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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What Does a Starred Review Mean?

I'm not new to writing or traditional publishing, but with my newest book -A Heart Revealed - I am stepping into the national market for the first time. I've never had a book reviewed by the industry trade journals so I was anxious and eager and freaked-out and excited about how A Heart Revealed would be received by national critics. 

Not every book submitted to publishing trade journals gets reviewed. The journals can be picky and, then, the reviews aren't guaranteed to be positive. In regard to Publishers Weekly (PW), there's concern that they tend to lean away from conservative fiction, which is what I write.  The next biggest player with the trade journals is Kirkus, who is known for not being as nice as PW. After PW and Kirkus is Booklist, Library Journal, and a handful of more regional journals whose reviews matter in regard to national exposure for good or bad.

Two months ago I learned that my book had been sent to all of these journals and my publisher expected reviews to start coming in mid-February. I asked my publicist to read any reviews before sending them to me because a bad review can set me back for weeks. I would have expected that poor reviews would get easier as time marched forward in my writing career, but that has not been the case for me. I’ve published more than twenty novels over the last fifteen years, but rather innocuous comments like "Kilpack's writing has improved since the first book in this series" or "This isn't the kind of book you'll skip dinner for" on Goodreads can create a pit in my stomach that is as illogical as it is real, no matter how many good reviews I read to remedy my reaction to the negative. So I avoid reading reviews. Unless someone sends me the link with an indication that it's positive, I will rarely dare to read them. My ego has become fragile, go figure.

Where was I . . . oh yeah. . . two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, February 17th, my publicist sent me the link to the recently published PW review, not only a review but a starred review! Because she promised the review would not send me into a downward spiral, I was able to read it and WOW, it was so complimentary. My whole body tingled in response to the few sentences of praise that followed the basic retelling of the storyline (standard practice.) I could not have been more thrilled and immediately went online to learn the difference between a starred review and a regular review.

PW does about 10,000 reviews a year. Of those, about 500 will get starred reviews which means "A book of outstanding quality." Another percentage will get a "Blue Title" which means that the book didn't get a star, but it does have unusual commercial appeal. A starred review influences sales—especially by retailers and libraries—and by way of validation, it was HUGE! To-the-moon-my-cheeks-hurt-from-smiling HUGE! You can read the full review HERE.

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, I received another email from my publicist with her encouragement to read the review for A Heart Revealed from Kirkus. Two national trade journals in two days? Not only that, Kirkus gave A Heart Revealed a starred review as well. Kirkus does 8,000 to 10,000 reviews a year, and approximately 10% of those reviews are starred. A Kirkus star is "awarded to books of exceptional merit." Additionally, recipients of a Kirkus star are automatically eligible for the Kirkus Prize, a $50,000 prize awarded to the winning books published and starred in the given year. I'm not holding my breath for a Kirkus Prize, but I won't give up hope either :-) You can read the Kirkus review HERE.

And so, what does this mean for me and my book? It means more industry people will buy it. It means more libraries will stock it and more readers will read it because it will be available. It means that I’m entering the national market with a couple of important reccomendations next to my book title. It doesn’t mean the book will be bestseller. It doesn’t mean that readers will enjoy it as much as the reviewers did, and it doesn’t mean that books without starred reviews aren’t excellent, but, dang, it’s a really great start for this new phase of my career. I'm so grateful to my publisher, Shadow Mountain, for having enough confidence in this story to send it off with the hopes that we would get this kind of feedback. I am so blessed to be part of such an exceptional team.

To wrap this up - I'm in a great place right now and I am trying hard to maximize it to the height of it's potential. Publishing is full of hills and valleys, the key is to soak up the sun when you reach the peaks. I plan to! 

A Heart Revealed is available for pre-order through, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble


Sunday, January 04, 2015

"Wedding Cake" Giveaway!

