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!

 

 

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

 

 

 

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Decluttering the Writer’s Mind

best“It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration.
Those emotions are poison to any living goal.”
-Steve Maraboli


Hello, you.

I have attempted to start a blog post for weeks now. I’d sit at my computer, dawdle and tinker with a few items perched happily—expectantly, even, on my desk. I’d catch my reflection in the screen. My tired eyes drooped and heavy, my hair tossed into a messy bun atop my aching head—and I’d sigh and get up. I had nothing to give you. I had no words to write to convey anything of even minuscule value.

I was stuck. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m completely unstuck…and it isn’t writer’s block. It’s nothing special, either. Just bogged down by the every day. My work life has been a constant uphill battle as of late. In a way I am reveling in the daily challenges, but I’m depleted by the time I make it home.

Then the other day one of my IRL friends (yes, I have those!) asked me how my writing projects were coming along. Bless her, she had no idea how much I needed someone to ask me that at that particular moment. I blurted the truth: “They aren’t!” Then I realized that there is a good chance that my feeling drained and empty isn’t completely to blame on my nine-to-five or those other pesky adulthood obligations.

I need to write to feel complete.

But my first few attempts at getting back in the saddle haven’t been as fruitful as I’d like, so I’m on a quest to unburden myself while I am at home, gain perspective, and reclaim my writerly life. I thought I’d share my ideas in hopes they might help someone going through a similar dry spell.


1.| This one may sound strange but: Shower and change. I’ve got a bad habit of coming home from work, squaring up dinner, and then continuing to work. I check and respond to emails, work on spreadsheets, etc. I need to shed my work-self when I walk in the door. So, I’m going to change up my routine and wash away my day with a hot shower and hope that puts me in a different mindset.

2.| Sip a new brew. Whether it’s an herbal tea (Still love my green apricot and sour cherry blend), or a new coffee for some weekend morning writing, I think the prospect of treating myself to something new—i.e. something I don’t drink before work—will help separate those two pieces of my life.

3.| Get up. This one isn’t original, I know. Hear me out, though. I’m naturally a pretty early riser. The latest I like to sleep on the weekends is still only 7:00 and up until a couple of months ago, that was still pretty late for me on the weekends. In recent weeks, I’ve been allowing myself to stay in bed as late as 9:00…and I’ve been insistent on leaving almost as soon as my husband’s feet hit the ground. Because staying home meant I would inevitably work—and come Saturday, a spreadsheet may cause me to go into a fit of rage. So, I’m going to

4.| Groceries 2.0. What? I have discovered the joy of having others do my grocery shopping for me. I’ve been heckled about this from several people. “That’s so lazy. Are you kidding me?” “I could never let someone grocery shop for me. I need to see everything.” Look, I get it. This one won’t be for everybody. But it is mighty satisfying to get a phone call and someone tell me “Your groceries are ready!” I can swing by after work, and everything is loaded for me. I’m in and out within five minutes. No impulse shopping. More time for writing.

5.| Enthusiastically enjoy life. Oh yeah, this one is simple and easy to do. (Cue eye roll!) Recently I went on vacation. I should mention this is the first real vacation I’ve been on in at least five years—probably more. We didn’t go far, just about three hours away. In the three hour drive there, I stressed over what was going on at work nearly the entire way. It took considerable effort, but I successfully checked myself out of work while I checked in at the hotel desk. I need that more often. So, my plan to enjoy life has various stages. I will endeavor to do at least one thing every day to enrich my husband’s life. I will not check my phone when we are dining together. I will only check my work email on Sunday evenings, just to make sure there isn’t something unexpected I need to do first thing on Monday morning. (I’m trying to let it sink in that if something is urgent enough, they’ll call.) And lastly, I’m going to travel more. I’m 31. I work hard. I deserve to play.

