There are big things going on at Casa Oppedisano these days! With both Disarming Caine and The Phoenix Heist going live next month, I’ve been super-busy! I’m also working on the 4th (as yet untitled) book in the Caine & Ferraro series and have outlined the 5th book.
All this brings me to… covers!
When I released Burning Caine, I had 5 covers designed, which I was mostly happy with, at least in concept. But once they were out in the wild, something wasn’t sitting right with me.
Burning Caine covers
The original Caine & Ferraro series covers were created in July 2021. They were all concepts, which would be refined closer to when they’d be posted up for pre-order. The Burning Caine cover went through six revisions in that timeframe… and I’ve got the proof copies to prove it! They were mostly minor tweaks, but a few were big leaps.
Version 1: It all started with something I slapped together super-fast for a “Vivian award finalists” Instagram giveaway. That was the first time I’d touched Photoshop in at least 15 years (or more)!
Version 2: After winning the award for “Most Anticipated Romance” and making the decision to self-publish, I figured it was time to create something real. Thus the “couple on top and location on bottom” cover was born! It was modelled after a few series that were favourites of mine at the time. That’s what went up for pre-order. It was so exciting!!
But I was never quite happy with it. There was too much empty space between the couple. The city (Lansing, Michigan — the story takes place in a bedroom community) was too busy, and I didn’t like the font. Plus, at a really small size, the man’s arm that extends into her hair just looked like a black mass, so it was nothing more than two floating heads.
Version 3: So, I modified the couple (merged two photos together), bought a more distinct font, and re-positioned the title. This was the version that was available at go-live!
But I was still not quite happy. While the treatment on the font was neat (it’s canvas), it felt off. Unclear. I didn’t like the city behind the title. And the couple was too orange. As I progressed into the future books, all of which would have the same layout with colour variations, I didn’t like how they were coming out.
Plus, “couple + city” wasn’t as common as “a guy” on the cover for romantic suspense. Similarly, “all block text” is giving way to “simple font plus script font” in cover trends.
Which brings me to…
Version 4: Just a guy, with a simple font and script on the title.
Caine & Ferraro series
More importantly, Disarming Caine is coming out next month. That means I was putting the finishing touches on the cover based on the “Version 3” concept (which was only ever a black cover on Amazon).
And I was… can you spot the trend? Not happy with it.
I was nervous about re-covering the series when people had already bought the existing books, but the way I looked at it, better to do that before I’ve got 3 books, let alone 4 or 5, right?
On the upside, I sell a lot more digital copies, and those will just update. Plus anyone with a paperback now has a collector’s edition!!
And why not go all in and making a title change? The other change that crept in as I was working on the books was that I decided to alphabetize the titles.
And at least 2 more titles coming
I’d written a prequel short story called Meeting Caine in 2021, which provided some backstory on Sam and Antonio’s real first meeting. The word ‘Meeting’ made sense at the time, but then I was starting with an M and moving into alphabetics!
So, Meeting Caine changed to Admiring Caine, also with the brand new cover.
And here they all are!!
As of writing this, the changes are still making their way through Amazon, but if you have a digital copy of the book, you’ll either already see the update or will soon.
The Phoenix Heist
The Phoenix Heist is a novella prequel to a new series I’ll have coming out next year, called Reynolds Recoveries. The series centers around a company that recovers lost things, but the books focus on their ‘big ticket’ jobs which are heists to steal back stolen belongings.
This first book will be free to all my newsletter subscribers, but it will also be available in paperback (a very skinny paperback at about 115 pages!!) on Amazon.
The official description will be coming soon, but the quick and dirty description is: A second-chance romance between Zac Fraser, the Reynolds’ getaway driver and Ashley Bradford, an FBI Special Agent. She’s on a case to track down the buyers at an upcoming black market auction and his team’s in town to steal one of the items before the auction can take place.
Every book in the series will have a different member of the Reynolds team finding love, with action, adventure, suspense, and a guaranteed HEA in every book.
In the end…
You may also note the similarity between the Reynolds cover and the new Caine covers. They’re not identical, but they look more like they belong together on my author page.