Wedding Cake, book 12 in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery Series, and
Sadie's Little Black Recipe Book are online and on shelves! It has been such an amazing journey, going from one stand-alone story to a 12 book series and a cookbook and turned my writing into a career. It has also been the introduction to so many people and places and yummy recipes—I can not express what a powerful experience this series has been in my life. To celebrate the completion, Shadow Mountain and I are hosting a giveaway—winners get their choice of any one copy of my books, including an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of A Heart Revealed, a regency romance coming out in April. You can enter in the following ways:

  1.  Go to my Facebook post about the contest (Author Josi S. Kilpack) and follow the instructions. (no need to come back to the blog, the Facebook portion of the contest is self contained) 
  2. Leave a review for any book I have written on goodreads,,, and/or You can leave as many reviews on as many sites as you like, then come back here and leave a comment that includes the total number of reviews you left. You will get an entry for every review (this does not count for past reviews, only those done between January 4 and January 10)
  3. Post a status update on Facebook or Twitter regarding this contest and include the link to this blog post. Comment below to tell me where you posted; one entry per social network.

Thank you for the years of support and enthusiasm! Winners will be posted here and on Facebook on Monday, January 12. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Update and Blog Hop!

It is crazy to me to reflect on how important blogging was for me a few years ago. I spent hours reading blogs and writing my own every week. Now, I never get here. In a sense it's unfortunate, it was a great way to get into the thoughts of people who took the time to write about their lives. On the other hand, life ebbs and flows and things are always changing.

BUT, now and then a situation comes up that is worth blogging about. My readers have been due for an update and I've been quiet about what I'm doing after Sadie because it was new and different and I 1) Didn't want to take away from the excitement of my final Culinary Mystery 2) Didn't have a contract on my new project. But I have the contract now, signed and filed. And so this was a perfect opportunity for me to kill a few birds with one stone.

As stated in the title, this post is brought to you from a blog hop. Anna Elliott tagged me in her blog and I really enjoyed hearing about her projects and routines. Take a minute to check it out at And thanks for tagging me Anna.

What are you working on?
I am getting my ducks in a row to have the final book in my Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery novel released this December. The series has been several years worth of work and as it came to an end I was ready to do something new. I had an idea for another clean mystery series, but when I tried to write it my main character sounded too much like Sadie. I decided, instead, to cleanse my palette and write something totally new. I submitted a few ideas to my publisher and the one they liked the most was a Regency Romance. If you go back in time with me to the very first story I ever wrote back in 1995, it was a Regency. It's terrible. But it was the first story I laid out on paper. I have long loved the genre and been really thrilled to see it revive these last couple of years. It was so fun to write something fresh, but in a genre and timeperiod I was already in love with. The title is "A Heart Revealed" and it will come out in May of 2015. I'm also working on a Regency Novella for one of the Timeless Romance Anthologies, as well as making progress on another full length Regency romance that will follow this first one through Shadow Mountain.

How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?
In regard to my culinary mysteries, I think the biggest difference is the age of my protagonist--late 50's--and my focus on home cookin'. I'm not a gourmet, but I love having the "best" corn bread and the "tried and true" cookie recipe. I think both elements created a broader readership for the books and more relatability to kitchen-cooks like myself.
In regard to my Regency, I think my novel is different in that it is issue driven. Prior to my mysteries, my books were women's fiction or romance, but they were always driven by a modern issue. I guess when you're an author with lots of issues, you naturally put other issues into your stories. I can't give away the issue without giving away the book, but it's set in early 19th century London and Yorkshire and was so so so much fun to write. It is still first and foremost a romance, that's our main story, but I'm hoping that the women's fiction type of spin will be something my readers will both recognize and enjoy.

Why do you write what you do?
There are a bunch of answers to that, so I'm going to put them all down. I write what I write because: I love it (always important :-), the story builds as I think on it (many ideas fizzle out before I get to paper), I think readers will like it (both my mysteries and romances are clean), I think it will make money (I have a mortgage), it "feels" right, it appealed to me as a reader, and I think I can do it. Some days one of those reasons is bigger than the others--some days I'm writing for a check, other days I'm writing because it's fun, other days I'm writing because the story is getting so big in my head I have to let out some pressure.

How does your writing process work?
I am a work in progress when it comes to what kind of process works for me. Until recent years, I never outlined, but the last few mysteries required I make a plan to say on track with the series. I started the regency with just a synopsis, and then was able to stick to it pretty well--I've never done a synopsis before writing the book. I wish I knew what would work for me every time, but maybe that's what works for me--trying new processes and going back on old processes that work. My current process is a very basic outlining before I start and brainstorming sessions before each writing session. I'm writing about 3 days a week for 5-6 hours at a time. It sounds a lot more organized that it really is, but it's working so I'm going with it.

