Guest Post: Toby Neal

Guest Post: Toby Neal

Please welcome guest author Toby Neal to the blog! Her book, Building an Author Platform that can Launch Anything: a Social Media Minibook, is free from for a limited time.

One Woman’s Potholed Journey to Bestseller

I started blogging about 7 years ago on Livejournal under a pen name. I’d always written, but this was a fun online diary and observations. Acerbic, touching and otherwise, the blog was about my counseling work in a high school, my kids and their friends and a host of minor and supporting characters such as Ms McBride of the colorful outfits and Dragon Lady, the principal. In the comfort and anonymity of my guise I even wrote about my therapy work.

This was where Blood Orchids was born—a short story that took on life, inspired by the actual tragic drowning of two young girls. I added chapters and followers and it became a novel.

I discovered Brigit’s Flame, an online writing community on Livejournal hosted by the gracious, talented and supportive LaCombe. Through their American Idol style weekly writing/voting contests, I honed my skills in writing to a prompt and responding to reader feedback. A talented writer friend I “met” on Livejournal referred me to Authonomy, an interactive novel site that competes for a review by HarperCollins UK.

I launched Orchids on Authonomy and discovered the sheer awesomeness of having my budding book read! What heady stuff! With a virtual cover, my posted chapters looked like a real book and I began to not only believe I could finish my novel but I could get published. In a flurry of creative writing energy I finished Orchids and cranked out Torch Ginger.

The first novel had taken 18 months to write, the second took 6 months (first draft). I realized I had the necessary obsessiveness, drive, and sheer egotism to be a novelist as I drove my family crazy with daily updates and revelations—not to mention interest in firearms, dismemberment and police procedure. This was also fueled by the dread Empty Nest – my youngest child was leaving for college. Writing about Glocks, takedowns and romance filled the huge void she left.

I developed a network of friends all over the world whose work I’d reviewed and who’d read mine on Authonomy. It was a heady, addicting time as I worked Orchids higher and higher in the rankings, eventually plateauing at 25. So after a year, and making a ton of useful connections (including my first editor, the talented Cheri LaSota) I pulled my books off Authonomy and switched to Facebook to keep up with my author and other online friends. By then I Cheri and I had overhauled Orchids to the point I was ready to query, and all the feedback, good bad indifferent and ugly, had prepared me for the gauntlet of querying agents.

I went about it systematically, using AgentQuery to research, a spreadsheet to track, and a daily goal of five query submissions. After 173 queries and 5 months, I had 6 requests for partials and 6 requests for the full MS. I rode the rollercoaster of emotion from hope to despair as the rejections came along. God, they suck and folks, it never gets easier—though you tell yourself it does.

Finally one day, a brief note after reading the full MS: “Please call me to discuss” from Irene Webb of Irene Webb Literary.

Then the rollercoaster began in earnest as this coveted agent said she liked the concept and the characters but the novel needed a rewrite.

She had suggestions. A lot of them.

I took copious notes and cranked out the rewrite in a month. I am nothing if not focused when I have a goal. I sent if off, high on hubris.

She didn’t like it. I hadn’t fixed whatever it was, and I now I was unable to see what was wrong and getting panicky. Fortunately, she didn’t drop me, but referred me to a new editor with extensive background in the mystery/suspense genre, Kristen Weber.

Kristen reviewed the MS and sent me a huge report with overall suggestions, articles to read, and line-by-line corrections. Whew, this girl knew the genre, the market, and what was wrong. I fell in love that day, with an editor half my age and both of us already married. (Joke! This would freak her out)

I buckled down and did a “scene map” — a scene-by scene outline of the MS, a tool that helps an author see redundancies and sags. While doing it I spotted problems, added in Kristen’s feedback, and saw elements to cut, combine, slice and dice. I read my articles, wrote extensive bios on all the main characters, and plunged back in to my tired and overworked manuscript: suddenly seeing it in a new way.

Irene and I sent Blood Orchids out “on sub”—until we both got discouraged and she left the agenting business. (These are tough times for agents too!)

At that point I was left to a) find another agent b) self mutilate/self medicate c) self publish.

I chose to self publish. And Blood Orchids has become a hit. Through all these setbacks, social media, relationship building and connectedness have been a unifying thread and the way my writing improved and evolved. So I wrote a minibook about it, How to Build an Author Platform that can Launch Anything. (Which is FREE this weekend, April 7, 8, and 9!)

There you have it—for this author, the lurching, potholed journey along the road to publication wouldn’t have been possible without the tools of blogging and social networking. The spur of being read and encouraged has increased my output like nothing else could, and doing that for others is a golden loop of connecting possibility.

Aw. Now I’ve gone and waxed poetical. What has your journey been like?


Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, she credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the Lei Crime Series.

Book Description: Blood Orchids

Hawaii is palm trees, black sand and blue water—but for policewoman Lei Texeira, there’s a dark side to paradise.

Lei has overcome a scarred past to make a life for herself as a cop in the sleepy Big Island town of Hilo. On a routine patrol she finds two murdered teenagers—one of whom she’d recently busted. With its echoes of her own past, the murdered girl’s harsh life and tragic death affect Lei deeply. She becomes obsessed—even as the killer is drawn to Lei’s intensity, feeding off her vulnerabilities and toying with her sanity.

Despite her obsession with the case and fear that she’s being stalked, Lei finds herself falling in love for the first time. Steaming volcanoes, black sand beaches and shrouded fern forests are the backdrop to Lei’s quest for answers—and the stalker is closer than she can imagine, as threads of the past tangle in her future. Lei is determined to find the killer—but he knows where to find her first.

One of over 51 five star reviews on Amazon:

Hawaiian Background for a Fast Paced Mystery

“In this fast-paced mystery set in Hawaii, we follow police officer Lei Texeira as she and her partner stumble upon a grisly find–two murdered teenagers. Lei knew one of the girls and is determined to find her killer though her help is not wanted by the lead detective on the case, Stevens.

As the multi-layered story unfolds, Lei’s past history becomes apparent, casing a psychological shadow which colors everything she does from dealing with a disturbing stalker to the unwanted attention of a neighbor. More murder victims turn up, and Lei becomes the target of a serial killer.

Blood Orchids is one of those books that once you start you won’t be able to put it down. Author Toby Neal, a native of Hawaii, adds plenty of island atmosphere to this fast moving tale of murder and suspense and a healthy sprinkling of romance.”
-Marilyn Meredith


Available on Amazon as ebook and print:

Available on Barnes and Noble, print only:

Toby Neal’s Blog:

Building an Author Platform that can Launch Anything: a Social Media Minibook

Effective steps to building an author platform that can take advantage of free programs and launch any book into visibility and better sales.

Self published or not, today’s authors have to develop their own “platform” for reaching book buyers. This power-packed 20 pagebooklet contains tips based on author Toby Neal’s sales and psychology background and experience with her bestselling crime novel, Blood Orchids. These secrets maximize social media to build an author platform that can bring fast, wide-ranging visibility and increased sales to any book.

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