Getting To Know Aila, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writer's Life, Writing

The Death of Literature?

@AilaStephens (1)“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, 
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
-Walt Whitman

 

Halloween looms. I love Halloween. I don’t do anything, really. I’m not often accused of being a social butterfly. And we only get about four kids trick-or-treating. (It’s a burden having a giant bowl of unclaimed candy!) It’s Fall, though. The leaves are changing and padding the ground. The temperature is dipping, and pumpkins dominate the produce department of every grocery store.

Though I don’t really go out and celebrate Halloween, I do enjoy the lore. I used to be keen on watching all the scary movies—the more gore, the better. But nowadays I tend to stick to a few classics that I’m drawn to every year. Of course no Halloween would be complete without Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, Sleepy Hollow, *the* Halloween movies (Because, Michael Myers!), and Ghostbusters.

I always wonder why it is we spend so much time and money to scare ourselves. What with the costumes, the tickets to the latest slasher films, haunted houses, housefuls of decorations, etc—we spare no expense in curdling our own blood, despite the fact there is already so much out there to fear.

Of the plethora of scary topics, I was scrolling through social media not long ago and I saw a satirical image that I find inherently frightening. Perhaps not in the way that causes one’s hair to stand on end or heart palpitations, but it’s frightening nonetheless.

The image, by artist John Holcroft, depicts a book in the shape of a coffin and the nails each depict a different social media outlet. The artist is clearly predicting the bye-to-booksimminent death of literature, with social media to blame for its untimely demise. Now, as a writer, this scares the hell out of me. I don’t think it is that society doesn’t still enjoy a good story, but because social media plays such a huge role in our lives now, the way people want their information has changed. We get our news as we scroll Facebook while waiting on our doctor’s appointment. We prefer our interactions 140 characters at a time. Does this prevent people from reading books? Have our attention spans diminished to the point where cracking a book and making it to the end is a foreign concept?

A 2016 Pew Research Center survey cites that 26% of American adults hadn’t read a book in the 12 months prior to the survey. 19% of those adults had also not visited a library in those 12 months. I suppose those are fairly small numbers, and may not on their own suggest the demise of literature…but there’s more. In another study, it is suggested that approximately 50% of American adults cannot read past an 8th grade level—with a whopping 33% of high school graduates who are unlikely to crack open a book for pleasure after they graduate high school.

What then might happen with the children of that 33%? Will they have a love of reading instilled in them or will that skip them, causing that number to rise over the years? Surely, as with most technologies, social media is going to continue to grow, evolve, and firm up its grip on society.

Does that in and of itself have to be a bad thing though? I hope not.

I’ve never really done much as a writer or a reader when it comes to WattPad, but my understanding is that it is pretty much a social media+writer’s delight. Perhaps it will help keep the love of reading and writing alight in the hearts of teens and young adults while satiating the addiction of social media.

The scariest statistic I came across, though, is this: 80% of US families did not buy a book this year (statisticbrain.com: August 4, 2017). I’m not statistician, obviously, but this number seems awfully high. It doesn’t state whether it refers to print books, eBooks, a combination, picture books, etc. I suppose some factors may have inflated that: used books might not be counted, lending libraries, thrift stores (where I buy a lot of books, personally), children’s books, etc. etc.

Other statistics to note:

US Inmates who are literate: 15%
Books started that are not completed: 57%
US Adults who haven’t been in a bookstore in 5 years: 70%?! (How do people resist?!?!)

It isn’t surprising to me that with statistics like these, John Holcroft foresees the death of literature. Personally, I don’t think literature will (or could ever) die. It has already evolved. Can you imagine what Walt Whitman, Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, or any other pre-internet age author would have thought if you’d said to them that people would one day be able to get their work through their telephones? Or that one day there would be a way they could write and share their work instantly with the whole world? The publishing industry and writers alike are already adapting and dipping their toes in possible solutions to attract new readers.

What do you think? Have you personally noticed any changes in the reading habits of your family, friends, or even yourself? Is literature dying or thriving?

Until next time, happy writing…and for crying out loud: HAPPY READING!

 

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Announcement, Getting To Know Aila, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writer's Life, Writing

Author Confession

@AilaStephens

I sometimes wonder if other authors grieve their characters once they’ve finished writing a book or series. I finished writing Sex, Love, and Formalities a few weeks ago, with minor tweaks here and there based off editor and/or beta feedback…but for all intents and purposes, the story of Briella Logan is finished.

She’s the first character I’ve ever created who has seen the finish line of not just one, but two books. She’s my first entry into the publishing world. I’ve spent over two years agonizing over her syntax, her emotions, her likes and dislikes. I know the lifetime of backstory that readers will never know.

For instance, when Briella was in high school her father was in the hospital and when he came home, Brie made him dinner and he said it was the best thing he’d ever eaten—and that’s why Brie decided to become a chef. It *never* comes up in either story, but I knew how she came to that decision. I know that she secretly listens to Alanis Morrisette while she cleans house, but changes it to something else if someone comes home because she’s embarrassed to be seen dancing around using a whisk as a microphone.

I know why Liam never, ever mentions his parents. I know that although Liam fawns over Brie’s gourmet cooking, he sometimes craves overcooked Toad in A Hole like his grandmother made him on the nights his mom abandoned him on her doorstep. I know Liam doesn’t like horror movies because he hates not being able to help the damsel in distress.

If I am being honest, I’d write a hundred more Brie and Liam books because I just adore writing them. They’re not always the best versions of themselves they can be. They’re flawed. Perhaps that’s what makes them so real to me.

