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Writer Resources: ProWritingAid

WR_ PWA (2)
I am so excited to bring you this resource!

You may have noticed that a ProWritingAid ad has been placed on my blog posts, and if you’ve wondered why it’s because I believe in their ability to help every writer at every skill level. I have been a faithful ProWritingAid user for over two years now, and I will remain so as long as I have stories in me I want to share.

Cost: The free version allows you to edit 1000 words at a time, only online. (great for blog posts or emails) The paid version allows you to edit unlimited words with their website or right inside your Word document, Scrivener document, in Mac, or in Google Docs. What about the paid plans? See below:

Capture

While this is the priciest resource you’ll find in this series, it is for good reason. This program is amazing. You’ll hear that a lot throughout this post, I’m sure.

Pros: This will not only show you things that need to be fixed, it will teach you why, and in turn it will make you a better writer. The support is amazing, and they endeavor to provide you with amazing content outside the editor.

Cons: If you’re using the plug-in for Word (which is how I use it) and the program feels you’re analyzing too many words at one time, it will let you know. If you get this prompt and you choose to analyze the large document any way, be warned it might take a while to analyze, and on occasion it has crashed Word on my computer, but this has only happened once or twice and I have never lost any work because of it. If you edit in smaller chunks, which I recommend anyway, this becomes a non-issue, negating the only con I can find.

Ease of Use: ProWritingAid is freaking powerful. There are a lot of things you can do with it, therefore there is a lot of things to learn. Once you have spent some time with it, it is super simple and the interface is user-friendly.

Writing Improvement Software*Afflink*

How’d I Find It, Anyhow?

Sometimes I cannot remember how I came across a certain resource. Sometimes it’s a tweet. Sometimes it’s a YouTube ad. Sometimes I just get lucky. But I know exactly how I came across PWA, and it was no accident. See, there is another program out there which claims to help you with your grammar. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

I used to use this program. I hated this program. So I searched for something better, and boy, did I find it.

Online Editor

If you want to try it before you buy it—which I recommend in all things when possible—the online editor is a great place to start. First thing is:

Capture

Click “Editing Tool.” That will you bring you to this screen:

Capture

Copy and paste into the document area what you want to edit. If you’re using the free version, remember it will only edit 1000 words at a time. (Again, that’s usually good for a blog post or email.

You’ll choose what report you want to run (or you can run multiple at a time) and then sit back and watch as they make glorious suggestions! Of course, as the writer, you have final say. For instance, PWA will flag a lot of grammar issues in Alabama Rain because I use incorrect grammar for several of my characters’ dialogue. Obviously the program isn’t going to make the distinction and it is up to me to decide what to keep and fix.

About Those Reports…

This would be an incredibly long blog post if I give you information about all twenty-three of those reports, so I’m going to choose my five favorite.

Overused Report

Overused Words | We all have words we fall back on. When I wrote the first draft of Sex, Love, and Technicalities, I thought this report was going to make me cry. I plugged in the first chapter of Alabama Rain to show you what these reports look like. This is unedited, absolutely raw work—ought to be fun. 😉

This is actually much better than I expected, and much, much better than my first pass with Sex, Love, and Technicalities. Why? Because using ProWritingAid helped shine a light on what I needed to improve upon.

What I won’t show you (for reasons) is how it highlights all of these instances in the document so you can find them easily and decide what, if anything, you want to fix.


Grammar Report2
Grammar Report | 
Remember how I said the grammar report would go a bit crazy for Alabama Rain? Yeah, this didn’t surprise me, and as such, I’m not going to fret about a large portion of this report. That said, I’ll still go over it with a fine-toothed comb.

For the sake of this post, I did go through a few of the issues it presented me and I found something I hadn’t done on purpose, therefore will change it. I’ll show you what that looks like:

Grammar Report

It’s like having a grammar teacher at my disposal. I love it.


Consistency ReportConsistency Report | Traveling. Travelling. Canceling. Cancelling. There are a lot of words that are nearly identical, but not quite in American-English vs. British-English.

Those instances are extremely difficult to catch as you’re reading through because it is rare for your word processor to mark them for you. With this report, you’ll see each and every one. Miss a quotation mark? This’ll find it. It finds all those little inconsistencies.

What about my red flags?

Consistency Report2

It flagged them, but they’re used in different ways, therefore not an actual issue. Don’t be put off by this. It’s still worthwhile to check all inconsistencies.


