Free books for June 2020

It’s time for a free book roundup! Here are the books in my backlist you can download for free right now!

SUNSET AT CATOCTIN CREEK: A sweet and cozy small town romance featuring a beautiful country setting in the mountains of western Maryland.


At Amazon: https://amzn.to/3iVuuU9
(Plus, the second book in the series is 99¢)

SHOW BARN BLUES: A middle-aged barn owner realizes that she’s the last woman standing when her former horse country neighborhood becomes vacation home territory – and fights back.

At Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, Google Play: https://storyoriginapp.com/universalbooklinks/d6ce5fbc-42f0-11eb-bda0-c303aa601859

At Scribd, Thalia, and Bol: https://books2read.com/u/bzeky9

BOLD: This prequel novella launches the bestselling Eventing Series with the story of Jules Thornton and her first tumultuous days in Ocala’s horse country.

Free with email signup: https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/c17f1b0c-64e6-11eb-a16e-539d6add63cb

CLAIMING CHRISTMAS: A feel-good holiday novella with a horse racing twist! Alex would rather ignore the holidays…but a determined little girl and the horse she falls in love with could change everything.

Free with email signup: https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/2a97fb34-2ce0-11eb-a4e0-537f64e94301

These books are free for a limited time! Enjoy, and feel free to share with friends ❤️

Every Book I Read in January 2021

I thought it would be really fun to make notes on every book I read in 2021. It’s easier than writing book reviews individually, which I almost never find time to do – I can jot down something quick for the book’s Amazon page, but to write a full blog post? Far too much work.

But I love sharing reads! And I devour a decent variety of books. So hey, this might help you find your next book to read.

So, here it is: every book I read in January, 2021!

every book I read in January 2021

The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich

One word: sensational. I’m really glad this was the first book I finished in 2021, because it felt like I was starting off on the right foot. I didn’t know about Louise Erdrich — I’d seen her books but the cover design never resonated with me. Then one night I was playing with some book lists and read the blurb for this one. Mid 20th century, Native Americans trying to preserve their tribal status when the government is trying to strip it, a huge cast of characters. Somehow I just knew it was going to be an amazing read.

And it was! The Night Watchman is beautifully written. Erdrich’s style of short chapters featuring the POV of many diverse characters allows readers to go on a real journey. She has a real sensibility about the way words go together, too. “The Chippewa Scholar” is one of my favorite things about this book: not just the character, who is great, but the fact that the tribe calls her this, and the way the words roll off the tongue. The “waterjack” was another fascinating, almost totem-like word.

I highly recommend The Night Watchman and I’m looking forward to digging into Erdrich’s backlist.

Amazon: The Night Watchman

Christmasland, Anne-Marie Meyer

I picked this one up for free because I liked the concept – a small New England town transforms itself into a Christmas village every year, but not in a fairy-tale, Dickensian fashion. Oh no, this town goes full Hallmark. Obviously themed entertainment is a huge deal to me, so I wanted to explore that concept.

Well, honestly, this book doesn’t talk much about the nuts and bolts of a town transforming itself for Christmas. It’s a rom-com and the entire focus is on the relationship growing between the son of a town resident and a curmudgeonly Christmas-hater who has gone there on holiday with her best friend. You have to like Hallmark movies to like this book. If you do, give it a read!

Amazon: Christmasland

The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah

I read this as an ARC from NetGalley. The Four Winds is coming out later this year. If you’ve read The Great Alone or The Nightingale, you know Hannah’s trademark is big, sweeping, heavily-researched novels featuring women who have to make incredibly hard choices, generally again and again and again and again. I’ve read both of those novels and heartily recommend them, without hesitation.

In fact, I’d really like to read The Great Alone again — I find Alaska fascinating, and the idea of survivalists going there and literally farm, fish, and hunt like mad for four months a year so they can hunker down for the other eight, just trying not to freeze, is absolutely wild to me.

The Four Winds was a must-read for me because the Dust Bowl is another one of those wild periods of history which is really misunderstood, and there’s a lack of accessible literary fiction around it. This is a mother’s story as she tries to hold together the family she was so desperate to have in the first place.

The first third of this book held me riveted as it described life on the Texas plains during the Dust Bowl. Just gutting. The second third of this book held me riveted as it described the plight of the Okie. Heading west in hopes of work, finding racism and prejudice and armed police at the borders of American states, keeping out other Americans — well, that really will make anyone pause and have a good think about this country’s recent history.

