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Writer Resources: SkillShare

WR_ SKILLSHARE

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you’re in for a fantastic, productive week! I had a really nice weekend, though not as productive as I’d hoped—but our oldest nephew spent the weekend with us, which was worth it. My husband took him to the SC ComicCon, and then we went downtown for some Pokemon Go, and stayed up late playing Boss Monsters…a card game based on 8-bit video games. (Side note: I’m the reigning champ!)

But the weekend is gone, and it’s time to get back to all things writerly. This week, in my Writer Resources series, I am super excited to introduce you to SkillShare!

*Afflink*

Costs: You can access SkillShare for free, or you can upgrade to a Premium Membership
Premium Membership Costs: Monthly: $15.00 or Annual: $8.25/mo billed once
Ease of Use: If you can navigate YouTube, you can navigate SkillShare.
Usefulness: Amazing

What’s The Big Deal?

Being an indie author means you must wear a lot of hats. You’re a writer, an editor, a designer, a marketer, a publisher, an accountant, a social media manager. You are taking on every single role filled at a publishing house and the ones they outsource.

It’s all on you, baby. 

Your forte may be crafting your story, but you don’t have a clue about design—but you need an advertisement, or a book cover, or a simple blog post visual. You might be tempted to jump onto Microsoft Paint and give it your best shot, thinking you’ll do better next time.

Don’t.

You owe it to yourself and your work to give every aspect of the writing process the best chance it can have. If you can’t afford to outsource everything (which, most of us can’t), then you need to make learning these things a priority.

Enter SkillShare.

What Kinds of Classes Are There?

SkillShare1

As you can see, there is a category to help the indie author in almost every stage of the writing process.

Here are just a few writing-centric things I’ve personally sought help with in SkillShare:

• Storycrafting
• Outlining
• Drafting
• Editing
• Character Development

There are literally thousands of classes for writers.

SkillShare2

Take a look at the enrollment stats of some of these classes! This is because these teachers have incredible passion and have gone to great lengths to provide you with a valuable learning experience.

Some of the classes are shorter, around a half-hour long, whereas you can see some are longer, like the one approaching two hours (top, middle). Never fear, though. These longer classes are broken into shorter, more appetizing bites, making it a lot easier to complete classes on your own time table.

What about those other hats we talked about moments ago? You know, the ones that are a little more difficult, the ones that might make us scream into our pillows or drink an extra scotch. Let’s look at just a few of the other topics close to the writer’s heart:

SkillShare3

A quick search for cover design gave me over six-thousand results.

Whether you’re aiming to learn how to design in Canva, PhotoShop, InDesign, or GIMP…there are classes for you. Learn to use the program, then learn steps to design something highly professional. There’s something for every skill level.

SkillShare4

Marketing: Aila hates it. It’s true, I find marketing to be the single most-daunting aspect of being an indie author…but with SkillShare, I’m trying to change that.

Classes Vs. Videos

I’ve talked about SkillShare with someone before and they asked me what the point of it was, since there’s this little thing called YouTube where you can learn stuff, too.

Well, here’s the thing: YouTube is great, and sometimes I also go to YouTube in order to learn something…but SkillShare is comprised of classes.

Enrolling in classes means you’re going to have teacher-led videos. Many, if not most, of the teachers I’ve found on SkillShare have homework assignments or projects attached to their classes, and you have the opportunity to complete solo-projects, interact with other students for support, guidance, or simply to do a little networking.

Often times when you complete a project, the teacher will review it and give you personal feedback…not something you’ll find on YouTube.

SkillShare5Why Premium Membership?

I wholeheartedly recommend signing up for the free membership first and looking around to see if SkillShare is for you before signing up for the Premium Membership. But, it does have its perks. (See the list on the left.)

Regardless of which membership level you choose, I truly believe you’ll find SkillShare’s platform beneficial for you and your creative business endeavors.

Do I Use It?

I do.

I’m currently taking marketing classes, but I’ve also used it to help strengthen my storytelling, learn new methods for outlining, and web development.

My experience with SkillShare has been nothing but positive.

 

Learn on Skillshare*Afflink*

Recommended Teachers

• Daniel José Older
• Jenna Moreci
• Laurie Wang
• Gary Vaynerchuk
• Mike Pickett

If you’re tired of feeling like everyone else is passing you by or that you’re the last to know something, but you aren’t being proactive in your own journey…what are you waiting for? Sign up. Take some classes.


**Disclaimer** Afflink means an affiliated link. Clicking and using one of my Afflinks in no way changes the price of any product or service you sign up for, but does provide me a small commission. I will never post affiliated links for products or services I do not believe in or use myself.


That’s all I have for you today, folks! I do hope you’ll give SkillShare a shot! If you do, give me a shout in the comments below and let me know which classes you’re taking and if you discover a favorite teacher.

See you Thursday when I get to tell you about all the quarterly goals I’ve failed…yeah, I’m not looking forward to writing Thursday’s post.

At all.

Wait! One more thing!

Just a little head’s up…Check out Vania Rheault’s blog tomorrow, March 27th! 🙂 Actually, check it out any time, but most definitely tomorrow. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Have a fantastic week, my friends! xoxo



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Writer Resources: Wix

WR_ WIX

Welcome back! In this week’s post, I am bringing you Wix. I’m sure you’ve seen their advertisements on YouTube—Rhett and Link from Good Mythical Morning are currently spokespeople. You might have seen some advertising on television too, though I’m not entirely sure about that, since I haven’t had television service in about five years now.

If you’ve seen it and you question whether it could really be as simple as they make it out to be, let me spoil the rest of this post for you: IT IS.

The Particulars

The Price: You can use Wix for free. You won’t have a custom URL, which I like, but it will look like this: username.wixsite.com/sitename/page-url. If you want to upgrade to a premium plan so you can use your own domain, here is the price breakdown as of today’s posting:
Wix Prices (1)

Ease of Use: ♦♦♦♦♦


What’s The Fuss?

Before I stumbled onto Wix, I spent several weeks fighting with another hosting site which, at the time, seemed to advertise more. This other website, let’s call them SquireSparce…claimed to provide a website building platform which was super simple and gave highly professional results. It…didn’t.

Wix really does.

Not only can you drag and drop, resize, and generally edit your website flawlessly, they also make it super easy to edit the way your mobile site looks and feels, too.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization is this crazy, headache-inducing hullabaloo that eludes almost everyone. It is important, though. Wix guides you through all the tough stuff, though, and within a few clicks you’re far better off.

Newsletters

If you tossed a virtual rock around the writing community, you’d hit on at least three-dozen separate blogs and vlogs advising that writers have a newsletter and email list. You can absolutely use a service like MailChimp for this, but if you have your website with Wix, you needn’t look any further than their integrated Shoutouts system. It is just as easy to create professional-looking newsletters as it is to edit your website.

In my humble opinion, we writers should focus the majority of our time to our books. The platform-building and marketing stuff is important, too, but if you can streamline your marketing time and keep yourself in as few places as possible, that just frees up more writing time. Boom!

Tons of Apps

Want an easy-to-customize contact form? They’ve got it.
Want to integrate your Instagram feed? It’s simple.
Want to add a status tracker your readers can see on where you are for your WIP? Not hard at all.

There are hundreds of things you can add to your Wix site,
so simply you won’t find yourself reaching for the aspirin.

Easy to Use

I know I’ve said this a few times in this rather short post, but it deserves to be repeated. Instead of attempting to show you its beautiful simplicity through a series of screencaps, though, I found a short video on YouTube I recommend watching if you’re interested in learning more about it.

I Put My Money Where My Mouth Is

$14 per month, to be exact.

If I didn’t make it clear in my last post, no matter my skill level in the resources I’m bringing to you in this series, I believe in them 100%. I use Wix for my website, and WordPress (obviously) for my blog. Why? Because there is no other blogging platform I’ve found that compares to WordPress.

If you’d like to see what my Wix-built website looks like, please give it a gander, by clicking here. (Bonus points if you sign up for my newsletter!)

That’s all I have for you today, friends. I hope you have an excellent, super-productive week! See you soon!

xoxo,

Aila


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Combating Writer’s Block

Combating Writer's Block“I’m sitting in my office trying to squeeze a story from my head. It is that
kind of morning when you feel like melting the typewriter into a bar of steel
and clubbing yourself to death with it.”
-Richard Matheson

It’s 5:03 pm on Sunday and I am just now getting around to my blog post. It isn’t for lack of desire to write, but let’s just say it’s been a really, really bad few weeks, and today just kicked it up a notch.

My husband woke me a little less than twelve hours ago and not long thereafter I had to take him to the emergency room. I won’t get into the particulars because I respect his privacy, but he was being treated for about five hours before we could come home…with a few follow-up referrals with specialists and a few prescriptions to boot.

If you read my post from Thursday, you’d know I was already having a stressful year, so his hospital visit didn’t do me any favors. But, I am taking my own advice, and I am going to keep powering through. It actually ties in quite nicely with what I am set to blog about today.

I considered eschewing today’s post entirely. I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed me…except me, of course. I checked my blogging board on Trello just to see what I’d be skipping, and I LOLed at what I had scheduled for myself for this particular day:

photoThis was so funny to me, because I remembered hating the placeholder title and subtitle I’d given myself when I was mapping out this quarter’s blog posts all the way back in December.

I almost never use the placeholder titles I give myself.