I won’t write a hundred more books about them, though. I will probably never write another book about them. I’m comfortable with where I’ve left them. I feel like it’s finished and nothing further would do them justice. (Not to mention I have other ideas and characters to bring to life!) But I will miss them. I’ll probably catch myself daydreaming about what Brie is doing. I’ll write a recipe and wonder if it’d be up to snuff in her eyes.

I don’t know if I’ll always feel this attached to my main characters, but in a way I almost hope I am. I hope I always care this deeply for getting their stories just right. I hope I always find myself this invested in the lives of my characters, because I hope it always translates in the writing.

Please don’t think me crazy. Brie and Liam, Alex, John, Kara, Heidi…they’re just characters I had floating around in my head and I gave them some dialogue on the page. Trust me, I know this. But I hope if you happen to pick up a copy of either SL&Technicalities or SL&Formalities, you’ll adore them as I do.

I know it’s not uncommon for readers to feel sad when they say goodbye to beloved characters, but writers speak up! Have you ever felt saddened to finish writing a book or series?

Until next time my lovelies, happy reading and writing!

———————————–

The conclusion of Briella Logan and Liam Abbott’s story, SEX, LOVE, & FORMALITIES, will be available in paperback and eBook on November 28, 2017.

Getting To Know Aila, Mail Box Fun, Uncategorized, Writer's Life

MAIL FUN w/ Minx Lit

mail“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.”
Lemony Snicket

So not long ago, I was watching a video by the insanely talented Kristen Martin. [Her Twitter] [Her YouTube] In this video, Kristen did an unboxing of a new monthly subscription box (aren’t those things so much fun?!) called the Minx Lit Box.

[Minx Lit] Allow me to preface this by saying I was not contacted by Minx Lit to do this post, nor was I given the box for free or at a discounted rate. My husband purchased the box as a surprise for me, at the full-price. These opinions are my own. (Thanks, husband!)

I received an email several days ago telling me that my Minx Lit box had been shipped, and was provided with a tracking number—which I checked almost obsessively.

Ya’ll when I tell you that last week was rough, understand that rough is an understatement. From Monday morning, all the way to Friday when I was so stupidly busy that I didn’t even have time for a cup of coffee. When I got home Friday, I parked in front of my apartment and stared at my front door. My poor, caffeine-deprived limbs barely had the gumption to get out of the car. Then I remembered my Minx Lit box should have arrived! That was all the motivation needed to walk all the way to the apartment office, where I was sure it had been delivered.

Our apartment office people are great and as soon as she saw me walk through the door I was greeted by name (amazing, seeing as how there are hundreds of residents here) and she hopped right up and got my package for me. The first thing I noticed was its heft.

I scurried home and tended to my dogs, leaving the Minx Lit box to flirt with me from its perch on my dining table. Once my canines had calmed down (because they’re always certain their mama is never coming home, so it’s a celebration when she does) I sat in front of the box and smiled. It was so nice to have such a luxurious treat on a Friday after such a long, arduous week! I ripped away at the wrappings and was greeted by this:

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For a new business, I was very impressed with the professionalism of the box itself. For some reason, I didn’t expect branded boxes.

The second thing I noticed—which was even more unexpected—was for the box to smell so damn good! But once I opened it, I leaned into it and inhaled an extremely pleasant aroma.

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Instead of ripping away at the carefully wrapped items to investigate where the scent was coming from, however, I took a moment to appreciate that each item was lovingly wrapped. I also found myself amazed by the quality of the literature included in the box.

The longer the lid was open, the stronger the fragrance became. I couldn’t place my finger on what it was, but I enjoyed the guessing game.

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I moved stuff around in the box, just browsing, when I realized there was a card, and as my mama taught me, you always start with the card before diving in for the goodies. So, I followed my mother’s orders.

It was adorable! I love pink and teal.

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It blew me away when I realized it was personalized! (Covered up the name, because the husband bought this for me as a gift, and he used my real name.)

After I read the card, my conscience was cleared to delight in the rest of the treasures. First thing I wanted to know was what had filled my apartment with such a decadent aroma. Turns out, it was a candle!

And not just a candle, but a massage oil candle in a succulent watermelon scent. (Bottom right-hand picture.)

Untitled design

After I stopped sniffing the candle, I discovered a mug—and anyone who knows me, knows I love mugs!

Further inspection revealed even more smell-good treats with bath dust, and some wildly aromatic teas, which I couldn’t wait to brew. I smiled when I saw the beautiful bookmark with one of my favorite quotes (top left picture) There were just so many neat little things in this box, each one stripping away my stress and anxiety from the week, and replacing it with giddiness.

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Unless I misread, each box is promised to contain a journal—and this one is adorable and just the right size and weight for me to carry in my purse. As writers, we can never have too many notebooks to jot down those elusive golden ideas for our next best-seller.

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While I read mostly fiction, I am stoked at the book that was included in the inaugural box. I’ve heard good things about it, and it already has a place on my nightstand!

 

Also included was a booklet (as seen in the freshly-opened box) that contained extras and coupon codes: one for two free sessions of life-coaching, another for a discount on book cover design. It also provides writing prompts and blogging topics…which is something you all know I suffer with from time to time—so I will definitely utilize those!

My birthday is coming up (Friday!) so I may have to go ahead and pre-order the next box as a gift to myself. I imagine as this subscription gains momentum that they may have to drop the handwritten cards, but I am intrigued to see what else they include.

