a day, and from there, make a reasoned guess as to how many copies they will sell within a year.

There is substantially more variation in sales, though, for a digital self-published project as compared to a print one from a major publisher. For a print project, most publishers have a pretty good idea how many copies of a title they can get an account to take, with some variation allowed, and once a book is on a shelf, they have some good statistics as to how many of those books get returned.

For a digital project, it’s much harder. Some books take off right away. Some languish and never move. And there are numerous intermediate options.

When I was doing my estimates, I came up with a best guess scenario, a worst case scenario, and a holy crap, that would be awesome scenario.

Can you share an example of using your formula for one of your books?

51KqDUqK1jL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Absolutely. The first calculation I did was the calculation for Unraveled, which was the book I could have either sold to Harlequin or produced on my own.

The expense part was pretty simple—just the application of time and elbow grease.

To find comps, though, was a little more difficult. I had one advantage, and that was that I had an example of a book and an author that was pretty similar to mine—that would be my own books. At the time I was making the decision, Unveiled had just released from Harlequin. Even though the price point was different, the Amazon rank + a sales ranking chart from the time allowed me to estimate about how many copies it was selling. I estimated that it would sell about 10,000 digital copies in the first year of its release, which at a price point of $3.99 would make me about $26,000 in income. That was my best guess scenario for Unraveled.

My worst case scenario was that it would sell about 3,000 copies in a year, for an income of $8,379. I don’t really want to identify what I used as a comp for that because pointing to another author’s book and saying, “This is the worst case” is really not a nice thing to do.

For my best case scenario, I used a comp from Gwen Hayes, whose short story Second Son of a Duke had been eating up the charts. She told me how many copies she’d sold in a few months, and what the tail-off effect was over time. I extrapolated from that that my best-case scenario would be that I sold around 20,000 copies in a year, for a total of $51,850 in income.

In my case, I was running tandem P&L reports, because I also had a contract offer from Harlequin on the table. They offered me $35,000 for the next book, and I was fairly certain that it would take me a very long time to earn out that amount, so that meant I would be getting $29,750 (after my agent’s cut). I’d also have fewer expenses.

So if I only looked at the first year of my P&L, I would have said to go with Harlequin’s offer. But year  two was where I thought I would get ahead: I projected about half the sales from year 1 in year 2, making the worst case scenario $12,568, the best guess scenario $39,000, and the best case scenario $77,775.

Doing the P&L this way forced me to accept that I was taking a risk—that there was a real chance that I would lose money by turning down Harlequin’s offer—but that the upside potential for the book was much, much larger by choosing to self-publish.

Note that there are two things that factor into this calculation:

1. How risk averse you are, and

2. What you think the time-value of money is.

If, for instance, I had needed the income from my writing to live on, I’m not sure I would have turned down Harlequin’s offer. It is hard to turn down money you need to pay the rent today with the possibility that you might end up on the streets glaring you in the face. Second, it’s always possible that I could make money into years three, four, five, and six—in fact, even from year sixty—from both my traditional and self-publishing contracts. The truth is, though, that making $10,000 sixty years from now is not the same as making $10,000 now. I have to figure out how much I value having money sooner. What I end up doing to approximate the time-value of money is to make some reasonably positive assumptions about years one and two for all cases, and to neglect the income from years three to infinity. Since I’m doing this for decision-making reasons alone, I don’t feel badly about that. If I were presenting this information to a bank or a decision-making body, I’d have to do a better job at estimation, but I don’t.

As a note: At this point, I don’t use any comps but my own books, and I tend to be very conservative about the performance of my own books.

It turns out that with the exception of two projects, I have consistently exceeded even my best-case scenarios. My estimates are probably too conservative. I don’t plan to adjust my calculations, though—it’s good for me to remember that even though things are going well now, there are no guarantees for the future.


Curious about how you can implement Courtney’s profit and loss system yourself? You’re in luck! Courtney is diving back into the Waterworld Mermaid lagoon tomorrow to explain how you can do that and more.

Ask a Mermaid: What Needs To Be On My Shelf?

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Dear Mermaids,

I’m overwhelmed by the number of writing craft books out there. What are some of the must-reads that I need on my shelf?

Book Fish

We hear you Book Fish. The lagoon’s library is stuffed to the gills (pardon the pun) with craft books. Some are highlighted and have notes in the margins. Others have barely been cracked.

