June 19, 2018

the books not written

On Saturday evening, I finished up the last of the major work events/projects that had been on my plate from January through . . . well, Saturday. I left the museum feeling relieved, tired and a little giddy. I mean, it's not like we're never going to be busy again. It's not like we're going to suddenly stop doing anything new. But the past few months were exceptionally full and busy.

It was a little strange to wake up on Sunday without an immediate sense of purpose. Of course I have a book to write. I always have a book to write. And I had blog posts to write. (Right now, there are always blog posts to write.) But I've grown so accustomed to having something that had to be done right away, it was strange to realize I didn't have anything planned until dinner.

So I went into nesting mode.

I made a list of all the little projects around the house I've been meaning to get to when I could just have a full uninterrupted day. I started at the top of my list: reorganize my home office and closet. Both have been a hot mess for the better part of a year and there was no time like the present.

I spent the afternoon opening boxes and bags to neatly organize notebooks, reams of paper and my ever-growing collection of pens and paper. Not to mention sorting through my craft tubs. (Oh, yes, I have craft tubs.)

Eventually I reached a pile of worn-out folders and threadbare envelopes of all sizes. Think thirty-year-old cold case files sitting in a dusty filing cabinet in the back of the evidence room at a police station. Had a stumbled upon old family documents? The first draft of an undiscovered Willa Cather manuscript? Important state secrets that had somehow found their way into the back of a bedroom-turned office closet?

Or, maybe I had finally found a bunch of the papers from college I'd sworn I recycled years ago rather than move from apartment to house to apartment to wherever I was living at the time.

I flipped the top folder open and found this:


These are the character sketches, outline and general notes for a romantic suspense novel I attempted to write the summer after college. At the time, I had a freshly printed bachelor's of journalism degree, an entry-level news internship at a paper in Illinois and a couple of writing workshops to my name. I felt immensely qualified to not only write a book, but one involving mystery, corruption and a second-chance romance.

Five chapters in, I realized I was writing all back story. And I actually had no idea how to get these characters from the first page to the last. So the notes went into a folder, which was placed in a box and eventually stuffed on a shelf in my closet.

I opened up the next.


Well looky here. These are the character sketches and outline for the very first full-length novel I ever attempted to plot and write. I started developing it the summer after freshmen year of college, back when I thought a character with a first name of "Guinevere" and a last name of "Smith" somehow balanced out. I tinkered with this story about a college freshman finding romance off and on my sophomore year of college, but I grew bored.

Little did I know, if I'd just stuck with this one, maybe I could have been on the cutting edge of new adult romances.

Next:


A story idea I'd emailed myself early the second semester my Junior year of college. I still email myself story ideas and notes. I just don't remember doing it this early. Or thinking of this one at all.

And look! The story idea came to me in a dream! How very Stephenie Meyer writing Twilight of me!

(Okay . . . I still get scene and story ideas from dreams.)

There were more. Like the tentative timeline and outline for a cozy mystery I started writing when I was 24.


A relationship chart and character sketches for another romantic suspense set in Brazil.


On and on.

For every book or story I've written, there are at least two or three that died in development, pre-production or production. But I still held onto the work in case I someday came back. Then I filed them away and forgot about them.

I'll never say never, but I'm pretty sure these stories are going to stay forgotten and unfinished. Not because they're awful or stupid. But I've moved on. And I have even more story ideas still in that pre-development phase.

Looking through this box at my old ideas and notes, I'm struck by a few things. First, while my process has changed some, I still use a lot of the same brainstorming devices. Second, I often get "stuck at the same point in the process. And I'm not entirely sure what happens to push me over that bump for some stories and not for others. Third, I may never write all of the stories running through my head.

That last revelation sounds so sinister, but it's oddly comforting to me. It's nice to know that I've always had ideas coming to me, even if they don't stick. It gives me hope that maybe they'll never fun out. It's nice job security for a writer.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 18, 2018

hamptons living

I've been lucky to travel to some pretty wonderful places: Paris, London, Seattle, San Antonio, New Orleans, and so on. As a bonus, just about all of my adventures have started as a school or professional opportunity. I say that's a bonus, because it usually means all or part of the trip is paid for, but it is a mixed bag too. Mixed because most of my time is spent working and I have to make my downtime count. If I want to see anything--or lots of things--I have to move quickly and go, go, go. It's fun, but it can be exhausting.

The week before last I went to another pretty wonderful place. It's somewhere I've heard about over and over but never imagined I'd visit. And here's the kicker: I feel like I had a completely solid experience and I did almost nothing.

After a whirlwind afternoon in New York City, my colleague and I headed to East Hampton where we would be working for the next two days. Without revealing too much about what we were doing or "scooping" my day job, we were looking at, selecting and packing pieces for display at our museum later this year. It was too dark to see our surroundings when we arrived, but with the towering trees and straight-out-of-a-magazine homes, we knew we weren't in Nebraska anymore.

That was all confirmed the following morning when we took a brief tour through East Hampton and Sag Harbor.


Nothing but trees, water, blue skies . . . and yachts.

We didn't have long to gawk at our surroundings and quickly went to work for the day. By the time we called it around 5, my colleague and I were both craving that something special you *have* to have when you're that close to the water.


You guessed it. A crazy, over-the-top platter of fish. I believe this included some fried scallops and shrimp along with a white fish I can't remember. It was crazy fried and crazy delicious. I'm lucky I didn't wake up with a stomach ache, but it tasted so good.

We were back at it the next morning and found ourselves wrapping up with the heavy lifting that afternoon. We contemplated driving out to Montauk to see the lighthouse and beach. But after two days of heavy lifting and packing, we were pretty wiped. We decided we'd take a little time to just sit and relax by the pool.


And we ended up checking out a different Montauk.


We may not have seen a ton on our trip, but we saw enough. And, unfortunately, a lot of it was private property, so I can't share much about that (or photos) out of respect. But all in all, it was a crazy busy yet at times super restful experience.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 15, 2018

4 of my favorite cocktails this summer


We seem to have skipped right over spring in Nebraska. That means we’re well into our stretch of days above 90 degrees (plus full humidity) and headed toward our hottest weather still. I’m very Goldilocks about my weather—I don’t want it too hot or too cold—so I’m not exactly a fan of these sweat-inducing temps.

One of the ways I’m keeping myself cool and sane this long summer is with happy hours at home. Now that I have a fixed-up patio and full fridge to myself, I’ve developed a taste for having cocktails at home after work. Not only can I save some money—and keep myself out of trouble—but best of all: I can lounge around in leggings, an old T-shirt and messy bun while pretending I’m still super fancy.

