Announcement, Organized, Self-Publishing, Tips

Stepping Up for 2018—The SMART Way

steps up to 2018“There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed.”
– Ray Goforth

 

We’ve survived a full-week of 2018, ya’ll. 🙂 I hope it’s shaping up to be a good one for you—so far it has personally been 1000x better than 2017’s first week for me.

Last week I divulged some of my #WriterGoals2018 with you and already I’ve added a couple of projects I’m going to hold close to my chest…my to-do list grows! So, this week we’re going to talk about setting ourselves up for success this year by making our goal setting and goal chasing a little less scary.

I touched on this last week when I said that saying you’re going to write 80,000 words in X number of days is a lot scarier than saying you’re going to write 500 words per day. Taking any lofty goal—writing or no—and breaking it down into simpler terms will significantly increase your chances of turning that goal into a reality.

This is where the SMART method comes in to play. Sure, it’s simple enough to say your goal is to grow your business. That’s a perfectly sound goal to have, but it’s extremely vague. Wouldn’t you agree? Growth can mean all sorts of things.

Seeing as how I’m a writer, we’re going to use growing an author platform as our example but the SMART method can be applied to literally any goal. Let’s dive in!

SMART blog graphic v2

Those are just some of the words associated with the acronym SMART you’re likely to find if you choose to search the web for the SMART method of goal-setting. This concept is not a new one to me, though it is one I haven’t put into practice nearly enough in my life, and thus is probably one of the reasons I’ve fallen short on some of my goals.

I’ve chosen to apply Sensible, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely as my focus words for goal-setting this year, for reasons I hope become clear as we apply this to the example of growing an author platform.

Goal: Growing An Author Platform

Looking at the goal, what is the logical next step? If you don’t explore that, then you’ll be all over the place, not applying focus to any one direction. When you don’t see the arbitrary marks of platform growth, you’ll likely count your goal as failed. You will not have set yourself up for success. Growing an author platform should be viewed as the broad goal, or the ultimate goal. Now it’s time to break it down sensibly.

Sensible:  You can break your ultimate goal into as many sensible goals as you find necessary. At this stage, you’re really brainstorming impactful ways to make your ultimate goal a reality. I’m going to break our example into two sensible goals.

1.) Grow blog’s reach     2.) Grow Instagram following

Measurable: Here is where you want to define tangible results, as we’re still a little vague. Often people will combine these two steps together without even thinking about it, but sometimes this step is forgotten altogether, but it is very important.

1.) Grow blog subscribers to 500     2.) Grow Instagram following to 1000

Attainable: Do you currently have the tools for obtaining the goal? If not, can you readily obtain them? What do you need to make this attainable?

1.) Creating useful content and tools, hold more frequent giveaways, better visuals
2.) Utilize Instagram more often, create stunning visuals, use Instagram to get blog visits

Realistic: Are these goals feasible for you at this time? Do you need monetary funds to accomplish these goals? Education?

1.) Set a budget for giveaways, do not forget to include shipping costs.
2.) Research photography, photo editing, and shop around for fonts–keep in mind licensing for visuals and fonts.

Timely: When should you start working toward this goal? Do you have a target date for completion? How can you track progress to keep yourself on track?

1&2.) Start immediately. Track monthly progress using built-in analytics. Target date for completion is December 31, 2018.

Applying the SMART focus words will help you discover the feasibility of your goals. Let’s face it, sometimes we bite off more than we can chew—and that shit is disheartening. So I encourage you to take a few minutes and run each of your goals through the SMART method and set yourselves up for a more focused, successful 2018…

And I’m here to help! I’ve created some free, printable guides I hope will help you turn your goals into success stories.

photo (2)

 

 

Please excuse my horrible handwriting. Also, don’t feel obligated to try and make me feel better about it. I’m 32, I’ve accepted the fact my penmanship is sorely lacking.

In this document, my intention is for you to start with your ultimate goal. Your main goal. The over-reaching goal.

Then I want you to begin breaking it down with the SMART method.

