Welcome to My World

June 23, 2014

Why Horse Fiction?

My name is Toni Leland and I’m a horse addict. 

Seriously...I could have been the poster child for the classic horse-crazy girl.

I discovered horses when I was about 7 years old. Unfortunately, about the same time, I discovered that my father was terrified of them and that there wouldn’t be a horse in my future any time soon.

So to fuel my passion, I hooked up with another horse-crazy girl. We spent hours talking about horses, dreaming about horses, pretending we were horses. . .the boys on the playground were terrified of us!

I took it one step further and wrote stories about horses. Girl rescues horse. Horse rescues girl. Horse and girl have an adventure. . . I wish I had some of those stories now!

Anyway, when my BFF got her very own horse, I was both thrilled and devastated. She no longer had much time for me and our imaginary steeds, and I began the press to convince my father that a horse would be a good thing for me to have.

He relented the year I turned 12 and, from then on, my life revolved around horses—sometimes more, sometimes less.

But one thing remained constant. To this day, even though I no longer have horses of my own, I still get that quickening in the pit of my stomach any time I’m near one.

Write what you know and love. The writing experts have it nailed.

When I set off on this journey of writing fiction, I naturally settled into the comfort zone of my addiction.

My first book was a romantic mystery, built around the Arabian horses I raised in the 80s. Though they were long gone, I held them near to me as we worked our way through the story and revisited characters from those years in the “horse business.” The process was sometimes painful and poignant, but it was also energizing. I’d found my niche.

As Winning Ways finished, I was already well into my next novel. Being fairly adventurous, I’d decided to see if I could write a straight romance—follow the formula, but write one with a horsey setting.

I was a little skeptical about the endeavor. After all, when does a busy horse owner have time to date, let alone nurture a strong, loving relationship? And into what niche would an equestrian romance fit?

When Hearts Over Fences hit the streets, I quickly learned that I had no clue as to “what works.” The book exploded in popularity and, today—10 years later—it is still a top-selling title in both print and ebook.

So you’d think I’d jump on this gravy train, right? Nooooo. I was already off on another tangent. I wanted to write a thriller about the possibility of terrorism in one’s own backyard, er. . . barn. After Gambling With the Enemy was published in 2006, I headed back toward romantic suspense.

Deadly Heritage embraced that age-old theme of love lost and found. But my characters were constantly challenged by danger and family treachery.

As the nation’s economy nose-dived in 2009, so did business. Horse farms and breeders were deeply affected as the cost of keeping animals skyrocketed. If you can’t feed ’em, what do you do with them?

Horse rescue operations were overwhelmed and the horror stories began to hit the news.

Addressing two similar subjects, I began work on Rescue Me, the story of a horsewoman trapped in a brutally abusive marriage. The research alone on this book made me ever thankful that I didn’t have answers from first-hand experience.

Always a fan of Dick Francis, I began thinking seriously about a mystery series. What I needed was a couple of independent, horse-loving individuals who would save the horse world, case by case. Never did I imagine what hard work this would be! But the team of Kovak & Quaid was born in 2012, and they've been chasing bad guys ever since!

My lifelong love affair with horses has served me well...given me joy and inspiration, and a ton of memories. Now if I can just get them all down on paper....

April 17, 2014

The Value of Book Reviews and Dealing with the Trolls

by Toni Leland

Recently, a successful writing colleague of mine commented that she’d received a truly nasty Amazon review of her newest release. I really sympathized with her—been there, felt that. And as I’ve wondered so many times in the past, my thought was: why do readers feel the need to vent their opinions so viciously? Or at all? If they didn’t like the book, is it necessary to say hurtful things to someone they don’t even know? Have they ever tried to write a book? Do they have any clue to what goes into crafting a story? Never mind getting it published!

I visited the title in question and, sure enough, amid several excellent reviews was a one-liner: the book was garbage, don’t waste your money, don’t read this author’s work. As I’ve done in the past with a couple of less-than-stellar Amazon reviews of my own books, I clicked through to see this reader’s “other reviews.” There were none. Perhaps this person is a beginning reader. Sometimes, the “reviewer” will have their own agenda, be involved personally with another title or author, or simply have nothing better to do with their time. We’ll never know the real story. But be assured that these nay-sayers wouldn't trash a book if they came face-to-face with the authors; the anonymity of the Internet gives some people the courage to be unkind.