I’ve already come up with a few favorite beverages to help me cool down after a hot day. In addition to favoring ginger-infused ciders and citrus-based beers, I’ve played around with cocktails. Here are my favorite to date.



Pimm’s Iced Tea

Ingredients
  Two tea bags (your choice on flavor)
  1 cup (8 ounces) of Pimm’s No. 1
  1/2 lemon
  1/2 orange
  Mint leaves
  Ice
  Seasonal fruit to garnish (optional)

Directions: Bring a pot of water to boil. Brew tea bags in 2 or 3 cups of water. While cooling, pour Pimm’s and juices from half an orange and half a lemon plus mint leaves over ice in a small pitcher or carafe. (Tip: Use more ice than less to compensate for the hot or warm tea.) Add tea to container. Stir or shake until we’ll mixed. Fill a glass with ice and add your choice of fruit slices and mint. (I used a couple of extra strawberries with lemon and orange slices.) Pour tea into glass and enjoy!

This recipe makes two or three glasses (depending on your serving glass). You can also find recipes for sweetened Pimm’s iced tea, but I’m a Midwestern gal at heart. I can’t stomach sweet tea. #sorrynotsorry



Frosé

Ingredients
  1 bottle of Rosé (your choice)
  8 ounces of strawberries (plus extra for garnish, optional)
  1/2 cup sugar or sugar substitute
  1/2 cup water
  2 limes

Directions: Pour wine into freezer-safe, sealable bags. (Tip: Divide the wine into four or five quart-size bags to create individual servings. Unless you're planning to drink the whole thing in one sitting, then use a gallon-size bag.) Freeze for at least six hours. Note: The wine will not freeze solid, because it contains alcohol. In a small- to medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar or sugar substitute. Wash, slice, and remove the tops from the strawberries and place in pan. Once it's sizzling, turn to medium-low heat and allow to cook for about 30 minutes. Place the strawberry sauce in the fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to serve pour the frozen wine into a blender. Add a proportionate amount of strawberry syrup and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Blend until you have a smoothie-like consistency. Pour into glass and garnish with a spare strawberry. Voila!

Again, I suggest portioning out your wine, strawberry syrup, and limes so you can make individual servings when you are ready to drink. While this one requires the most patience for the first glass, it is totally worth the wait.



Spiked Iced Coffee

Ingredients
  2 or 3 cups of coffee (chilled)
  1 shot Fireball (cinnamon whiskey)
  1 shot Bailey’s Irish Cream (coffee liquor)
  Ice
  Cinnamon to garnish (optional)

Directions: Make two or three extra cups of coffee in the morning and store in your fridge. (Tip: I used a quart Mason jar, which made for a great chilled mug later.) Once home for the day (or after chilling several hours), pull out your leftover coffee and add a shot of the cinnamon whiskey and a shot of cream-based coffee liquor. (Another tip: I store my Fireball in the freezer, which makes it a great addition for the beverages I tend to make.) Stir until we’ll mixed. Fill glasses with ice and pour over. Or, if you’re like me and enjoy a good Mason glass cocktail, just put the ice in the original container. And voila! You have a yummy, creamy cinnamon coffee that will give you a little jolt of caffeine and bring down your temperate a degree or two.



Vodka and Elderflower Tonic

Ingredients
  1 tall shot of vodka (any flavor)
  ~1/2 cup of elderflower tonic water (I found mine at World Market)
  1/2 lime
  ice

Directions: Fill high-ball glass halfway with ice. Pour a tall shot of vodka over ice. (Tip: Try your favorite flavored vodka to add a little extra fun. Also, store your vodka in the freezer so your drink is extra chill.) Squeeze half a lime into glass. Fill the rest of the way with tonic water. Garnish with a lime wedge or twist.


I have also invested in a few key props to help me live my best happy hour at home. I recently purchased a set of six high-ball glasses with a metal rack. These are great for serving when you have guests and they also look super classy for storage purposes. I also scored a glass carafe and four plastic wine glasses from the dollar aisle at Target. Both have been game-changers. They’re great for must-haves and in between uses, I’ve turned them into summery centerpieces on my kitchen table.

There you have it—my four favorite cocktails this summer . . . so far. What are you drinking and loving this season?


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 14, 2018

bubbly birthday cupcakes


In my office, it's a tradition to bring treats to work on your birthday. (Actually, sometimes it feels like more of a mandate. I'd say I was kidding, but people are pretty serious about their treats here!) I've picked up donuts or bagels some years, but the past couple of years I have attempted to make new-to-me recipes. It's a good excuse for me to bake. I love baking, and I don't do it as often as I would like. (It's an attempt at self control considering that I live alone and have a hard time stopping at just one piece.) So the birthday treat mandate . . . err, tradition is the perfect excuse.

With a summer birthday, I've often favored lighter flavors cakes, such as angel food or lemon. I was researching potential lemon creations when I stumbled upon one for a champagne cupcake. As a super classy lady with a fridge still overflowing with champagne weeks after the Royal Wedding, you'd better believe I had a new game plan. And with the Royal Wedding in mind, I wondered if there might be a way to work some of my leftover elderflower cordial into it as well.

The Internet saves the day, again. I found a recipe on Wood and Spoon and with some modifications, I had my birthday treats ready to go.


Oh. My. Goodness these were delicious. With a light texture and subtle floral flavor, these were everything I dreamed. Well, almost everything. The frosting didn't turn out the way I imagined from a decorating standpoint. I may have to accept that while I'm getting the hang at baking yummy-tasting treats, I'm never going to score high marks for showmanship.

Here's my modified recipe in case you find yourself equally swimming in champagne and elderflower--or if you're just in the mood to feel a little fancy this summer. Enjoy!


Champagne Elderflower Cupcakes

Servings: 24

Cupcake Ingredients

  2 1/3 self-rising cake flour*
  6 tablespoons corn starch*
  1 teaspoon salt
  4 eggs (room temperature)
  1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  2 teaspoons vanilla
  1 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  1 cup champagne
  2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
  1 teaspoon lemon zest

(* This was a substitute for 3 cups of cake flour, which I can't ever find in the stores. Basically, place two tablespoons of corn starch into a 1-cup measuring cup and fill the rest of the way with your self-rising flour and repeat twice. To get the right texture, sift the mixture three or four times. If you don't have self-rising flour, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder plus 1/2 teaspoon salter for each cup of all-purpose flour.)