There are tons of craft books available, but which ones make the keeper shelf? To find out, we asked five amazing, best selling authors. Here’s what they said:  Continue reading

Ask a Mermaid: The @MargieLawson Experience

Do you want to add a psychological punch to your writing and editing?

Are you interested in capturing the full range of body language on the page?

Is your goal to turn your work into a page-turner by powering up emotion and hooking the reader viscerally?

Well, duh! What writer doesn’t want to do those things? Recently, many of the mermaids left the lagoon for a writing workshop. What kind of awesomeness does it take to get us to leave the warm waters? The Margie Lawson kind.

Here are a few of the things we picked up during the Empowering Characters’ Emotions workshop presented by Margie Lawson and the Washington Romance Writers.


Denny S. Bryce said:

“I was reminded that revising a manuscript is a different ball game (cliche) than writing one, and there is an ebb and flow (cliche) to story telling that includes green, yellow, orange, blue with a well-timed blush of pink. As with any thoughtful craft session, I walked away from Saturday with another weapon in my writers toolkit (cliche, cliche, cliche:)! I also learned I can’t stop writing freaking CLICHES!

Seriously, Margie helped me understand how to avoid melodrama and the true meaning of cliche, especially as it applies to writing romance. So, what’s next now that I have these insights? I’ll let you know after I begin Margie’s class in January:)…”

Carlene Love Flores said:

“I left the Margie Lawson meeting feeling like a mad scientist, equipped with new-to-me terms like Anadiplosis, Anaphora, Haptics and Proxemics.  My favorite, Haptics, which is the power of touch and the easiest to pronounce 😉  And who can forget the term for when our normally lazy little body hairs stand at attention?  Pilo Erection! ”

Avery Flynn said:

“Some of my favorites include:

1. Write fresh. For example, don’t write ‘His stomach clenched.’ write something like, ‘His stomach shifted like a Buick on black ice.’

2. Always challenge your word choices.

3. Your character’s visceral reactions need to be caused by emotion and written in an expressive and fresh way.

4. Use words that carry psychological power and backload those words so that your sentences end with them. For example, ‘He’ll die if you give him the epi.’ becomes ‘If you give him the epi, he’ll die.’

5. A good way to slip in backstory is to slip it into dialogue cues and body language.”


A big thanks to Margie for inspiring so many mermaids. 🙂

Ask a Mermaid: What Do Editors & Agents Want in an Author’s Online Persona?

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Dear Mermaids,I’m an unpublished author and am overwhelmed with the blog, Twitter, Facebeook, Pinterest, website things that everyone says I need to have. What are editors, agents and publishers really looking for when they say to develop my online persona?

Thanks for the help,
Treading Water

Great question Treading! Our short answer would be an engaging persona that fits with the type of books you write but doesn’t talk only about the books you write. 🙂 For a more complete answer to your question we pulled agent Sara Megibow with the Nelson Agency and designer Tara Green, the creative director for Eye on Romance, into the lagoon for a little chat.  Continue reading

Ask a Mermaid: Best Advice From the Lagoon

Do you have a question for Ask a Mermaid? Click to logo to submit.

We’ve had many a successful author, agent and publisher come dip that toes in the lagoon. So, for today’s Ask a Mermaid, we thought it would be fun to revisit some of share some of our favorite advice from some of our favorite authors.

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Darynda Jones

How do you balance your web presence (blogging, web site, interview) with your writing?

Badly. It’s really hard to come up with that balance and it’s a constant challenge for me. I will often spend more time on writing-related content than actual writing, and that is not how it should be. I’m considering therapy.

Hank Edwards

Writing sex scenes – agony or ecstasy?
Just like having sex, I need to be in the mood. When I’m in the mood, it’s amazing. When I force myself to write them, it’s agony. A lot of time I’ll do the “XXX” trick, marking the spot in the book and come back to it when I’m feeling a little more feisty.  ; )


Chuck Wendig

What are the three most important things every romance writer should know about the inner workings of the male mind?

Oh, Sweet Jeebus, you’re making me the standard-bearer for the male-mind? Uh oh.

All right. Let’s try this.

First, we do think about sex as much as everyone says. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes it involves eye-popping debauchery that we could never say out loud. (“A cowgirl uniform, a birch tree, and a bucket of… fresh mulch?”)

Second, we think women are complicated. And we think we’re deliriously simple. But secretly we also know that we’re just as complicated as you, and further, we’re not all that different but we’ve all been taught how different we are and that’s our default way of thinking. In other words: we’re full of shit and most of the time we don’t realize it, so, uhh, sorry?