This is super intentional!! And was another important goal with the Caine series re-covers.
And for now, I’m happy.
All the books, all the covers, and so many exciting things to come!!
So, I did it. I hit publish on a pre-order of Burning Caine. It’s no big deal, I mean it’s early September and the book still needs to go through copyedits. The pre-order is until January. I just needed to get it up there so I could sign up with promo sites that don’t believe you’re actually an author until you have something for sale somewhere.
No. Big. Deal.
I thought I was prepared for it.
Spoiler Alert. . . I wasn’t.
Seeing my book on Amazon. Seeing my NAME on Amazon. Having an AUTHOR ACCOUNT!! Holy freaking shirtballs!
I still have work to do! I need to upload photos. I need to write a bio. I need to sign up with those promo sites. New Facebook header. Twitter announcement. Tell my family!
My head is swimming. There’s so much to do!
But I just keep coming back to that page on Amazon.
For all the imposter syndrome, the agent rejections, the “I love your book, but don’t know how to position it in the crowded romantic suspense genre”. . . it doesn’t matter. Because I did it. I fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing a book. And now it’s going to be published. People can read it.
They’re happy tears. I swear.
Oh, and I forgot to mention. . . I did win that Vivian award. It’s even on Wikipedia!!!
I even tweeted about it, so why doesn’t it feel real?
But there’s no other word for it. I’m stunned.
My category is “Most Anticipated Romance” and is for unpublished manuscripts. I’m writing-buddies with some of the other nominees and am ecstatic to be in the same group as them.
In my prior blog post, I chatted on and on about the journey from Burning Caine‘s first revisions, all the other things I’ve been writing, and how the querying process didn’t swing my way. In fact, I’d been planning to make huge revisions based on the little critique I’d received from agents. I’d even started making them!
So now, I’m sitting on a book that readers and judges are telling me they liked. What now?
Do I have to put some of the imposter syndrome away and listen to this nomination? Believe it?
Is this a sign from the universe that I should self-publish?
I mean, when I started writing, I heard lots of anecdotes from friends and family who knew people who’d self-published a book. I poo-pooed the idea, figuring traditional publishing was the only way to go. But the more authors I connect with, the more I learn about self-publishing, the more I realize that it’s a perfectly viable option.
I’ve been considering it for some time. There’s an appeal to the idea of being able to write what you want when you want. Put it out in the world so much faster than traditional. Get higher royalties.
I started writing my first book (a YA dystopian) in the summer of 2019. Late in the summer, I switched to a single POV mystery with a romantic sub-plot, which gradually transformed into a full-on dual-POV romantic suspense, Burning Caine (BC). Finished it by January 2019, queried it.
Writing the Wait, Book 2: Shooting Caine
While I was querying, I worked on the sequel to BC. A lot of advice says don’t do that, because if you can’t publish the first book, or even if you do and it doesn’t sell well, no one’s going to pay you to write the second book. But in my head, BC was the first in a series. I designed the characters and subplots to support multiple books.
So, I started writing the sequel, tentatively titled Shooting Caine (see a trend?). In my head, I figured I was practicing my skills with characters I knew, whether the first one got picked up or not. To this day, I hold to that!
Querying results for BC
Well, querying taught me how much I didn’t know. Only one agent requested pages, and the rest was a steady stream of rejections.
Show don’t tell, huh?
Deep POV, what?
Romance beats, eh?
The editor for the one agent who requested provided thoughtful feedback. And I launched myself into a full re-write.
Then came March 2020. It was the start of the lockdown here in Canada, but almost as importantly, it was when I found the #RevPit community. Editors sharing advice and feedback. Query and page swaps. An enthusiastic group of writers all at roughly the same stage as me.
AND I WAS EXCITED!!
Little did I expect, but I was chosen by one of the editors, Miranda Darrow. We worked like fiends for two months to completely overhaul my book. Two rounds of developmental edits and a third round with copy edits. It was intense, but I learned so much! I am forever grateful to the entire #RevPit team and Miranda.
