The Element of Surprise

Once upon a time I published Once Upon a Dream, a novella duet with Mary Balogh. Mary’s readership is large and loyal (and includes me!), and never have I ever published a novella as successfully as I did that one. Once upon a dream, indeed!

But all good things must end, and by agreement we de-published the duet when momentum slowed. I tossed the story, Duke of My Dreams, onto the Get Around To It pile to be repackaged and republished some fine day. The companion tale, May I Have This Duke, had been sitting on the same pile for a year or so. In January of this year, I dusted off both stories, and packaged them as A Duke Walked Into a House Party.

I wasn’t expecting much. Both stories had sold well in their respective bundles, and the reader appetite for novellas isn’t what it was five years ago. Then too, I’d taken a A Duke Walked into a House Party by Brace Burrowesdifferent direction on the cover for the repackaging, just because the image appealed to me. The title was a little silly but it fit the stories and the cover.

For these re-packaging efforts, all I’m really looking for is to break even and keep some stories in circulation. I hope to pay for a cover, another proof-read, formatting, uploading, and website wrangling. My second repackaging effort–A Lady Without Peer–conformed to my expectations in that regard. But A Duke Walked In exceeded the job description by an order of magnitude.Wheeee!

Other surprises haven’t been so cheery. There are a few authors will bash other authors and even include it as part of their reader-relationship brand. That one honestly caught me unaware. In all my years of small town lawyering, I can’t think of any instance when one lawyer bashed another personally without getting severely chastised by other bar members or by the bench–or eventually disbarred–for violating the Code of Professional Conduct.

There’s a human tendency to normalize surprises, to shrug them off if they are unpleasant–“Live and learn…”–or to treat them as anomalies if they are sweet. But the book business is so unpredictable and complicated, that I don’t think that’s wise. I want to try more covers like A Duke Walked In, because whatever I did, readers liked it. Or maybe they simply noticed it, or maybe I hit publish in a window when no other dukes were strutting around.

My attempt in Lady Without Peer to strike the same cover note didn’t achieve the same result, so I’m not sure what clicked, but something did, and I want to investigate that something so I can make it click again.

When I’ve minimized a surprise–a boyfriend behaving badly, a backstabbing work environment–I’ve regretted it. Surprises can hold good information, or at least make us ask good questions, and that’s an opportunity for insight I want to take advantage of.

Have you been surprised lately? Can you recall a surprise that made you think or change course? To three commenters, I’ll send out e-ARCs of A Lady’s Dream Come True, which is available now in the webstore, and in print, and will start downloading from the major retailers on June 9.

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20 comments on “The Element of Surprise

  1. The closure of the US/Canadian border due to Covid-19 surprised me. It is making me seriously consider on which side of it I would prefer to be stuck.

    • I can make a suggestion if you’re really on the fence. My sister-in-law is Canadian and my nephews are fortunate enough to have dual citizenship. I hope in my dotage I am their favorite auntie, because they might be seeing a lot of me.

    • Other than the cold, it would be my first pick. I’m too old, unfortunately, knocking on retirement’s door.

      I have tried to convince my son to immigrate somewhere where health care is considered a right, not a privilege, but he’s a homebody.

  2. Last week-end I received a phone-call from one of my nieces asking if she could meet up with me outside of course and social distancing.What a nice surprise I thought.Claire and her new husband have a house in my town even though they work away.She wanted to check if I needed anything or get items that were big because I do not have a car now.We walked a little then took a track up to the cliff top which looks out to sea.We sat on a very long bench,she on one end,me on the other.We talked about all sorts of things but mainly family.Her mother (my sister) was discussed especially her childhood,we did not notice the time passing–it was 3 hours later when we walked down the side of the cliff.A most lovely afternoon that came out of the blue in these difficult times.Family does surprising things sometimes,I am blessed.Her visit ‘re-charged and up lifted myself for the rest of the week.Someone’s action can make such a difference to another.In your job you continue to give your readers happiness and pleasure.We wait for the next book with excitement.You do not fail —Thank you.

    • My family has been texting more lately, especially since a beastly healthy (like literally climb Kilimanjaro, hike Patagonia, semi-pro snowboarder healthy) nephew now has the virus. He’s on the mend, but to be in touch with siblings and relations, just to share worries and hopes, was meaningful.
      I’m glad your niece made that call, and she’s probably even more glad than I am!

  3. I have noticed Heart signs on my early morning corgi walks. These signs are made of paper or wood and are found on front doors. The purpose is to support nurses and doctors working the front lines during the covid crisis.

    I was surprised that this simple gesture took hold. As the apex of the pandemic neared, we saw more hearts. Some of our rural route mailboxes have them, trees are decorated with hearts and they appear on houses, windows and garages.

    I am hoping to see the hearts during my walks this summer. It’s a nice way to start the day and a reminder to care about our friends and neighbors.

    Heading out with Rose and Greg for our morning walk in a few minutes. Enjoy your day!