The last third of this book hits some really strong themes. Ultimately, I think Hannah missed the mark with the ending, but with that caveat, it’s still a very worthy read and you should grab it as soon as you can.

Amazon: The Four Winds

Coming Home to the Loch, Hannah Ellis

This contemporary romance is set between a village on the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. I picked it up for free and then found it was on Kindle Unlimited, so I read it that way instead, so the author got paid a little bit. I read it quickly, liked the characters, loved the settings, laughed out loud a good deal. A nice bit of escapism, great for before bed, so if you have KU, a good bet. I started reading the next one, The Castle by the Loch, but I haven’t finished it yet.

Amazon: Coming Home to the Loch

Starting Over in Maple Bay, Brittney Joy

Brittney Joy’s equestrian saga, Red Rock Ranch, has been around for years and she has dabbled in fantasy as well, but this is her first contemporary romance! Small town romance often has some distinct geographic sub-genres, and this one is in the Great Lakes category, but instead of being set amongst a little vacation town, like they usually are, it’s set on a lovely horse farm.

This book is gentle and soft-hearted, offering readers an escape to a place with friendly neighbors, kind families, big Sunday dinners, and fun at the annual town rodeo. The writing is lovely, and all in all, this is an excellent romance for when you don’t want your blood pressure raised, just a nice relaxing read.

Amazon: Starting Over in Maple Bay

Rise and Shine, Anna Quindlen

Last year I read Alternate Side, the first book I’d read by veteran women’s fiction writer Anna Quindlen, and I was simply blown away by how much I loved it. Quindlen seems to understand New York City much as I do, and the street in this book was actually a lot like my first block when I moved to the city in 2004. The entire concept of the book, looking at class and race from the eyes of a rather tired liberal woman who has done well for herself in the last generation that could buy a brownstone for a song and fix it up, worked on every level.

In contrast Rise and Shine is not generally lauded as her best, but I think the first 2/3 of this book are really excellent. I doubt its reviews were helped by making the heroine a social worker who rides her rich sister’s coattails to all the best dinners in town — there’s something about that “my best friend is rich so I am rich by association” trope that’s a little tired. That being said, the characters are interesting, the settings are very real, and the heroine actually lives on my first block, which is kind of hilarious (to me). I liked it; I thought the resolution was weak, but overall it was a good book, and Tequila is a great sidekick.

Amazon: Rise and Shine

How to Judge a Book By Its Lover, Jessica Jiji

This was a total surprise. I picked this one up free, although I had serious misgivings about it based on the cover — the irony!! Seriously, though, it’s not a very good cover. But it turned out to have a great story, a great understanding of New York settings, and a lot of fun.

The heroine is desperate to escape her Long Island background by making it in Manhattan, but things are not panning out for her. When she finally gets rolling thanks to a shove from a benevolent alumnae from her alma mater, she immediately takes risks only a rich woman should take. This is what happens when you get your advice from a rich woman.

It’s not always a romance, but the ending is decidedly contemporary romance. Still, a good KU escape read.

Amazon: How to Judge a Book By Its Lover

Comet in Summer, Grace Wilkinson

There are so many things to love about this novel. The setting, the hilarious family, the dry observations of the heroine. Wilkinson has put together a kind of hybrid horse novel here, with the dynamics of National Velvet — the huge family really gave me Brown vibes — but none of the heroic drive Velvet shows. Instead, her heroine really just wants to enjoy her horse.

At times, this book is so character-driven as it follows Rio’s personal growth, I wondered where it was going. Then I realized I was getting used to the plot devices that drive so many equestrian novels forward — the need to acquire the horse, the need to win the show, the need to save the farm — that it had been a while since I’d looked at a horse plot from the perspective of a young woman who is just trying to understand her place in a very strange world … the horse world!

That’s what makes the book so lovely, and that evocative title makes sense: it’s about the most simple joy of all, a horse-filled summer.

Adored. Top pick. READ IT. Yes, it’s in Kindle Unlimited!

Amazon: Comet in Summer

Bridal Boot Camp, Meg Cabot

This was the most disappointing thing I’ve read in ages. I’m only including it because I said every book I read in January. There’s such a thing as a novella to get readers interested in a series. And then there’s whatever this is: a handful of chapters with set-up, character building, setting description, a catalyst moment — and then it just ends. It simply stops being. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to publish the first third of a book and call it a day?