But it just fits so perfectly for my state of mind right now. It’s not that I feel like I’m suffering “writer’s block,” it’s just that I’m unable to concentrate on my world of fiction when my reality seems so hellbent on my mental destruction.

I know it’s just a coincidence, but it was almost as if I was giving myself a little push for today, even from way back then. Past me knew that future me was going to have a really crappy March.

Anyway, it’s inspired me to go on with today’s post, so let’s get started.

 

Writer’s Block: The Debate

Because we cannot have anything in this world without a debate, naturally there is one—and a rather heated one, in some circles—about the existence of Writer’s Block. We aren’t here today to decide whether it exists. I’ll let you do that in the comments below.

We can’t deny that sometimes the words flow and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re more like a trickle, and sometimes it’s too laborious to pull them from wherever it is they hide in our cavernous writer brains.

To the naysayer’s credit, though, sometimes we only think we’re blocked. Sometimes we’re just so steadfast in the scenes we’ve written, we forget we often times just need to change the direction of our story in order to keep it moving.

For instance, recently I was having an extremely difficult time deciding how to proceed with a certain section of Alabama Rain. It took a lot of erasing, writing, erasing, and writing before I determined the story just needed a shift. Once I zigged instead of zagged, the words began to flow again, fast and free.

For the sake of the block, though, we aren’t going to rule anything out. If you’ve never experienced a period where the words are clogged and your imagination is more stale than yesterday’s toast, then lucky you.

For the rest of us, sometimes we need to get rebooted. So, without further adieu, here are three things I do to get things moving again.

Get Outside

One of the first things I do when I’m feeling a bit stuffy in the idea department, I get out of my apartment. Writing somewhere else might do the trick, so I might take my laptop to the library or to a coffee shop.

My apartment is tiny and in itself is a rather stuffy place, therefore finding myself in a new, fresh environment helps me think of things from a new perspective.

Clingmans-3-plaas_1
View from the parking lot – Clingman’s Dome, NC

Sometimes, however, I have to go for a longer drive. There’s something about driving through the mountains with my windows down and the wind in my hair, the radio on…it’s desperately hard not to refuel my creative batteries. In fact, it was at the approach to Clingman’s Dome where I had a spark of an idea that snowballed into the loose plot for Underthings. I also had to come here when writing Sex, Love, and Formalities.

 

Going for a walk—preferably through the woods for a few hours—also helps. Exercise releases endorphins…and I think endorphins aide in creativity. Let’s not get all sciencey to prove me wrong here. It works for me. 🙂

 

Channel Your Inner Child

lego-2428035_960_720
Lego pizza, anyone?

Think about it. Children have wildly creative imaginations. I don’t have kids of my own, but I love to listen to my nephew babble on about what his vast collection of toy cars and trucks are doing, how their races turned out, etc. He’s got such a vivid imagination, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in his little tales. So, it only makes sense to me that our own, adult imaginations might check out for a vacation because they’re so keen on having fun. Bills, work, and day-to-day adult stresses aren’t fun. What are my favorite activities in which to indulge?

 

  • MadLibs | Not only is this fun and good for a few giggles, it’s also writing. 
  • Lego | It’s like real-life Minecraft. Sort of. Just don’t forget to put them away, they hurt like hell when you step on them.
  • Tactile play | Playdoh, magic sand, silly putty, polymer clay

 

Interpret A Scene

This little secret of mine is probably the one most people would scoff at, but hear me out. What I do is I’ll either turn to Netflix or YouTube and choose something I’ve never before watched—this is important. Once I have selected something, I turn off the sound and I begin to watch. I don’t want to hear their voices or the scene’s background noises.

Sometimes I take notes, sometimes I just start typing away while I watch, but I write a scene based off what I’m seeing. I’ll make up the dialogue based off the actor’s body language. If they’re in the city, I interpret what the city sounds like (are their sirens, barking dogs, people shouting, etc.)

Sometimes, I feel, our imaginations just need a little help getting restarted. I take out some of the work by watching something on my screen, but I enjoy filling in all the details.

 

Writer’s Block Traps

Hand (1)
Don’t accidentally put your muse in a cage.

Though we all have our own tricks to combat Writer’s Block, there are definitely things that only serve as distractions from it, as opposed to working through it.

  • Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration isn’t the same as a dog, it doesn’t come when called.
  • Don’t watch television. I know I just said to watch a scene and write what you see…but what I don’t suggest is binge watching something for hours on end.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Just because another writer has hit the word lottery and is dropping thousands of words a day, does not negate the fact you’re a perfectly valid writer. When you hit your stride again, the other writer might hit a slump. (So, when you are trending thousands of words a day, remember to encourage others!)

 

When all else fails: Fake it until you make it. Take your cue from one of our favorite Disney pals and just keep writing. This is what the pros do. They don’t wait for the words to magically reappear, and if you want to be a pro, neither can you.

That’s all I have today, my friends. I hope those of you who are struggling with your own dilemmas, find peace soon. Take comfort in your words.

Don’t forget, my next blogging series will start up soon. You really don’t want to miss this one, so don’t forget to subscribe! There’s going to be an amazing giveaway!

Until next time, my lovelies!


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Let’s Talk: THE SENSES

The Five SensesAll our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.
– Immanuel Kant

Sight.
Hearing.
Touch.
Smell.
Taste.

Since grade school, we’ve known about the five senses. We know the general functions of them and why they matter…what we weren’t taught in grade school was how to write about them.

It might seem easy, but evoking the five senses in your writing can be terribly difficult.

First, a quick note about Deep POV:

When you’re writing deep into someone’s POV, you shouldn’t use the obvious words:

She sees/saw
She hears/heard
She feels/felt
She smells/smelled
She tastes/tasted

I will schedule a blog post about getting deep into POV at some point, but there is plenty of information on the ready out there already.

Eye


Sight

Obviously, setting the scene is important whether you’re writing Women’s Fiction or a Dystopian Fantasy.

Don’t Describe Everything | How annoying would it be if the book you were reading had its characters going for a walk through the woods and the author described every stinking tree?

…then Denny and Suzette passed the sycamore tree which was thirty-six feet tall, and had four-hundred little branches, next to it was a small crop of magnolia trees, with white blossoms and three birds’ nests. One was a red bird, and the other two were pigeons, or at least they looked like pigeons, but Denny wasn’t too sure.

None of those details were important to the story, so don’t bog your readers down with information they don’t need. It’s one thing to set a scene, but if you find yourself describing every tree in the forest, you’re describing far too much.

Take the time to describe the anomalies. For instance, in Alabama Rain, my characters go through a walk in the woods, and while I don’t describe the trees, I do describe the absence of trees in the middle of the forest, and a nearly-dried up creek running through the middle. I also point out that there are dozens of little blue flowers–which is significant since they’re in the middle of a drought.

Tighten Up | This is good advice for all aspects of writing, but here’s what I mean:

The clouds hung low in the sky. [The clouds hung low.]
The recovered dolphin swam through the water with ease. [The recovered dolphin swam with ease.]
He tripped on the maze of roots in the ground. [He tripped on the maze of roots.]

Your readers will know the clouds are in the sky, where else are dolphins going to swim, and where else do tree roots trip people? Save your words.

Ear
Hearing

Very few scenes are silent. In the city cars are always honking, in the country, the birds are almost always chirping. Evoking sounds can help set the scene in your story.

Get Beyond Volume | This goes hand-in-hand with showing vs. telling.

Don’t tell me the orchestra is loud, let the timpani rumble the seats.
Don’t tell me someone whispered softly…for that is the nature of a whisper.

Smile, You’ve Got Similes | If you can’t think of a way to describe the way something sounds, you can fall back on a simile.

The violin hummed like a songbird.
The emergency test on the radio screamed like a toddler on a plane.

Hand
Touch

Sometimes a Touch is a Touch | Does the thing’s texture need to be described? If you’re in the middle of a poignant scene, where a father and son embrace for the first time in years…do you think it matters that the son’s sweater is soft? Probably not.

Good or Bad | I’m not necessarily talking that sort of good touch/bad touch. (That’s another blog post for another time) but the sensations you assign to things can have them go one way or another:

His velvet kiss…
His gritty kiss…
The silky sheets…
The stiff sheets…
The dewy grass…
The dried up grass…

 

Smell
Smell

Nostalgia | Nothing can stir someone’s memory like the sense of smell. Every time I smell bacon frying, I instantly think of my great uncle John, who carried that aroma deep within his clothes.

The sense of smell is so strong (for most people) that you can convey a lot while saying very little:

The warmth of cinnamon wafted through the house, as grandma had set a pie to cool on the windowsill.
As the children leapt from the bus, they delighted in the return of freshly cut grass–a sure sign that Summer was fast-approaching.
His cologne overpowered the entire theater.

Tongue
Taste

Food & Stuff Most of the time you describe the taste of something, it’s going to be because your characters are eating or drinking. Describing the way everything tastes is probably unnecessary. If it is important—such as your MC is a chef and it’s part of their job—or it’s the first time they’re tasting something, then it’s probably okay to describe it.

But if your character eats pepperoni pizza sixteen times in the book, don’t describe it sixteen times.

It can be hard not to use “taste” when describing the flavor of something, but it’ll read much stronger if you get the hang of it:

The dark chocolate tasted too bitter.
The dark chocolate made him sputter and spit and gargle his water.
The wine tasted expensive.
The wine smoothed over her tongue like cherry-flavored silk.