Pacing ReportPacing | This report is important and I run it with every project. It is, though, highly subjective. It doesn’t even mark slow paragraphs as an issue because they aren’t technically an issue unless they’re back to back or filled with sticky sentences. (Another report that will absolutely force you to grow as a writer. Believe me.)

It highlights the paragraphs it finds slower so you can see how they’re spaced in your manuscript. In my case, I might try to “fix” two of them, but the others I am fine with.


Dialogue ReportDialogue Report | This report helps me keep track of the dialogue tags I use, and how much dialogue I’m including in a given chapter.

I prefer using say/said or ask/asked, so that’s all you see here. But in other chapters I know I’ll see a whispered peppered in. In the 40k+ words I’ve written so far, there’s one shout and I’ve decided to keep it.

If you’re a writer who is trying to break yourself of using telling dialogue tags, this is indispensable.


And that’s just FIVE reports.
FIVE.


Integrations

I am a Microsoft Word user. I tried to get into Scrivener, but it just didn’t work out the way I’d hoped it would for me.

Never fear, if you’re a Scrivener user, ProWritingAid has you covered.

But, I do use it directly in my Word document, so I’ll show you what that looks like:

PWA WORDThis little menu lives at the top right-hand corner of Word. Notice how it says “Creative” there? That’s because that’s the style it’s assigned to my writing. (Cue awww) This affects the way ProWritingAid analyzes my work. You can change this, depending on what you’re writing.

Other than that, the reports perform just the same as they do if you use the online editor (with the added benefit that I can edit more than 1000 words at a time and because I can work right inside my Word document instead of copying and pasting.)

Word Clouds

Do you love word clouds?

I do.

ProWritingAid gives you all kinds of options if word clouds are your thing. All kinds of ways to style it. Just for fun, I’ll post one for Alabama Rain…but not the first chapter. Let’s go with Chapter Nineteen. I don’t know why. Just because.

WordCloud


Beyond the editor, ProWritingAid has an amazing blog. They post writing prompts. Confused about a report? They explain them in detail. They’re excellent teachers. They’re active on social media and prop up indie authors like me all the time. There is so much to love, that I am sure I will have to publish more than one blog post about them this year.

If I still haven’t convinced you how much I love them, then listen up.

Giveaway Time!!

I’m giving away a FULL ONE-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to ProWritingAid! Also, I’m giving away a $15 gift card to Amazon for you to use anyway you wish! Want to enter? Of course you do. Click the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway is open until May 12th—with an option to enter every single day to increase your odds.

May the luck be with you, scribes.

Don’t want to wait to try out ProWritingAid? I really don’t blame you. You can use the following link to sign up for a free two-week trial!

 Writing Improvement Software *Afflink*

That’s all I have for you today, friends. I wish you happy writing, happy reading, and the best of luck!


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Goals, Marketing, Organized, Positive Mindset, Self-Publishing, Success Mindset, Tips, Uncategorized, Work In Progress, Writing Advice

Writer Resources: Marketing Edition

WR_ Marketing

I wasn’t supposed to blog about this today. I had intended on blogging about another resource, but as I was writing it, I realized I didn’t quite have enough information and it felt incomplete. So, here goes plan B.

It’s a three-fer.

The resources I’m introducing you to tonight will help as you dive into the wonderful world of marketing. [enter gagging sound]

Pexels

Cost: Free
Pros: Free High-Quality Stock Photos
Cons: Limited library
Ease of Use: If you can use Google, you can use Pexels
Website: http://www.Pexels.com

Pexels

This is pretty straight-forward. You enter a search term and you surf for images. Sometimes when you search for something, there will be pages upon pages of images to choose from…other times there will be only a few.

There is a sister site that advertises at the bottom, often times with nicer pictures you can purchase. My advice, though, is always search for free images before you decide to purchase. Especially on things such as a graphic for Twitter or Instagram. Save your picture budget for photo covers or paid advertising.

Let’s pretend I’m making some materials for Alabama Rain, and I’ll look up pictures of barns.

barns

Now, let’s say I want the bottom left-hand barn. I click it, and then what?

No attribution
There are a few things I want you to pay attention to after you’ve clicked on the photo and before you click the free download button.

Check to make sure the photo is okay to use for commercial use.

Check whether attribution is required.

Don’t be that person who uses an image you aren’t supposed to. You wouldn’t want someone to replicate or use part of your work without permission.

If the photo requires attribution, give it.