And it’s not like this is a tease of a book. It’s a tease of the Little Bridge Series, which at the moment is two books, both of them great, but neither of them featuring the romance that is set up in this short. I can’t comprehend why this exists, and I’m super mad about it.

(That being said, No Offense and No Judgments are actual Little Bridge romance novels, set in the Keys, and they’re super fun. Meg Cabot has lived in the Keys for a while and she gets Floridian life, especially the cavalier attitude towards hurricanes.)

Well, that’s my list! I found this really satisfying to write, and I hope you’ve found some interesting books to read!

Now, it’s your turn! What did you read that belongs on everyone’s list? Comment away!

Another Award for Hidden Horses

The latest award for my novel The Hidden Horses of New York has arrived!

This book won the WINNIE Award for Horse Racing Books at the 2020 EQUUS Film & Arts Festival. This is the second award for Hidden Horses, which also won for best fiction in the American Horse Publications’ 2019 awards.

The Hidden Horses of New York wins award

The award had to shipped, of course, as the physical festival had to be scrapped because of the pandemic. What a shame, because you can see all of the fun things that came with it – credentials, a medal from the literary corral! I am so hopeful we can all gather at the Kentucky Horse Park in late 2021 to celebrate another year of great horse books…and of course, the return of our real lives.

It’s especially poignant to win an award for a story about New York City, whose residents have been through so much over the past year. I can’t wait to be back in my favorite city. Hopefully it will be this year, because I have an idea for a follow-up to this novel and I’d love to walk the streets again for inspiration.

If you missed it, I have an interview with the EQUUS Film & Arts Fest here.

The Hidden Horses of New York is still a Kindle Deal through January 31, 2021. Get your copy here.

New Covers for Catoctin Creek

One of the best things about publishing your own works? You get to design the covers – or hire the designer of your choice. And when you don’t think you’ve gotten the design quite right, you can always change them!

I had a very definite vision for the cover of Sunset at Catoctin Creek, but it just didn’t work out. I have the paperback with the original cover, and I’m happy about it, but from a bookshelf sales perspective, I could see it didn’t do a good job of selling itself. It didn’t tell readers what was under that cover.

The pretty house was taken right out of the western Maryland setting – but the cover just isn’t timely for the book’s genre.

I hired a cover designer and I think the work she did was very pretty. I really liked the first two covers she designed. In fact, when she found a picture with a cute dog for Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, I wrote in the dog. If you’ve read that book, you know how important that dog is to the story. So it’s crazy but true: the dog wasn’t even in the first draft!

Snowfall at Catoctin Creek
The dog in Snowfall at Catoctin Creek only exists because a cover designer sent me this image and I loved the dog so much! But this wasn’t the right cover, either.

Ultimately, these covers skewed too young. My characters are in their early 30s and the covers just felt much younger than that. And they didn’t express the sense of place that I wanted to convey. Catoctin Creek isn’t just about the people — it’s about the place.

When fellow author Brittney Joy wrote to tell me about her new small town romance, Starting Over at Maple Bay, I took one look at her cover and nearly screamed. It was perfect! I was so happy for her — but I also knew I had to get Catoctin Creek right.

That night I redesigned the covers, and I finally felt like I had the right formula for this series. The new Catoctin Creek covers express everything I want: this is a series about a beautiful, natural place. There are horses. The typeface is clean and easy to read, showing these are contemporary reads. I think these covers scream pick me up. I definitely would.

I’m so happy with these covers, and I’m excited to start working on the cover for the third novel, Springtime at Catoctin Creek. Writing Sean and Nadine’s romance is like a little treat I’m saving for myself, and once I have the cover ready, I think I will have the inspiration I need to really jump in and create this new sweet tale.

Read the first chapters of the Catoctin Creek books here: Escape with Catoctin Creek: A Small Town Romance Series

Recipes from Snowfall at Catoctin Creek

This is a delicious post!

My recent release, Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, features amateur chef and professional restaurant manager Nikki Mercer. By day, she’s overseeing the serving of traditional diner dishes at the Blue Plate, where she’s been working since she took over from her aunt. The Blue Plate Diner is a venerable country cookin’ establishment, with tried-and-true recipes like fried chicken and meatloaf. The whole town loves the Blue Plate, but Nikki’s culinary aspirations run a little higher…

woman kneading dough in kitchen
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

Nikki whips up a few delicious recipes throughout the course of the book, many of them for Thanksgiving dinner at Notch Gap Farm. When I originally envisioned the book, I planned to include recipes in the back copy. But time got away from me and, it must be admitted, they’re not my recipes!