As you start your editing/revision process, be mindful that you’re using all five senses to help ensure you’ve got a balanced approach to scene-setting.

That’s all I’ve got today.

I’ve got a fantastic series of posts coming up with an awesome giveaway hitting the blog in April, so please, please, please hit that subscribe button and share my blog with your friends.

Maybe afterwards I’ll finally give in and write about dialogue.

Maybe not.

Have a great week my lovelies!

Hot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHT (1)
Aila


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Let’s Talk: ROMANCE

steps up to 2018 (5)Romance makes the promise that no matter how bleak things sometimes look,
in the end everything will turn out right and true love will triumph — and in
an uncertain world, that’s very comforting.
-Leigh Michaels

We’re just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, so it’s only fitting we talk about romance. What makes a romance story a good romance story? Is it the flirting? The first kiss? The tension? The sex? The constant fear it might end?

Yep. It’s all of that.

Today I’d like to examine what might make a successful fictitious romance, and what might make a not-so-successful one. Also, peppered throughout the post you’ll find tips from fellow writers, and even a couple of excerpts from their work. Feel free to click on the images, they’ll take you directly to the author’s Twitter page.

Where should we start first? I vote tropes.

Is there any other story line as bloated with tropes as a good old-fashioned romance? I struggle to think of one. Let’s have a look at five common tropes.

1.| Billionaires. Someone rich falls in love with someone poor, but they struggle to woo their intended because they rely on their money to do so—effectively offending them.

In a certain trilogy-turned-major-motion-picture-trilogy, however, we see a BillionaireWriting Tip_ Allison Temple, Large who most definitely flaunts his wealth on every page. Occasionally it amuses his love interest, but often it just offends her. He still manages to get her in his red room, though, because…well…reasons full of clichés. More on that in a few.

2.| Forbidden Romance. Your two lovebirds’ passions are flamed by the fact something, or someone, wants to keep them apart. The most infamous example of this is Romeo and Juliet. They loved one another dearly, but their families were long-standing enemies.

Writing Tip_ Vania Rheault3.| Love Triangle. Three hearts, two loves. Usually this pits two men against one another as they vie for the affections of a lovesick, indecisive woman…or sometimes a woman torn between a vampire and a werewolf.

4.| Reformed Playboy. The hero in the story is known for his roguish ways. He’s had many lovers, he doesn’t play by the rules, he’s tatted up and drives fast cars…until the day he meets her, that is. I don’t know why, but when trying to think of an example of this, I instantly thought of Uncle Jesse and Rebecca Donaldson’s budding courtship in Full House. Have mercy. 

5.| Scars. Be them physical or mental, one person cannot fully give themselves to the one they love until they overcome the anguish of their scars. The movie Pay It Forward comes to mind.

Writing Tip_ Tante Willemijn, LargeFor a complete list (if there is such a thing) of all the tropes, you should do a Google search. It’s mind-bogging.

My least-favorite tropes:

Instant-Love: Instant attraction is one thing, but if two people go on a date and at the end of the night they’ve already said they love one another? Yeah, I’m probably going to pass.

On again/Off again/On again/Off again: I am all for a break up. Have the fictionalHot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHT1 couple argue and dissolve their love, and then have them fight to repair it. Just…don’t make it happen in every chapter. More than two (maybe three) break-ups in a novel would be hard to keep my interest.

Wimpy Woman: This might be a case of lacking character growth, but I’ve found more than one book where the woman is abused, whether physically or emotionally, and she just accepts it. I often write about abuse, but I hate when the abused doesn’t do anything to change their circumstance. I haven’t come across a book where the abuse happens to a man, but I’m sure it exists and it’d be just as wrong. Let your characters grow and evolve.


Tropes vs. Clichés

Tropes are bad, yes?

Not necessarily.

Tropes are common plot devices, like the ones we just discussed. They’re familiar and grant your readers an idea of what they might expect. You can turn a trope around and make it your own. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done. (Boy meets girl is a trope, perhaps the oldest trope, but you can expand upon it and make it unique.)

Writing Tip_ Harley La Roux, Large

Clichés are what readers usually find annoying: The virgin who is suddenly a sex kitten. The hero who can fight in epic battles and then make love to a duchess, despite having a slew of new wounds he should probably have seen. The woman who runs off at every misunderstanding. Avoid clichés at all costs. Readers have seen them more times than they’d wish to count.

 

Keep it real.

Just like last week when we discussed Sex Scenes, your love scenes and romances should usually be realistic. That isn’t to say you can’t have aliens who are in love with warlocks, but there are certain things to keep in mind when attempting to make the heart sing.

Writing Tip_ Christina L. Olsen, Large

 

1. | Keep Your Characters In Mind. This may sound like duh advice, but how many books have you read where the heroine does something wildly out of character, and for no apparent reason? If your characters are straight-laced, would they really jump in the sack after just meeting each other?

2.| Don’t Forget It Needs a Purpose. If you’re writing a romance novel, then the romance is definitely the point of the story. If you’re writing a paranormal thriller with a romantic subplot…that subplot needs to do something. Everything, including your romance, should further your plot. If it’s just tossed in, it’ll read that way.

 

3.| Keep your purple prose in check. 

I am all for a Hot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHTbit of flower in my descriptions from time-to-time, but if your love scenes are overstuffed with long sections sugary-sweet prose, the effect you’re going for is ruined. It probably shouldn’t take four paragraphs to describe the fleck of gold in the lover’s eyes.

4.| Milk the tension. Don’t underestimate the enormous power of milking both romantic tension and sexual tension. The will they/won’t they trope is one with the capacity to keep your readers turning the page…and it also prevents the Insta-Romance. Love at first sight isn’t really a thing. Lust at first sight is. Know which one you’re writing, if you must.

5.| Don’t forget about chemistry. Your characters need it. Opposites might attract, but it has to make sense. A billionaire isn’t likely to fall in love with someone who is homeless. If they do, then there needs to be a solid reason, otherwise no one is going to believe it.

Excerpt_ Vania Rheault6.| Each of your lovebirds should have their own issues. If Partner A is always the one who has problems to work through that put a strain on the relationship…your readers are going to wonder why Partner B is even sticking around. Let there be some back and forth, for tension’s sake!

7.| Keep it age appropriate. I’ve seen way too many young couples written as if they’re in a mature relationship like middle aged married people. This just isn’t realistic at all and may contribute to unhealthy relationship goals for younger people. If you’re writing for young people, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle difficult subjects, just do so for them.

8.| Don’t forget your research. Love is love, right? Maybe, but it was handled differently throughout time. If you’re writing about a romance in 1545, it’d behoove you to research what the dynamics were between men and women during that time. Don’t forget about age of consent when writing historical romances…it might be younger than you’re comfortable writing.

9.| Are your characters flawed? (They should be.) So should their romance. I’ve read one or two books in the last two years where the author attempted to write the perfect romance. Meaning the couple always stood by one another, never argued, had a string of tender moments, and nothing ever threatened their happiness. This isn’t only unrealistic, it’s also boring. Bring on the tension, baby!


That’s all today! Please give my contributors a click and check out their social media pages and websites. They are dear, sweet people and I couldn’t be more thrilled they were willing to participate.

I had dozens of submissions and couldn’t use them all, so if you don’t see yours today, I apologize. I appreciate so much your time and effort, and I promise I will keep you in mind for the next blog post like this one.

Until next time, I hope you have a lovely, romance-filled Valentine’s Day! Hot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHT (1)

 

   Love ya!

   Aila xoxo

 

 

 

 


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Let’s Talk: SEX

steps up to 2018 (3)“Love scenes feel very mechanical. But our whole job is to make it look real.”
– Erika Christensen 


 

**Disclaimer: This post may not be safe for work.**

When most people think of February, I bet Valentine’s Day isn’t far from mind. When people think Valentine’s Day, I bet sex isn’t far behind.

Sex has become less and less taboo over the years, but people still seem to be a little squeamish when doing the deed becomes the main topic of conversation—so as writers, let’s put aside the nerves and talk about it for the sake of well-written sex.


As a writer and a reader, I want a couple of things from sex scenes. I want a natural flow. I want showing, not telling. I want heat. I also want a point. This doesn’t necessarily apply to erotica as a genre, because the sex can be gratuitous, therefore this post is not about erotica. You erotica writers write your sex scenes with a flourish and without abandon!

But a gratuitous sex scene in any other genre is generally a no-no.

You’ve heard the advice before that everything, everything, should further your plot. Every decision your characters make. Every conversation. Every accident. Every minor character…everything should drive your plot forward.

And this definitely includes sex.

**Disclaimer: I am about to share three of the most common things achieved by writing in sex scenes, but these are not the only reasons to include them.**

1.| Start or end a relationship.

I do not mean that a new relationship can’t occur without sex. Of course it can. Most of the time it should begin without sex to keep things realistic. But, it can be used to strengthen bonds between two people, or if used to show infidelity, it can be used to shatter bonds between two people. Sex can cause conflict just as easily, if not more so, than it can solve it.

Maybe two people have what they think will be a one-night stand, only to discover there is a much stronger connection than originally thought.

Maybe a husband succumbs to the flirtations of his next door neighbor.

Maybe a married couple make love before one of them goes off to fight in an intergalactic war, one where no one has returned alive…and a pregnancy results.