Now, do you see the down arrow to the right of the Free Download button? Hover over it and you’ll see a drop down menu.

Choose A Size
You can choose from several sizes or create a custom size if that works best for you.

Outside of this, there’s not a whole lot more to tell about Pexels.

Are you a photographer? You can also share your photos on Pexels to help other creatives.

So, now you’ve got your image, but what are you going to do with it?

Pixlr Editor

Cost: Free
Pros: Fairly powerful web-based image editor
Cons: Takes a little time to learn, sort of mimics Photoshop
Ease of Use: If you can use Photoshop, this is easy to learn, not for beginners
Website: http://Pixlr.com/editor

Pixlr

Create
The first thing you want to do is create a new image.

New Image
Name your image and give it some parameters.

A lot of people guess what their size should be or they aren’t concerned about it at all and think the platform they upload it to will automatically convert it…this isn’t always the case.

A simple Google search can tell you what size to make your image based on what you’re creating it for.

New Image AR

These parameters and file name can be changed if needed.

Anyway, let’s see what we can accomplish fairly simply with our barn image and some of Pixlr’s capabilities.

Here are just a few of the options and tools in the Pixlr arsenal:

 

As you can see, if you are familiar with Photoshop, there are a lot of similarities. Now, if there is any lingering interest in learning more about Pixlr, you’d do well to look up some tutorials on YouTube, though if you shoot me a message, I’ll do my best to help you.

So, what was I able to make really quickly in Pixlr with that image we got from Pexels?

The before:agriculture-barn-clouds-248832

The after:
New Barn

Not bad for about fifteen minutes.

PlaceIt

Cost: Varies
Pros: Simple, easy to use, takes little to no effort.
Cons: Could do this on your own if you learn Photoshop (Not necessarily Pixlr)
Website: http://www.PlaceIt.net

PlaceIt

Get ready to settle into your desk chair or couch, because if you’re anything like me you are going to find yourself obsessively searching through these mockups.

omg.PNG

SO. MANY. OPTIONS.

undone

While I was looking through the above page, this picture jumped out at me.

I hadn’t planned on actually creating a mockup for this post, but this one wanted me to. It practically whispered at me to announce my second summer project. So, this is a surprise even to me, but here goes nothing.

Within just a few clicks and uploading a few images I had a really nice little image for marketing. (Seriously, this took only about two minutes to upload all the images, crop them, and download it.)

Sure, I could probably make something similar in Photoshop with a little time and a lot more effort, but for $8.00? Think of all the time you could save making things like this and actually writing. Without further adieu, let’s see what two minutes and eight bucks got me:

placeit (1).png

That’s right, it’s time to release the prequel novelette I’ve had stashed on my hard drive for about two years. I’ll be doing this sometime this summer, after it’s all edited and polished. 🙂

That’s all I’ve got for you today, my friends. I hope these resources will help you along your marketing journey! Have something you’d like to share with the class? Please tell me all about it in the comments!

Sometime before this series is over, I’ll be revisiting marketing resources and giving you a glimpse of how I put together my book trailers.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

I know I’m not scheduled to write another blog post this week, but I’m doing something for myself on Wednesday, and I am going to be publishing an extra post on Thursday to tell you all about it.

Be sure to check it out because I’m also going to announce the super-awesome-mega-amazing giveaway that is accompanying this series. Trust me when I say, you are not going to want to miss out on this one.

Until Thursday, lovely people!


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Getting To Know Aila, Uncategorized

Aila Factoids. Factoids about Aila.

Aila Factoids.
I’ll say a lot of things I might not mean before I’ve had my coffee. No, wait. Sorry. I might say a lot of mean things before I’ve had my coffee. Where’s my damn coffee?
-Aila Stephens

When I said I had mapped out my blogging topics for the quarter, it was the absolute truth.

Thing is, I don’t want to talk about what I had planned to talk about.

I had planned to talk about dialogue today. I’d tell you things like show the action around the dialogue instead of telling with an unnecessary tag. But I don’t want to. You can find that advice anywhere—and might find it here at some point, I’m not sure. But you won’t find it here today.

Instead, I’m going to just tell you a few of the most random facts about myself you may or may not know. Enjoy. (Also, it’s possible may need coffee.)

 

ds-63-qua-duds
This may be an accurate representation of what I looked like after the incident.