There is no copyright on recipes, which makes the world of cookbooks and cooking blogs a wild, wooly one I don’t care to enter at this time. Instead, let me link you to the recipes which I used for inspiration as I wrote Snowfall at Catoctin Creek.

Sweet Potato Cinnamon Pecan Casserole

Photo: Cooking Classy Sweet Potato Casserole

Nikki makes this casserole to replace the usual mini-marshmallow sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving dinner. I took the idea from Cooking Classy. I meant to make it at Thanksgiving this year, but I didn’t have time to cook, so maybe next time!

Whiskey Glazed Carrots

Photo: Whiskey-Glazed Carrots by The Pioneer Woman

I called these honey bourbon carrots in the book, but I was working off memory. When I looked up the actual recipe I used, I found they’re called Whiskey-Glazed Carrots. These carrots are absolutely delicious. I made these for Thanksgiving one year when I lived in Brooklyn, and when I poured in the bourbon, a purple flame shot up and I thought I was going to burn my entire building down. Find them at the Pioneer Woman site, and they’re also in her holiday cookbook.

Orange-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash

Photo: Heartbeet Kitchen

File this one under recipes I’ve never made but wow, they sound so good! I was just looking for a twist on sprouts, and when I found this one I knew it was perfect. Get Heartbeet Kitchen’s recipe for Orange-Glazed Brussel Sprouts and Butternut Squash here.

Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes

Photo: Happy Veggie Kitchen

Like the sprouts, this is a wish-list recipe. I just looked up interesting mashed potato variations until I found this one. It’s from Happy Veggie Kitchen.

All of these recipes would be amazing for additions to a family celebration or a holiday dinner. If you try any, comment and let me know how it went!

And if you haven’t yet read Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, give it a look! You can read the first chapters right here, or get the book from Amazon.

New Interview for EQUUS Film & Arts Fest

November brings the 8th anniversary of the EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, celebrating cinema and literature with a focus on the horse! This year, The Hidden Horses of New York is part of the festival’s Literary Corral. Since we couldn’t all get together in person, the festival has gone virtual this year.

I did a special video interview to talk about The Hidden Horses of New York just for EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, which you can watch below!

I always love talking about this novel, which was such an intensely personal project to write. If you haven’t yet read The Hidden Horses of New York, you can find it in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and print at Amazon, or in print from my favorite independent bookseller, Taborton Equine Books.

Perfect Horse-Lover’s Gifts: Autographed Books with Free Shipping!

It’s mid-November, time to start thinking about holiday gifts! If you’re shopping for a horse-lover this holiday season, a horse book is the perfect gift. Riding instructors, barn managers, grooms, your barn BFF, that hard-working student who eats, breathes, and sleeps horses: I’ve got the perfect book for all of them.

This Week in Walt Disney World Weather — June 9, 2019

For the rest of November, I have a limited number of paperbacks available for just $12 each, shipping included! Choose from some of my best-loved titles, including Ambition and Turning for Home, by November 30th, and get a signed copy for your favorite horse-lover… or yourself!

Available Titles

  • Ambition
  • Pride
  • Courage
  • Show Barn Blues
  • The Head and Not The Heart
  • Other People’s Horses
  • Turning for Home

All books can be inscribed to a special someone along with my signature and a short message!

Books will be shipped using Media Mail to the continental U.S. between December 2-4, 2019.

There is an extremely limited number of books available for this sale. If you have your heart set on a certain title, get in touch as soon as possible.

To order: send your request to me at my email address: natalie @ nataliekreinert.com (remove the spaces). Payment via Venmo, PayPal or Cash is accepted. Payments must be processed before shipping.

Not sure which book to send? Check out my equestrian fiction here to learn more.

Authentic Settings – So You Want To Write A Horse Book: Part 2

For me, writing horse books is rooted in authenticity.

(This is the 2nd post in the series, So You Want To Write A Horse Book. Read the first post here.)

This can get tiresome for a writer, when you’re trying to follow a plot thread and find that it leads to a dead end, or a “that wouldn’t happen in real life” situation, but it’s the price we pay for writing for the pickiest group of readers in the universe.

horse-419156_1280
A casual viewer sees a beautiful horse in a field of wildflowers. An equestrian wonders what kind of flowers they are, if they’re poisonous, zooms in to see if that’s a manure pile in the background, and starts wondering when that horse last had a fecal exam for parasites. Horse people. Think. Differently.