I had so much fun with Minx Lit, that I’ve decided to have even more fun with my mail carrier and find other bookish, writerly things I can order and therefore share with you.

Until next time, my lovelies! Happy writing!

 

 

Self-Publishing, Tips, Writer's Life, Writing

Oh, No… A Dangling Participle

DanglingA professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
-Richard Bach

As a teenager, I was never the student who giggled when the sex-ed teacher talked about hoohoos and whatsits, nor when the music teacher said pianist. In fact, I looked my nose down at my fellow pupils who partook in such cheap kicks.

But dangling participle? That floored me every time. I don’t know why. But this isn’t a post about far-fetched double entendres, no. It’s a post about the editing process and having someone rifle through all your dangling participles and misplaced modifiers.

Yes. Another editing post. Good writing is, after all, a product of editing.

Just last night I came across a blog post by a dear, sweet friend of mine, the illustrious and talented Vania Rheault. (Her Twitter | Her Books | Her GoodReads) In this post, Vania talks about the highs and lows of enduring the process of a professional edit. Please, please, please check her post out here. She will inevitably do a much better job of articulating what it feels like than I will.

Not only is Vania a wonderful friend, she also happens to be my editor. (And I agree with Vania’s post—having an editor makes me feel like a professional writer.) She’s my first true editor, and every time I read one of her notes (her many, many notes) I realize just how blessed I am to have her.

Since her original blog post inspired this one, I needn’t shy away from saying that having a professional editor is a blessing and a curse. She knows. It hurts. It stings. It makes me want to cry in the shower. But good heavens, what an education she’s giving me.

This is my second full-length manuscript, and I do feel I’m a better writer now than when I completed the first. But holy cow did I make Vania work harder than I should have. I felt terrible that so many of the things she caught…I hadn’t. Of course, when she pointed them out to me I saw them clear as crystal.

Writers have a special kind of blindness, don’t we? I think we find ourselves so wrapped up in the excitement of our ideas, or that special bit of prose we hold in such high esteem, that we forget that even the most seasoned writers have literary crutches they shed during multiple rounds of edits.

My crutches are elementary. They’re embarrassing. And she catches all of them. The first pass she made through my manuscript, I was certain she’d lost all faith me because of the sheer number of errors. But she didn’t. She encouraged me.

So, since the sting of embarrassment is still fresh in my writer’s soul, I might as well air all my dirty laundry and let you in on my three most personally shameful mistakes in hopes you will catch them in your own work before your editor gets them.

1.| Got/Get

When we’re in the throes of passion with our first draft, we often find ourselves tapping away at the keyboard so fast that we shortchange our vocabulary for the sake of getting words down. Then we write gems like this:

Once we got there…
She didn’t get it…
We hadn’t gotten far…

Get and got are such lazy verbs. They’re first draft words.

Once we arrived
She failed to understand
We hadn’t traveled far…

These small improvements add up and make for far stronger work. Seek and destroy weak verbs!

2.| Was/Were

This particular crutch of mine grated at my nerves when I realized how many littered my manuscript. When I attended college, my English professor hammered into our minds that overusing was/were weakens our work, and if she’d gotten her hands on the first document I sent Vania…I’d have lost my 4.0.

On the way to the concert, we were singing along with the radio.
He was running in the marathon to impress his girlfriend.
She was hoping the cake she was planning to bake would meet her grandmother’s standards.

Was/Were = -ing = weak

On the way to the concert, we sang along with the radio.
He ran in the marathon to impress his girlfriend.
She hoped the cake she planned to bake would meet her grandmother’s standards.

3.| Adverbs

These are an easy crutch to have, and a hard one to overcome. Stephen King says the road to hell is paved with adverbs. If you are unaware of what one of these nasty buggers are, they’re the -ly words that exist to describe your verbs. They’re a bit lazy, and often times they communicate that the writer isn’t confident in their ability to convey an idea. I’m going to combine some of these three crutches to drive my point home:

She had gotten so angry, she loudly closed the window.
Happily, they were skipping back home.
I was crying quietly after reading the first round of editing notes.

I bet Vania is cringing. 😉

Her face burned white-hot as she slammed the window, rattling the panes.
Neighbors two blocks away heard laughter as the siblings skipped home.
Without a peep, tears welled in my eyes after I’d read the first round of editing notes.

 

Rewriting, revision, editing: These are the things we cannot take lightly. No matter how much it hurts, I’m grateful whenever Vania slashes away at my pages. I’m happy to mop up the mess. Should you have an editor take you on, you cannot take their notes as a personal affront. They endeavor to make your work better. In the end, they’re only making suggestions. It’s up to us, the authors, whether we take their advice. That said, it is our duty as authors to learn from our mistakes and hope that in the next manuscript, our editors find less to correct.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I must get back to the gut-wrenching reality that I am, in fact, not perfect.

Announcement, Self-Publishing, Tips, Writing

Won’t You Be My Beta?

Thrice
Mistakes are proof that you are trying.

-Unknown

Ugh. It’s Monday. We must all drudge back to our places of work and cope with a certain amount of monotony until we get to fight traffic to get back home. But, it’s also the day I have penciled in to really get cracking on edits and revisions of Sex, Love, and Formalities. Now, this post is going to be in three parts: A little bit of editing advice. A character confession. And an invitation. Let’s dive right in, shall we? Continue reading “Won’t You Be My Beta?”