The possibilities are endless.

2.| Change a character’s personality.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing that happens to the character. In Sex, Love, and Technicalities I wrote a very bad experience for one of my characters that led them down a self-destructive path. I’ve read other books where a character has exceptionally good sex and came out of the experience renewed with self-confidence. Either the light or dark path can change the trajectory of a character’s path.

Maybe a princess is violated by one of her suitor’s guards, and she abandons castle life to live among the commoners.

Maybe a slightly depressed woman in her mid-fifties is pursued by a younger man, and when she gives in she realizes how much more she has to live for and it turns her whole life around.

Maybe an otherwise sweet and unassuming young man has a sexual experience that leads him down the dark road of sexual addiction.

Again, the possibilities are endless.

3.| Achieve a goal.

Let’s not pretend sex can’t be used as a tool to get what one wants. A promotion, maybe. To get out of trouble. Revenge. To gain information. There are any number of things one might obtain by using sex.

Maybe a young spy uses sex as a way to gain entry into someone’s room and finds the incriminating evidence she needs.

Maybe a young teacher has sex with a school board official to secure funding she needs for classroom materials.

Maybe a reporter has sex with a politician to get the big scoop.

If you guessed I was going to say the possibilities are endless, you’re right.

So, now you know what you want to accomplish in your story by having your characters hit the sheets. How do you go about writing the act?



**Disclaimer: I am about to share with you three of the most popular ways to approach sex scenes, but these are not the only ways to approach them.**

1.| Hide it. 

I know. How is this writing in a sex scene? More or less, the sex is hinted at, followed by a scene break. Let’s look at what hiding the sex looks like:

Fiona and Devon enjoyed their bottle of wine, laughing at each other’s bad jokes, and learning about one another’s childhood fears. When her glass emptied, Fiona slipped off her heels and let them fall to the floor. “Come with me,” she said, and held her hand out for his.

Devon paused a moment before entwining his fingers with hers. He had an idea of what she wanted, and the bulge in his pants proved he wanted it too, but what about their working relationship?

“Don’t be frightened,” she said, leading him into the bedroom. “I don’t bite…unless you ask me to.”

We don’t see them have sex. It’s heavily hinted at, what with the wine and presumed excellent conversation and entering the bedroom, but then we’re left to wonder what went on once the door shut. How might the next scene begin, then?

Devon woke at the squeak of the bathroom door. He sat up in bed, his head still swimming in the clouds. “Everything all right?” The memory of their earlier activities stirring his manhood to attention again.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Fiona said, peeking her head from around the door, her toothbrush dangled from mouth. She disappeared again for a few moments, finally emerging wearing nothing but a sparkling smile. “Since you’re up, mind if we renegotiate the Parisian contracts?”

When might hiding the sex in a story be better than actually writing it?

1.| Writer inexperience or discomfort. Nothing reads as awkwardly as a poorly written or rushed sex scene.
2.| The act of sex in itself isn’t significant. In the above example, it didn’t matter that Devon had ripped abs, or that Fiona looked like a Greek Goddess in her black, lace teddy. All that mattered was, from what we can surmise, Fiona used sex as a bargaining chip for contract negotiations.
3.| Genre/age appropriateness. If you’re writing something younger audiences might pick up, it might be better to leave a lot to the imagination.

What about when things need to be shown?

2.| Go for emotional vs. physical reactions.

This is actually how I prefer to write my sex scenes, and how I wish some other authors I’ve read would’ve written theirs. We aren’t so focused here on the mechanics of sex: His arm here, her legs there, the angle of thrust, etc. Let’s rewrite Fiona and Devon’s scenario so we don’t see a scene break, and instead we see more of what happened in the bedroom.

Fiona eyed Devon as he sauntered across the room. Delicious was a word that came to mind, and one she hadn’t expected. Eager to get things over with, she’d already abandoned her dress in a heap on the floor, but Devon seemed pleased to prolong the experience, leaving a trail of clothes with each step.

She gulped. “You must do cross fit.”

“I do. Yoga?”

“Pilates. Only for a year,” she said behind a smile. “Thanks for noticing.”

He snaked his arms around her waist and eased her onto the bed, pulling her into a kiss so laced with desire she lost all memory of how she’d gotten there. He moved with much more expertise than she thought proper for a pencil-pusher. Fiona knotted her fingers into the sheets and cried out in glorious release. She had had no intention of enjoying herself, but the evidence of her good time pooled beneath her.

We still didn’t get into the mechanics of sex, but now we are at least in the room with them. Without a flashback, internal dialogue, or future conversation, we could never have known by skipping the sex scene that Fiona enjoyed herself despite only intending to get her way in negotiations.

When is this route the most appropriate way to write the sex?

1.| The details are in the emotions. If you need your character to experience something emotionally during the act of sex, but the mechanics of the sex aren’t of high importance, this is a much more highly effective way to write it.
2.| Writer ability. This particular way of writing a sex scene is more palatable than writing it explicitly for writers who aren’t comfortable with it, yet who still need to convey something with sex.
3.| Genre/age appropriateness. If you’re writing for an age bracket where sex is a part of life and it wouldn’t be natural not to include at least someone having sex, but it also wouldn’t convey what it needs to if you hid the scene, then this gives you a happy median.

3.| Get down and get dirty.

Quit wagging your tail, I’m not going to be rewriting the scene again. There’s plenty of good smut for you to turn to after this post. (Might I suggest three of my favorite writers with erotic works out there: Vania Rheault, Jewel E. Leonard, and Joshua E. Smith, all links to Twitter.)

Tips if you choose to go this route:

  • Don’t get bogged down in the mechanics. Unless it matters where her elbow is, or that his foot is balanced on the second shelf of her bookcase, don’t include details like this, they’re distracting. You also run the risk of head-hopping and giving details that shouldn’t be known. If someone is on all fours, they aren’t likely to know their partner is gritting their teeth.
  • Don’t use silly euphemisms for genitals.  In fact, most of the time you may not even need to name body parts, silly or otherwise. If you do, and you start using names like her secret garden or his glorious man-rod, you’re going to lose your readers. This reads comically. If you’re writing a sexy comedy, then these may work for you. Your readers will get the giggles. Clinical words don’t work well either most of the time. People read penis or vagina and they’re sent straight back to sex-ed, where, again, they got the giggles.
  • Focus on other body parts, instead. When you have your characters in the throes of passion, readers know they’re connected at the genitals. Stretch your skills and expand the reader experience by directing our attention to other areas, evoking all five senses. The scent of her perfume mixed with perspiration. The guttural growl he makes. The crispness of champagne juxtaposed with saltiness as it is lapped up from one’s navel. The glimmer of moonlight striking her diamond necklace. The sting of a riding crop on one’s buttocks. All. Five. Senses.
  • Make it real. Real sex isn’t a highly choreographed pornography. People think during sex, they get toe cramps, they laugh. Positions sometimes do not work. Sometimes climax isn’t achieved. Real sex is far more interesting to read than porn. Let your characters be vulnerable to all that can go wrong during lovemaking. This especially holds true if you’re writing about someone’s first sexual experience. First times are often times awkward and the things someone notices or obsesses over during their first time are different than someone who frequently has sex.
  • Don’t forget your research. I’m not being coy here and encouraging you to watch porn. But if you plan on writing about something you have no experience in, you’d damn well better research it because someone out there, lots of someones, are experienced and they will call you out on it.  Want to write about a man using Viagra, but you’ve never encountered it? Research it. Want to write about a dominatrix, but you’ve never made it out of missionary? Research it. Don’t talk about butt plugs and nipple clamps if you flush at the mention of flavored lube.

Aside from writing erotica, where this type of sex scene reigns supreme, the number one reason I can think of to incorporate this type of scene is because it is what works best for the story. I have read a few books over the years where this sort of scene was used, but it was apparent there was little to no thought behind why. Perhaps it’s just fun, and that’s okay, but it should never come across as thrown in just to, I don’t know, pad your word count, unless you’re aiming to win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award—yep, that’s a real thing.

That is all I have today. Feel free to tell me your favorite and least favorite traits in sex scenes, you never know who you might help.

Until next time, my lovelies! Happy reading and writing! xoxo


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The DNA of Bad Cliffhangers

www.ailastephensbooks.com (1)“Would you dare to walk with the beast on the dark side of the moon?”
– Demetri Daskova

The other day I was firing off what I had hoped would be the last few emails before I could punch out for the day and come home. It was all standard stuff: Warning about system updates, W-2 notices, meeting reminders. I was even chatting with a coworker friend of mine on the phone, indulging in a little light, office gossip. As she and I mused over trivialities, several emails piled up in my inbox in rapid succession.

See, if I’m on my office phone and someone calls me, an email automatically pops up telling me I am missing phone calls and from whom.

Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.

Within the span of thirty seconds, I had a total of six missed calls from my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss.

I hung up on my friend and started dialing.

No answer.

Where were they? They just called.

Another email pinged, from the boss’s boss: “I just called you twice. Don’t leave. We need to talk.”

Five minutes later, as I stared blankly at my computer screen, three stern knocks at my door were almost my undoing.

This is a true story, and after everything was settled (which, by the way, while I was being blamed for something, it turned out not to be my fault) it took a few minutes for my adrenaline to die down.