My Writing Group
But the real win was finding my writing group, the Pit Squirrels (Pit for RevPit, and Squirrels as a silly play on Pit Vipers). We got to know each other over Twitter, then set up a private group that remained active long after #RevPit ended. Support, advice, learning.
Many of us were at the same point in our journey, some having completed more books than others, many in different genres, one with multiple books published through Harlequin, and one self-published author.
Most agented authors and those who are seeking representation know the heartache of querying. Write a query of no more than 250 words to entice an agent to want to read your manuscript (with rules and format guidelines and a zillion websites telling you how). Maybe also a 1-page synopsis of the entire thing. If you’re lucky, an agent requests to read your work.
There’s a LOT of waiting. There’s a lot of “this didn’t pull me in” or “I didn’t connect with your writing” that could bring down the most confident of us.
I went through that process with BC. I got traction. Lots of requests for pages. But no offers of representation. Not a whole lot of feedback, but a few agents advised that it needed more sensory feeling, a more engaging mystery, or more fully-developed characters. All of my beta readers and critique partners would debate these points, but it just goes to show how subjective the industry is.
The thing is, an agent receives a portion of your book sales for a reason. They help with editing, concept, finding an editor and publisher. They’re doing WORK for the author. They need to feel confident it’s worth investing their time, because they (typically) aren’t actually paid for their time. If they don’t have an idea how to sell your book, they won’t spend that time.
And that’s completely reasonable!!
Writing the Wait, Book 3: <untitled, Caine 1.5>
While BC was querying, I decided to spend time practicing writing sex(y) scenes. Taking my own Shooting Caine advice, I began writing scenes between the two main characters from BC, as a “what happened right after BC?”
It helped to start with character I knew and that knew each other, so I could focus on that part of their relationship.
Somehow, that progressed into a 40,000-word novella with more than just sexy scenes.
Writing the Wait, Book 2b: Complete revision of Shooting Caine
So, with all the changes made to BC during #RevPit, some of the story in Shooting Caine had to change. Characters had different roles. The main story developed differently. There were new and deleted chapters from the original!! So, leaving Caine 1.5 to rest, I overhauled the entire outline for Shooting Caine and began re-writing it.
And that’s when I started to see it… a stronger voice. Stronger writing. More depth. More feeling! Yes, all that practice was paying off. I was getting better!
Book 4: The Reaper’s Gambit
September 2020. I’d just finished the RWA 2020 conference. So much learning and so much to think about. Brought up 3 times in sessions I attended:
Romantic Suspense is cold
And my thought:
Oh no! That’s what I write! No wonder I’m having such poor luck querying! Not only is it all subjective, but it’s hard to break into that market!!
Taking a step back from my Caine books, I started mulling over a different book idea. A flip comment I made about “Everyone deserves a HEA!” gradually transformed into “Even the Grim Reaper deserves a HEA!” And so The Reaper’s Gambit was born.
September 2020: Conceptualizing, while I continued revising Shooting Caine
October 2020: Outlining. Hardcore outlining! Even my CPs had a round with the outline, while I wrote the first chapter to get a feel for the characters’ voices.
November 2020: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Butt-in-seat writing! I finished the month with just over 66,000 words and a full first draft. I did a fast draft, knowing that pieces would be added in later, including some of the Deep POV that didn’t make it in the first round.
December 2020: A couple weeks of fleshing out the first draft, then a couple weeks of letting it rest while I CPed for friends.
January/February 2021: Finish the manuscript and send to betas/CPs.
March 2021: . . .
Querying The Reaper’s Gambit
March 2021 came around, and I did #PitMad. I was working through feedback and making my final revisions, so I threw my hat in the ring. I got some agent and small press likes, which was good. But my #PitMad tweets did really well, with over 200 retweets, so I was feeling the love.
I sent out a query to one agent and one small press, unsure whether I’d send to the others.
The agent came back right away with a rejection, saying she found the characters didn’t have enough personality. . . but I hadn’t sent her any pages. So, that meant changes were needed to the query and synopsis I’d sent!
Time to pause querying to fix those things up.
Query changes came and went, I got some more requests, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Where was my heart, you may ask? Well, I think I’ve gone on long enough . . . I’ll save that for another day.