Though it is difficult to say if self-publishing is the way of the future for writers, it is most certainly becoming a more popular way of publishing both electronic and hard copies of books. Many writers who self-publish book series seem to find greater success over those who self-publish standalone stories. Cindy Caldwell is one such self-published writer who has found great success by self-publishing her Wild West Frontier Brides series through Amazon.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have grown up, for the most part, in a very prosperous time in the United States. I had the normal, middle class upbringing – college, got married, had children (two awesome ones), great parents, vacations, camping, career. It wasn’t until later in life after my children were grown that I had some personal and professional challenges that necessitated taking a hard look at my future. It wasn’t easy, but I did my best to see it as a challenge rather than a derailment and self-publishing is what I threw myself into. What an adventure – and what good fortune,” Caldwell said. “It’s something that wasn’t available to me at any other time in my life and I’m grateful that I took the leap now. Now, I get to make up stories that I hope people will enjoy every day, live close to my mom, travel with my children – things I wasn’t sure I would be able to do!”
Reading has been a part of Caldwell’s life since she was young, being one of the children who would read all night under her covers with a flashlight. She said she read anything and everything, including series like Nancy Drew and The Little House on the Prairie and even read the Encyclopedia. Due to all of the wonderful stories she has experienced, Caldwell has wanted to be a writer since she was very young. “It had never been an option before as I became very busy raising a family and had a wonderful career as a high school principal. I left that to open a business in 2008, at the height of the recession, and brilliantly used my retirement funds to do that. So, a few years later, when we had to fold that business, there were no principal jobs available and I had to re-invent myself,” Caldwell said.
“A good friend told me about the magic that was Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Createspace and suggested I try self-publishing, which I did. My first series flopped, but I considered it practice since I’d never published before. After a bout of breast cancer, another friend suggested I try mail-order brides and I jumped on it. The independent publishing world of authors is incredibly helpful and meeting some of them online helped with the writing aspect. I was fortunate to meet some amazing indie authors online – Pamela Kelley, Leighann Dobbs, and Kirsten Osbourne, to name a few – who took me under their wings and offered encouragement and critiques. The Wild West Frontier Brides were born and I was able to start over in many, many ways. We all laughed, wondering since we met online if we were all real, but I’ve been able to meet them all in person since and I’d encourage anyone to put themselves out there and meet as many authors as they can. They’re all incredibly encouraging.”
Caldwell has been self-publishing for a few years now and has learned along her writing career that if she does not write every day, then it can be very difficult for her to get back into the story she is currently writing. “I’ve decided it’s just like a muscle, something that I personally have to exercise every day. If I don’t, the doors of panic seem to open and I freeze… and a day becomes a week and it’s even harder,” Caldwell said. “In self-defense, I’ve promised myself that I’ll write a certain number of words every day, usually a chapter, at least, so that I don’t get out of practice. If I write more, great, but I don’t allow myself to do anything fun until I’ve done my assignment for the day. Just like school homework!”
Just like in school, Caldwell has discovered an important aspect of writing: there is, indeed, a learning curve when telling a story. “I didn’t even know until my third book that writing chapters in the hero’s point of view made romance so much richer and the books are much better for it. [They are] much deeper characters. So, rather than be embarrassed that I didn’t know, I just included it moving forward. You have to develop a bit of a thick skin and do the best you can. And move forward, always,” Caldwell said.
Her Wild West Frontier Brides series was not Caldwell’s first set of books she self-published. As aforementioned, she had a contemporary romance series she had written and self-published first which actually took place in Baja California, Mexico, her home at the time of writing it, and she published this series under a pen name. “I chose to use a pen name because I wasn’t sure what I was doing and it seemed safest to hide behind a mask, literally, until I knew if my mother would like the books. I’d always been told to ‘write what you know,’ at least insofar as settings and the like because it would be ‘real’ to you as an author and then more ‘real’ to the reader,” Caldwell said.