On my way home that day I couldn’t help but replay the events in my head and it dawned on me how perfectly this cliffhanger had been set up and it got me to thinking about how to build a successful cliffhanger…and how to build an unsuccessful one.

For the newbies in the back, what is a cliffhanger?

It’s a plot device where something happens suddenly and there is no immediate solution. (Like how I couldn’t figure out what the pandemonium was for) Sometimes there is a physical danger, sometimes the cliffhanger is emotional.

Authors want to construct a cliffhanger that compels their readers to keep reading in order to find out how the character is going to be affected. Will they die? Will they get the girl? Were they in the car crash? Did they get out before the house fire? Did they burn dinner? Did they have the dress in the right size? Did they get into their number one school?

I’ve read, or attempted to read, lots of Indie novels over the course of the last two years and one thing I’ve seen many authors forget is how and where to incorporate a cliffhanger.

Notice how I said I’ve attempted to read lots of Indie novels? Yeah. There’s a reason I, and many other readers, have put so many Indie books in the DNF pile.

Let’s look at some of the common issues I’ve had with cliffhangers in Indie novels.

1.| Not enough cliffhangers. I’ve tried to get through more than one Indie novel where the author seemed hellbent on waiting until they reached the climax to give any sort of cliffhanger. When someone is reading a novel, the place they are most likely to put it down to tend to other things is at the end of a chapter or at a scene break. I’m not saying every scene break needs a cliffhanger, but it might be a good idea to sprinkle in some mini-cliffhangers to spur readers on to the next scene, and definitely a good idea to do something at the end of each chapter that will captivate readers and make it hard to put the book down. If the writer doesn’t make it hard to put the book down, they make it easy not to pick up again.

2.| Repetitive cliffhangers. The one I have seen several Indie novels use over and over again is the will they/won’t they cliffhanger in more than a few chapters. Repeating the same cliffhanger creates the-boy-who-cried-wolf scenario and quickly leads to disinterest. I read a certain fan-fiction-turned-major-Hollywood-film and found myself thinking oh good, they’re fighting again. Look, they’re in love again, I wonder if they’ll argue again…yep, yep, there it is…well, this chapter is about to end, so I guess they’ll think about breaking up, yep.

Inversely, some cliffhangers are unsuccessful because they came from far out in left field. If an author is writing an epic western drama, and the first fifteen chapters give no indication of science fiction but then out of nowhere an alien spaceship lands in the middle of a shootout at high-noon…that’s just…no. The cliffhanger needs to make more sense than that.

3.| Not enough emotional development. Cliffhangers should happen to characters in which your readers have invested some time. A writer can’t expect readers to be all that concerned someone mentioned once, sixteen chapters ago, was shot…There should be enough of a bond between the reader and the character the writer is inflicting fear/pain/harm upon that finding out what happened is a necessity.

If at the end of a chapter a writer wants to entice me by having the great uncle I’ve never heard of call to say he’s coughing up blood, I’m going to be left with questions, yes, but not ones the author wants me to ask.

Let’s look at couple of examples:

A.

After shopping, Leslie walked her usual path home. She and Greg had worked out a lot of their issues and she looked forward to their night. As she waited for the crosswalk, she blacked out and hit her head on the asphalt, moments before the bus was due to arrive.

B.

Dangling her shopping bags from her index finger, Leslie’s heart skipped a beat thinking of what Greg’s reaction would be to her new lingerie. They had worked through so many issues, and he’d taken therapy much more seriously than she ever imagined. Maybe we have a chance, she thought while waiting for the crosswalk light to give her permission to cross. Eleven years. She still couldn’t believe they’d made it to their anniversary. Her thoughts drifted to what wine would pair best with their dinner when her lungs failed to draw in her next breath. She looked down at her arms which now felt like anvils. She dropped her bags and fell forward, her head bouncing on the road’s fresh asphalt.

Onlookers screamed as a bus screeched to a halt.

I won’t believe you if you say gave you a more emotional response.

I just made that shit up, but let’s pretend that is the end of an amazing chapter. My readers are thinking oh, no! What happened to her? Did the bus hit her? Is she dead? OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

I’ve successfully created a cliffhanger my readers are invested in, and they’ve decided to forego finishing the laundry to keep reading. Is my job as an author done?

Nope. A successful cliffhanger must be followed by its resolution—and a bad resolution will ruin the cliffhanger. How might a resolution kill the cliffhanger, you ask?

4.| Rushed resolutions. Cliffhangers are supposed to be a swift kick in the groin. They happen and then the writer enters a page break. Your reader should feel a reaction. They need to think oh shit! What just happened? I need to know! And be inspired to turn the page.

I’ve seen Indies who write a decent cliffhanger and then resolve it before they start the next chapter or scene, leaving no sense of urgency to turn the page. We don’t want this.

The resolution should usually come in the next scene or chapter, but not right away. Milk this emotional thing your reader has going on for a little while. Get them invested in the chapter. If the resolution happens in the first sentence or two, the reader isn’t likely to keep going, as they will have gotten the instant satisfaction of knowing what happened next.

Which sounds like a chapter opening that will get the most out of this emotional buck?

A:

Sitting up in her hospital bed, Leslie stretched and took a sip of cool water. I wonder where Greg is, I’d like to do a crossword puzzle together.

B:

The incessant beeping of machinery would be Greg’s undoing. He couldn’t peel his eyes from his wife, her face was so swollen he barely recognized her. All he wanted in the world was to trade places with her. He had been the one who screwed things up for so long, it wasn’t fair she had to fight this battle, too.

Greg closed his eyes and pictured their last fight, the one where he came so close to hitting her. He was a different person then. Never again, he thought.

“Greggy,” Leslie said, her voice soft and scratchy—just like the doctor warned would happen from the feeding tube. “Greggy, where I am I?”

If really sounds better to you, then you’re going to love a lot of Indie books.

Does the resolution always need to occur in the next chapter? No. Delayed satisfaction can be a powerful tool, but it shouldn’t feel forgotten. Maybe Leslie doesn’t wake up in the next chapter. Maybe there are two or three chapters where it is touch-and-go, but if in the next chapter Greg is out drinking with his buddies and never once mentions his wife, and in the next two or three chapters he starts seeing some chick named Hildi and finally in that fourth chapter Greg gets the phone call his wife has woken up…readers are going to be a little angry.

An author can also delay gratification by giving the resolution in smaller doses. Leslie is awake, but can she remember who she is? Can she walk? Will she be in a wheelchair? Will she ever dance again?

5.| No resolution at all. This is the king of cliffhanger mistakes. A writer has successfully gotten his reader to turn the page, desperate to find out what happens next, and then nothing ever happens. The cliffhanger has turned into a loose end. A plot hole. When, if, the reader finishes the book, they are going to be bummed they never found out what happened. This is not a good feeling when one has finished a book.

But what about endings, you ask?

If an author is writing a stand alone book, I caution using a cliffhanger at the end because of the fact there will be no resolution and the reader will be left unsatisfied. I can’t think of a time this is a good idea. Feel free to show me one in the comments.

If a writer plans on a sequel and wishes to employ a cliffhanger, the author should be aware that this cliffhanger isn’t just getting someone to turn over to the next chapter, but it must entice them to buy another book. People don’t part with money easily, so plan on making a humdinger of a cliffhanger.

Also keep in mind that no matter how good your cliffhanger, if you wait to publish the sequel, people will probably have forgotten the first book and the cliffhanger. So make sure the second book is ready relatively soon thereafter…if you’ve succeeded in developing an amazing cliffhanger, you’ll increase the sales of book two by leaps and bounds.

What is your favorite cliffhanger, either on the page or on screen?

That’s all we have today, my lovelies! Until next time, happy writing! xoxo


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Say Hello To My WIP: Alabama Rain

 

Social Media (2)“Besides, don’t God’ner the devil want me. I reckon I’m fine right where I am.”
– Corrie Bryant, Alabama Rain

 

Is it lame to say Happy New Year to you again? I don’t think so. Is it? I’m thinking it’s perfectly all right to pass on this wish throughout the first week. After that it might be somewhat overkill. But we’re only on day four of 2018, so what the hell: HAPPY NEW YEAR, YOU!

I hope you’re all busy working toward your goals for the year, whatever they might be. Unless it’s world domination. (Looking at you, Don.) Be it weight loss, a promotion, saving for a house, writing your first novel or your second, third, or twentieth—I am rooting for you!

As you’ll recall from my last post, I mentioned my new WIP: Alabama Rain. AR first came to me while as I dozed off one night while I was still writing Technicalities. I read once that you never have to erase what you get up to write—which is exactly what I did. The line of dialogue underneath the image up top is the exact line I heard just before the Sandman got the better of me, and my eyes flashed open as the rough plot unfolded in my mind. I sprang from the bed and grabbed a pen because I didn’t want to forget anything.

An affliction many writers suffer from, known as the shiny new idea syndrome, had bitten me and made it all but impossible for me to concentrate on finishing Technicalities, then made it difficult to start Formalities. I had no choice but to write a little here and there, and my husband can attest that it took me a long time to shut up about it—but now that it is my official WIP and not just a lovely idea flirting with me in the dark reaches of my messed up writer brain…I don’t really have to shut up about it.