6.| Ask for help. This may be the biggest no-brainer on the list, but it is probably the hardest for me to do. I get this from my father, as I do many things…but asking for help is really difficult for me. It makes me feel weak and less than. I feel whomever I’ve asked for help is automatically my superior. Depending on the size of the task I’ve asked to be assisted with, I can really beat myself up about it. I’m my own biggest enemy and competitor. I should probably seek help with this. 😉 But, this isn’t healthy, and I know it. I will probably never be comfortable asking others to pick up some of my workload, but trying to do it all is going to kill me. Aside from work duties, I am asking my husband to help by cooking dinner one night per week, and to block out a few quiet hours during the weekends to give me time to focus. Other family members will be asked (not expected) to take care of my dogs on occasion so I can work on #5. (One of the reasons it has been so long since I’ve been on vacation is because I hate asking people to take care of my pups!)

7.| Get dirty. Yeah, yeah. Snicker all you’d like. This one is a bit of #5, because I really need to go hiking more often…but I really mean I need to scratch my other creative itches. Painting, candle making, making shitty pottery. Now, you may be thinking that these creative endeavors, while fun and all, are simply just obstacles to writing. “Aila. Seriously. This is just you wasting even more writing time.” But, I don’t necessarily see it that way. Writing is the primary goal, but when I think over the last couple of weeks, I think I would’ve fared better had I kneaded some clay or filled my home with the fragrance of a batch of new Autumnal candles. Anything other than sitting here, stewing over problem #459281. Yes. I think it’s high time for a date with Bob Ross.

8.| Meditate. I suck at this. I am really, amazingly, monumentally terrible at meditating. My mind is all over the place. But, as with most other things in life, there is an app for that. Many, many apps.

9.| Reward scheme. Let’s be honest. Most of us really like rewards. We sign up for reward programs at the grocery store. We scribble our names and addresses on those cards at the mall kiosk in hopes of winning a candy-apple red Mustang GT. Hell, some of us are even willing to change banks if there is a free blender involved. So, I’ve decided to set up a rewards program for myself. The prize will of course have to reflect the effort. I can’t afford a fancy meal after completing every chapter. But most definitely so after finishing a draft. Perhaps after every five chapters I will treat myself to some new gourmet coffee or an interesting tea. This would help with the Sip a New Brew plan, anyway. If you have other reward ideas, let me know in the comments below!

10.| Write on location. The library is one thing, but I’ve never really attempted at writing anywhere outside the comfort of my home. Maybe a few sentences here and there—and I’m not including the notes app on my iPhone where I jot down story ideas as they come to me. Actually, I’m not even talking exclusively writing on an electronic device. The idea of sitting on a bench downtown with my laptop, or with pen and pad on a tree stump in the woods next to a gurgling river has immense appeal to me suddenly. Perhaps this is just the shot in the arm I need.

Have you ever been stuck before? How did you navigate back?

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20 Fab Writing Tips From 20 Author Interviews #Writingtips #WeekendBlogShare

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Author Interviews

This week I am having a rest from my Author Interview Series and reflecting on the useful insight gleaned from these interviews.

I am so grateful to all the authors who have taken the time to share their book writing experiences with me.

You can find all the interviews by clicking here.

In each interview I asked for some handy writing tips for aspiring new writers. I thought it would be great to summarise these in one useful post.

These are great tips from people who have actually written books. They have all experienced the many challenges that come from writing a novel and have come out the other side …smiling and proudly clutching their beloved book. Sigh!

So, here are 20 writing tips from the first 20 authors interviewed as part of my blog series – Author Interviews.

  1. Helen Treharne. Write for you. Stick at it. Listen to…

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An Overdue Review – Sex, Love, and Technicalities by Aila Stephens

This absolutely made my day. 🙂 I was so reluctant to ask her to read the book because I knew it was not her genre at all, and I knew she was pretty sure she was going to hate it.

Brittany's Book Blog

I’d like to preface this review by pointing out that I don’t read romance. It’s not a true conscious avoidance of the subject, and I always have romantic subplots in the stories I write myself. I simply don’t seek it out. Romance and erotica just tends to come off shallow and predictable for me. Obviously this is not always the case, but it’s often enough that I’d rather bury myself in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of the bookstore.

That being said, Aila is a fantastic friend of mine. She asked me to read her book to check for formatting and technical issues that may have come up that she missed. I actually didn’t even have time to glance at it for a few days, but I finally decided to skim it during a slow day at work.

Two hours of reading time later, I was done.

SLTTitle: Sex, Love, and Technicalities

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