Self-Publishing, Writer's Life, Writing

Crisis of Creative Faith: My Take on Self-Publishing

crisis of
Table Rock, as seen from Caesar’s Head State Park in Greenville County, SC. This is affectionately known as my Thinking Spot.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
– Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

So the other day, Brittany Pettegrow asked me if I would be willing to join her on a webcast this coming Saturday (8/5), to talk about the glamorous writing life. Because Brittany is awesome and amazing and hilarious, of course I said yes—even if my introverted spirit immediately began comprising a list of a hundred reasons why this is a bad idea. But, I gave my gut instinct a quick uppercut to the chin and didn’t back out.

Then I logged into Twitter this morning, as I do, and I noticed that I had been tagged in a tweet by her loveliness. Lo an behold, she had created a promotional tweet for the webcast and it turns out that she’s put together a lovely panel discussion on the topic of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Here’s the lineup:

Me, myself, and I will serve as the author who has been exclusively self-published.

Rebecca Frohling, an author who has been exclusively traditionally published.

Cori Lynn Arnold rounds out the panel as an author who has been both self- and traditionally published.

Now, as terrified as I am of cameras and sounding like a bumbling idiot on a live webcast, I am extremely excited about this topic. Why? Because I have a lot to say. Why do I have a lot to say? Because as shy as I am, I’m even more opinionated. Also, I know that this isn’t going to be an all-out attack on anyone. I’m not scared these ladies are going to tear me down. That’s just not their style.

So, Aila, why the crisis of creative faith? Because as soon as I realized the topic at hand, I knew that the vast majority of whomever watches this webcast is likely to believe that there is little merit in self-publishing. There are just a few preconceived notions out there about the indie-industry. 😉 For a nanosecond or three, that made me feel… inadequate. Like the underdog. But who doesn’t love the underdog?!

In order to prepare for this webcast, I decided to clear my head and shake off this crisis before it could get the better of me. I know my reasons for believing in myself and self-publishing, but I needed to figure out how to convey them properly, so I went to my thinking spot and did some thinking.

Without further adieu, here are some of my thoughts—the good, the bad, and the ugly—on self-publishing.

Yes, Amazon is beyond flooded with really bad Indie Books

I cannot argue that it isn’t easy for absolutely anyone to call themselves an author these days. You write a few words, you stick it on Amazon for nothing, and you slap a price tag on it. Boom. You’re an author. The truth is, this is as beautiful as it is frustrating. It might really be someone’s dream to write a book set in the Wild, Wild, Dystopian West about a zombie-Saloon girl who stumbles upon a portal to the galaxy of Ishicon-7-Alpha-Nyablar-Blue. Hell, that doesn’t sound like one book, that sounds like a series. So they write it. (That’s the beautiful part. They’ve followed their dream.) But they don’t realize that there is much more to being an author than merely writing a book. They slap together a cover on MS Paint (let’s not pretend that this doesn’t happen) and then they hit the submit button and now the whole world can get that bad boy on Kindle. It might be riddled with dangling modifiers and plot holes large enough to swallow I7ANB (for short), but their book is now available alongside yours and mine.

While it’s hard to believe that many dedicated writers out there would settle for putting out third-rate work, there is a subset of people who truly believe that cranking out a slew of titles will make them rich. They think writing is an easy way to make a quick buck, and the more titles the better. So, you get a virtual ton of books that look like a drunk second-grader wrote them during a time-out. This is very frustrating to those of us who aren’t writing for the riches, though riches would be nice, but because we have a story we want to tell…and tell it well.

Writer vs. Author

Some people debate whether someone can actually call themselves an author if their work isn’t published by an actual publishing house. After all, the aforementioned hypothetical writer shouldn’t be placed in the same league as, say, George R.R. Martin or JK Rowling, should they? You can’t deny that they wrote their book, but you don’t want to give them the same title as your favorite author. So, you just lump us into two categories: Self-Published Writers and Published Authors. I actually see the logic behind this, however, I don’t necessarily abide by it. (Truth be told, generally I use the two terms interchangeably and I think a lot of people do.)

When people think of traditionally published works, they envision that a writer sells their idea to an agent first, then the agent sells the work to a publisher and poof! the writer is now an author. The publishing house assigns an editor to polish up the manuscript before handing it off to a designer, who then hands it off to a crack team of advertisers. What does this author do now? They sit at home, counting their stacks of cash and get started on the next book.

But that isn’t exactly the case. First, it can take years and years for someone to even get an agent, and then the wait begins to get a publisher. Book advances for new writers are not usually enough to live off of (though, generally more than most Indie-Authors will make from a single title), and then once the book does go to publication, the author (and their agent, I’m sure) have to do most of the grunt work to promote the book. The author is still responsible for managing their blogs, social media, website, etc. And then they also have to hope and pray they sell enough to pay back their advance so they can get royalties. (It’s called an advance for a reason, kids.) Why do they hope to get to royalties? Because they’ve likely spent most of their advance on promoting the book.

This is where I see a difference in Indie Writers vs. Indie Authors. Maybe I’ll be put on blast for this, but this is my blog…so my opinion. We’ve established that anyone can put together some words and submit their first-draft as a completed work on Amazon then go on to writing the next, then the next, then the next. I think we cross that line from Indie Writer to Indie Author when we start wearing the additional hats. We can’t just write. We have to edit, rewrite, design, publish, promote, get the coffee, market, advertise, get the coffee, schedule events, run a website/blog, get the coffee, etc. When writing becomes more akin to running a small business, I think that it is safe to say we’ve arrived at authordom.