 

photo
Obviously this is just for show and tell. 😉

Once you’ve broken down your main goal into more sensible goals, I’ve got you covered with the tools to turn that goal into a success. Give yourself a deadline, define your baby steps, acknowledge the barriers between the task and success, and brainstorm solutions.

 

Track your monthly progress so you can see if what you are doing is working or if you need to tweak things somewhere.

Focus on why you’re doing this by giving yourself a reminder as to what you stand to gain. Motivate yourself. And give yourself a reward if you complete it on time.

 

photo (1)

Do you need to stick to a daily or semi-daily habit in order to make these goals into realities? Got you covered there, too. I’ve seen weekly habit trackers, but I want to see my year as a whole as I progress, so I created a perpetual habit tracker with a reward sidebar. Brainstorm reward ideas for yourself to keep you motivated.

In my tracker X’s mean I’ve worked on my blog in some fashion, and I’m going a step further by highlighting my posting days.

 

Why these printables when there are so many organizational apps out there to help you stay on top of things? (I’ll let you know my favorite organization app in a few)

Because research shows that when you write something out by hand it will stick with you far better than if you type something out. Your brain and your hand have to coordinate on a different level than when you do everything digitally. Maybe it’s hogwash, but it certainly seems to work for me and I think it will work for you.

 

Copy of SMART Goals - Ultimate Goal Breakdown v2.0

 

 

 

 

Get it as shown:

SMART Goals – Ultimate Goal Breakdown v2.0

Get it in blue!

SMART Goals – Ultimate Goal Breakdown v2.0 BLUE

 

 

 

Copy of SMART Goals - Sensible Goal Reality Maker v2.0

 

 

Get it as shown:

SMART Goals – Sensible Goal Reality Maker v2.0

 

Get it in blue:

SMART Goals – Sensible Goal Reality Maker v2.0 BLUE

 

 

 

 

Copy of SMART Goals - Habit Tracker v2.0

 

 

 

Get it as shown:

SMART Goals – Habit Tracker v2.0

Get it in blue:

SMART Goals – Habit Tracker v2.0 BLUE

 

I sincerely hope these will be of help to you. I updated the borders to allow more writing room as well as I just think it’s a cleaner presentation.

For those of you who participated in the poll I did on Twitter to decide my second color, I say a fond thank you!

So, you’ve downloaded, printed, and started using those guides. What now? Now it’s time to get digital. There are countless organizational apps for every smartphone—how the hell do you choose which one to use? It may take some time and experimenting before you find the one that works just right for you, and there is no way possible for me to cover each and every one of them…I do have a novel to finish writing, after all. 😉 So instead, I’m just going to tell you about the one that is working super, awesome, amazing, wonderfully, perfectly for me right now.

That would be Trello.

photo (6)

 

The beautiful thing about Trello is that the website and the app communicate so flawlessly. As soon as you update something in one, it is immediately available in the other, unlike some of the apps I’ve tried where there is a weird lag and pieces of information go missing.

As you can see, I have a board for each of my writing projects, one for social media, and one for blogging and newsletters. Each one of those boards is a hub for ideas, pieces of inspiration, resources, etc.

 

 

photo (5)When you enter a board, you can add categorize your cards, and they can easily be shuffled around by the touch of your finger—dragged and dropped so things are just right.

I can’t show you the scenes for Alabama Rain, but this drag-and-drop-move-em-where-you-please feature is helping me execute this novel with ease.

Even if you aren’t planning a novel, this will help you prioritize and re-prioritize as things change.

Want to collaborate with someone on a project? Trello makes this super easy by inviting collaborators to certain boards, while allowing you to make other boards private. Couldn’t be easier!
photo (4)

See those little green rectangles with dates in them? That’s because I assigned those cards deadlines, and I have it set to give me a reminder the day before so I have no excuses for not completing my goals.

photo (3)

What about clicking on a blogging date? What good will that do? I’ve given myself blogging topics to alleviate the stress of always having to figure out what to write about. Not only that, but I can add in websites that will come in handy for researching that particular topic. I can attach pictures so I’m never without a blog graphic, and it doesn’t matter if I add it from my desktop or phone, because it syncs immediately: and if you use Instagram, you can probably imagine how valuable this can be.