(You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Here is an excerpt from an actual review left an Amazon:

“I tried, I really did but I couldn’t get past chapter 3. Chapter one was bad enough where the supposed “expert” horse trainer expresses his concern that the horse has injured its ANKLE (seriously????).”

Now, this was my first book, and I’d slaved over the details, and I was selling it on the virtue of its details, so this review felt like more than just the usual slap in the face sensation I get from your regularly scheduled bad reviews. So I broke a major rule of writing and responded to the bad review with an editorial example of using the word “ankle” in horse-racing circles:

‘The “ankle” issue is a verbiage commonly used in horse racing. For example: “Havre de Grace Retired With Ankle Injury” (The Blood-Horse, April 25, 2012: http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/69168/havre-de-grace-retired-with-ankle-injury). The term “ankle” is generally used when speaking of the fetlocks and lower-leg issues. Again, that’s a horse racing quirk; it might not be true of everyone’s equine experience, however.’

I’ll never know if the reviewer forgave me for using a word she wasn’t familiar with, but I would assume not. And there you have it, an example of writing for equestrians.)

I guess a very real question a potential writer might have right now is, “Why would you do this to yourself?”

We just do.

Authentic settings: this is a decision you have to make before you begin typing your first paragraphs of your book. It’s not just about using the right brush on your horse; it’s also, it’s a a lot, about settings. You have to decide: will your book reflect the real world like a window, or like a mirror?

It’s easier to make your own rules when you’re dealing with show horses, to set up a kind of looking-glass version of reality, with your own divisions and point systems, and avoid wading into the sea of mysteries that is double-A rated shows and Marshall & Sterling points and getting qualifications for entering an Advanced level Three-Day Event, unless you are incredibly comfortable in that environment.

By incredibly comfortable, I mean, you’ve been riding, training, and showing in those divisions for years. You can fill out an entry form with your eyes closed. It’s part of your normal daily life.

The need for this precision is real. Most people might not notice if you get a couple of show-ring details wrong, although if you call a fetlock an ankle, watch out! (…kidding…) But there are people who will, and they will call you out on it. There will be A-circuit kids reading your A-circuit novel, and you’re going to say something that annoys them.

It’s just a question of keeping those annoyances to a minimum.

Everyone comes up with a different solution to the window/looking glass problem. Here are three examples:

img_9709
Choosing real vs. fictional locations is all about your comfort level. Photo: Natalie Keller Reinert

Reality for the Setting; Fiction for the Close-Ups:

I use real governing bodies (The Jockey Club, The United States Eventing Association) and real championships/stake races (The American Eventing Championships, the Kentucky Derby) along with fictional competition. My horses run in races of my own invention (The Mizner Stakes) and in made-up events (The Sunshine State Horse Trials). For locations, I only write about racetracks I’m very familiar with, like Saratoga (the setting for Other People’s Horses), or Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park, and a few others. I write almost exclusively about Florida and New York because I know those places so well.

I do make sure my timing is right as well. If I’m running a horse in a fictional stakes at Gulfstream, it’s when Gulfstream would actually be open for racing. But I make up the races to avoid A) stealing glory from horses who have actually won those races; and B) to avoid getting caught up in the pesky details of condition books, qualifications, weights, etc., which is just way too much effort to put into a novel, however correct I’d like it to be. I would consider this the middle-road for authentic settings.

Keep it Real:

Fellow racing writer Mara Dabrishus isn’t afraid to get completely into real-life competition in the Breeders’ Cup and other major stakes races, and she does a great job of depicting American racing without feeling the need to spend a lot of time explaining what the hell she’s talking about. She spends more time on the actual backstretch of actual racetracks than I do. When I have Alex retreat to a rented barn or back to the farm, Mara’s characters are still slugging it out on-site at Belmont or Gulfstream. I have a lot of admiration for her discipline in this regard. I also find that when I’m reading her books, my eye is drawn to the details of places I recognize and know intimately. I’m always testing her descriptions against my memories. Be aware that when you use a real locale, you will have readers who know that place inside-out, possibly better than you do. This style is a gutsy move.

