Two years ago, Valerie Comer was the subject of a feature in the Advance after receiving an award for one of her three Christian romance books. In the interim, she has added another dozen titles to her growing series of publications.
Comer, who lives on the family farm near Wynndel, has found a niche in writing romances with “a foodie theme”. And she has made close connections with other Christian romance novelists.
Early this year, she teamed with 11 authors to plan a boxed set of a dozen novels.
“We chat online regularly and started wondering, ‘How about the 12 of us getting together to try and make the USA Today bestseller list?’ ” she said.
The set was offered as a pre-order for 90 days on ebook seller websites Amazon, Nook, Kobo and iBooks.
“In the first couple of weeks sales were above what we expected,” she said. “But then we had to market to people who didn’t already know us. A lot of my fans are also fans of some of the other authors in our group, so there is considerable overlap in our regular buyers.”
The writers strategized the timing of the release to maximize sales with the hope the boxed set would land on the USA Today top 150 list.
“We were all at our computers waiting for the list to appear, hitting the refresh button every few seconds. And we did it!”
And there it was on the computer screen — Whispers of Love, by Kimberley Rae Jordan, Leah Atwood, Sally Bradley, Valerie Comer, Christina Coryell, JoAnn Durgin, Autumn Macarthur, Lesley Ann McDaniel, Carol Moncado, Staci Stallings, Jan Thompson and Marion Ueckermann — at No. 79!
Comer is one of two Canadians in the group, which also includes a writer each from South Africa and Great Britain, and eight Americans.
“One of the bonuses of this work is getting to know people from all around the world,” Comer smiled.
Most of Comer’s — and the group’s — sales are made on Amazon, which now holds a near monopoly in book sales, both in electronic and print form.
“But I have a few hundred readers who don’t want to use Amazon. It’s not a really significant number but they are all important.”
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal book sales lists are well known, but Comer’s group targeted USA Today for several reasons.
“The WSJ list has only 10 books and the NYT is geared toward traditional publishers,” she said. “And to get on the USA Today list, which has 150 publications, you don’t need to have a paperback version available.”
Boxed sets aren’t new to Comer. She has now participated in six multi-author projects. The sets are only part of her sales strategy, though. Each of her books is also sold individually, first in an electronic version and then in paperback.
Making the USA Today list hasn’t been Comer’s only highlight in 2016. On June 24 she received notice that she has won her second Word Award (from the Word Guild, a Canadian Christian organization), this one for Dandelions for Dinner, the fourth in her six-book Farm Fresh Romance series. The first book in the series, Raspberries and Vinegar, won in 2014.
“That series is finished now,” she said.
But another series, Urban Farm Fresh Romance, is a spinoff from Raspberries and Vinegar.
Now a grandmother of three, Comer is a relative latecomer to the publishing business. But with 15 titles to her credit (including five novellas) she has become a seasoned pro as a writer, self-publisher and marketer.
She has a professional editor, who is also a friend, and about six beta readers who provide feedback before each book is edited.
“Writing is a completely different process for me now,” she admitted. “I tried for 10 or more years to outline plots in advance, mainly because I am an organized person. But somehow that just didn’t work.
‘Then I had to kind of let go and just see what happens as I write. It’s a better approach for me.”
Writing, of course, is preceded by research.
“When I start a new series I do lots of background work, developing a setting, doing mapping, and so on. Characters are outlined.”
She even refers to Myers-Briggs charts to flesh out her characters.
For her Urban Farm Fresh Romance, Comer used Google Streetview to find a suitable neighborhood (her books are set in the U.S., which opens up a larger market) in Spokane.
“When I found a neighborhood that seemed to work, Jen (Comer, her daughter-in-law and Creston Valley Farmers’ Market manager) did some research and said, ‘Do you know they allow goats there?’ Right away I knew my character would have a goat — she is now a Spokane animal bylaw officer!”
Despite her experience as a writer, Comer says each project has a familiar pattern.
“Usually about a third of the way into each book I send a message to my editor: ‘This stinks!’ “
“I’ve heard that before,” the editor replies.
“But this time it might be true,” is the author’s typical comeback. “Then I carry on and catch my momentum again.”
Complete descriptions of Comer’s books — and much more — can be found on her website, valeriecomer.com, which also includes her blogs about writing and her life on the farm. Her novels are available in paperback at Black Bear Books on Canyon Street.