Frosting Ingredients

  1 pint heavy whipping cream
  1/4 cup powdered sugar
  2 tablespoons corn starch
  2 teaspoons lemon zest
  3 teaspoons elderflower cordial
  Sprinkles to top (optional)

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line two muffin tins. In a medium-sized bowl, sift flour, corn starch and salt together. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter, champagne and cordial. Once well combined, but not over-mixed, slowly stir in the dry ingredients until you have a light, fluffy batter. Add the lemon zest and evenly distribute your batter into the tins. Placed in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes. (Tip from Wood and Spoon and now me: Consider rotating your pans halfway through the process to ensure even baking.)

Meanwhile, pour heavy whipping cream into a medium-sized bowl. Mix on high until the cream begins to form peaks. Stir in the remaining ingredients minus the sprinkles. Mix on high until you reach the desired consistency. Place the frosting in the fridge until you are ready.

Once the cupcakes are baked golden and so a toothpick comes out clean, remove from the oven. Allow to cool outside of the muffin tins before frosting. Decorate with spatula or piping bag and decorate with sprinkles if desired.

After that . . . Enjoy!



***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 13, 2018

authentic marketing - living your best brand and staying true to yourself - part 3

Blogger's Note: This is the third and final installment of a blog series based on my presentation "Authentic Marketing: Living Your Best Brand and Staying True to Yourself." Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2.


Part 3: Developing Your Marketing Plan

In Part 1 we established what it means to be authentic. In Part 2, we did some brainstorming and exercises to begin building a brand. In this post, it's time to take all of that and put it towards creating a viable marketing plan that is not only sustainable for you, but feels totally legit.

Before we look at some examples, again, I really want to make these points point: your marketing plan should be what works best for you and your brand. Whatever you do should feel authentic to who you are as a person and author. It's your plan, your life, your career. Like the stories you produce, the marketing you do might take work, but it will hopefully fill you with pride and maybe even joy. Seriously! There is no one-size fits all with marketing, so you might as well find what you can do confidently and embrace it.

With that, let's think back to Part 1 when we thought about all the things we hear we "have to do" as authors to sell our books. This isn't a full list, but some that come to mind are having active presences on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, building a private reader group, sending newsletters, running ads (on Facebook, Amazon, etc.), running a blog, holding giveaways, podcasts, book signings, videos, etc.

Do you feel a little overwhelmed looking at that list AND seeing the etc. on it knowing there's still more you are "supposed" to do? Yeah. Me too.

That's okay, though. Remember, we don't have to do it all. Instead, I'm going to share a couple of examples from friends who have fully embraced one of those avenues. That's not to say they don't also use other marketing tools—because they do—but they each have an area where they truly shine and have made it their own in a meaningful and authentic way.

Quick disclaimer: This is going to echo what I said before, but I really want to bring this home: These are their approaches and what works for them and how they are building their career. That doesn't mean you have to run out and try to do the same thing unless it sounds like something that fits you and your brand.

Marketing Example: Reader Group



Andrea Johnston, a contemporary romance author, is fantastic at engaging with her readers through a Facebook Reader Group. Her personality really comes through and she builds connections with her readers while also building excitement for her upcoming releases and backlog. You can also see some pretty impassioned conversations about the Real Housewives franchise.

Here’s what she had to say about her marketing plan and Reader Group:
 “I found that what works for me is being true to my brand and authentic within myself. I’m very transparent with my readers and I keep them in the loop: if I’m going to miss a deadline or if a release may be delayed. But I also spend time with them. And the one place I do that is in my Reader Group. Building a Reader Group has been a long process, but it’s also been so fantastic for my readership and building my brand. My Reader Group isn’t necessarily a Street Team where the goal is to market and push release information and things like that. What I do is post all of that in my group and I do some giveaways—a signed paperback or $5 Amazon gift card or something for folks who do that kind of work.  
“It’s also a place where I just hang out with my readers. I find that once they can relate to me as a person, it just all falls into place. They read my books. They share my books. They share my information. They visit me at signings. They purchase signed paperbacks. And it becomes full circle.

“My one piece of advice to authors new and seasoned would be engage with your readers. Show them the personal side of you. Show them what a great person you are outside of being an author. And they’ll stick with you in both real life and book life.”

Marketing Example: Newsletter



Chick Lit author Tracy Krimmer sends out weekly newsletters with information about her books, the latest updates in her life and suggestions for other reads. Here's what she had to say:
“Marketing books to readers can be tricky, especially when book selling sites such as Amazon and iBooks are flooded with so many books. The thing I’ve learned over the past few years is to market yourself rather than your books. That’s not to say you shouldn’t advertise your books, but there are other ways to obtain readers. 
“My newsletter has been a trial and error process, and I think I have finally learned what works for me and my readers. There are many newsletter options out there such as Mailchimp and MailerLite. You need to find what meets your budget and your prospective mailing list number. 
“I send my newsletter out weekly. Typically, I send on Mondays, unless I have a special announcement or a release, and in that case, I plan accordingly. I always include something relative to my books—whether it’s how an idea came to me or the title of my next work in progress—and I include personal tidbits. I am picky about my personal life when it comes to my business so I keep it strictly about me or my dog! I don’t expand on my family life, but if you want to do that, readers like to read about it. I also try to include a question that readers can respond. I want them to respond. In my last newsletter of February, I recognized Dr. Seuss’s birthday and asked everyone to share their favorite Dr. Seuss book. People responded and included paragraphs of memories!”

Both Andrea and Tracy touch upon a big trend in marketing. That's connect with readers, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. It's up to you what that looks like and how you do it. But remember:


Now, it's time for an exercise to help shape what your approach might look like.

Exercise 4: Communication Assessment 
Answer the following questions as truthfully as possible. 
How do you currently connect with readers?
Who is your current demographic?  
Who is your target demographic?
What do you hope to accomplish with your communication? 
What are you communication strengths? 
What information are you comfortable sharing? 
What are your tech strengths and limitations? 
What is the most efficient use of your time?   
Here's another part to consider:



While we let this simmer, let's talk about what you'll actually include in your marketing: content.

Have you ever heard that content is King? Well, I like to say it's the Queen but Context is the Goddess.


Different types of content range from images to excerpts, links and quotes. I recommend mixing up what you share. Rather than push your books in every post, share something on brand that helps you interact with your readers. That's where context comes into play. Context gives everything you share more meaning. Before posting, or sharing, a piece of content, ask yourself these questions:
Does this fit my brand? 
Am I comfortable sharing this? 
Will I regret it? 
Make sure you're happy with your answers before clicking "post."