Create a Fictional, but Believable, Setting to Support the Story:

My friend Jessica Burkhart went with entirely fictional lower and collegiate-level organizations for her series Canterwood Crestwhich features secondary-school competition. Rather than get wrapped up in different sports, governing bodies, and the intricacies of Young Riders Championships and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she simply developed a series of district, regional, and national championships which her characters could compete in, with the end-goal being the real United States Equestrian Team. The wisdom of this approach: it gives you so much more time to concentrate on story, and it allows riders (and hey, non-riders) of all disciplines to enjoy the series without needing technical explanations of how the discipline is run. Your story has plenty of room to shine.

What’s Right For You?

I think I can speak for anyone reading this when I say we’re all on a quest for authenticity. That’s what our readers tell us they love, over and over again. Even this one-star review for my first novel contained this caveat: “Writer was good with the horse terms and nailed the references to the life of a rider.” (The first part of the review, of course, was that it was a terrible story.)

So I believe it goes without saying that we’re all going to write the truest thing we know when it comes to our horses and our riding. We will never be allowed to gallop out of the arena after a jumping class without severe consequences; we will never feed our horse a celebratory pizza on his birthday; we will never put our neighbor’s kid on our Grand Prix dressage horse that we adopted from the BLM when we were 12 years old and had in the Olympics by the time we were 15; we will never wear a red coat to a short stirrup class, or a shadbelly to show-jumping class. I don’t have to actually point that out because we all know better. I just do it to point out what we’ve been reading all our lives, and why we’re so excited to change all that.

One good way to decide on your commitment level is to write (or think aloud in the shower, whatever works for you) the general plot-line of your book. And we’ll talk more about that in the future, but in the meantime, think of it like this. You say to yourself, “And then Michelle finds out she has a shot at the Young Riders Championships.”

You pause and think about the Young Riders Championships.

-How much do you know about it?

-How much research will you have to put into accurately portraying the Young Riders Championships?

-Will this present obstacles to your timelime? Maybe you’re writing a story with a big Christmas climax or a new foal is born at some point, but the Young Riders Championships is in July and that would throw everything off. Do you really want to change the entire story because now it needs to end in July instead of January?

-If any of these things feel problematic, consider how easy it be to simply make Young Riders into something else plausible. Why not just make up a championship called the Eventing Youth Nationals? Boom, done, easy. Your problems are solved.

Deciding on the level of authenticity in your story’s setting has much to do with your comfort level with the topics you’re tackling. If you feel at all in over your head, back away and do some serious soul-searching about how important that setting really is to your story. It might be everything. Or it might make more sense to just wave your fiction wand and make a new, more suitable setting come to life.

If you choose this route, you are not giving up your equestrian street cred. You’re actually cementing it by committing to the details you know — the nitty-gritty of equestrian life, the ins and outs of the days we spend with horses — and not compromising the knowledge level you’re presenting to your also-knowledgeable readers by winging it with some of the things they know by heart.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

So You Want to Write a Horse Book: Part One

You can write a horse book! This blog series will help aspiring writers put their equestrian novel together, from bestselling author Natalie Keller Reinert.

Updated March 17, 2019 by Natalie Keller Reinert

I’ve been writing horse books for the past eight years. It started out as a wish: I wish there were more horse books I wanted to read! It turned into a project: I’m going to write a book I’d like to read. It ended up as a career: in 2019, I decided to write horse books (and some other fiction) full-time.

So You Want to Write a Horse Book is a blog series I started in 2016 to help answer the questions I regularly get from aspiring equestrian fiction writers. Whether you want to write young adult, middle grade, chapter books, or adult fiction for equestrians, there’s a big beautiful publishing world waiting for you!

Let's talk about how to write horse books.
Let’s talk about how to write horse books.

You’ll find posts in this series on everything from how to ask for criticism (and not die of embarrassment/horror when you get it) to how to choose your book’s cover image. And anytime you have more questions about how to write a horse book, just ask! Leave a comment or send an email, and I’ll try to answer it for you.

Are you ready? Let’s start!

What is a Horse Book?

A horse book, in my definition, is a book about equestrian life. It can be a romance, a literary fiction, a mystery novel, or even a steampunk combination of all three of those things. What qualifies the book as a horse book is that it has scenarios and characters recognizable to the equestrian community.