Third, we like romance just as much as you do, but somewhere along the way someone probably told us that it was weird and so we pretend we don’t. You merely need to remind us with examples.

Gail Barrett

What’s your schedule like lately and how do you find the time to write such intriguing suspense stories?

Ideally, I start writing by 7am every weekday. I’m a very early riser, so by 7am I’ve had my coffee and breakfast, showered and answered emails, and am ready to go.  I take a brief exercise break at around 9am to wake myself up, and then a longer exercise break in the early afternoon.  I don’t do much writing after that unless I’m on deadline.  I’m much more of a morning person. I also work on the weekends, but usually I go for a long walk with my husband in the morning, and then write for a bit in the afternoons.

Francis Ray

As a highly successful romance author who has published more than 45 titles, what advice would you give writers breaking into today’s publishing industry?

Learn the genre, read widely, don’t compare yourself to anyone, and join a writing organization.

Megan Hart

Are the processes any different for you between writing your mainstream fiction and romance? 

Not really. I approach them the same way, how am I going to tell this particular story. What is important about it. What do I need to include (or not!) to tell the story in the best way possible.

Janet Evanovich

How often do you write and do you keep a set schedule? Do you ever start to get the shakes if you don’t write? 

Seven days a week — usually eight hours at a clip. I don’t get the shakes, but I do feel the hot breath of the next deadline on my neck.

Lori Foster

With the increase in e-books, digital publishing, self publishing and all the changes in New York, where do you see the industry going and what are you doing to prepare?

Nada. I mean, I leave that up to my agent and editor and publisher and publicist. I just focus on writing the best books I know how to write. From there, it’s pretty much out of hands!

Sarah Wendell

For the sake of this question, your best friend is single, what romance hero would you set her up with?

Ooh, tough question! I’d have to think about it, as there are so many very different heroes. It isn’t as if there’s one perfect dude for everyone and all the romance writers create books about him. Each hero is perfect for the heroine he’s matched with in each novel… so there’s no one perfect hero, alas.

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Ask a Mermaid: I Hate My Heroine, Can This WIP Be Saved?

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Do you have a question for Ask a Mermaid? Click to logo to submit.

Dear Mermaids,

A horrible thing has happened. I’m halfway through my WIP and I’ve started to hate my heroine. Well, hate may be too strong a word but she sure does annoy me. Can this WIP be saved?

 Sinking in the Deep End


Dear Sinking,

First, congratulations on hating your heroine.  No, seriously, I promise I’m not being facetious.  The fact that you are identifying a problem halfway through your WIP is a great tribute to your writing sensory skills.  I don’t know if this is your first manuscript or you have others in your back pocket, but in my case, I finished the entire WIP and sent out submissions before I realized the heroine sucked.  And it’s a lot more difficult to fix a whole manuscript that to go back on something that is not yet finished.

My advice would be to put aside your manuscript and write down the specific reason why you aren’t bonding with her.  Putting it on paper will help cement the problem.  Next, put away your writer cap and take out the reader headgear.  If you purchased this book, why wouldn’t you connect with this heroine.  Write those things down too.  Compare the lists and see if there are matches.  Your lists may be different because when you are writing your focus is different than when you’re simply the reader and trying to get swept away by a story.

Next, go back to your manuscript and highlight where you think things went off track.  Was she unlikable from the beginning or did the writing veer off at some point?  I’m thinking if she’s unlikable from the beginning, it may be because you didn’t fully define her in your own mind.  So when it came time to write her, she may have swayed all over the place.  I know that’s the case with some of my writing.

If all else fails, my last bit of advice is to plagiarize.  No, I don’t mean ACTUALLY plagiarize.  Take your most favorite book ever, the one where the hero and heroine are so real they practically come off the page and start reading it again.  But don’t read as a reader.. read as a writer.  Try to pinpoint why you connect with the heroine and how the author manages to convey that attachment (heck, maybe even put together the same list, but this time, write down why the heroine was great).

Lastly.. if none of this works.. go for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  Extra calories always gets my creativity flowing.

Good luck!

Mermaid Masha Levinson


Dear Sinking,

The first awesome bit of news is….YES! Your WIP can not only be saved but it can be made fabulous and riveting. Try this fun exercise that helps me: Set aside some alone time for yourself and your hero. Once you’ve got that, straight up ask him this, “Hey there handsome, so this girl you’re in love with, yeah the totally annoying chick no one but you can stand, what the heck is it that you see in her?” He’s your hero, he won’t let you down. And the second bit of awesome news? It’s my opinion that a prickly, hard to love heroine makes for fireworks when you figure out how to make the rest of us love her. So don’t give up!