So, what’s the gist? A part of me would happily sit here and divulge every secret because I am all kinds of excited about this story, but I will resist. Here’s a blurb-in-progress, instead:

Alabama Rain follows the enigmatic life story of Corrie Bryant, an elderly lady who hasn’t had a filter for her thoughts in years and who has recently been accused of the brutal murder of her husband, Jed. In order to sort out what actually happened to her father, Sarah Johansen, a lawyer from Columbus, Georgia, comes home to Dry Creek to spearhead her own investigation. Of all the things she’s seen during her practice she isn’t prepared for the secrets she uncovers, and isn’t sure finally getting to know her mother is the silver lining around the dark cloud as she hoped.

This story I’ve tasked myself with is stretching me, forcing me to grow as a writer. While the investigation takes place in 1994, Corrie’s story takes us all the way back to The Great Depression. This is a brand new challenge for myself, as I’ve always worked lineraly, and in modern times.

I don’t know about you but sometimes it is hard for me to imagine a world without easy access to the internet—though I can remember not having it. The same applies to cell phones and GPS, satellite radio and high-definition television…see where I’m going here? In 1994 it is estimated only 10,000 websites existed, and only 2 million people were readily connected to the internet. (Compare that to today’s ~50 billion websites and 4 billion people addicted to using the internet!)

So I can’t give my character a GPS, or even have them download and print directions from MapQuest. (You remember MapQuest, right?) I’ll have to reorient myself with primitive objects like paper maps that never fold correctly and bulky landline phones that hang on the kitchen wall. Payphones instead of cellular, and libraries with backlogs of newspapers instead of sitting down at a computer and having any bit of information at my character’s fingertips.

I look forward to sharing snippets from this book here and there, as well as some of the struggles and triumphs. I’m sure I’ll learn a slew of new tricks of the trade both with writing and self-publishing.

If you’d care to join me during the gestation of Alabama Rain, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and especially don’t miss out on subscribing to my newsletter—when you sign up for my newsletter you’ll receive a welcome aboard email that contains the first, raw chapter of Alabama Rain and you can expect chapters two and three to float into your inbox before you know it. Sign up at my website, submission form is at the bottom of the page.

All that said, I’ve got some writing to do. 🙂 Take care and see you on Monday when I examine some ways to make that crazy-long list of writing goals less scary, more manageable, and easier to cross off.

See you soon! xoxo


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Author Interview: Jewel E. Leonard

12.21.17 v3
“I don’t want to say a word against brains – I’ve a great respect for brains – I often wish I had some myself…” — Jewel’s favorite quote. From Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe

Jewel was one of the first people I idolized when I first decided to take the Indie Author route seriously—and for good reason: she’s crazy talented, super sweet, and approaches her role as an indie author with a profound level of professionalism. It’s no wonder I often find myself trying to emulate her as I grow as an author.

I fell in love with Mrs. Leonard’s novel Tales by Rales and could not put it down until I finished it. I’ve been a fan of her work ever since. As both a fan of hers, and as her friend, I have anxiously been awaiting the arrival of Alight…and it’s here!


Alight
Available 12.21.2017!

Maeve lives a charmed life in the small desert town of Redington in Arizona Territory–where spousal prospects are sorely lacking, career choices are shamefully limited to the saloon, and Death himself has a vendetta against her.

All Maeve wants is her independence but 1883 society has decidedly different expectations for her.

Enter Shadow Wolf: notorious for his dark reputation and grotesque mechanical arm. The gunslinger, a suspiciously werewolf-esque man whose social situation bears some obnoxious similarities to Maeve’s, has found his place among the masses by walking on the wrong side of the law.

When Maeve stumbles upon Shadow Wolf’s scheme to rob a stagecoach, he forces her to choose between her life or breaking the witches’ Golden Rule. Despite certain karmic retribution, Maeve relies on her wit and a sprinkling of magic to survive the heist. When nothing goes according to plan, she finds herself not just on the ride of a lifetime, but also roped into an unanticipated romance with a sexy bandit at the reins.


It sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? In celebration of this momentous occasion, I jumped at the chance to sit down and ask Jewel some questions in hopes to help you get to know her as a person and author as well as some insights into THE WITCHES’ REDE: ALIGHT.

Without further adieu, let’s dive right in to this fascinating mind.

1.) I think when someone “becomes” a reader or a writer, it’s a lot like falling in love. Sometimes it’s a gradual thing, other times it’s an instant attraction. Do you remember what book made you fall in love with the written word? If so, what was it, and has any other book ever given you that same smitten feeling?

I don’t remember any particular book that made me fall in love with the written word. I was, however, greatly inspired by The Baby-Sitters Club series. I remember reading them, loving them, and very firmly believing, “I can do this, too!” I think one of the books that really changed the way I looked at the craft (from the standpoint of emotionally breaking me into shards of my former self) was the last book of LJ Smith’s Forbidden Game trilogy. I loved all her books, but it was the 3rd book in that series which did me in. I’ve definitely been touched and influenced by other books since then (that’d be a heck of a dry spell if I didn’t!) but I don’t think anything has wrecked me quite the same way since and I’m perfectly fine with that! I like reading fluff for darn good reason.

2.) Do you keep everything you write? Do you look back on it to see how far you’ve come,Alight Promo and would you care to share a personal favorite line or passage from something you wrote long ago that you’ve never published?

I do keep everything, and that almost changed when I wrote Possession for NaNoWriMo a few years ago. Hubby had to come to its rescue (and in retrospect, I’m so grateful he did!) … There are a few old stories I revisit from time to time, not so much to see how far I’ve come (although oh boy, have I!) but because despite that writing being atrocious at best, the characters are old friends and being back in that setting is a bit like returning to the place you grew up, only better—it hasn’t changed. My hometown is nothing like how I remember it. A passage from something old that I’ve never published? I vacillated between sharing one of two options—The Immortal’s Caveat and The Carriers. The Carriers is a departure from my usual genre, so I’m opting to share an excerpt from it rather than the former. This writing is over 6 years old and unedited (so please be gentle!) and the idea came about after a shockingly explicit dream I had that I felt was worth pursuing. To this day I remember it quite vividly and stepping back into these words (all 1600 of them) was a bit like being doused with cold water. The excerpt itself isn’t anything wild, but I remember clearly where this goes. I didn’t have the chops to get very far with it at the time, as it’s a genre I was not well-versed in (unlike, say, paranormal romance) … but it’s an idea I think is worth pursuing sometime down the road. Well, without further ado, here it is:


From his position behind them, Jeremy introduced her to the panel. “This is Meredith Healey. Among the top of her class at the CBP School for Girls. She is the one I selected.”

The members of the panel exchanged glances, sizing the girl up carefully. At the far end of the table, grey-haired and wrinkled Audrey Malone stood and approached Meredith, walking a circle around her. “Hold out your arms.”

Meredith did as instructed. Not only was she docile on a typical day, but fear caused her to be doubly so under the circumstances.

“She’s got the proper proportions. Obedient, too. Good traits, excellent traits.” Audrey nodded decisively. “She’s up-to-date on her vaccinations?”

Another member of the panel nodded from his seat. “We’ve got her medical records updated and ready for transference.” He was a lanky man in the medical profession judging by the scrubs he wore, holding a small vial up with slender fingers. “I’ve the microchip ready.”

“And this will be a suitable candidate for Pom E’Turi?” Audrey asked. To Meredith, she said, “Please put your arms down. Thank you.”

Jeremy nodded as Meredith lowered her arms. “She’s the one. The ship departs at dawn tomorrow.”

He put a hand on the woman standing beside him. “This is Darien. She’s Meredith’s porter.”

Darien was a well-fed young woman, with cheerful eyes and a wide smile. Had Meredith any clue what was happening, she might have been comforted by the friendly-looking woman who was charged with her care.

“Then if there are no objections, I’m going to install Meredith’s medical records,” said the doctor.

“Who agrees to this transfer?” Audrey asked of the panel.

Everyone in the room raised a right hand, save Meredith.

“Then it’s done.” Audrey nodded to the doctor. “She’ll have one last physical here, and you can install her medical records. Darien will take her from there and assure her safe arrival at Murth.”

Jeremy smiled. “Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.”

Audrey went to him in the back of the room, shaking his hand. “Give Pom E’Turi our regards. I’d love a progress report in a few months.”

“I will,” replied Jeremy. “And I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide you a status update when they have news.”

Audrey gave him a forced smile. “That, you would.” She returned to Meredith. “Congratulations!” she announced with that same forced smile. “You’ve been chosen to be the ambassador for our biological exchange program! You will be apprised of your duties on your trip to Murth.”

“I’m—I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken.” Meredith blurted. “Headmaster Bolton!” she cried in an uncharacteristic outburst.

Jeremy, who’d been on his way out of the panel, paused at the door. He turned. “Yes, Miss Healey?”

“I’m honored you’d select me for such an . . . important sounding position . . . But . . . I must contest. I’m a mathematician, not a biologist!”

“Can you multiply?” asked Jeremy.

“What does that have to do with—well, yes.” Meredith frowned. She was an expert in advanced Calculus and certainly, if he knew how well she did in school, it must be assumed, then, that she knew the most elementary of mathematical concepts. “Of course, I can.”

He smiled. “Then you are the right woman for the position. My decision stands. Safe travels and much luck.” Without another word, he left the room.

“That was not so obedient,” Audrey chastised Meredith. “We’ll just be thankful he was good-natured about that indiscretion. Now, no more protests; off to your final exam.”


 

:shudders: I can see any number of things I’d fix in that. Well, maybe someday!

