Novelist Alice Renaud’s COVID-19 Inspo: Animals + Publishing

Quarantine: I enjoy staying home, but only if it’s by choice.

Yet I must admit, living at a slower pace has offered me more space to work on finishing “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel. Make no mistake, COVID is awful, as I’ve discussed here and here and here. However, silver linings exist such as those I wrote of here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Read on for how staying home and animals inspire fantasy romance author Alice Renaud, a Londoner. She also details how she published her award-winning books!…

Novelist Alice Renaud.
Novelist Alice Renaud.

Our Furry and Not-So-Furry Friends by Alice Renaud

As we begin to emerge from our third lockdown in a year (and boy was this one painful – over four months, and in winter) I’m reflecting on what I learned during this extraordinary year.

One thing I’ve discovered is that animals and nature are even more essential for my well-being than I thought. I’ve always loved the natural world, but during the lockdowns it has proved a lifeline. Admiring fresh flowers, lying on the grass on a sunny day, and watching birds, have injected pleasure into otherwise drab days. I’ve realized that even insects are fascinating. I’ve enjoyed observing the butterflies, ladybirds and bees as they emerge from hibernation and launch themselves into the world (which is a little bit how I feel right now as I learn to go to the shops again and dare to have a coffee at a terrace.)

Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.
Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.

I’m not the only one. Many people in the UK have discovered the joys of nature during the lockdown. Long may it last! Many have also adopted animals. My favorite pet is the cat, or The Cat as I’m always tempted to write, because The Cat is an animal that would definitely write its name in capitals if it could write (and maybe they can but are hiding it from us). We don’t have a Cat at the moment, since our last pet went to the great basket in the sky, so I content myself with the neighbours and family’s Cats, like Tabitha, my aunt’s tabby, shown here staring at the neighbour’s feline.

Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt's tabby and a neighbor.
Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt’s tabby and a neighbor.

Animals and the natural world are a big source of inspiration for me and play a big part in all my stories. My Sea of Love series, which won its category in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award, follows the lives and loves of shape shifting mermen and mermaids. In their aquatic form my merfolk have a tail but not a fish tail. They’re mammals and look quite a bit like dolphins or porpoises. I grew up by the sea and love all marine creatures. I’ll never forget the day I saw a porpoise for the first time. I was amazed by the power and grace of that big animal, and the ease and speed with which it swam through the waters. I’m also fond of seabirds, even seagulls which a lot of people in the UK don’t like. They can make a nuisance of themselves by stealing chips and cakes, but they’re sociable, tough, highly adaptable, and fantastic airborne acrobats.

Cover of Mermaids Marry in Green, a fantasy romance novel by Alice Renaud.

My books feature both real animals and fantastical ones. In my latest release Mermaids Marry in Green (also a winner in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award) there is a shifter mermaid, a warlock who can change into a cat, and also a mythical Welsh water monster, an afanc. Part beaver, part crocodile, he possesses magical powers and brings the hero and heroine together. Welsh legends are full of marvellous creatures and I enjoy putting them in my stories. As well as the afanc, there is the Ceffyl Dwr, the Water Horse, and the Giant Cat of Anglesey. Now that’s a feline I’d like to meet!

Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping well in these strange times, and I hope that like me you will find comfort in the company of furry (or not so furry) friends and in the beauty of the natural world.

My Publishing Journey

I started writing at the age of 14, but it’s not until many years later that I got my first short story published in a UK mass market magazine. I carried on writing and publishing romantic and family-themed short stories for several years before trying my hand at longer fiction. My first three romantic novels did not find a publisher, then I discovered that witches, mermen and angels were a lot more fun than sheikhs and billionaires. My first paranormal romance novella didn’t find a publisher either, but then I joined a writing group and met my wonderful tutor and editor, Laurie Sanders. She helped me whip another story into shape, and in 2019 A Merman’s Choice was published by an indie publisher, Black Velvet Seductions. Since then I have published two more novellas with them, and have contributed to several collections of short stories. I enjoy working with BVS very much. Ric Savage, my publisher, gives his authors plenty of freedom, I can write the story that I want to write without having to worry about conforming to strict pre-defined criteria. The other BVS authors are a great bunch and very supportive. Our anthologies are a great way to discover the writing of all these talented authors. The latest, Cowboy Desire, is out now in ebook and paperback.

For more about Alice, visit her site here.

How’s your creativity going?