As a note, you do not to be the original creator of content to share it. Sharing content is how it goes viral. Just make sure it's publicly available and you give credit where it's due when you post it. This is one of the best ways you can support a fellow author or friend. They put time and effort into writing their blog post, recording their podcast, taking a photo and so on. By sharing their message (as it fits with your brand) you are helping share their creation with the world, while also saving yourself the time of creating something else. Along the same grain, "liking" or "favoriting" a social media post is another quick way to show support for a fellow author. It theoretically boosts the posts' visibility and hopefully your friends will reciprocate when you share your own content.

If you're unsure about what kind of content to create or how to find what works for you, I suggest reading The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen Or Just Making Noise by Chris Brogan and Julie Smith. I'm not getting any kickbacks for sharing this, but when I read the book about five years ago, it totally changed the way I viewed what I posted for my brand and other brands I managed.


It's time for another exercise as we let this take shape.

Exercise 5: Checking Your Toolbox 
What are your current skills and resources? 
What skills would you like to have? 
How can you most effectively use them?  
Who do you know with mad skills who might be willing to do a "trade" with one of your skills? 
How much time can I devote to Marketing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? 
Based on your answers, identify a few marketing channels you'd like to try using. Think about how often you'd like to use those avenues and what you'd be comfortable sharing both from a personal privacy standpoint and a tech comfortability.

We also have to think about how to look at marketing. I basically focus on two types: everyday marketing and campaigns.

Everyday marketing is how you reach and engage with readers between sales pitches. Remember Andrea and her Reader Group? She recently posted a "Never Have I Ever" prompt and asked people to list a show they have never seen. Her readers left their answers, she shared her own and now they know each other better. Beyond the value of being better connected, Andrea now has an unofficial survey telling her more about her readers. She better knows their interested, and this demographic information could be helpful in finding other readers through targeted ads.

Other everyday marketing content ideas: Posting your excitement about a sporting event, awards show, movie, TV show, etc. These are shared experiences and a great way to connect with your readers. And if you write sports romances, it fits nicely in the audience your building to post a photo of yourself at a football game. If you have stories set with fashionistas in New York City, sharing an article about Fashion Week is spot on. These are all effective ways of connecting with readers between sales pitches.

Here's an example of one I did recently. I'd snapped a poolside selfie during a down moment in the Hamptons and asked my readers what books they were taking to the pool this summer.


I didn't get a ton of responses (and most were related to my fab hat), but it was a fun way to connect.

These can be spontaneous or you can create a calendar. I try to keep this more loose now (because it makes me feel less stressed out and I'm better at following through), but here's the editorial calendar I used to keep as an example if you'd like to see what this might look like:


If you're most comfortable when you have a plan, this may be a good fit for you. Like I said, I don't follow this especially now with the exception of my newsletter and blog post schedule. I do that mostly to avoid repeating myself. Otherwise, I post on the fly. Find and use whatever works best for you.

Campaigns are another way to reach readers. These typically require a little more planning and will usually coincide with a new release, sale or some other specific goal. Here's a post I shared this spring. It's a double example, because it shows how you can share someone else's content, but it also illustrates an on-brand campaign post created to promote a new release by my friend Melissa Baldwin.


Campaigns are where I still get pretty Type A. Here's a hypothetical campaign schedule I put together for a book release. (If you're curious, the book in question is one currently off the market, but one I hope to re-release someday.)


Months out, I start thinking about how I'm going to share different elements and where. I also create an advertising budget and look at when it will run (and how much I'd like to spend). I like to be particularly thoughtful and organized about it so I can share the information effectively and without sounding like a broken record by using the same images and text over and over. But again, if this doesn't feel right for you, don't do it!

Take those exercises we've done in Parts 1, 2 and 3 and write down a few ideas you'd like to try. Think about how you will create and share the content, when you'll do it and what you hope to accomplish from it. When it comes to your brand and marketing efforts, try whatever strikes your fancy and feels right for you. Having said that, I suggest committing to the plan for a set period of time. Whether it's one month or three, use that time to see how you feel trying this avenue for marketing. Ask yourself:
Did it work?  
Did I feel okay doing?  
Can I sustain this going forward? 
If the answer is "no" to any of these, it's okay to stop. There's no shame in doing what's best for yourself and your brand.

Above all remember that marketing is supposed to work for you and your writing. It shouldn't become so much work it sucks the joy out of your career. That's the key point I hope you'll take away:


I truly believe that when you find a marketing plan that you enjoy and feels sustainable, there's no way to lose. Whether or not every audience member becomes a reader or you become a best-seller, when you market authentically you have been true to yourself and created work that makes you proud. You've done your best on your own terms. That's always a win.

Did you miss a post? Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 12, 2018

let's hear it for new york

Somehow, I managed to wake up the first time my alarm went off. That's not unusual most days, but last Monday it sounded at 3:30 a.m., which is a little (okay, a lot) before I usually get up. In hindsight it was probably easy because I was already running on fumes. As I've mentioned, work has been crazy busy for the past few months with a big build-up recently. Getting four hours of sleep wasn't my favorite thing in the world, but it wasn't totally unusual.

Thanks to my early wake-up, I had time to load my luggage in the car, put on some make-up, and even snuggle with the kittens. I was out the door and on the road before my last-ditch "OMG-you-have-to-get-moving" alarm rang.

I put on the "My Favorite Murder" podcast and made the one-hour drive to Omaha to catch a flight. I was feeling pretty good about myself and the timing and took it as an omen for how this quick business trip would go. That peppiness started to fade after I pulled into a long-term parking spot and spent the next fifteen minutes waiting for a shuttle bus to come take me to the airport. It never came. No problem. I could walk. Ignoring the signs that said "no pedestrian traffic" on account of the construction, I raced to the terminal.

By then, the text messages from my co-worker had started to flood my phone. They included phrases like "longest security line I've ever seen here" and "ridiculous."

To paraphrase Han Solo, I had a bad feeling about this.

It only worsened as I stood in line and came to appreciate just how slow-moving security was. Back in my heavy traveling days, when I was leaving on adventures a couple times a month, I knew I could get through security and board my early morning flight in under an hour with time to spare for picking up coffee and breakfast.

No such luck this time. Around me, passengers lamented that the final boarding call had bene made for the flights. Behind me a gentleman asked if he could cut me, because he needed to board the plane to New York. So did the young woman behind him. And me.

I could see my now-empty gate from the line as perspiration built on my back and neck. So much for the make-up and nice outfit I'd selected for an afternoon of meetings in New York City. It was hard to worry too much about that. I figured I'd be lucky if I made it on board. With minutes to go until I  knew those doors would close, I texted my co-worker:

"I don't think I'll make it. Have a safe trip and I'll get there when I can."