3.) Where and when are you most likely to be inspired by your next project?

Always when it is least opportune. For instance, when I’m driving and can’t stop to jot notes, or just as I’m falling asleep. I can trust the little lying voice in my head that promises I’ll remember it tomorrow, or get up, write, and then have trouble falling asleep when I’m done several hours later.

4.) If the main character from your first novel were to hang out with the main character from your current novel, what do you imagine that would be like?

My main characters from my first novel and my current one are actually very closely related and I imagine if they were to hang out, it would be really awkward. And, surprisingly, I don’t think they’d get along very well at all. (First novel MC, in retrospect, was a loner and had difficulty establishing friendships, especially with other women. Current MC has many close friends and tends to easily befriend those who don’t, like, assault her when they first meet. The former doesn’t forgive, the latter does—to a fault.)

5.) Why do you self-publish versus going the traditional route?

I initially sought an agent for Alight … I felt like it was the only way to be validated. I felt like it was the only chance I’d have for getting my work out there (because agents and publishers TOTALLY market for you and don’t expect you to do any of it, LOLOLOL). I felt like certain people in my life would take me seriously only when I had the approval of professionals in the industry. And I think (IMHO) those are all the wrong reasons for seeking an agent/publisher. I know some people consider indie publishing a consolation prize, especially if it follows failed querying … (“Oh, you couldn’t hack it traditionally, huh? Your writing must suck. So you’re just gonna take that loser MS nobody wanted and slop it up on Amazon with a cover you did in ten minutes using MS Paint, right?”) In my case, when I finally opened my eyes to reality, indie-publishing wasn’t second place. It was a better fit for my passion and my personality (I’m a teensy bit of a control freak and the thought of a character on my front cover who doesn’t match my description could make my fine hair curl!), and this is something I wish had occurred to me much sooner. And hey, since I’d be expected to market every bit as much as an agented author as I must as an indie, might as well go indie and keep all my hard-earned profits, right? 😉 I’m currently drafting a blog post to go into more detail about this decision. I hope to have it done sometime around Alight’s release date … but maybe don’t hold your breath waiting.

6.) The antagonist from the last book you read is your new main character, the setting is the last place you went on vacation, their weapon of choice is the first blue object you spy, and their superpower is your biggest fear. Describe this book and give it a title!

Oh my good lord this question! LOL! OK. So Jack Torrance goes to Walt Disney World brandishing a Christmas stocking. He suddenly, for some reason, has the ability to transform into — ok you know what? as I go, this is actually becoming a really fun little writing prompt! — so he suddenly has the ability to transform into a human-sized scorpion. Flying scorpion, let’s really up the ante here, shall we? OK, so flying scorpion Jack Torrance swoops into Disney World with blue Christmas stocking in han—claw—in claw. Hijinks and merriment ensue. I’m pretty sure it’d be called Jack Scorpance and the Christmas Stocking of Fate. Maybe this is next year’s NaNo project! ^__^

Alight Promo27.) Where did the inspiration for Alight come from? When did you first begin writing this story?

Well, for reasons, that’s classified information. I’ll say this: I was writing a series of stories for many years that I could not get published even if I took it upon myself to do so. For … reasons. Despite those reasons and the quality of my work, I had several lovely people encouraging me to make the changes necessary to legitimately publish this behemoth I’d spent almost a decade and a half playing with. (I’m not belittling myself or the work by saying I was playing with it; it was play. I learned a lot through it, but it was play, nonetheless.) It was Christina Olson, one of my few ultra-close friends, to say the magic word that fateful afternoon in 2013: Steampunk. She found that little bridge I needed to get my silly self-indulgent stories from where they were to the beautiful book coming out on December 21, 2017. Anyway, I think I wrote rather eloquently about that day in an interview I did with Christina on my blog, here. The rest is history … Wonderful, romanticized, magical and fantastical, alternative-Victorian/Wild West history. 😉

8.) What has been your biggest hurdle to clear when writing Alight?

It’s kind of a toss-up between knowing where to start, knowing when to back away, and knowing when to let it go. Alight was a pretty significant learning experience in so many ways.

9.) The cover for Alight is AMAZING! How involved were you in the design process, and how did you go about accomplishing such a masterpiece?

Thank you so much! I was actually involved fairly little in the design process (oh, hubby’s gonna kill me dead for sayin’ that!). Hubby’s my design guy. He’s done it professionally and had very clear ideas for the cover of not just Alight but each book in The Witches’ Rede series. The hardest part was finding the perfect artist. We solicited many … and some were either well beyond our budget, weren’t accepting new work, weren’t interested in this project (just the one book cover or the series),or … well, weren’t good enough. And then I lucked upon the artist we chose, Ryuutsu Art, when I saw her commissions for fellow author Errin Krystal appear in my Facebook feed. (Thank goodness for that!!!) It was a glorious day when she agreed to do the commissions for us. Working with Ryuutsu has been an absolute joy from beginning to end. Her artwork is gorgeous, she’s a genuinely sweet person, and has even helped me check the ebook formatting of Alight (my Kindle is old, pathetic, and I don’t trust it’s providing an accurate view of my document). I adore the book covers she’s done for me so far and look forward to getting the next set done this coming year. They definitely act as motivation to get more writing done!

10.) What can your fans hope to see in 2018?

Well, books 2 and 3 of The Witches’ Rede are scheduled for release in summer and winter of 2018! Beyond that, I’m aiming at expanding and improving my website, and blogging more regularly. Step back, world, here I come! 😉

Obligatory Question: What writing advice would you give to a budding indie author?

When you’ve convinced yourself no one will read your work … when you think the only reviews you’ll get (if you get them) are going to be 1-stars … You’ve got to remember you’re doing this for yourself, first and foremost. At the end of the day, you’re the only one you can guarantee will read (and, I sure hope, enjoy!) your work. Also, please do yourself a favor and remove “aspiring” from your bios. You are not an aspiring writer if you’re writing. You’re a writer. Embrace it! Don’t wait as long as I did to finally figure that out. You’re just wasting time and hurting yourself. This is a fantastic journey if you grant yourself that enjoyment.


 

I’d like to thank Jewel for the opportunity to get to know her a little better—this was such a great interview!

Want to get to know her even more? Check out her site: http://www.jeweleleonard.com/

Also find her on social media: Twitter (3)   Instagram (1)   Facebook   GoodReads2

Need an escape from the stress, hustle, and bustle of the holidays? Immerse yourself in the The Witches’ Rede: ALIGHT!

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

Social Media, Take Two

Social Media

To recap our discussion last week, we went over the general trajectory of social media sites for the coming year to hopefully pinpoint where to devote your social media time…but what do we do while we’re there?

Before we dive into the particulars today, let me make a statement on how I feel about social media—be forewarned, my opinions are not always popular.

Social media can be, and often is, a huge waste of time. It is also hard to avoid and even harder to avoid when you’re trying to promote yourself and your work: so it is almost a necessity. Sure some authors manage to get by without finding themselves shackled to tweets, posts, likes, and pins…but even well-established, traditionally published authors use social media to connect with their readers.

That said, as indie authors we can’t afford to lose any of our precious writing time. Our editing time. Our research time. Our revising time. Our design time. Our formatting time. Our educational time. (If you don’t think becoming a successful indie author requires some sort of education, I fear for you.) If you’re following my train of thought here, pursuing this passion requires an indie to wear a lot of hats. Each particular hat requires a lot of time…and social media isn’t the best of bedfellows with productivity. Always keep that in mind.

If you’re content with your writing journey remaining a hobby, then perhaps this advice does not apply to you…but if you want writing to replace some or all of your income at some point, then I urge you to think of social media in a new way: as yet another tool. Tools should be used when necessary, put away when not, and you should always know how to use them.

And that is what I want to explore today. You’ll notice I will make some confessions along the way about mistakes I have made, and my own personal goals for this platform in the coming year. You should also know the majority of these findings come from my own personal experiences. Yours will probably vary. To find and follow me on any of these platforms, click the icons below.

Anyway…let’s go!

FacebookFacebook | Of the social media sites I used prior to two weeks ago, Facebook is my least favorite for marketing purposes. I think it is safe to say that Facebook is mostly used to keep track of family and friends. I took a quick poll of my own friends and family and next to no one said they use this platform for anything else: more than one of these people volunteered the fact they never click the ads that pop up in their feed.

For an indie author, breaking that barrier is difficult. Your family and friends will likely share posts you make, comment on them, etc. but will that cross the even more daunting barrier of getting what I call outside engagement(By this I mean you’re attracting the attention of new people, those outside your established circle. I.E. Not your mom or best friend.) Getting attention, in this manner, on Facebook can be like threading a needle with your eyes closed, one handed.

Perhaps this is why I find Facebook to be so stupidly tedious. There’s so little return on the time investment. It’s disheartening to look through the analytics. So, I’m here to admit: I suck at using Facebook. I’ve been trying to read a little here and there about how to improve my FaBo game, and I was surprised by a few things I read.

It seems when it comes to other social media outlets, hashtags are the name of the game…not so much when it comes to the Book of Face. According to PostPlanner, hashtags may be crippling our posts! Now I’m not sure what sampling of posts they used for this study, but here goes:

  • Posts with 1 or 2 hashtags averaged 593 interactions
  • Posts with 3 to 5 hashtags averaged 416 interactions
  • Posts with 6 to 10 hashtags averaged 307 interactions
  • Posts with more than 10 hashtags averaged 188 interactions

Ian Cleary from Razor Social says using pointless hashtags on Facebook is, and I am paraphrasing, a turn off. Don’t do it. Stick to only relevant hashtags and only use two.