Fishy kisses!

Mermaid Carlene Love Flores


Dear Sinking,

Of course she can be saved, Deep End. You made her, and you can fix her! Remember, two of the most beloved heroines of all time were not very nice people. Scarlett O’Hara was a conniving, man-stealing, vain, selfish woman. Shanna, in Kathleen Woodiwiss’ novel of the same name, was equally arrogant. Yet, these two heroines are beloved because of their transformative journey.

My advice, figure out what is annoying you. Make a list of those traits and then see what you can do to flesh out and balance your character. Can we forgive Scarlett when we see her heart is broken over Ashley? Do we want to cover our eyes and scream, “No don’t do it,” when she marries Melanie’s brother? Those are the kind of little flaws, equalizers, that keep us reading until we see the heroine become more than what she is at the moment. So, take your heroinethrough those “human” moments and let the reader see what the people in her life cannot — her true heart.

Good luck and don’t give up!

Mermaid Diana Belchase

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Ask a Mermaid: How to Get Your Book Reviewed


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Dear Mermaids,

Sure, I’ve written a novel, but now I’m stuck trying to figure out how to write a review request that will stand out without crossing the line into being obnoxious. Help, what do I do?

Splashily Yours,

Starfish Magee

Great question, Starfish! Reviews can be one of the more powerful way to get your book noticed. To find out the way to make it happen, we went swimming with Joyce Lamb from USA Today’s Happy Ever After, Carole from The Romance Reviews and Talina Perkins, who reviews for Night Owl Reviews and her own blog, Bookin It Reviews.

It only took a couple of Waterworld Mermaid mojitos before this trio spilled the beans.




That is a very good question, because SO many romance authors are super obnoxious. Just kidding!
Here’s the secret (for me, anyway): Be nice. Be interesting. Be concise.
The main thing I want to know is what’s interesting about your book. There are lots of books about vampires, Navy SEALs and dukes out there, so what makes yours different? (Though I don’t need a whole synopsis about it — just the highlights, please.)
Also, be sure to find out the name of the person you’re pitching to. Just as an agent or editor would be put off by a “to whom it may concern” greeting, so am I. That just tells me you didn’t bother to do your homework. And seeing as how I’m inundated with requests, it’s easy to decide to toss out the ones that aren’t even addressed to me.
Also, please don’t take it personally if I don’t choose to review your book. It’s not you, I swear! My desk is buried under piles and piles of books, which is kinda funny, because overseeing Happy Ever After isn’t my actual job at USA Today.
So, there you go: Be nice. Be interesting. Be concise.





Congratulations on publishing your novel! You must be so excited, and you’re going in the right direction by seeking out reviews to give your book more exposure.

However, with the hundreds of books being published each week, review sites are also receiving hundreds of review requests in the same time frame, so your question is valid. How does your review request stand out?

My magic formula is this: Write a simple, polite email requesting a review. More importantly, check out the review sites’ requirements. Each review site would usually have their own list of what they want to see in a review request. Some review sites don’t want you to email; they have a form for you to fill out the details of the book you’re requesting a review for. As an example, you can find The Romance Reviews’ requirements here.

It would be best to give the review sites what they want, exactly how they want it. Why? Because yours will be one of hundreds of requests, and if you follow the instructions, your request will be processed much faster. You also want to make yourself memorable in a positive way to the review coordinator by being the one who made her life easier by following instructions. You will be saving her some much needed time that she can use to do other stuff.

Since TRR opened, I’ve received thousands of review requests and the best are those that followed our requirements, and they usually go something like this:

Dear Carole,

I’d like to request a review for my book. Details as follows:

Title : Book A
Author : Author B
Publisher : Publisher C
Publication Date (month and year) : June 2012
Word count : 20,000 words
Genre : Romantic suspense
Format of Review copy (ebook or print book) : ebook
Summary : Book Cover Summary of Book A

Thank you very much for your time. If you need anything else, please let me know.

Author B

Good luck with your review requests! If you have any more questions on review requests and related stuff, do let me know. I’ll be glad to help.
Thanks for asking — and good luck, Starfish!


You have a very valid question and one that I’d love to help you with.