I'd never missed a flight because of tardiness. It appeared that streak was about to change.

At last I handed over my driver's license and scanned the boarding pass pulled up on my phone. I spared a glance at the gate and saw the doors were open. If I could just get through the scanners, I might make it. My hope slipped away each time the person going through in front of me had to step back to empty out her bottle of water. To ditch her styrofoam coffee cup. To remove a belt. To pull an iPad out of her bag. The TSA agent chastised me for putting my shoes in a bin instead of directly on the belt. I narrowly kept it together. Was he really giving me grief for holding things up? On a rule not universally enforced and one that had no signage on display? Only my fear of authority kept me from rolling my eyes or talking back. (In hindsight, it had probably been a crappy day for him. And it wasn't even 5:45 a.m. He had to get his kicks somewhere, I suppose.)

Somehow, I made it through the scanners with no troubles, slipped on my problem-causing shoes, and shoved my laptop and toiletries into my bag and made it to the gate a few minutes before they closed the door. As I settled into my seat, I shared a glance of relief with the two people who had been in line behind me. They'd also just made it.

By this point, I was sweaty, hangry, and still reeling from the near miss that I couldn't find much delight in hearing we were actually pushing back early and would land a few minutes ahead of schedule. Oh, joy. I turned on one of the podcasts I'd downloaded and opened a book about a then-unsolved murder.

I guess I really had murder on my mind by then.


By the time our plane landed at LaGaurdia, I was engrossed in solving murders. And . . . I'd burned through most of my phone's battery only to discover I'd forgotten my charger. Not the end of the world, but when you're already in a mood from weeks of hard/busy work, a near-missed flight, and a hungry tummy, you're just looking for reasons to be upset.

It didn't last long, though. It's hard to hold onto a grudge when you climb into a cab headed for New York City.

And you really can't beat that view driving over the East River.


While most of my short business trip was spent in the East Hamptons, I did have an afternoon and evening in the city. It wasn't much time in Manhattan, but we made the most of it between our meetings.


After hitting up an Apple store to buy a new charger, navigating the subway, and working, there was our stroll through Central Park . . .


Happy hour at a local bar, where I found one of my new favorite drinks: an apple margarita. It seemed fitting with it being summer and my being in the Big Apple.


Dinner from vendors in Bryant Park. I had three mix-and-match tacos: black beans with guacamole, fish, and falafel. They were amazing.


And on our walk to pick-up our luggage before hitting the road for the East Hamptons, we witnessed a sunset in Manhattan. While it wasn't the exact date of this summer's Manhattanhenge, we were only a few days off, which gave us this pretty incredible view.


I hope I'll have a chance to go back sooner than later to explore more of the city and seem my friends. But this was not bad for a quick afternoon in New York City. And even though I was wiped by the time we made it to our residence for the week, it went a lot better than it had started.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

authentic marketing - living your best brand and staying true to yourself - part 2

Blogger's Note: Before you dig into this post, be sure to read Part 1 of "Authentic Marketing: Living Your Best Brand and Staying True to Yourself here. Click here to read Part 3.


Part 2: Building Your Brand

Yesterday, we covered what it means to be authentic, but now it's time to figure out what that means as it applies to building your brand as an author. You may already be well-versed in what brands are and what it means to have one, but in case you aren't let's review.


As an author, your brand is your identity. It tells readers who you are and what they can expect from your stories. It involves other components, naturally. If you think of Nike or Pepsi, you can probably imagine their logos and some of their taglines. Those are part of their branding, but really, the brand is about what seeing or hearing those elements stirs inside of you as a consumer.

Let's think about branding in terms of people with this little game. Take a look at the names listed below, and come up with two to four words that come to mind when you read them. Jot down your answers on a piece of paper (or yell it at your computer screen or mobile device, if you like).

Sandra Bullock

Steven Spielberg

Oprah

Nora Roberts

What did you come up with? How do those words compare if you run a Google search of their names? I bet you'll find some commonality. That doesn't mean you came up with obvious answers. It just means that each of them leaves a clear impression. We all do, whether it's intentional or not. That's part of our identity and brand.


Now comes the big question: How do I get a brand?

Creating an effective brand that reflects who you are begins with brainstorming. Let's do another exercise, building on the one from yesterday, to give ourselves some background.
Exercise 2: Establishing Basics (continued) 
Complete the following statements. 
Words that describe me: 
I would like people to associate me with:  
Now give some thought to your favorite colors. Your style. Designs that speak to you. Flowers. Etc. Complete the statement: I like:
(Full disclosure: I accidentally included these three points in yesterday's post. I have updated it, but if you were following the activity live, you've already finished this part. Kudos!)

Let's take this another step forward and follow-up with our third exercise . . .
Exercise 3: Create a Mood Board 
Create a Pinterest Board or new document and add photos you find on the website OR cut out pictures from a magazine and glue them to a sheet of paper. Select pictures that speak to who you are based on the answers you came up with during the first two exercises. Find words, colors, and designs that reflect who you are and how you would like to be perceived. 
If you need suggestions on ideas, run a Google search for "mood board" and click images. This will give you some ideas. 
I'd also suggest making your mood board a living creation of sorts. Use poster boards or Pinterest so you can keep updating it. Have it somewhere accessible so you can turn to it when you're developing your brand and marketing. It will give you insight for color schemes, fonts and more.

There are lots of authors out there who do an amazing job tying in who they are with their brands. Lauren Layne is one of my favorites. Based in New York City, she writes sexy romantic comedies. In blog posts and on social media, she describes her style as chic, classic, and fun. Audrey Hepburn comes to mind. If you follow her newsletter, social media, and web updates, you'll find she carries that tone through visually and in her tone.

Don't worry if your own branding doesn't come across polished right away. Like I said in the first picture above, I think of branding as an evolution. Humans change. We have some core values, but we also grow and evolve. So do our brands.

Mine certainly have. Here are a few pictures showing how I've applied my brand at the time to visuals in the form of Facebook page cover graphics.




You'll see it's only been in the last year or so that I have found some consistency. Early on, I relied a lot on graphics and my covers to guide my brand. Now, I let myself and my interests guide it. While books may still appear in the graphics I create, at their core, I like to have natural colors and images that could also work in a lifestyle blog. It's not because I see myself as a great lifestyle blogger. I just found myself drawn to these images. And after writing my home renovation book, Playing House, I
looked at the mood board I'd created for the book and realized so many of the pictures I included resonated with me.

And, if I'm looking really deeply at myself, I also see a lot of who I am (a work in progress) and who I want to be (someone with a nice balance and room to grow). When I look at the graphics I create and the written content I share along with it, it just feels right for me and brings me joy.