DIY Podcasting: 15 Tips by Fiona Livingston

Reading… writing… listening! Hey, if “seeing is believing,” why doesn’t the same go for tasting and feeling and smelling — and hearing too?

Ancient Egyptian Seshat is goddess of writing and a host of other amazing things! Photo: Jon Bodsworth.
Ancient Egyptian Seshat is goddess of writing and a host of other amazing things! Photo: Jon Bodsworth.

When’s the last time you tuned into your fave radio show? Same as radio shows, podcasts are story readings, performances, interviews, and monologues. Radio shows are often repackaged into podcasts that allow you to dictate when to tune in.

When my first novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” is edited (and then its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat”), I’ll podcast it to create a buzz for when it’s published. Here’s an experimental podcast episode I produced borrowing a friend’s short story. A video version of it is on Youtube as well.

Creatives who want to control their work and keep 100% of their profits must become their own promoters. Podcasts are one way to get the word out. First, though, people need to know you have a podcast.

Here to clue us in on how to do that is London-based Fiona Livingston. She blogs about marketing and podcasting on Medium, and produces The Culture Bar, an  arts and culture-related podcast…

Blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston is a content and digital marketing specialist.
Blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston is a content and digital marketing specialist.

“15 Tips on Promoting Your Podcast Series” by Fiona Livingston

You’ve poured your heart and soul into creating and recording your podcast series on a subject you are knowledgeable about. Now you need to get your podcast in front of audiences who are as passionate about the subject as you are.

But how do you get your podcast in front of listeners when there are 850,000 active podcasts out there in the world? 

This article covers the best, easiest, and most effective podcast promotion ideas to help you build your audience and market your podcast.

Fiona's illustration of "eau de marketing" trends makes me smile.
Fiona’s illustration of “eau de marketing” trends makes me smile.

First, let’s make sure you have some key podcast staples under your belt before you start promoting your podcast:

  1. Podcast cover artwork. My top advice for creating cover artwork is to be clear. Once uploaded onto your podcast distributor, the size of your artwork will reduce a lot, so you want something bold, simple, and eye-catching. You can create your artwork by using templates on Canva, or if you have a mac you can use Keynote which is a very powerful design tool. Here are some great cover artwork examples to inspire you.
  2. Episode titles. The way you title your episodes has a big impact on your total download numbers. My main tips for you are to NOT use a naming system such as ‘Episode 4’ or ‘XYZ Podcast: Episode 4’. You need to let your audiences know at a glance what the topic is so, your title should be as descriptive as possible.
  3. Record 3-5 podcasts before your launch/start of your next season. This will ensure you have a regular schedule of events planned out and also gives you time to record future episodes. Make sure you have a launch schedule in place. For example, in the first week, you can release 2 or 3 podcasts to keep audiences hooked.
  4. Create a dedicated podcast website. This can either be a section on an existing website or you can create a podcast website for free using providers such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. These sites give you a valuable presence on search engines and act as a home for your podcast so audiences can find out more about you. This also gives you further opportunities to supplement your podcast with more content to show your expertise and passion. 

Ok so now you have a great podcast recorded, fantastic eye-catching cover artwork, and launched a dedicated website. Let’s start promoting your series with these top tips (this list focusses on free marketing actions):

Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.
Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.
  1. Add your podcast to a distribution platform. Upload your podcast MP3 file to distribution sites such as Podbean (free and priced programmes) and Anchor (free) and they will automatically send your podcast episodes to a variety of podcast sites such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Alexa. Apple podcasts capture 32% of podcast listeners and downloads so your podcast must appear here.
  2. Meta-tag your podcast. On your chosen distributor and website, make sure you complete the meta-tagging options. This is the place to add keywords relating to your podcast, so it shows up in search results and makes you discoverable.
  3. Create a promotional trailer. This helps audiences understand what your podcast series is about, and you can embed this on your website and social media channels. Find tips on how to make a trailer here.
  4. Add show notes and include hyperlinks for each podcast episode. It is good practice to give a short summary and overview of what is included in your podcast episode. This is also a great place to add links to your guest/s or any resources that you mention in the episode.
  5. Leverage guest audiences. Make it easy for guests to share your podcast by creating audio snippets, quote cards, or prewritten tweets for them so they can easily use these on their social media channels.
  6. Create podcast artwork for each episode. Using your main cover artwork template, adapt it to show the title of each episode, and change the imagery to give each episode an identity and theme.
  7. Create a dedicated podcast social media channel. Set up a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram profile to promote your podcast.
  8. Create quote cards in Canva or Pablo. Select attention-grabbing quotes from each episode. This gives listeners great insight into what’s to come.
  9. Share rich media. Create extra content such as soundbites, audiograms (using tools such as GetAudiogram), behind-the-scenes photos, or teaser video clips to build excitement about your episode. Also, Twitter has an embed feature using Soundcloud so you can play the audio directly from a Twitter stream.
  10. Tease the episode 24 hours ahead of time e.g. 3x on Twitter and 2x to Facebook/Instagram. Talk about behind-the-scenes content in Instagram Stories.
  11. Create an audio-video to share on YouTube. If you use a provider such as Podbean they will automatically create a video for you and send it to your YouTube page. YouTube is a huge search engine for content and should be included in marketing your podcast. Or you can create a video using a tool such as Screenflow (free trial period) and use free video clip assets from Pexels.
  12. Audio transcription. To ensure your podcast is accessible and aid SEO discovery, you can create an audio transcription and add it to your podcast website. You can use audio transcription tools such as Otter.ai (free for up to 40 minutes, otherwise it’s $9.99 per month) to help you do this.
  13. Include your podcast in your e-newsletter. You can easily create your own e-newsletter using email service provider such as Mailchimp, Flodesk or Campaign Monitor to manage your subscribers and send them notifications about your latest podcast. Mailchimp and Flodesk have free basic tiers, and Campaign Monitor starts at $9/month. 
  1. Publish podcast-themed blog content on your website. A useful way to keep your website content fresh and to also include extra in-depth content on your podcast theme.
  2. Be a guest on other people’s podcasts. A great way for you to showcase your knowledge and build awareness of your podcast.

Here is a list of other important Podcatcher sites your podcast should feature on to generate greater visibility:

  1. Overcast
  2. Stitcher
  3. Podcast Addict
  4. Podcast subreddit
  5. PodcastLand
  6. TuneIn
  7. Bello Collective
  8. Deezer (great for French/EU audiences)
  9. Podcast Listen notes

Is there a radio show or podcast you enjoy? (And btw, did you notice the new header pic of Ms. Black Dog Cuteness?)

1st podcast!! + D. Sharpe’s Sci-Fi “Another Day in the Twilight Zone”

This is an exciting post for me because — hurrah! — today you’ll listen to my first ever podcast!

Please help make it a success by subscribing to it, sharing it, commenting on it, and liking it.

https://youtu.be/LG91OXR95tE

Tale-telling has been around for eons, yet we can never get enough of stories. Drawings to hieroglyphs, scribes to printing presses, photography to film to radio to TV… am I leaving anything out?

Enter podcasts! Do you listen to any that are dedicated to novels? If you do, how did you learn of them chose, and how do you listen to them?

I’m asking because eventually, hopefully, sooner than later, I’ll podcast my novels, starting with “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat.” With that as my plan, I’ve spent the last several weeks of my ‘sheltering in place time’ taking an internet class on podcasting. It’s offered online with a professional Gale Courses teacher at the other end — for free! Thank you, Los Angeles County Library, for which I’ve sung the praises of numerous times, most prominently here and here.

Perhaps you have a podcast of your own? If you do, share your hands-on insights: your do’s, your don’ts, your money-making tips, your platforms, and what has worked best for you, especially when it comes to getting people to listen.

The class I took recommending starting with Podbean as a podcast host. In addition to that, I’ve uploaded this first-ever of mine to Youtube. I’ve already got an account there for the shorts I’ve featured already like this baby chick one and this amazing cat one. Plus, Youtube commands a heck of a lot of traffic.

My first podcast guest is Dwayne Sharpe. He’s the generous member of a local library writing group. I’d only just discovered it in real life — but— that was right before the COVID19 crisis knocked us sideways. First, we bumbled about with convoluted email lists. Recently, fingers crossed that we haven’t already lost all our members — we’re experimenting with Facebook.

All that aside — back to Dwayne. As far as I’m concerned, prolific is his middle name. He’s written scores of tales, and he’s published two books. One is called “Thomas’ 100 Cat Tales,” and the other is “Blaze Mysteries,” both available at Amazon.

Listen to Dwayne perform his chilling short story, “Another Day in the Twilight Zone,” for the podcast. Here’s a player for just the audio. Below it, you can also read the tale…

Dwayne Sharpe Dwayne Sharpe

“Another Day in the Twilight Zone,” a short story by Dwayne Sharpe

Wow! The sun is shining, and a few cumulus clouds drift around the morning sky. Dressed in a light sweater, I venture out. The need to stretch the legs fills me with energy to bound down the steps and take a deep breath. The concrete walkways entice my exploration traits as I trudge north, then west in a zig-zag pattern of streets and alleyways. Time has no meaning while the feet are moving, now east, and again north.