When writing a review request it’s hard to nail down exactly what turns a reviewer on to a certain book. However, you can surely work your magic to present your book in the best possible manner that will reach out and grab attention no matter what.

Here’s a list of what I find really helpful and interesting when considering a review:

  • Make sure the reviewer reads your genre first.
  • Address the reviewer in a personal manner and state your purpose for contacting them. I’ve received countless Hey’s followed by nothing more than a blurb and a link. That just doesn’t speak of someone really interested in my personal opinion of their book.
  • Demonstrate professionalism (sad to say I’ve received some very bad jokes and tasteless “you know you like it hot, right sweet mama” in a few requests albeit worded slightly different each time… I kid you not) hook the reviewer by letting them know about your book instead of sending them on a search and discovery mission (include when the book will be/was released, indie or traditionally published, page/word count & book blurb) cover art is my downfall so including the cover art in the email as an attachment or inside the email itself never hurts.
  • Also let them know the time frame in which you’re looking to have the book reviewed in. Normally the turnaround time frame is no longer than 30 days. Let the reviewer know what review formats you have available to choose from.
  • A few facts about yourself such as are you a debut or seasoned author or are you an USA Today’s Bestseller writing under a new pen name? (this happens to be how I met J.L. Saint aka Jennifer Saint aka Jennifer St. Giles.) Though it doesn’t matter to me, many reviewers will not read a debut author. Always cover your bases so there are no surprises later on.

And if you want extra exposure let them know you’re willing to guest spot for their readers. Maybe throw in a nice book or swag giveaway while you wait for the reviewer to read your book.
There you go! I hope I was able to help answer your question on how to write a review request.


Thanks ladies for spilling your secrets! Don’t worry, we’ll pick up the bar tab. 🙂

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Ask a Mermaid: Book Promotion Hints, Tips and Never Dos

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Dear Mermaids,

Y’all are great book promoters. Do you have any help hints on book promotion for a newbie?

Thank you,

A Tadpole

It’s true, book promotion is a necessary part of being a writer. That’s why we Waterworld Mermaids are excited to have publicity maven  Joan Schulhafer,  who owns Joan Schulhafer Publishing and Media Consulting, in the lagoon today. We cornered her by the waterfall to get the goods on book promotion.

Take it away Joan!


Everyone seems to have their favorite promotion ideas, some that they’ve developed over time, but trying to plan promotion for a first, second or even third book can seem daunting, especially as nothing comes with guaranteed results.

First things first though— Set up a website. It can be very simple, but you need a destination for readers to get information on you and your books. A DIY site without fancy bells and whistles will do just fine.

Write a press release (with all pertinent publication info, such as pricing, format, ISBNs, availability) and include URLs to your site, Facebook and Twitter. Write a bio focusing on your basic background, the brief news (not a synopsis) of your book, memberships and other info relating to your writing or type of writing.

Select one or two excerpts that you have available in Word.

Have jpeg images of you (if you’re sharing and author photo) and of you book(s) cover(s) to send as needed.

Start a Twitter and Facebook account. Think about keeping the business separate from your personal accounts. You can always share a lot of the same news with family and friends, but readers don’t need to know your kids’ names and that they walk to school alone.

Feed the Twitter and Facebook accounts. Start posting at least once a day.

Research online book bloggers and book review sites to find those that would seem to be most interested in your book (and genre, if applicable). E-mail them (or use the method they lay out on their site about submitting books for review) and let them know in a couple of paragraphs what you can offer them—galleys, a finished book for review, a book for a giveaway promotion on their site. Don’t forget to say thank you in their comments section if they share news about your work. And do not react negatively to reviews/postings you don’t like—or try to explain to the reviewer/blogger why they are wrong.

How do you know what to talk about via social media? In your press release? In your bio? Look and see what some of your favorite authors, as well as new writers, have done. Make some judgments from the reader point of view about what you think is interesting, embarrassing, fabulous, whatever, and lay out your plan accordingly. 
This is a strong start, and you may have other things you can add—or can afford to add time- and money-wise—to the mix, but this will get you up and running!

Best of luck,



Thanks so much for swimming with us, Joan! In addition to her hints and tips, check out USA Today’s Happy Ever After blogs series on book promotion here, here and here.

When it comes to things not to do, there are several we mermaids would recommend you stay away from, including: spamming book bloggers and reviewers on Twitter or Facebook; talking only about your book on social media and your blog; and – the worst of them all – not doing any promotional work at all.

Good luck Tadpole!


The Waterworld Mermaids