Indie Authors are pretty freakin’ hardcore

Pretty much every day, we face an onslaught of negativity from all directions. Many times our loved ones don’t take us seriously, the writing community might not take us seriously, and it can be difficult to get readers to take us seriously. But, we tell ourselves that it’s okay. We will smile and offer up whatever spiel we’ve worked out, try our best to present our work, and hope to change your minds. For the Indie who takes this industry seriously, we’re only putting out work that we believe to be high-quality. Is it always perfect? No, but I’ve picked up books on the shelves at B&N and found missing words, misplaced commas, and smudged ink. But, though our battle is always uphill, we still try and reach readers every day.

Of all the various forms of entertainment, our writing Indie sect has it the roughest, I believe. Think about it. Sure someone might make a sly comment about an indie band not being good enough to get a label, but they’ll still listen to a song and often times their opinions will change because the band is really good. Indie films have cult followings. Perhaps an even better medium to think of in today’s society is YouTube. Anyone can have a YouTube channel these days, the vast majority of which would be considered Indie. Not all content being published on YouTube is quality, but when the presenters put in the time and effort, they can produce network-quality shows with huge, money-making audiences.

For an Indie Author, though, we have to go through a lot of hoops in the hope that someone will simply read a sample of our work because reading is perceived to be more of an investment of time than listening to a song or watching a video. (Granted, most traditionally-published authors find themselves jumping through these same hoops.)

Many authors, myself not included, create YouTube channels as a means of connecting with an audience. Potential readers may have to watch hours and hours of content before spending 3.99 on an ebook. We go to a great length to find and engage our readers, to a degree that I don’t think indies of other mediums find necessary.

Indie Authors have a genuine interest in the success of other Indies

This is the part I love the most, I think. The Indie Author community has a great stake in the success of everyone in it. We share our trade secrets all the time. I think of Joshua Edward Smith who just wrote a really great rant, as he calls them, on how to correctly insert text messages into novels. Texts are such a integral part of modern day society, they’re bound to show up in novels more and more, and there are some really confusing ways writers have been writing them. Joshua writes them very well, and he could have easily kept his method to himself, letting other writers continue to trip all over it and make a mess on the page—but because he did share, WriterEtte PensBrooke’s debut novel will read much more cleanly and will be well-received now. Joshua is helping to legitimize Self-Publishing, one piece of advice at a time. (Not to mention the stellar novels he’s self-released!)

And most Indie Authors are trying to do the same thing. When I tweeted not long ago that my fellow writers’ hard work is valid, and that I want to see them become successful in their writing endeavors, I meant that wholeheartedly. (Whether they self- or traditionally publish) I love that we live in a time when it is easy to share our stories, even if it means we have to tread some really murky waters to find the true gems.

There will always be really terrible books on Amazon, just as there will always be really terrible books on the shelves at your local B&N. The fact remains that a lot of Indie Authors are working just as hard on their books as their traditional counterparts. Don’t be so quick to write us off. (See what I did there?) Publishing house or not, there are some really great authors out there. We’re just hard to find sometimes.

Until next time my loves, keep writing, polishing, and hustling!

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Jast Another Author Q&A!

You read that correctly! Tuesday was the launch of Thomas Jast’s newest novel, Exit Strategies.

Polish-born, Canadian-raised author, Thomas Jast never fails to take his readers on the journey of a lifetime. In great anticipation of this new novel, I asked my friend Thomas if I could interview him again, and he was kind enough to allow me that honor. Without further adieu, let’s get to know this talented wordsmith a little more.

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Thomas Jast, Author

1.| Congratulations on the launch of Exit Strategies! I heard a rumor that this might be the last book following the life and times of the relentlessly sneaky and vindictive Alex Aberdeen, the heroine we all love to hate and hate to love. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write a character such as her? When you first started writing for her did you think you’d get three novels worth of material from her? (Frankly, I think she could provide you with endless material!)

Exit Strategies Kindle Cover

Thank you! Alex was inspired as a sort of anti-heroine based on an amalgam of women I’ve met mixed with an unhealthy dose of myself. I’ve never met anyone *quite* like her, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that she exists out there. I never thought I’d get this much mileage out of her, but I also never thought about the possibility of aging her and having her change along with the world we live in. 2007 is nothing like 2014 (when this book takes place) and 2020 would be something else entirely. Alex in Exit Strategies is a very different character than before, and it has a story to match. It’s angry, aggressive and full of despair in a way you wouldn’t expect from a charmer like her. It’s a beautiful, touchy-feely love story, obviously.

2.|Do you have any sort of connection with this character, this larger-than-life persona, that you’ve made that makes it tough to decide that this is the last we will hear from her?

Well, I’m sure we’ll hear from her again! I haven’t experienced anything recently that would lend itself to an entire book’s worth of content. Exit Strategies follows a lot of real-life events from my old life that hadn’t been covered before. I like to think of it as Alex being a fictional person that reacts to real-life events in the way I wish I had. I’m clearly projecting!

(Whew! Was I ever relieved to hear that this isn’t necessarily the end for Alex!)

3.| If Alex were a real person, and you were to have dinner with her, how do you think that would go? Let’s assume she’s read all your books about her.

Depends on who’s paying for drinks! We would go for sushi and discuss the downfall of modern civilization until she lost interest and started talking about ways to get back at random people she’s met. I would offer to help her while slow-dialling 9-1-1.