As I complete a deadline, I virtually check it off and I get the happy green rectangle as a visual reminder that I have completed a task. This makes me a very happy girl.

 

 

Now that you’ve downloaded those free printables and properly broken down your ultimate goal(s) into manageable pieces, this will help you greatly when you start setting up your Trello boards…so what are you waiting for?

Oh, yeah. You’ve got to finish reading this blog post first. There’s something sorta, kinda special coming up. Maybe. It is to me, anyway.

You’ve done the aforementioned things! Fantastic! On paper, both analog and digital, you’re set up for a very successful year, no matter what your dream happens to be. That’s all there is to it, right?

Not even in the slightest. But what could possibly be next?

Doing the work, of course! You can plan and plot a novel and never write it. You can join a gym and never go. You can get an education and never use it. But that’s not what you’re going to do this year, is it?

This is the part where I can’t hold your hand. I can be your virtual cheerleader, but I cannot join you at your desk and help you crank out your best-seller, nor can I run your miles, lift your weights, or get you that promotion you’re vying for. This part you have to do on your own. And there are literally hundreds of thousands of websites, blogs, vlogs, etc. that will tell you how to coax yourself into being more productive and shake off that decade-old case of the lazies. I’m here to tell you, this will take a metric-ton of trial and error. It will be hard and frustrating. You will have to give up certain things in order to make your fantasies realities. Instead of spouting every conceivable way to boost your productivity, I’ll tell you a few of the things I have done.

  • This may seem extreme, but I got rid of my cable television. Years back, actually. It doesn’t keep me from sitting down to binge-watch something on Netflix from time-to-time, but I sure as shit can’t get mired in mindless channel surfing. If I watch something it is a conscious effort. If I do make the decision to forego writing in one of my WIPs for watching a movie or bingeing Californication for the fifteenth time, I will still use this “downtime” for working on my various social media platforms, making blog visuals, or even researching blogging topics. I rarely ever use my television time as an excuse not to work on my author platform in some fashion.
  • No matter what you do, there will only ever be twenty-four hours in a day, so you have to get creative on how to score some extra time to work toward your goals. I’ve taken back an hour or two each week by ordering my groceries online. This option isn’t available to everyone, depending on where you live. But if you can, try this for yourself and see if it will work for you. Several grocery stores have this option, but the two I use are either Walmart or Lowe’s Foods. (Lowe’s Foods charges $4.95 for this time-saver, but for me it is well worth it! I love their meats and fresh vegetables!) This small change gives me so much more time to write and it can really help your budget by keeping you from impulse shopping!
  • Positive reinforcement is wonderful, so I created a reward system. You’ve seen a hint of what might  be on my list of rewards. Give yourself a good mix of rewards. Cheap and easy, mid-level, and high-end. This will vary for everyone based on your financial means, but for me a cheap reward might be doing a special face mask or treating myself to my favorite smoothie. Mid-level might be going out for sushi, or getting that sweater I’ve been eyeing. High-end would be a new purse, a special day-trip. You’re catching my drift…I know you are.
  • If positive reinforcement is wonderful, negative reinforcement is painful. Which is why I’m utilizing that as well. I laid out my goals for you guys, and I’m going to have to fess up if I fail. If I fail, you’ll lose faith in me. It’ll be that much harder for me to gain your respect as an author and human being…I could let this spiral out of control if I wanted.

And I suppose it wouldn’t be a blog post on goal-setting and productivity if I didn’t toss this old chestnut at you: Show up and do the damn work.

So, I said something special was coming at the end of this blog post, didn’t I? Well, if you liked those free printable pages up there, I am offering additional free printables to my newsletter subscribers that are specifically tailored to growing your social media audiences. If you’re interested, you’ll need to subscribe here. The form is at the bottom of the page. (That’s right—I don’t annoy you with pop-ups!)