I classify what I write as Equestrian Fiction. That means my books are written specifically for equestrians to understand and enjoy. I don’t spend a lot of time explaining equine terms, trusting that non-equestrian readers can judge what I’m talking about based on context, use Google to learn more, or simply move on and enjoy the story. I also write with an adult audience in mind, although I recognize that in the equestrian world, teens are often living very adult lives, so I consider them my audience, as well.

This genre didn’t always exist, and if you ask a big book retailer, it still doesn’t exist. That’s why Equestrian Fiction dominates non-fiction categories like Horse Care, and Equestrian Sports on Amazon. It’s just one of those things you’ll have to deal with if you write equestrian fiction: this genre boasts the most popular books for equestrians, but no real category.

That’s a gripe for another time.

Equestrian Fiction is growing by the month. Established writers are continuing their series, and new writers are showing up with fantastic reads. If you’re tempted to join the fun, this blog series is for you.

Here’s what you should know, first and foremost: there are a handful of highs and a truckload of lows when you write your first novel (and your second, and your third, and your fourth…) and when we’re marketing our books directly to our readers, we have no choice but to face the criticism head-on.

While some writers with major publishing deals can say lofty (and probably untrue, but whatever) things like, “I never read the reviews,” if you’re a new, independent writer sharing good reviews to try to drum up good press, you’re going to have to read the reviews.

All of them.

And some of them will make you cry.

That’s okay! Your dressage (hunter/jumper/western pleasure/fill-in-the-blank here) trainer has made you cry, but you still ride, right? We’re equestrians, so we’re used to pain equaling gain. We’re used to falling down, dusting ourselves up, and mounting again. Maybe that’s why we’re hanging on, growing, and actually thriving in such a difficult industry.

It’s just really hard to mash down a determined equestrian!

Writing for any audience is tough, but writing for equestrians is exceptionally challenging. In 2012, I interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley for the equestrian lifestyle site, Dappled Grey. Jane Smiley stormed into the equestrian scene with her massive racing/showing novel Horse Heaven, and became as common a barn name as any big name trainer. I remember working at the Ocala, Florida branch of Barnes & Noble when Horse Heaven was at its height. I was selling copies one after another to well-known hunter/jumper riders in town for HITS. I was actually star-struck by some of the luminaries who walked in and asked for the book by name.

But Horse Heaven, for all its popularity with the equestrian community and the wider world, didn’t get a follow-up. Instead, Smiley began a children’s series, beginning with The Georges and the Jewels, which taught excellent horsemanship, but didn’t get into the complicated and very adult lives of modern riders, trainers, and owners in the racing and showing business–something I loved because it reflected the world I lived in so beautifully.

So I asked Smiley, why did she stop writing equestrian novels for adults, when Horse Heaven was such a hit with her own crowd?

Here’s what Jane Smiley told me about writing equestrian fiction:

“The horse audience will toss the book out of the window if the voice isn’t expert. The audience isn’t big, and they’re critical, although they’re enthusiastic when they’ve committed. Sometimes you can make it work and sometimes you can’t. It’s not an easy audience to write for.”

Imagine writing huge multi-generational trilogies, imagine winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and having your novels turned into movies, and then finding equestrians too picky an audience to continue writing for. That’s what you’re up against when you decide to write a horse book.

But that’s okay. There are ways around this. There are ways to find your voice. There are ways to prove yourself to your audience. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this blog series.

Watch this space for a post each week on writing horse books. Feel free to chime in, comment, and ask questions. Send me an email if you don’t want to go public with your writing aspirations; I promise confidentiality. Let’s talk about writing. Because honestly? I want to read your books. I write for this genre because eight years ago, sitting at my computer, I realized that all I wanted to read was more Horse Heaven. And no one was writing it.

So I wrote the book I wanted to read.

I’ve come a long way since my first novella, The Head and Not The Heart. I’ve made it through bad reviews and good, vicious emails and heart-warming messages, and even found myself in Lexington, Kentucky accepting runner-up at one of America’s richest book prizes before flying to Pimlico for a festival-day book-signing. I’ve spoken about the horse in fiction at Equine Affaire. I’ve been invited to work on conference proposals exploring animals in literature. It’s an exciting adventure, being an equestrian fiction author. I never know what’s going to arrive in my inbox next.

I love my writing life; I’m grateful for my writing life, which readers grant me every day when they choose to read my novels, and I want to encourage, nurture, inspire, and help new writers join the ranks in any way I can.

Let’s talk horse books, and writing them, together. I think this is going to be a good time.