Tomorrow, we'll get into identifying the marketing tools that work best for you and a few suggestions on building marketing plans. But first, I'll share a couple of resources I love to use in developing branding. Check out Design Seeds and 99designs. The first is great for visual inspiration and the second is a resource I've used.


(Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.)


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 11, 2018

authentic marketing: living your best brand and staying true to yourself - part 1

Blogger's Note: This series is based on a program I delivered to Romance Authors of the Heartland in March 2018. 


Part 1: Authenticity 


I've been building and rebuilding and evolving my brand as a writer for about eight years. For the first year or two, I went with my gut. I created and shared content to promote my brand, which was mainly focused on this blog and my aspirations to one day become a published author.

That changed when I signed the contract for my first book. I felt like I absolutely had to do what I saw other authors doing or I'd fail. This gave me a bit of an identity crisis. Plus, a lot of what I tried didn't work. My sales weren't amazing. (Okay, full disclosure, they were hardly worth mentioning.) I was frazzled and stressed. I constantly felt like a hack and a fail. Worst of all, I felt like a fraud.

It took me a long time to realize I wasn't happy with myself as a writer or a person. I gave serious consideration to quitting. If being an author wasn't bringing me joy or income, then what was the point?

There was a benefit to reaching this extreme low. It brought me some clarity and an opportunity to truly evaluate and reflect on myself and my career. This soul-searching didn't magically fix everything. My sales still aren't anything to write home about, and I still have anxiety. But it did give me a new sense of purpose and a direction.

I realized I needed to be more authentic with myself and my career. I still wanted to tell stories and share them with people. But I knew I wouldn't set myself up for success by pretending to be anyone else. A big part of my transformation needed to come in my business. As I've talked to fellow authors the past few months, it seems a lot of us are becoming stressed and miserable in our careers. And a common source of that angst is marketing.

I hope that through this information and the exercises I'll share, you can begin to develop a brand and marketing plan that works best for you as an author and person.

Before we get into that, let's cover a few terms to make sure we're on the same page.

What does it mean to be authentic? You can Google the subject, but I'm going to enlist a little help from the Bard himself on this one.


Authenticity is all about being true and genuine to who you are as a person. Now, how does that play into marketing. Let me ask you this:

What are some of the thing things
you have to do to sell books?


Answers might include having a website, building a newsletter list, updating social media, and so on. While all of this may be true, in actuality, the most important thing we all have to do to sell books is write the darn things. Everything else, to be totally honest, is kind of a crapshoot. In my experience, you can't guarantee the results. I don't believe in one-size fits all for marketing. What works for one person won't guarantee success for another person--or even the same person again.

Some marketing decisions are beyond our control. For example, getting a feature on the BookBub newsletter, which reaches a wide global audience. While game-changing, you can submit a brilliant proposal and still get rejected. There are few things more disappointing than receiving a rejection when everyone says "you have to do it."

Same goes for what we can control. It's hard when you hear you have to do a Facebook Reader Group or a newsletter or Twitter account or that you have to do 10 signings a year. These can all be wonderful ways to reach readers and share your message. They can also be stressful. Stress isn't always a bad thing. Too much can hurt. Especially if it goes against your nature and feels forced.

That's why I advocate authentic marketing.


When you know who you are and what you want to say, it feels better to say it.

Let's do an exercise.

Exercise 1: Establishing Basics
On a sheet of paper, or a blank document, answer the following questions and statements: 
What are my core values? 
What brings me joy? 
I write because: 
If you really knew me, you'd know: 
Now that we've established some basics, I'll be back tomorrow with Part 2, when we cover creating an authentic brand. But first, here are some suggestions and tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep an open mind. Be willing to try something new if it catches your interest and seems fun.
  • Pay attention when what you're doing does or doesn't feel right. This will help you know whether or not to keep trying it.
  • Trust your gut. Only you know what is and is not good for you and your career.
  • This is your journey. It is yours to build and yours to live.

Coming up tomorrow: Building an authentic brand.

(Click here to read Part 2. Click here to read Part 3.)


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 10, 2018

and . . . we're back

Blogger's Note: After months and months of lackluster to dismal writing, I needed to shake-up my non-routine. So I'm challenging myself to write and share a new blog post every day in June in hopes it will reinvigorate my writing process. Posts will vary in content, theme and length. The point is to write every day! You can read the story behind #junewriter here.

I learned something important about myself this week. Here it goes: Despite my best intentions, I can easily make excuses for why I'm not writing.

Last Monday was my first missed post. The reason? I was packing, cleaning, and doing all the things one needs to do before a business trip. I was feeling a little overwhelmed, so I gave myself a free pass.

Tuesday came, and I had big plans of writing at the airport or on the plane. But thanks to a missing shuttle bus and long lines at security, I barely made my 6 a.m. flight. By then, I was out of sorts so I listened to a podcast and read instead. I'd surely have time later in the day to make good on my plans to write. By the time we landed in NYC, my co-worker and I were in full production mode. Between making our meetings and traveling yet again to the East Hamptons, I was wiped by the time we called it an evening, I had nothing to give.

I frankly forgot about this scheme on Wednesday and when I finally had downtime on Thursday, I figured the week was shot and so I'd do better another time.

Reading this, I can't completely fault myself. As mentioned, this has been a ridiculously crazy and often times overwhelming few months at the day job. I've lost a lot of sleep and felt stretched thin. Finding words hasn't been easy. That's why I'm doing this whole thing. But now that I'm back home and aware that I'm days away from this long stretch of professional mayhem theoretically coming to an end, I want to get back to business as usual.

And I want to do better.

I'm going to add on my missed days to the end--or maybe even do two posts in one day--so I can still have thirty new blog posts this month-ish. And I'm going to keep evaluating what keeps me from working and looking for ways to overcome that hurdle.

Here we go.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 3, 2018

a professional worrier

Blogger's Note: After months and months of lackluster to dismal writing, I needed to shake-up my non-routine. So I'm challenging myself to write and share a new blog post every day in June in hopes it will reinvigorate my writing process. Posts will vary in content, theme and length. The point is to write every day! You can read the story behind #junewriter here.

As a writer, I'm always worried.

I worry that people won't read my stories. I worry they will, and they'll hate them. I worry they'll like one, but never like another. I worry I'll disappoint. I worry I'll screw up.

I worry that I'll go broke on this publishing venture. That I won't even break even, and this will truly be a vanity project. I worry my credit card debt will grow worse, and I'll resent this career that I've always wanted to build.