4.| What would the first three songs be on the Exit Strategies soundtrack?

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1. Metric – Fortunes
2. Dido – End of Night
3. Garbage – Why Do You Love Me?
5.| I asked you in our previous interview if you found there to be any biases or difficulties when it comes to being a man writing Women’s Fiction. Do you still feel the way you did then, and do you think Women’s Fiction is something you will always be drawn to writing? Why?
Instead of cowering away from the very idea of a man writing women’s fiction, I just went and wrote a romance/revenge novel! I’m always excited about the idea of writing for a female audience with my own brand of feminism. Unlike Calculated RegretsExit Strategies is 100% written for women. Since this is about a twisted romance in the twisted world we live in, this book has an intense sex scene that’s written like nothing I’ve seen out in the wild. It’s respectful, empowering and shockingly descriptive in a way I’ve never been able to pull off before. That’s not something I would write if I were trying to appeal to everyone.
I’ll be drawn to it as long as I can stand out in the market. I’m not trying to blend in or pretend I’m someone else. I am a peacock in a field of sustainably-sourced organic flamingos.
6.| You’ve self-published your work thus far, which is a daunting task for us newbies. But with more than a few works under your belt now, how has this process changed for you?
It’s  a very streamlined process now, especially on the technical side. With less time pressure to get it done and out there, the quality is significantly higher than previous projects. For instance, the book was being edited by several people while the cover art was being done, and I had a paperback proof in my hands a month ago while already starting on a new project. When you release your first project, you seem to do 25 things in a 3-day span and it’s very stressful, let alone if something doesn’t work out. Excitement causes people to rush things, and it often shows.
7.| I noticed on your Goodreads page that you are soon to be working on a collaboration project. You’re a pretty methodical guy, or at least your stellar work reads that way. How do you handle working on projects with other writers?
Working with Vito Andrews, being my BFF and all, is a blast. We have a different methodology for our work, like when we wrote How To Slack Your Way to Success: we smash it all out and then go over it a dozen times until it does what we thought it should do. My solo work flow is very linear, and I try to make it as good as it could be on the first pass without the intent of changing things after. That being said, I still edit it 37 times with 37 people and it improves dramatically. First drafts are always craptastic! I’ve never collaborated with anyone else and I’m not sure how it would go. I’m pretty self-conscious about how my writing fits in with others in a closed space.
8.| What can readers expect from your collaborations?
Entertainment in written form! Any collaboration I would be involved in has to be some sort of comedy or satire project. I can’t imagine doing my brand of psych drama with someone else.
9.| What about future solo-work? What is on the horizon for Mr. Jast?
This November I’m starting on Under Gemini Skies, a menacing blacker-than-charcoal thriller about two best friends that get pulled apart by childhood guilt, fortunes and more guilt, and then drawn together by a murder plot and a bit more guilt. In the vein of Cassandra’s End, it’s going to be a pleasant, feel-good book you can read to your young nieces and give them nightmares.
10.| Thanks for taking the time to share with readers a little about your work and yourself. Before we go, can you share with us your favorite quote from Exit Strategies?
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“When you’re angry, the entire world becomes an annoyance. Traffic lights become middle fingers and you’re certain that everyone’s driving like their brakes are failing and they’re being really cautious. The smile of a stranger is a taunt and the hand wave of a coworker is a declaration of war. This is why random acts of violence happened in the world: because a human being made the mistake of running into another human being at the wrong time.”
Made me wonder how many times I flashed a smile at someone who would have murdered me had I said hello. Thanks for having me Aila! It’s always a pleasure!

If you aren’t familiar with the sordid, manic life and times of our dear Alex Aberdeen, remedy that and pick up the first two books, Calculated Regrets and Mixed Messages. The Kindle version of each is on sale for just .99!

I know what I’m doing this afternoon. I’m picking up my copy of Exit Strategies and ordering take out! Ain’t nobody got time to cook, when they’ve got a new Thomas Jast book to read!

If you’d like to learn more about Thomas Jast, check out his Goodreads page. He’s always up for answering questions from fans! (At least I hope so, because I sure seem to ask him a lot!)

 

Uncategorized

The Writer’s Evolution

The evolution
The only kind of writing is rewriting.
-Ernest Hemingway

As you know, I have been a horrible writer lately. I’ve got a lot of really terrible excuses and absolutely no good reason. My amazing clicky-clacky keyboard has been silent and at best I’ve managed just to tinker around with a few ideas on my iPhone for down the road.

Well, last night I fired up my desktop computer for the first time in ages and decided it was time for me to pick up SLT’s sequel just to remind myself of where I’d left off, and the first thing I stumbled upon was the first draft I’d written of the first fifteen or so chapters—all of which were scrapped. I read little bit of them, horrified at my utter lack of talent. It was so bad. So very bad.

And then I remembered how it was so bad because it tied in with the really lackluster first ending to Sex, Love, and Technicalities, because I started writing the sequel approximately 15 seconds after I finished the first draft of SLT. In fact, it was only after I had done a million (or so it seemed) rewrites of SLT that I scrapped all of the original work for SLF. (F standing for Formalities).

I remember having read it a while back searching for any usable bits and finding none. My story, their story, had evolved. It had gotten even darker and crossed an ocean. I had to take it further than I did the first book, because for me that’s what sequels should do. Up the ante. Push the envelope. [Enter your own personal favorite trope here.] And why is this?