As for the author I'm choosing to tag, I hope you will hop over to the blog of my dear friend Nancy Campbell Allen. She is best known for her civil war stories and historical fiction series written under the name N.C. Allen, but is a multi-talented writer with some exciting things on tap. Please check her out at

Friday, May 30, 2014

How Do You Overcome Lack of Confidence?

I received this question via Facebook and as I started to answer I realized it was a little more than a Facebook message, so I decided to blow the dust off my blog and post it here.

The actual question was "How did you get over (if you ever had it) the lack of confidence as you were writing?


I have lacked confidence throughout all fifteen of the years I've been writing. Over and over and over again I struggle to believe I can do what I've set out to be. I doubt my writing ability, I doubt my ability to find time, I doubt that people will be happy with the result. I read reviews that paralyze me, I face discouragements that make me wish I'd never started, I continually fear that my best ideas are already used up and whatever I do next will be lousy. Every writer I know faces it, so, yes, I have certainly faced with lack of confidence--I am right now battling a fear of being able to do something new and getting over a rather stinging rejection that took me away from my computer for weeks.


Start with very small goals you know without a doubt you can accomplish that is not tied to anyone else's efforts but your own. Some examples of the easiest goals would be "Write for 15 minutes" or "Read a chapter in that how-to-write book"or "Look up submission guidelines for one agent." It will feel silly, because you know that you can do it, but that's the point. Most of us (especially women) live in a world of not only "I'm not enough" but "I shouldn't be enough." We compare and criticize ourselves to ridiculous levels about most things in our life. In the process, we train our brain to feel successful only when we are failing. It's neurotic, but we do it. Someone compliments our dinner and we point out that we didn't put enough carrots in the soup. Someone tells us we look nice and we point out that our pants are too tight. My best guess as to why we do this is that we are afraid of appearing arrogant and so we put ourselves down and create an atmosphere where we are more comfortable with our missing pieces than our wholeness. When we then take on something big, like writing, our brain is stuck in old patterns. We've trained our brain to be more attentive to our shortcomings and that's going to be a problem because we need to do well at this if we're to reach our goal. If you stay in that place of comfortable regret, you will never make this writing thing work. You have to allow yourself to be successful, it is the only way to build confidence and without that inner confidence, the outer pressure will crush this dream before it gets off the ground. This applies to much more than writing--in every part of our life it's through the accomplishment of objectives that we grow in our belief that we can do well at things. Set yourself up for success by setting small attainable goals.


When we accomplish those small and attainable goals, we need to celebrate them. In this case it's not a party (though it could be cake) it's simply being conscious that you did what you said you would do. You can say it out loud "I just wrote for 15 minutes!" you can write it down, you can tell a friend. Don't simply set another goal, take a moment to celebrate the one you just accomplished. This conscious practice of celebrating success floods your brain with happy chemicals that help teach your brain what to derive pleasure from. It is pleasurable to succeed at things, but since we're used to "I shouldn't be enough" it takes some training to get your brain on board with this. Find people who will celebrate with you--not everyone will--and share your success with them while inviting them to share their success with you. Many times we surround ourselves with people who are far more comfortable with our whining than our winning. Find people who will allow you to share your excitement and let them celebrate with you.


Failure is both powerful and inevitable. You will face it and it will hurt. There will be some people who will try to spin it into "That wasn't fair" or "They don't know what they're talking about" and while it's nice to have that kind of support, if we don't "listen" to our failures and find out what they can teach us, we won't be better for them. On the other hand, if we let our failures stop us, we are giving them too much power. For me, I have tried to find a balance of feeling the hurt and embarrassment and disappointment for a period of time, and then forcing myself to be objective about it. Look for the truth in the failures and rejections, but don't live there. Remind yourself over and over again that this is a journey. You are not taking it only to accomplish something, you are here to learn. It's been said that you can learn more from your failures than your successes, I think this is true but it's up to you whether or not you approach them that way.

