A First-Time Boxed-Set Experience

Today, I share my experience in writing for the e-book Valentine’s Day collection, Cooking Up Kisses. My book, The Invisible Woman in a Red Dress, is one of five scrumptious romance novellas that release today as a set for $0.99!

I never dreamed I’d be part of a collection. Then in August 2017, after I had two published romances, award-winning author Mary Manners contacted me. She invited me to join her and three other seasoned authors in writing Valentine’s Day romance novellas for a collection. Stories were due January 1, 2018.


What an opportunity! But could slowpoke writer Zoe complete a romance novella, arrange for an editor, and have a cover designed in four months? I had a non-fiction manuscript to finish by October 2017 and another romance releasing in 2017 or 2018 that would require promotion.

I told Mary I’d pray about her marvelous offer. She encouraged me to do so. During the following week, I wrestled with taking on more than I could deliver. My husband offered his opinion. If God called me to write, why wouldn’t I accept this excellent offer? He was right.


Now trusting God, an idea germinated. I’d write a story that takes place in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. Circumstances in my heroine’s childhood would cause her to feel invisible most of her life. I’d draw feelings from my Coast Guard brat days, when every two or three years, I was forced to break into new social cliques.

With the story and my excitement brewing, I calculated I’d have 78 of 122 days to work on the book. I mapped my heroine’s journey and spread the plot points and days for other tasks over 78 days. If I disciplined myself, I could complete the book. With trembling fingers, I emailed Mary my acceptance.


During the four months, we authors communicated in a Facebook group—our questions, progress, and covers. Working with these ladies was fun.



One challenge was creating a delectable sweet, whose recipe I’d insert at the end of my novella. I love cranberry scones. So, I printed several recipes and tinkered with the ingredients and measurements. To ensure the scones were as tasty as my heroine thought, I baked Miss Mildred’s version of cranberry scones twice. Yum.

The collection required we write a romantic dinner. I enjoyed brainstorming a dinner I think is unusual and unique.


We voted on a collection title, then designer Delia created three mock-ups for the set’s cover. We chose the above Cooking Up Kisses cover. If you’re cooking up kisses, you gotta have a kiss, right?

I worked all New Year’s Day and submitted my manuscript at 6 PM, making my deadline.

To get a taste of each book, read the short blurbs on Amazon.

The story behind a boxed set of romance novellas. Click to tweet.

What do you like about boxed sets?

If you’re interested in creating a box set, read Marion Ueckermann’s excellent and detailed post,”Secrets to Creating a Successful Box Set—Inside and Out.

How to Write Easy & Honest Book Reviews to Help Other Readers

“Nowadays, I only review books I really like. It’s cowardly, I know, but I figure it’s not my job to make people unhappy. I’ll leave that to the professionals.” — Meg Rosoff

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

I’m talking about reviews on bookstore sites, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Now that Calculated Risk is out, I see how important reviews are to both readers and authors. So how can readers overcome obstacles and write reviews helpful to readers and fair to authors? 

As book reviewers, we want to be helpful to readers and fair to authors, right? Click to tweet.

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

Obstacles and Solutions

Obstacle 1: Readers haven’t visited booksellers’ sites to buy books, much less to review books. So here’s basic steps:

  • Google the bookstore. Or here’s a couple to click on:
  • In the search bar, type “[Title] by [Author’s Name]” as these appear on the book cover.
  • When the book comes up, click on the title.
  • Scroll down to headings like Write a customer Rreview (Amazon) or Customer Reviews (B&N). Click to open a review box if one’s not there. (Amazon).
  • Hover over the stars for their definitions and click on the number that meets your opinion.
  • Enter your review inside the box. (See suggestions in Obstacle 6.)
  • Submit

Obstacle 2: Readers enjoyed the stories but wonder how they can give them 4 or 5 stars when many typos and editing errors existed.

  • Try rating the story, not the editing errors, which the author might have little control over. If a significant number occurred, mention the version (e-book or print) and that fact.

Obstacle 3: Readers know the authors and hesitate to give 4 or less stars in a 5-star system.

  • I asked several authors if I thought their book warranted 4 or 3 stars would they want me to review their book. Responses divided equally into:
    • Yes
    • They wanted honest reviews whatever the number of stars.

Obstacle 4: Readers think they have to write synopses. Overwhelming.

  • A story blurb is usually supplied and sufficient. What readers think about the story and why is what’s helpful to other readers.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Obstacle 5: Readers dislike the book’s genre.

  • Readers are right to skip reviewing the book. Readers’ preferences are unhelpful to other readers.

Obstacle 6: Readers don’t know what to include in a review.

  • Book reviews can be 3-5 sentences of what you thought—not long or fancy. Click to tweet.
  • Suggested sentences (4 and 5 are optional but often helpful):
  1. What you thought about the story. (fun, touching, hard to get into) Include why.
  2. What you thought about the characters. (believable, unlikeable, you identified with)
  3. How the story impacted you. (depressed you, understood what you’ve gone through, gave a satisfactory ending)
  4. What you thought about the writing. (Well-written, had to often reread confusing paragraphs, flows well)
  5. Who you’d recommend the book to. (Adults only, women who enjoy humorous romances, people who like suspense with a romance thread)

Besides the short-of-time problem, what other obstacles keep you from writing reviews?