Where is everyone? My journey passed many homes and a few businesses, but no one in sight. Nary a vehicle is heard, only a few birds. I begin a closer inspection of the houses I pass, seeking movement behind curtains and blinds. Surely a child’s scream of laughter will break the silence. A breeze causes a few leaves to bristle, nothing substantial.

A pocket park lies ahead. Surely there will be kids playing on the swings or giggling down a slide. Alas, the park is empty, not even a dog walker. The picnic table sits empty, with an inviting BBQ standing next to it. I take the path where a sign reads, “Quarter-mile fitness walk.” Pine trees stand guard along the narrow gravel path. A pine cone lies in wait for me, and a swift kick sends it along.

The sun has moved behind darkening clouds, and a chilly wind has begun to blow. I travel south, then east, a different thoroughfare than before, hope fills my mind of seeing someone, anyone. Cars parked alongside the curb, abandoned, gasoline no longer available. Leaves piled up around the wheels. Weeds have grown tall, replacing the lush green grass of years past.

Today’s expedition ends as I approach the only house on the block, free of tall weeds. A weathered sign in my yard reads, “We are all in this together.” I inspect the sign and look up and down my block. There is no one left to speak these words to. I pull the picket sign and toss it into the growing pile of debris. Not even the sanitation engineers will come. Am I the last person alive?

About Dwayne Sharpe: In addition to his books listed above, he’s written over 50 short stories in subjects including Love, Crime, Adventure, and Fantasy. His hobbies include genealogy and geocaching. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, California. (Learn about geocaching here and here.)

Please support my 1st podcast ever by sharing, subscribing, liking, and commenting… And tell us about your experiences with podcasts for fiction books…

My Experiences with Blogging to Date by da-AL

While I decided whether to blog, I asked friends if they could direct me to bloggers they knew. Nada.

As I gathered courage anyway, I perused existing blogs, deciding what tickled me about them and what didn’t. I asked myself was whether I could develop ongoing interesting content for a blog.

Image courtesy of Just2shutter at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Just2shutter at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Publicizing my novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” will also require me to speak publicly about it. Hence, a few months ago I joined Toastmasters, an international organization that inexpensively teaches public speaking and leadership skills. TMlogobigColorAs I learn to write and perform speeches, their subject matter appears on this blog.

Once I decided to blog, I needed to learn how. I signed onto my favorite public library site, which you’ll read more about in a future blog. CoLAPublLib

In addition to books, they offer free on-line courses. I took a teacher-hosted Gale 6-week course called, “Blogging and Podcasting for Beginners.”

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It covered Blogger, WordPress, podcasting (audio version of blogging), and vlogging (video version of blogging). Too much at one time for me.

Thanks are in order for my dear husband. His encouragement helped me immensely. Decisions threatened to overwhelm me — platform, name, subject, style, dedicated blogging email, blogger identity/avatar — any one of them could easily take the course’s whole six weeks to choose.

I have bumbled and re-bumbled through. For instance, WordPress offers an endless selection of free themes/templates. This blog began using ‘Splendio,’ switched to ‘Writr,’ then to ‘Yoko,’ and now uses ‘Big Brother.’ This explains why, while I am not at all messy, my blog has been beyond messy.

More experimenting has centered on how long posts should be. Some people said my first post, “Happiness Teachers Can be Furry,” was too long. Others said it wasn’t descriptive enough. As I post this, its serialized into three entries.

Image courtesy of photouten at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photouten at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pictures: people complained that the original ones were ugly and/or confusing. Hopefully what’s online now are cuter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was working my way through an excellent video on how to become a blogger but then I found that my library offers a 6-week course solely on WordPress. I’m taking on my second week of it.

For now, I’m dribbling out invites, so that I can get fresh feedback as the site hopefully improves. Once this blog feels more ‘formed,’ I’ll tell everyone about it.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My sincere thanks to all who have offered their insights, all of it useful.

Followers, too, are much appreciated. Someday I might (not ‘may’) learn enough about blogging to figure out how to thank followers individually.

The club where I volunteer as VP of Marketing.
County of Los Angeles County Library
A very good instructional video on blogging
Grammar Girl explains ‘may’ vs. ‘might.’