Don’t confuse a reader’s “opinion” with a book review. Comments like the one above belong in a forum where bashing is the norm. Book reviews are a whole different breed.
A “real” book review is comprised of many parts:

  • Why or how the book relates to the reader’s interest;
  • The reader’s perception of how well the author used his or her craft, vis a vis language, characters, plot, etc.;
  • What audience would enjoy the book;
  • A brief description of the plot, without giving away key points (spoilers) or the ending;
  • Why the reader did or did not enjoy the book.

Where's the Value?

On Amazon, one poor opinion in the midst of many good ones tells us that someone might just be marching to a different drummer (such as an avid horror fan trying to “review” a romance). But many bad opinions that echo each other tell us that perhaps the book really is a stinker. But a poor review is not always a bad thing, if it was given in the spirit of constructive criticism. We can learn from our readers’ honest comments just as much as we can glow from the praise. If there are dozens of 1's and 2's, look at the recurring theme of the comments. There is a valuable message there, a clue to what might make the book a better read.

Look at the overall average of the reviews; ideally, there should be a balance between the five-stars and the 3- and 4-stars. As with poor reviews, there will be a similarity of comment that can give an author insight into what he or she could change in future work. I recently struggled with a New York Times "best seller", wading through the first third of the book before giving up. I could not get into the story and felt disappointed. Later, on reading the reviews of this title, I heaved a sigh of relief; dozens of readers had voiced their disappointment with the lack-lustre characters, the slow pace of the book, and the fact that they "couldn't get into the story." A valuable message for the author.

Reviews and Sales

Do reviewer comments affect the sales of our books? I believe that today’s average reader has the ability to make a decision based on the synopsis and description of the book, the author’s track record, and the positive comments left by others.

So, authors—keeping working on developing lizard skin. Difficult, but our mental health and creative juices depend on it. Try not to let negative reviews sidetrack your love of the craft and determination to make each story a better one.

February 27, 2014

Writers Supporting Writers

by Toni Leland

Writing a book takes more than skill and a good idea. The process is time-consuming – actually, all-consuming – filling whatever time we have with not only actually putting the words on the page, but the research, the critiques, the brainstorming, the wringing of hands and, of course, the weeks or months of editing and polishing for publication. Then there's the promotion and marketing.

Time. Such a precious commodity to a writer – a facet of our life that we guard with a passion.

And then, someone asks for a favor. For a cover blurb, or critique, or review of their book.

It's easy to think we don't have the time, that this commitment will somehow keep us from our own goals. But wait! How did all this work out for us as we started on the author's journey? Someone, somewhere helped out, gave advice, steered us wrong or right, but took the time to mentor.

I recently read my monthly newsletter from Sisters in Crime and, interestingly, one of the articles was about what we authors can and should do for our colleagues. Author Laura DiSilverio graciously gave permission to print her excellent list of suggestions for those of us who would like to offer a supportive hand or shoulder to other writers.

“...No matter where you are on the writing/publishing continuum, from thinking you might want to write a novel to becoming a multi-pubbed, New York Times best-selling author, why not commit to an act of kindness (anonymous or not) towards another writer. Need ideas? Glad you asked.

  • Buy a debut author’s book.
  • Recommend a book you enjoyed to friends and family; better yet, buy it and give it to them.
  • Write a good review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any of the sites where readers hang out.
  • Offer a blurb to an author who just landed a contract. Don’t wait for them to ask. Offer. And do it.
  • Suggest sharing a signing with a new author if your name carries some clout.
  • Write an email to an author explaining what you think she did brilliantly in her last book.
  • Turn that email into a blog and distribute it widely.
  • Request that your library buy a particular book.
  • Re-tweet.
  • Post a positive review from a professional outlet about a book that’s not yours on your FB page.
  • Offer two hours of baby sitting to your writing buddy who has to squeeze in writing time around squalling kids.
  • Hook up (in the old-fashioned sense, not the twenty-something sense) with a writer new to your fave convention/conference and introduce him to three other people.”

This act of reaching out could be the best thing for a writer's brain – New York Times best-seller list excepted, of course!

Don't be too busy or too successful to help another writer on the path to realizing his or her dream. 

My thanks to Laura DiSilverio for sharing and caring.