Best of luck. Happy Writing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Altered Perceptions

I have often said one of the best parts of my writing career has been the people I've met through my writing. One of the people I've met is Robison Wells. I knew him before he began publishing nationally, before he moved to my neck of the woods, and before he was diagnosed with his first mental illness (Panic Disorder), which led to--or revealed--some others (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Self Harm and some others.) In the years since his diagnosis his life has changed dramatically. Unable to use his education (MBA) because he is unable to function in the workplace, he has turned his efforts to full-time writing. It's gone well for him, he's been able to create schedules and networks that have made it work within the limitations of his circumstances, but writing  doesn't give the same kind of security as a day-job that comes with. We are subcontractors, not employees, so we can't get health insurance or 401Ks or have our taxes paid through our publishers. The pay is sporadic and dependent on making the right connections with publishers and readers. Our contracts are for limited projects or timelines and the success of our books are dependent on a lot of people other than ourselves. Adding mental illness to the balance of things and it becomes tricky to the extreme.

In hopes of helping Rob support his family and pay off rising medical debts related to the struggles he's had, several of his writer friends have come together on an anthology project kind of like the "Bonus Features" you find on DVDs. Here are some examples of the contributions: Ally Condie is writing the forward, Dan Wells wrote the Introduction. Brandon Sanderson is different 5 "altered" chapters from Way of Kings and Jessica Day George is offering a deleted scene from Princess of Glass. There are well over a dozen other contributions, each of them unique and never been seen before.

For my part, I submitted the original opening chapters of Tres Leches Cupcake (Book 8 in my culinary mystery series). I wrote the chapters a few years ago and loved the intensity until i realized that nothing else in the book matched it; it was like writing the climax for the opening, which is never a good idea. But now those chapters, which have been patiently waiting on my hard drive, get life and, in the process, get to help someone else's real life.

This project is called "Altered Perception" and it was launched on Kickstarter today (April 21) There are ebook and hardback versions of the anthology available for pre-order as well as "Perks" donated by the authors for additional fundraising. There is some impressive stuff being made available and it's for a great cause; helping Rob and helping raise awareness for people struggling like he is.

You can read more about the project here as well as buy copies and perks. I hope you'll take a minute to check it out, share it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other networks you belong to. We've all seen people come together and make a small contribution to a huge undertaking. This is the chance to do exactly that. I hope you will.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Last Five Books I've Read

Per a blog topic request I did a bit ago, one suggestion was my five favorite books this year. I'm not sure I've read enough books to choose my top five, so instead I'll put the last seven books I've read:

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I'm not quite finished with this one yet, and I don't even know how to evaluate it exactly because of that fact. It is more literary than I usually read, and it's discussing books I've never read, but I am rather captured by it. I'm listening to the audio, which has a great reader, and I probably have another week or so before I finish. I have determined that I will never read Lolita, and I've learned some very intellectual evaluations of some other classics, and I am more grateful than ever to be an American. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir from a former English Literature professor in Tehran before/during the revolution that turned a relatively progressive country into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Fascinating look at a culture different than my own, but also very interesting in light of different groups I see in our own country trying to control the actions of everyone else. I have heard that the end is intense, and I have a feeling I know what happens so we'll see how I feel when I finish it. Right now I would rate it a PG 13 but that might change by the end.

Mommy Tracked by Whitney Gaskell

This is a book about four different moms--different types of moms--and the struggles each of them are facing within their roles. The chapters switch between the four characters and I liked the way it showed such differing women and different problems. I liked that it wasn't a 'man hater' book nor was it a 'super mom' book. It was more like 4 women's fiction novels put into one, showing each woman and what she was up against. The stories were good, though most of these women live a more cosmopolitan life than I do and so there were some portions that I did not relate to well. And, at the end of the book I found that while I liked each woman a bit better than I had in the beginning, there wasn't a single one that I felt I really related to; that I felt approached the role like I did. Not that I do it right or they do it wrong, but I think because my lifestyle is different and my motivations are different, I didn't 'fit' within the relationships of this story. The writing was good although the author had a tendency to use adverbs in dialogue tags like "she said sarcastically" "He said loquaciously" "she said energetically" "He said darkly" "she said humorously" "He said charmingly" and I did tire of all those adverbs. This was a rate R book.