I was once attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets. Or as I like to call them, Hell’s Flying Minions. It was a horseback riding incident. We were way out in the mountains and the lead horse stepped in a nest and the bees started swarming. My horse was third from the back, and I can vividly remember seeing all the yellow little shits on my horse and thinking how it looked like the most terrible case of chicken pox I’d ever seen.

I was in terrible pain, as the bees had gone up the legs of my pants, down in my boots, in my shirt, and one was stuck in my helmet. After stinging me just above the eye, it continued to bite me multiple times. I stayed on my horse, miraculously. I also had to be put on steroids to save my eye, which swelled to nearly twice its size.

 

I love to go hiking. I also have more hiking gear than I’ll ever use. I just think life makes

photo (4)
To get here, you have to walk between two boulders about 18-24 inches apart.

more sense when I’m out on the trail. My thoughts are clearer, my spirits are lifted…and damn it, food just tastes better when cooked outdoors.

Hiking isn’t easy, but that’s one of the things I love about it most. I love having a challenge; hell, I even love when I’m three seconds away from my breaking point and feel like giving up. Overcoming the odds and laughing in the face of adversity is thrilling, addictive.

I don’t go in the summer, though. I may enjoy a challenge, but heat stroke isn’t something I’ve ever cared to try. I love it the other three seasons of the year. My favorite trail is the Kephart Prong in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I am so grateful I have a husband who indulges me and enjoys getting his boots dirty, too.

 

Never_Mind_the_Buzzcocks_logo
I’m unashamed: I love Noel Fielding.

I’m a British television nut. Of course I love the ones we’re [almost] all familiar with: Doctor Who (always a Tennant girl) and Sherlock, but I’m also into lesser known shows like The IT Crowd, The Paradise (two seasons was not enough, damn it!) The Tudors, The Detectorists, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Peaky Blinders, The Crown, the list goes on and on and on. I can’t fathom what life would be like without the Big Fat Quiz Show of The Year. What’s amazing is that I don’t have cable television, and must stream anything I want to watch, so while I don’t watch TV a lot, when I watch it, I watch a lot of it. It makes sense if you really think about it.

 

Youth
I want my first two goats to be named Lucy and Ethel. Or Rose and Donna.

I want my own hobby farm. Hang on, let me amend that, I really, really, really want my own hobby farm. I grew up hearing stories about my family’s farm, and I loved traipsing around its fields, though they grew very little by the time I was born. I’ve always liked growing things. I used to have quite the little raised garden which produced some of the finest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. If I’m being totally honest, my ultimate dream would be to have a hobby farm and be SAHW. (You can use writer or wife there, they both work and they’re both true.) It’s kind of hard to do in an apartment, but I did find a community garden I can rent a plot or two from this spring and grow some things.

 

pexels-photo-708587
Pepperoni is not my friend, nor am I a friend to it.

I’m allergic to sodium nitrate/nitrite. I spent quite a while in a hospital when I was in kindergarten from eating a hot dog during a school field trip. I won’t describe what happens to me when I accidentally consume it. I’m pretty sensitive to it, though. When I was in culinary school we had to learn to use it in its raw form, which is this very fine, very pink powder and I basically had to don a hazmat suit in order to participate in the hands-on portion of the lecture.

 

black-and-white-cartoon-donald-duck-spotlight
Someday, Duck. Someday.

I have this knack for disappointing myself every year by planning a vacation I’ll likely never take. I’ve never been to Disney World despite the fact I plan a trip there every year, and have planned a trip there every year for at least the last fifteen years. One of my yearly traditions is ordering the Vacation Planning DVD from their website and watching it, eyes wide like a seven-year old. I have booked and cancelled more WDW vacations than Elizabeth Taylor has planned weddings.

 

in-a-semicircle-907843_960_720.jpg
Here we see the delicious red gummy bear breaking the news to all the disgusting green gummy bears that while they shouldn’t be ashamed, they are vile and will be passed on to someone else.

I don’t eat green gummy bears. 

Which is weird because green is my favorite color. We’ll call that a bonus fact.

I also like gummy bears. Especially the sour ones. I’ll also tolerate sour green gummy bears because they’re sour apple. I don’t know what the regular green gummy bears are supposed to mimic. Vomit-coated death, maybe? I don’t know. All I know is when I treat myself to a bag of Haribo (there is no other kind of gummy bear, mind you), I must first pick through the bag and get rid of all the green ones. My husband’ll take them, but they can go in the trash for all I care. It is possible I feel a little too passionately about this. I’m not a fan of the clearish ones, you know, the pineapple ones. But I don’t insist on their exclusion.