I worry about whether or not my characters are fully developed. I worry they won't be likeable. And I worry that even if I embrace them not being likeable, they won't at the very least be interesting and readable.

I worry that I'm not able to find the right words to tell the story the way I've envisioned it in my head. If I can't do that, how can I probably tell the story? If I can't properly tell the story, how will a reader be able to understand it? Which takes me back to that other worry about people not reading and hating it.

Sometimes, I worry I'll never finish writing another book. Actually, right now, I always worry about that. (Which is why I'm doing this blogging challenge, right?)

That barely scratches the surface of everything I worry about. It probably comes as no surprise if you're a regular reader, that I worry. All. The. Time. The worst part about it? The more I worry about anything, the more reason I have to worry, because the worry has become debilitating. I'm sure it's the source of many of my problems. I'm so worried about so many aspects of the writing process, I end up giving myself even more to worry about.

But maybe if I acknowledge those worries, I can move on from it?

Right now, I'm worried about the story that's gone to my editor. I'm worried she'll find lots of issues. I'm worried she'll hate it. I'm worried that even after she does a beautiful job editing, other people won't like it. I'm worried I didn't tell the story the way it deserved to be told. I'm worried I won't publish, distribute, or market it correctly.

I'm worried about the book I'm writing. I'm worried specifically about this scene. Because the characters feel like cartoons in this important moment, and I'm not sure how to write it any other way. I'm worried I'll never get past this scene and never write another. I'm worried I'll skip this and end up being stuck here again later. And even once I get passed all this, if I get passed all this, I worry about all the other aspects I'll have to worry about like editing, and pleasing, and marketing, and so on.

I'm worried I'll never get started on the next book. Or the next. I'm worried that if I do, people still won't read them. And I worry that'll be the end of my angsty career as a tormented writer. That I'll spend the rest of my life worrying about the stories I'm not telling, because I'm too worried.

I worry I'm not worried enough. I'm worried I'm not worrying about the right parts of the process.

I'm about twenty minutes away from worrying I won't get enough sleep, which makes me worried I won't have the energy to write tomorrow. And I'm worried I'll once again be writing and posting one of my daily pieces by the hair on my chinny chin, chin.

I'm worried I'll be sued by whoever owns the rights to "The Three Little Pigs" because I totally swiped that line from them. I'm worried no one owns the rights to it. I'm worried I don't know who came up with the story.

Last week I blogged about fear. Worry plays into it. Yesterday I blogged about gratitude. The worry plays into that too, honestly. I worry to the point of being afraid. I worry I'm not grateful enough. I'm worried what I have could go away.

Worry, worry, worry.

Now I'm worried about something even more troubling than the worries about my stories and sleep cycle. I'm worried I don't know how to end this post. Because there's no epiphany. There's no conclusion. I live with the worry. It's possible it makes me better, because it means I care. It's possible it makes me worse, because I let it have too much control. Where does it end? I don't know. But now I'm worried about that too.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 2, 2018

on gratitude

Blogger's Note: After months and months of lackluster to dismal writing, I needed to shake-up my non-routine. So I'm challenging myself to write and share a new blog post every day in June in hopes it will reinvigorate my writing process. Posts will vary in content, theme and length. The point is to write every day! You can read the story behind #junewriter here.

I've been thinking about gratitude a lot today.

I don't talk often about my day job, but here's the basics. I work at a museum dedicated to collecting and sharing folk art/material culture/art/etc. created by often underrepresented and forgotten people.

(How's that for being both specific and vague?)

I've worked here for almost six years. Today, we celebrated our 10th anniversary, and we spent a lot of the evening thinking and talking about being grateful. (Which accounts for why I'm sharing this post *just* under the wire to reach my daily goal.) While I'm often fixated on how stressed or frustrated I am about work (and who isn't) tonight it was wonderful to really sit and reflect on what having this job has meant to me.

I think back to six years ago today. I was unhappy with my work. I felt like I would never find a job that was right. I felt hopeless. And almost a year ago today, I heard about the job opening and felt like I had to apply. In college, I'd worked on a magazine created to celebrate the opening of this museum. When I interned at the local paper, I was sent to cover the opening for the front page the next morning. It felt like serendipity. I had to apply. Of course, at this time, communications jobs were more like a dime a hundred rather than a dime a dozen, even. I knew it was a long-shot, but I felt in my heart like this was the right place for me. Like I could understand its mission and be part of it and help it grow.

When I interviewed, I *knew* it was meant to be. It was like falling in love in one of the romance stories I write. This job and I were supposed to be together.

I've never felt happier than the day I received the job offer. I could barely keep myself together when the museum's director called to ask me to join the staff. I was frantic when I called my mom with the news. She actually screamed. It isn't often in life that everything just feels right and perfect, but that moment did.

Again, I can't pretend that every moment has been storybook. Like any love story, it's filled with ebbs and flows. But as I sat in a room with other people who believe in the power of art and preservation tonight, I really could pause and feel lucky. Because I am. No matter what happens tomorrow, I'll always know I played a small part in the history of something that mattered. I'm part of a museum that started with one object created by a person who probably never imagined her work would appear in a museum. And now it's a full museum on the rise with accolades and whatnot. At this moment in time, I get to tell the stories of people who lived and died, loved and lost, dreamed and persevered.

That's not bad for someone who thought she was a has-been at 26.

Of course, me being me, after a few glasses of wine, I proceeded to work the room thanking people. I thanked them for building our collection. For helping us study and preserve it. For helping us show and share it. For helping us exist. I sincerely hope they didn't think it was just the open bar talking. Because I meant it.

We, as people, want to belong and connect to each other. We want to make a difference. We want to be remembered. And I'm lucky to play a small part in the history of an organization dedicated to building connections and memories.

(And I hope this makes sense, and it isn't just the open bar talking. I also hope tomorrow's post is a little more focused.)

But in addition to being grateful, I'm thinking about how good it feels to tell other people when you feel thankful. In some ways, you're giving a small gift to someone else. You're sharing a part of yourself with someone. So many of us spend so much time feeling like we're in thankless work. By giving a little gratitude, we have the ability to make someone's day. Or to at least give them a moment of happiness. It's a beautiful thing.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

June 1, 2018

my take on the royal wedding cake

Blogger's Note: After months and months of lackluster to dismal writing, I needed to shake-up my non-routine. So I'm challenging myself to write and share a new blog post every day in June in hopes it will reinvigorate my writing process. Posts will vary in content, theme and length. The point is to write every day! You can read the story behind #junewriter here.