Because your characters have hopefully changed from the beginning of the first book to the end. Because you, the writer, have decided to continue their story with another book and now you must make them grow and change again to satisfy another book. That means the challenges and heartaches must be bigger, and they need even more to lose. What motivates and drives them over the course of the next book must evolve.

And hopefully we, as writers, have evolved. Which brings me to five ways to tell you’ve evolved as a writer.

1.| You’re kind of over the first-draft euphoria. Don’t get me wrong, I adore writing a first draft. It’s carefree and the rules are all but thrown out just so you get those words and thoughts down. But, when it’s your first first draft, it’s all too easy to think every word you’re putting down has the Midas touch to it. Rewriting will fix that, and now every first draft—while still fun—comes with the knowledge that a sizable chunk will be tossed in the bin.

2.|You hate that you want criticism. I am not a fan of being told that what I’ve written needs to change. Especially after I’ve rewritten something a few times, but for those of us who want to write for consumption, we aren’t really writing for ourselves. So, now, instead of handing off work to someone for a critique and hoping they send it back with nothing but paragraph after paragraph of nothing but words of adoration, I actually hope they tell me…the truth.

3.| You have less time for ritual. I thought I couldn’t write unless I had a cup of tea, or my favorite shawl draped across my shoulders, etc. etc. That isn’t to say I don’t love having my favorite tea or whatever, but I’m okay with it if I don’t. Lady Grey isn’t writing my novel. I am. I don’t need her.

4.| You seek education. I’m not necessarily talking formal education, either. But rather you find yourself expanding your reading habits, whether it’s crossing genres or turning the pages of classic novels you haven’t read since you were forced to in high school. Or maybe you actually participate in a writing group if you have one. And maybe you seek an education in other areas of writing. The business side. The (ugh) marketing side. A popular vlogger and author turned me onto SkillShare and I love it! Another of my favorite pastimes is going to thrift shops and browsing their books. If I see a fairly recent edition of a college textbook in an area that will benefit me as a writer, I will pick it up. In fact I picked up a book on strategic writing this past weekend for twenty-five cents. Yes, please, and thank you.

5.| You walk away from your comfort zone. It’s hard, I know. And maybe I’ve not quite done this step yet, instead of walking away I’m still just tiptoeing and occasionally I keep pausing and looking back. This step is going to be different for everyone because we each have our own comfort zones. If you read my last post, you’ll know that for me this means I have to start marketing. For you it might mean you need to seek out beta readers because you haven’t quite gotten to point number deux up there. Maybe you’re really frugal and also bad at design and stepping out of your comfort zone is shelling out the dough for a professional cover or internal layout.

Bonus points if you’ve come to realize the fact you’re not likely to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling, but that doesn’t stop you from doing this.

How have you evolved as a writer? Let me know below!

 

Getting To Know Aila, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writer's Life

Marketing Sucks…

 

UNION“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.”
Steuart Henderson Britt

It warrants repeating. Marketing sucks. Especially if you don’t do it.

Now, as with all things in life, I try not to speak on a subject unless I’m fairly well-versed on the topic at hand–and there’s little else I’m better at than not talking about myself.

I wrote a book and I’ve done an exceptionally bad job at marketing it. Let’s not kid ourselves, writing a book is a big deal. Even if you never sell a single copy. Even if you never publish it. The simple fact that you wrote a book from start to finish is incredible. You created a world that doesn’t exist. You created people that do not exist. You thought up and penned hardships, relationships, love, envy, hatred, crime, and magical creatures that otherwise would have remained a fleeting thought in your head, or a dream you would have eventually forgotten.

You did an awesome thing.

I did an awesome thing.

And I’m smart enough to know that just because I did this awesome thing and hit the button to publish it for the scrutiny of the world, it doesn’t mean a damn thing without begging people to buy and read it. Which means I have to step–no leap–out of my comfort zone and talk to people about my book all while keeping the thousands of tiny rules about self-promotion in the back of my head.

Don’t open a conversation talking about your book. Don’t auto-DM people about your book. Don’t do this. Do that, but cautiously. Do this every day. Do this other thing every other day.

So, for those astute readers out there, some of you might be thinking that Sex, Love, and Technicalities came out almost a solid year ago. Why, for the love of Whitman, am I talking about this now?

Well, my friends, I sold a book. I mean, I’ve sold a few copies of it actually–but this one was a genuine surprise. I didn’t even know I’d sold it because I’ve been so unbelievably terrible at my author duties for going on four or five months now. Now, this sale (from a complete stranger) also came with a 5-star review on Amazon. This was a kick in the seat for me.

Here’s this person who found me by mysterious means almost two months ago, bought my book and loved it. They took money out of the wallet to buy, and time out of their life to read something that took me over a year of my life to write. And they loved it. I wasn’t even paying attention at the time. How sad is that?

I’d all but given up on myself and my work and this sweet soul named Diane came out of left field and reminded me that I’d done an amazing thing. Thanks, Diane, you’re the best. Whoever you are.

So, don’t be like me. Don’t finish your amazing thing and then leave it on the virtual shelf to die. It wasn’t even the lack of sales that caused me to drift, it was the notion of having to market myself when the fun part is writing. I had no grandiose notions that I was somehow above the marketing part, nor that I would be special and the crowds would flock to me out of nowhere. I was just doubling down on my social anxiety and introvertedness.

Listen to the experts on this one, guys. I’m absolutely the last person you want to take marketing advice from. All I know is that I have to figure it out because Diane from Amazon stumbled upon my book by chance and loved it and I kind of want to find out what everyone else thinks too.