 

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you today, as I think I’ll save some for the next time I don’t like what I’ve chosen for myself to write about.

Until next time, lovelies. xoxo


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

Sex, Love, and Formalities : Launch Day

WIN

First things first, there is still time to enter the giveaway above. The lovely Vania Rheault is hosting this giveaway on her blog, and you can find my interview with her here, where you can find out how to enter the giveaway. (If I may say, one of the teas I selected for this giveaway is so good I had to buy extra so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep it all for myself!)

On to the ugly author confession: I didn’t have a blog post for launch day.

That must be breaking one of the Writerly Ten Commandments. Whoopsie! *sigh*

What can I say? It’s difficult being a full-time worker by day and a writer by night…especially for someone like me who often times comes home thinking about the day I’ve had and planning for the day I hope to have tomorrow.

I didn’t exactly rest on my laurels, though. I was an active participant in my launch day because if I’m not, who will be? (Aside from my #1 cheerleader, Vania!)

This particular book launch was much different than my first. How? I’m glad you asked.

1 – I wasn’t stressing the eBook layout issues I had with the first one. This time there was no other company trying to hijack my book through some weird back door. (Pulling your eBook off the digital shelves on its launch day is a horrible feeling–one I hope I never feel again.)

2 – I already had a reader base. A small one, mind you, but a reader base nonetheless. I went into this launch day knowing I already had sales lined up. This was an interesting feeling. I was excited because I knew a few people were excited to read the continuation of Brie and Liam’s love story…but I’ll admit I’m also a little petrified because I hate to disappoint people. At the end of the day, I wrote the book I wanted to write, told the story I wanted to tell…and I think that’s lovely.

3 – I realized that by publishing book deux I obtained something I didn’t have before: The beginning of a back list. Since book two wouldn’t really make sense unless folks were familiar with book one, I decided to make Sex, Love and Technicalities free for the first five days of Formalities’ launch. THIS WAS A HUGE HIT….

Because…

And I really…

Really…

Really…

Wish I had a drum roll to play for you.

Let’s pretend! Badadadadadaddadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadaadadaa….

Sex, Love, and Technicalities made it to #14 on the Amazon Best Sellers List (free books, mind you) for Women’s Fiction > Crime!!!

Fourteen.

I cried. I did. I really shed a tear or five-hundred. Now, I know this isn’t going to make me famous and I know that I didn’t even make a dime from it because they were free books… But to see your title on a best seller’s list is…I can’t even.

Then my husband told me I made it onto two additional best seller’s lists simultaneously! I was on three separate Amazon Best Sellers lists. (As of this post, I’m still hanging on to the Top 20 in Women’s Fiction > Crime!!!) I may not have made a penny, but it made me feel like a million bucks.

Point number three on this list was a long one. A good one, but a long one.

4 – Amazon apparently hiccuped while setting up my paperback title from IngramSpark. It’s technically listed…just not functioning. This is a letdown on launch day, yes, but I only know of about three people who had intended on ordering the paperback on launch day, and they don’t seem to be too peeved. I’ve spoken with Ingram and they’re confident it’ll be fixed within 24-48 hours. Fingers crossed!

5 – The people in my personal life seem to take me a little more seriously as an author now that there is an official book two. People who more or less smiled and nodded whenever the subject of my writing came up are now actively GOOGLING me. For instance here’s a couple questions I’ve been asked this week: “Did you know you had a 5-star rating on Amazon?”   “Oh my God! Since when was your book available on Barnes and freaking Noble?!”

Yes, I could even hear the interrobang.

It was my turn to smile and nod. 🙂

There you have it. Five things about my book launch I’ll file away to remember for the next one…I’m hoping for late Spring 2018. New year, new book, new lessons. I’m looking forward to it.

Speaking of looking to the future, I really do intend on making blogging a much more regular feature on my agenda. And by agenda, I really do mean that. In order to help further organize my life, I bought an Erin Condren LifePlanner, and I am working out a blogging schedule that will hopefully work out better for myself.

In the meantime, if you are interested in reading Sex, Love, and Technicalities, the eBook is available for free on Amazon until December 1st, and you can find that here.

The sequel: Sex, Love, and Formalities, can be purchased on eBook here.

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway where you could win a signed copy of each!

I’ll leave you with the book trailer for SLF. I’m so proud of it! xoxo

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!

 

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!

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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.)

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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!

 

 

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.