I sure hope you don't have Royal Wedding fatigue. If you do, I only have myself to blame for taking this long to share the story and recipe with you. (My bad.) But when you take a culinary risk, and it doesn't end up sucking, well, you want to tell the world. Right?

In the week leading up to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a lot of people were obsessed with finding out the details of the ceremony. What dress would Meaghan wear? Who would walk her down the aisle? How would the couple pay tribute to Harry's mum? Not me. (Okay, kind of not me.) While I was intrigued by the details, what most fascinated me was the cake.

It started, as most great things do, on a whim and a Google search.

With a full guest list of friends coming over to watch the nuptials, I was in full party planning mode one week before the wedding. I'd ordered decorations, planned activities (including a build-your-own fascinator station) and created a menu. It was during that last step I punched in a random Google search: "royal wedding cake". As a minor Anglophile, I was familiar enough with British customs to expect a series of fruit cakes to populate my search results. While we in the U.S. have dabbled in cupcake towers, dessert tables, and so on for our weddings, the Brits have stayed pretty true during the past few centuries. Queen Victoria's cake weighed 300 pounds. (And a slice of it sold at auction for way more than I'd pay for 120-year-old cake.) Queen Elizabeth's topped out at 9 feet. Wills and Kate shook things up by having a chocolate cookie groom's cake. I fully expected to hear rumors about what boozy fruits would be used. I half-heartedly contemplated the notion of making my first and last fruit cake.

I was naturally stunned to stumble across a series of articles announcing that an American-born London baker would be creating a lemon elderflower cake with Swiss merengue buttercream frosting for the big day. I promptly did another search, "lemon elderflower cake", and read through dozens of articles and recipes speculating on this untraditional royal wedding cake. By the time I ended my hour-long research rabbit hole, one thing was quite certain. I was going to try to make the bloody cake for the watch party.

Going through the research again, I made notes. I saved the recipes that came from British sources and read up on Claire Ptak's style. After spending the next several days stalking the baker's Instagram account, I felt fairly confident in my approach.

Here's what I believed in my heart:

  • The cake would use primarily fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
  • The buttercream frosting and decor would be more rustic than perfect in style.
  • Each layer would be tall, consisting of four thinner layers with frosting between each.
  • The cake would be simpler than we imagined: more like a pound cake than anything else.
  • I needed to make a trip to World Market to buy the cordial, and while I was there, I might as well treat myself to some Hob Nobs and other treats.

I bought the ingredients I figured I would need and said a little prayer all would go well.

Thursday night, I greased two tall (3-inch) 6-inch pans, pre-heated my oven to 350 degrees, pulled out the ingredients and went to work.

I have the recipe below, but I'll admit, this wasn't super easy. While the cake was simple enough to assemble, it played mind games with me. I was terrified with how spongey it came out of the oven. (Don't worry about this: It's actually delicious.) I'm also super thrilled I froze the cake layers between decorating, because I have not doubt I would have biffed the frosting process.

Speaking of the frosting . . .

It was hell. And I'll admit to all of you, I never totally got the butter blended. I should have ran the mixer for a few more minutes, but by this point I could practically feel sugar and butter oozing out of my pores, and I gave myself a D for "done." I left mine with what I dubbed "butter pockets." (People love butter, so maybe I'm actually a brilliant genius.) So yes, my giant vat of frosting was lumpy, but at a certain point I had to move on with my life and wash my face and brush my teeth.

You may notice my cake has white chocolate flakes on it. They were supposed to be curls, because I'd read the cake might have white chocolate curls on the sides. It didn't. And unless you're better at making chocolate curls than I am, I definitely say you should skip this step. (Seriously. The YouTube videos I watched made it look so easy, but this was the part that nearly broke me.)

When the cake was frosted and decorated--and I'd sampled a bit of the cake and frosting to know it wouldn't kill anyone--I was ready to place my cake in the fridge overnight. I picked up the freshly frosted cake and promptly dropped it. I made a lucky, and dramatic catch, halfway to the floor. In that moment I knew--even after all the hours of researching and agonizing and baking and decorating and fighting back tears--if the cake had hit the floor, I would have dumped it in the trash can and said, "Well, I guess this was cursed. C'est la vie."

It is the most zen I have ever been, and will likely ever be, about anything in my life.


Thank goodness I didn't drop it, though, because the cake was delicious. Not only did I enjoy it, but my friends said they did too. Granted, I have lovely friends. They could have been appeasing me knowing full-well I might go off the deep end if they said it sucked.

But there you have it. After Harry and Meghan kissed outside of the church and took a carriage ride around Windsor, I served up slices of lemon elderflower cake to my guests. I never actually cried and nobody had food poisoning. We can go ahead put this one in the "success" column.

Read on for the recipe.


Lemon Elderflower Cake

Serves 12

Ingredients 
For cake
  8 ounces butter
  8 ounces sugar (caster if you're in England, but I used granulated)
  4 large eggs
  8 ounces self-rising flour
  1 lemon (zest and juice)
  4 fluid ounces of lemon elderflower cordial

For frosting
  3/4 cup egg whites (I used egg beaters)
  6 cups powdered sugar
  1/2 teaspoon salt
  24 ounces butter
  1 tablespoon vanilla
  1 tablespoon lemon elderflower cordial

Directions
Combine room temperature butter, sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Mix until it is creamy and smooth. Add one egg at a time. (Tip: Add 2 tablespoons of sifted self-rising flour before adding the final egg to prevent curdling.) Sift the remaining flour into a bowl, folding it into the mixture. Add half the lemon juice into the batter, mixing slowly.

Pour half the batter into each pan and place in oven. Bake for 45 minutes and check doneness. Add an additional 5 to 10 minutes depending on how your oven works.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Remove from pans. Slice each layer in half when able. Poke holes in top of layer with fork. Mix remaining lemon juice with the elderflower cordial. Brush the juice over each layer. Wrap in parchment paper, place in freezer safe bags, and store in freezer overnight.

The next day, in a large bowl combine the egg whites, powdered sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix at low speed until everything is blended. Then, turn speed up to medium for 5-6 minutes. After the frosting begins to make peaks, add room temperature butter a couple of tablespoons at a time. Then add the vanilla and lemon elderflower cordial. Once everything is blended, turn the mixer to medium and beat for about 10 minutes. Store in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes.

Remove the cake from the freezer. Create a bottom layer of cake topped with a generous layer of frosting. Repeat three more times. Once all four layers are placed, use remaining buttercream for the sides. To be truly authentic for the wedding, use a flat, wide spatula and leave it textured rather than perfectly smooth.

Top with fresh flowers, fruit or whatever floats your boat.


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