“When I moved on from that series and made the decision to continue writing romance, I met an author who’d been very successful at writing western historical mail-order bride romances. I studied up a bit on them and yes, in fact, they were a very real ‘thing’ in the 1880s. I’d grown up in Arizona and California and more recently had spent a fair amount of time in southeast Arizona. Tombstone seemed like a logical place as it was a boom town like no other in Brand and Louis L’lamour (all things cowboy, really) and I read every book as he’d finished it, so my heart was on the western frontier. Seemed logical at the time, and I’ve loved learning even more about it now.”
While The Chef’s Mail-Order Bride began Caldwell’s series, it was really the second book that gave her series more characters and more depth. “[The Wrangler’s Mail-Order Bride] was the second book in this series and I was still learning. I was very surprised at what came out when I wrote it,” Caldwell said. “The story was about Clara and Hank, the hero and heroine, but along the way another character came to life, Hank’s father, Beau Archer. He had a small part in the first book, but in Wrangler, he became a person. He is the widow’s father to six girls along with Hank and he was devastated by his wife’s death. In Wrangler, Clara actually confronts him in what has become my favorite scene about how he wants to continue – with the living, or the dead. She is quite respectful about his pain, but challenges him – and the whole family – to decide to breathe again. She is tending his wife’s beloved herb garden and he doesn’t want Clara to touch it, to be in it. She stays, challenging him and all of his children to honor her memory and move forward. He’s become a character in each book since and in the book I’m writing currently, he just may be finding love of his own.”
The next series Caldwell plans to write revolves around characters first introduced in The Wrangler’s Mail-Order Bride, six characters in particular: Hank’s sisters. These sisters are memorable characters not only because of their very nice relationships with Hank and Clara, but also because of their names: each is named after a spice. “Hank’s mother, Katie, Beau Archer’s wife, was an avid cook and loved herbs. Her herb garden was the hub of the family before she passed away. I wanted to name all six girls after herbs or spices, but I could only think of two! I posted in a Facebook group that is comprised of avid readers of historical westerns and, within minutes, I had more names than I could use. It was fun! I ended up with Rosemary, Nutmeg, twins Saffron and Sage, Tarragon, and Pepper. Three of those young ladies have found their matches so far, with three more to go. And, of course, Mr. Archer himself,” Caldwell said.
“The Wild West Frontier Brides series is specifically about mail-order brides, so when I began to write books for Hank’s sisters, I couldn’t call them mail-order bride books! It was a little challenging, but I started The Brides of Archer Ranch series which is actually a continuation of the stories of the same friends and family in Tombstone. I’m hoping that readers can see that they’re the same characters and yes, there will be a book for each of them and the one I’m working on now is actually a sister-in-law to Saffron Archer. Readers requested that she find her happily ever after and so I decided to oblige. And after all the Archer girls, I think Beau needs to find his happily ever after, too.”
Readers will be seeing many new works from Caldwell in the near future as, along with all six of the Archer sisters, there was another character from her story The Bartender’s Mail-Order Bride who that fascinated her. “She’s the mother of the bartender, actually. Mrs. Allen is a wealthy widow who moved from New York to Tombstone. She’s quite sophisticated and lovely… and curious. I’d like to start a historical mystery series, set in Tombstone, where she inquires about unsolved suicides (which may or may not actually be suicides) of the women of Tombstone. I have an awful lot of Archer girls to work through first though,” Caldwell said.
With its ever-growing popularity, Caldwell encourages any writers wanting to publish to do it themselves. “The technical aspect of self-publishing has become so simple that anyone who has any inkling at all of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, should definitely try it. The costs are surprisingly low – cover art and editing – and Amazon has made the rest of it shockingly simple. Writing the book is the most difficult part, of course, but after that – find an editor and have that done, get a professional, beautiful cover and you’re ready to roll. After opening a KDP account with Amazon, you just follow the directions and upload your book. Add all your information, choose a price and hit the publish button,” Caldwell said. “It has changed my life in a way I never even knew was possible at a time when options were difficult to find and jobs weren’t easy to find for my age category. Add to that the fact that I can write from anywhere, literally, and it’s the best opportunity of the century, to my mind. It’s been such a gift.”