    • I don’t know about your weather up north, but here in Maryland, this has been about the prettiest, mildest, best behaved spring I can recall. I’ve seen MANY neighbors out for walks that I haven’t seen walking previously. What’s the most fun is seeing the little kids out on those walks. My parents were big walkers, I certainly took my daughter on walks, and where I live is so pretty, it deserves to appreciated.

  4. Definitely the covid pandemic has made me change course, which was an unexpected and welcome surprise. I’m grateful that I had the flexibility to be able to course correct, though, so I keep telling myself not to be ungrateful! Meditating on my blessings has become more important to me to shift my perspective. I only have 1 life, so I don’t want to spend it unhappy!

    And yes, it always surprises me when authors badmouth each other, because the kerfuffle never goes their way on the Twitter feed that I have curated for myself. I make it a point to not badmouth other professionals in my line of work, except to my hubby.

    • I just Avoid Twitter. When a means of communication propagates lies six times faster than it does the truth, it’s not a place I want to be. Facebook isn’t much better, but it makes at least some gestures in the direction of weeding out the worst. Not enough, by any means.

      As for author bashing, I don’t know whether that’s the bad influence of internet distance, or what happens when publication is available to all who seek it, but I can’t recall that kind of behavior before Facebook/indie publishing. Or maybe it didn’t happen where I could see it. It’s disappointing, to say the least.

  5. I am surprised how much I miss my *regular life*! It’s busy and at times stressful and there were times when I wanted to retire (again)but I usually accepted whatever was thrown at me. The peacefulness and calm of sheltering-in-place was, well, peaceful and calming at the beginning. Now it reminds me of all I have lost.

    In regards to your discovering a other authors fellow author-bashing; I am surprised at THAT! But maybe not. In my profession, especially with community choral organizations, other choral directors are dismissed as clueless or incompetent or unprofessional and their groups criticized by others all the time. I have made it part of my ensemble’s (and my personal one too)goals to never bash or criticize another director or their ensemble IN PUBLIC. I may say something in private with my family or my accompanist or in a one-on-one with one of my singers but I NEVER say anything in front of more than one or two people; things like that have a way of coming back to bite you in the tookus!

    Have a lovely week, Grace!

    • I am familiar with that dynamic among musicians, and one of my dad’s criticisms of music as a career was, “The arts are subjective. You will always be vulnerable to criticism that amounts to nothing more than differing tastes.”
      His comment was ignorant from two perspectives: First, science has tons of subjective aspects, political aspects, and other human limitations. Second, even in the arts, there are agreed upon standards of quality that have not changed for centuries.
      But he also had a point. And I never met people so inclined to just jabber as musicians and actors with time on their hands. Yikes!

      I also have writing buddies to whom I vent one on one, as they do to me, but on social media? To readers? Bad ton, methinks.

  6. About surprises, there haven’t been too many and have been fairly even between the good and the bad.

    I loved the cover and the title of ‘A Duke Walks into a House Party’ – it sounds a little like the beginning of a joke or a good story and definitely makes you want to know what comes next.

    I think the cover leaves more to the immagination. And you know, a man’s hand offering a rose he picked himself is so romantic.

      • I haven’t seen any author bashing recently, but remember once when I posted something about enjoying Ellen O’Connell’s books, a whole of posters piled onto the author and me – accused me of just trying to promote her. It was surprising as I was new to any forum at the time. I have all of her books, and have re-read most of them many times. She has disappeared from the public eye – hope she is okay.

        Maybe I’m not seeing it because I don’t look at Twitter.

  7. A few years ago I was reading a review of one of your books on Amazon. I always read the bad reviews first,to see if I do or will agree with the reviewer. I had already read this particular book.

    Nothing stated in the review had any relationship to the book’s plot or the book at all. I left a comment for Amazon stating the lady had obviously not read the book.

    I can’t remember the final results officially. I do remeber felling pleased about the esults of my comments to Amazon.

  8. When the surprise is negative I call it a blind side. As you observed there are some environments where blind sides are more a part of the culture than others. My response has been to self talk myself not to lower myself to that level and try to carry on with my dignity intact. The problem is that I simply don’t understand any of it. How can I strengthen my position or preparedness when I simply don’t understand? Therefore I try to distance myself from the people involved and certainly do not trust them hence forth.

    That is downer stuff. I follow your blog for fun. Therefore I will digress and tell you that the best opening lines of your many good ones is the start of Ashton. That is my personal opinion anyway

  9. My best surprise this year was discovering that I enjoyed historical romance and the bestest (not a real word but suits) was discovering Grace Burrowes ( with an e). I read Once upon a dream and totally captivated. Then I read the Wentworth series (September hurry up) and am rereading Quinn and Jane’s story. Just breathtaking. Thank you for these stories.

  10. I very recently purchased The Lady Without Peer and A Duke Walked Into A House Party. Liked the packaging, but I like your writing and lately am trying to find all that I can as to stories you’ve written be they “stand alones” or novellas. The wit and humor you infuse into your stories delight me as well as the story itself, all delight me.