Come to Zion Volume 1 & 2 by Dean Hughes

This is a story about English converts to the Mormon church at the time of mass immigration to Nauvoo. The first book follows the individual characters through their processes of converstion and then their crossing of the ocean to come to Zion. The second volume shows the life in Nauvoo as the church is still trying to figure itself out and then loses its first prophet. I love Dean Hughs and I have the other LDS fiction series he's written and have enjoyed this one just as much. One of the things I love about Hughs is how much I learn through the stories he writes. He does a fabulous job of showing the details of times and places. I feel that I better learn the facts through seeing people live through these times. One of the things I loved, loved, loved about this story is the imperfections he allows us to see in the early saints. We so often put early saints on pedestals and believe that they were these amazingly perfect people of faith and character. I have never believed this was the norm. Yes, they had great faith. Yes, they made great sacrifice. Yes, they paved the way for so many of their posterity to benefit from both of those things. But they could not have been perfect. They had to have had doubts. And they had to have been taking their journeys for their own growth--not ours. That meant it was hard for them, it means they struggled, it means that some of them were jerks. I like that Hugh shows this. I'm a bit nervous about the next book because it will involve polygamy which is still a difficult thing for me to deal with, but I trust Hughs and am therefore willing to take this journey with him. These books are rated PG.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

This is a memoir about a girl who got lost in the Florida foster care system in (I believe) the late 80's--before many reforms were implements. The book covers her story from being a toddler taken from her dysfunction mother, to a child living in a variety of homes that were not equipped to truly care for her, to young woman finally in an adoptive family. It did not sugar coat anything but neither did it feel gratuitous. It was shocking to see how many times the system failed her, frustrating to see how ungracious she was when she got an adoptive family, and humbling to see those people who gave Ashley a chance to really change her course. My husband and I have recently become Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and this book was required reading in our training. Since then, our appointments have become official and we are working together with a child whose family is involved in a DCFS case. It is our job to report to the Guardian ad Litem about how they are doing, what's working and what's not. I've reflected on Ashley's story many times, looking toward those things that made a difference for her story. I listened to the audio version which was read by Ashley herself. For me, this was a paradigm shifting book and I highly recommend it. I would rate this PG 13.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I am not a Sci-fi reader, and I'm not a big YA reader. But the movie is coming out, I have heard about this book for years, and I decided to listen to it during a long road trip. I was reminded why I don't like science fiction, and yet I do agree that this book is more than that and it crosses that genre line. It's a story about a boy being trained to be a military commander in an intergalactic war. There were parts that were hard to listen to because of the fact that it was a little boy in the story, there were also parts that I would have liked more clarification on, but all in all I liked the story. My favorite part was toward the end, after the climax and many changes have taken place. Ender reflects on the fact that in order to know people well enough to beat them with his military tactics, he has to know them so well that he loves them. Which then leaves him torn between the feelings of empathy for his enemies and loyalty to his side of the war. I found that absolutely fascinating and for me it made the story both complete and important. The writing is fabulous, the story was easy to follow, and I am glad I read it. I listened to this on audio and liked that as well. If I were sitting and reading I'm not sure I could have stayed with it simply due to the genre not being one that I like. I listened to the first chapter of the next book, Speaker for the Dead, and determined that I will likely not read any other books in this series. Not that it's bad, but it's just not my thing. I would rate this book PG 13.

Farenhieit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I read this book many moons ago in high school and remembered liking it. I have talked about and heard about it many times since then. Recently, after mentioning a part of it in a presentation, I realized that I had heard about that part I quoted from someone else--I didn't remember it on my own. I decided to read the book again and I am so glad I did. I've heard people say that Bradbury is overrated--I disagree. I love his use of words. I loved the depth of this story, the reflections it made to our time right now, and the connection it gave me to the time when I had read this book the first time. I listened to it on audio and the reader was excellent but I want to get a new copy of the book and highlight some of the ways Bradbury used words. For me this is a beautiful story and made me want to seek out more Bradbury in the future. It also reminded me that while there are only so many words out there, the way they are put together can make them feel brand new. Included at the end of this audio were some thoughts from Bradbury about the book and some very interesting cases of censorship that had taken place with this book in the preceding decades. What irony. I loved hearing Bradbury's comments and learning how this story came together for him. I would rate this book a soft PG 13, more from ability to understand content than from anything of a sexual or violent nature.

As you can see, I am moving more and more toward audio books as the time to sit and read seems to be a more and more fleeting experience for me. It has allowed me, also, to 'read' books I likely would never have read if I had to sit down to do it. Sitting to read, for me, is an experience of intimacy and visualization--I will continue to reserve it for those books who are best enjoyed in that situation.