Peg Fitzpatrick from Canva (I LOVE CANVA!) reminds us that even though using too many hashtags on Facebook can oddly limit a post’s reach, we should still embrace them as they are one of the only ways to expand your reach without paid advertisements. (Which, by the way, I know next to nothing about, therefore I don’t feel qualified to give any advice on the subject. Perhaps another time.)

I guess the moral of the story is: Hashtag wisely, folks.

Cons: Hard to find legitimately new followers, unless you have some degree of notoriety and people will already be searching for your name. If you want to be seen by fresh eyes, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for ads, and there are no guarantees at all you’ll see any clicks. The analytics page isn’t as easy to decipher as Twitter’s.

Pros: Your family and friends will likely share your work for you with their family and friends.

My Facebook goals for 2018: Post consistently while also experimenting with what content works. I’d like to have a minimum 300 FaBo followers by the end of 2018. I have a lot of work to do.



Twitter (3)Twitter | 
I have had much more luck navigating Twitter. The use of hashtags on Twitter is much more user-friendly than it is with Facebook, and used much more often which is great! And not so great. It’s the very definition of a catch-22. You can’t be seen if you don’t use the popular hashtags…and sometimes you can’t be seen when you use the popular hashtags. Why? Because everyone else is using them too, and the most popular way to view them is to view the latest tweets at the top. Meaning your tweet from thirty-seconds ago with the hashtag AmWriting is now probably 20-30 tweets down, if not further.

One of the things Twitter does amazingly is their analytical tools. You can easily monitor your most popular tweets and when your best times of day are. If Twitter is something you’re looking to get serious about as a tool, you really need to familiarize yourself with the analytics. This will help your impressions and your follower count blossom.

My favorite thing about Twitter is the ease of finding other writers.

My least favorite thing about Twitter is it can be really damn difficult to find readers.

The writing community on Twitter is vast. Ever expanding, really. We’re everywhere, sharing our work and hashtagging like it’ll save the world! But, as for people who are just seeking to find a new author or a really good book…I’ve yet to really find the magic formula for this. Sorry.

You can, and probably will, sell a few books to people you meet on Twitter. After all, writers are readers. Just really freaking busy ones with their own stories to write. I went on an Indie diet in 2016 and part of 2017, and every book I bought was found on Twitter. So, don’t give up…just don’t get discouraged, either.

I think the best possible way to utilize Twitter as a writing tool is to use it to network with other writers. Find people to share in this journey with you. Learn from them. Teach them. Read other indie work. Befriend and be involved. This is where I have found 95% of my beta readers. In that sense, Twitter has been invaluable.

But never forget that you aren’t writing your novel if you participate in every single writer’s chat and hashtag game. Do these things, fine, but sparingly.

Cons: Can be hard to find readers seeking out Indie authors, therefore not the best way to make sales. Because the writing community is so vast and there is always some sort of chat, event, or game going within it making getting lost and inadvertently wasting time is easy to do.

Pros: Such a vast and active writer community. It’s easy to find help, guidance, support, inspiration, beta readers and critique partners.

My Twitter goals for 2018: Learn even more from Twitter’s analytics tools, and use the data to increase impressions, interactions, and up my followers by 25%.



GoodReads2GoodReads | 
You want to find readers? GoodReads. This website is a reader’s delight. It’s easy to find new books and new authors, more finely tuned than on any other social media outlet. It’s a beautiful relationship. There are really only two reasons for a person to be on GoodReads at all: either they’re a reader or a writer. It’s the best site for a captive audience.

But…well…GoodReads has made a controversial move in the indie author arena. One of the things that has been so gosh darn attractive about GoodReads has been their giveaway platform. It was so easy for readers to find great, new material this way because it was a free service to authors, and allowed readers to participate in giveaways with peace of mind. Now, GoodReads is going to charge out the proverbial ass for hosting a giveaway. If you’re an indie author PAY REALLY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THIS:

Standard Giveaway will cost authors/publishers $119, per book. There’s not a lot included with the standard giveaway, except for paying an awful lot of money to give something away.

Premium Giveaway will cost authors/publishers $599, per book. SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS to give something away for free. What do you get for this exorbitant fee? Special placement. That’s literally the only difference. Both packages also offer an email to contest winners reminding them to leave a review for your book.

I don’t know about you, but this new change doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies. My pragmatism dictates that GoodReads is providing a service, and they should be able to charge people for that service if they want to. I’m fine with that part. But I am not so fine with the amounts being charged. I think it’s grossly excessive and really doesn’t allow indie authors a shot at a competitive edge.

My advice for using GoodReads going forward is to make the most out of your page, utilizing the interview questions, trivia questions, etc. etc. but, I don’t recommend shelling out that much money for a giveaway. The odds are really stacked against indies for a ROI in this giveaway arena. Run your own giveaways and save yourself the money. Look at books in your genre, see who is reading and enjoying them. GoodReads is a great tool to learn and study your key demographic!

Cons: Giveaways are no longer free, and the fees are astronomical.

Pros: Users are usually dedicated readers who seek out new material. There are ways to interact with fresh faces. GoodReads is more powerful than it may seem at first glance.

My GoodReads goals for 2018: Jazz up my page, and try to initiate more interaction with readers, utilizing their message boards and browsing books related to mine and finding out all I can about my key demographic. (Which might help with other social media sites in the long run.)


 

Instagram (1)Instagram | I do not know very much about Instagram, to be honest. I’ve avoided it for a long time, and it is going to take a lot of diligence and practice for me to make using it a habit. What I do know about IG is that it continues to grow and gain momentum at a rate I never imagined.

 

For those that don’t know, Instagram is all about posting images with engaging captions and multiple hashtags. Hashtags are very important in Instagram, as people do scroll tags in order to find content relative to their interests, unlike most of Facebook users–Facebook being IG’s big papa.

Instagram Stories is apparently the hit new thing, though it really isn’t a new thing. New doesn’t last very long on the internet. Basically, Stories is a way to share multiple images on IG that tell, well, a story. As a writer, you might like to compile some pictures that show your habits during a full day of writing. Your coffee, your desk, your computer screen (if yours looks like mine, it’s framed in a myriad of post-its), the sandwich you have for lunch, a sneak peek into your day planner, a close up of your editing notes…you get where I’m going here? Stories seems to be a way to give even more of a glimpse into what goes on behind the curtains.

Cons: I’m not certain it will be the easiest place to sell books, as I think people skim for images more than they will click buy-links. Time will tell me if my prediction is correct.

Pros: It’s the hip place to be on the internet, apparently. It’s growth is expanding, and the experts at Entrepreneur.com believe it will be the best social media site for marketing in 2018—time will tell if that proves true for the Indie author community.

My Instagram Goals for 2018: Learn to use it and make a point to use it more frequently. I’d like to gain 1000 followers by EOY.


Pinterest (1)Pinterest: I am a habitual Pinterest browser…rarely do I ever post things. I’d like to do a better job with this. Currently I use private inspiration boards, but I’d like public ones. Also, I fully intend on making shareable and printable documents that are so popular on this platform—which I think is more viable than trying to find book buyers.

Instagram (2)Google+: Use for hangouts if you’d like to have group discussions, otherwise it’s currently a waste of time in my humblest opinion. I am still holding onto hope, however, that the geniuses at Google will someday figure out how to revolutionize their social media side…until then, I won’t utilize this platform.

YouTube (1)YouTube: If you’re braver than I am, starting a YouTube channel might be a great idea. Don’t do it if you aren’t 100% sure, however. Nothing comes across worse than someone trying to force themselves to be comfortable in front of the camera, or worse yet, professing expertise on a subject they know nothing about. While I technically do have a YouTube channel, I only have two videos posted: my book trailers. Creating book trailers isn’t a surefire way to sell books, but it can’t hurt. In fact, I noticed after posting my most recent trailer, I did sell a few copies of my eBook for Sex, Love, and Technicalities.

If you do decide to make a trailer for your book, as with everything else you publish, make it to the absolute best of your ability…which might mean hiring someone to do it for you if you lack the skill or are unwilling to learn the skill. (I will be doing a more thorough blog post in Quarter 2 of 2018 on producing a quality book trailer.)


My BIGGEST pieces of social media advice:

  • Be authentic, whatever platform(s) you use. Don’t be someone you’re not, because that is a tough act to keep up for long. We all fall back into our old habits before too long. If you’re not a naturally comedic person, don’t try to be, because…
  • We’ve talked a lot about selling books…but don’t sell your books. You’re selling you.
  • Follow etiquette. Don’t spam people. Don’t invade established hashtags with the intent of some sort of coup. Give credit where credit is due, always.
  • Social media is only a piece of the author platform puzzle: don’t neglect the other parts.
  • The old adage “you catch more flies with honey” always applies.
  • It is absolutely fine to start building your author platform while working on your debut work…just don’t forget to also work on your novel. The interest you’re building in yourself and your book needs to actually go somewhere.

 

That’s all I have for you today. When we reconvene on Thursday, I’ve got a special interview I know you’re just going to love!

Until then: Happy reading and writing, my friends!


SLT   SLF Cover

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