Marketing sucks, but just freaking do it.

 

Uncategorized

Banish Bad Book Covers!

BANISH (4)
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
-Edgar Degas

I haven’t written a blog post in five months. FIVE. MONTHS.

Let me preface this by saying I am not claiming to be an expert in cover design. I am most definitely an advocate for people to purchase book covers from actual professionals when their budget so allows–hell, even the ready-made book covers are giant steps forward for pretty much everyone.Cover DesignAlabama Rain

That said, I made my own cover for Sex, Love, and Technicalities and also for my current WIP, Alabama Rain.

Admittedly, the cover for AR is extremely simple. It’s a stock photo with text.

SL&T is actually several elements that took me at least ten hours in Photoshop to blend just the way I wanted them. But, how much did they cost me? Because let’s be honest, people who can afford to have covers made generally do so. I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people who create their own covers do so because they want to do it for free.

Subtracting the cost of Photoshop (Because my husband already had it), the cover for SL&T cost me a whopping $3. Alabama Rain? $1.

Are they perfect? No. But, I have had a surprising number of people tell me they thought SL&T was done by a pro. I chalk it up to flattery.

So, you’re a self-pubber and you need a cover. Your dream designer costs hundreds of dollars you don’t have, even if you committed yourself and your spouse to eating nothing but ramen for the foreseeable future. You’ve scanned at least a thousand pre-made covers, and even though they’re much more affordable, they just don’t seem very you. The one you did find you actually liked was already being used by another self-pubbed author and they’re in the same genre as you. You don’t want that Amazon taboo on your conscious.

You’ve given in to the fact you’re going to have to create your own, but where do you even begin? Stock photo sites are a bit pricey and some seem kind of shady. If you could afford Photoshop, you’d just buy a cover. Gimp is confusing. You could make it in MS Paint. (Tip #1: Don’t.)

There are plenty of places to create covers (Think Amazon’s own cover designer) but allow me to again mention my love and devotion to Canva. If you haven’t tinkered around with it, I suggest you do. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this post teaching you how to use the plethora of its features. Perhaps I’ll save that for later.

Author Name HereFor this experiment, I concocted a very quick story idea just so I could think up of a cover design. Our fictional novel is called Murder at the Lake, and it’s setting is in the late 1970s. Let’s look at the really bad, terrible, horrible cover design that I slapped together in about 45 seconds.

Let’s just go from top to bottom. What’s with the band of gray? If you’re adamant about a dark cover and a light font for the title, that’s fine… it doesn’t require a block of color to set the title off. In fact, with them so close in color, it’s very difficult to read. Also, the font… it’s a bit cliche, right? Let’s just not.

Furthermore, I’m fine with stock photography. This was a free image in Canva’s vast library, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. This could quite possibly be the cabin in which the murder took place. But all too often with people making their own covers, the stock photography winds up having very little significance for some strange reason. So when people keep reading and realize a cabin just like this doesn’t exist in the actual book–they’ll be quite confused about the author’s choice. (Hahaha…okay, so with a cover like this, who would actually ever get that far?)

And yes, we’ve got more awkward blocking at the bottom to set apart the author’s name…but also, look at the size of the font for the name vs. the title. I’m sorry to say it, but this author is no Stephen King, and their book isn’t going to sell just because of their name… For self-pubbing authors, your title and cover design are paramount. Your name isn’t getting you placed on bookshelves just yet.

Total cost of this self-made cover: $0 and many, many missed sales

Author Name Here (1)Alright, now let’s glance at a cover I spent just slightly more time on to show a few improvements. This is by no way a perfect cover or a saleable cover, but it is better and a step in the right direction. How has it improved?

It feels like a novel set in the 1970s, for one thing. The lake is at the center visually as we can assume it will be the center of the novel. The text is easy to read and in reasonable fonts and at appropriate sizes. It would be decent in thumbnail size.

It’s just so… blah. Better than the first, yes. You’d definitely get more interest and more people willing to take a chance on it. But not many, I’m afraid.

Total cost: $0, and missed sales.

On to #3.

THE LAKEIn this example, I hope you’ll agree we’ve got something potentially workable. Instead of reworking the whole thing, it may require minor tweaks here and there, especially if you’re publishing in multiple formats.

With this cover, we’ve eschewed the whole notion of using a photo of a lake. Instead, we see a fingerprint, something synonymous with a crime scene investigation. It’s minimalistic and will translate nicely to thumbnail size.

We’ve fancied up the title just a bit, but it’s still plenty readable and is a good size in comparison with the author’s name. It still only took me about 15 minutes to design but is leaps and bounds better than the first, and a huge improvement on the second.

Total cost: $1.

Truly, I hope you’re able to work with a professional designer who can create the cover of your dreams. You’ve [hopefully] worked very hard on your book and it deserves a cover befitting the best-seller you know it to be in your heart.

If not, I hope this post has helped you think and rethink some of your choices. Designing your own cover is not impossible. Just keep these guidelines in mind:

•Keep it simple.
•Look at it as a thumbnail. (This is how 90+% of potential customers will view it)
•Ask for feedback from Beta Readers.
•Know the copyright laws on any images you use! (Sometimes you must give credit, sometimes purchasing a license may only cover you for the first X-number of sales, etc.)
•Check Amazon for books in your genre, be mindful of trends. What looks good to you?

That’s all I’ve got for you today, friends. I promise it won’t be five months until we meet again.

Happy writing! xoxo