But wait! That’s not all! (I did that in my very best infomercial voice!)

I’d love to see you using the sheets I created. If you use them and like them, please snap a picture of how they’re helping you and tweet them (Or Instagram them!) using #WriterGoals2018 and don’t forget to tag me, @AilaStephens. In anticipation of these beauties helping you buckle down on your goals, I’m doing a little giveaway! I’m calling it the “Be Successful” toolkit.

What might you win, you ask?

A paperback copy of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit
A really awesome book of motivational stickers for your planner
(not pictured) A super-helpful journal
(not pictured) A pack of my favorite writing pens
Coffee–DUH!
Tea–DUH!
+ Other little prizes to help make achieving your dreams fun!

Enter the giveaway. You know you want to.

Entries accepted until February 4th, 2018.

In the meantime, let me know in the comments how you’re keeping motivated after the luster of a new goal is beginning to wear off.

Until we meet again, my lovelies! xoxo


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Alabama Rain, Getting To Know Aila, Work In Progress, Writer's Life, Writing

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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Announcement, Getting To Know Aila, Holidays, Writer's Life

Mapping Out My 2018

Social Media (1)One day, it will be over. There will be two dates, either side of a dash—make sure that dash is not empty. Make sure it is full of life.
– Quote from a Fearless Motivation motivational speech, full speech below.

Remember back in 2016 when everyone was so excited for that horrible, crappy year to end, and how hopeful we were that 2017 was sure to be full of success and happiness?

I hope it was for you.

For me, not so much. I was certain 2016 had been so bad that 2017 would surely glisten, but instead 2017 turned around and said to 2016, “Hold my beer, kid.” Yes, last year wasn’t much better, if at all, than its predecessor.

So, just like last week’s post, this *should* be a writerly advice post. But, alas, it falls on yet another major holiday. So, instead, I thought today would be a great day, if not cliche, to talk about planning for the coming year.

I have been brainstorming what I’d like 2018 to look like for some time now, and I’ve really spent the last few days narrowing it down as best I can before I spread it all out in my Erin Condren LifePlanner…because it pains me to scratch things out. As I was mapping things out in my head, then began scribbling them down in a list, the amount of stuff I want to accomplish in the next 365 days is seems seemed incredibly daunting. I’ll admit, I’m still afraid I’ve given myself more than I’m likely to accomplish. But, if I don’t push myself, I’ll never grow. So I’m not backing down. I’m just breaking it down.

For instance, and I’m aware this isn’t new advice, but saying I want to write 85,000 words by mid-April sounds a lot worse than if I say I want to write 5000 words per week, which gives me a rough daily goal of 714 words per day. Considering that I can average between 1500-3000 words per day when I’m able to shut out all other distractions, now my goal feels more attainable.

When I said a while back that I wanted to write a blog post every Monday and an additional one every other Thursday, I realized that was a much tougher blogging schedule than I’d ever attempted before. I mean, well, let’s face it: I never attempted to keep to a blogging schedule before. But it’s important. I know that. So, I sat down for a few hours with Trello and a notebook and I started brainstorming ideas for what I’d like to blog about. Very vague ideas. But, now that I know what I’m blogging about throughout quarter one of this year, I’m not really afraid of my schedule. I’ve even got a sizable chunk of quarter two fleshed out, and I’m confident those posts will segue into ideas for quarters three and four.

Another goal I’d like to accomplish is a monthly newsletter. That’s 12-15 emails per year, if I add one for the occasional special event or book release. That doesn’t sound so daunting. So, I’ve been studying other indie authors’ newsletters making note of what I like and what I’m not so fond of, so I can make mine something I’ll be proud of. (Edited to add: I have officially launched a newsletter! Score one for Aila. Sign up at my website! Newsletters go out the last Friday of every month–but new subscribers will get a welcome email containing the first, raw chapter of my current WIP, Alabma Rain.)

Some of my goals are simple enough, but either slightly time-consuming or they cost money—which I don’t part with easily. For instance, I want need to print business cards, but I keep fiddling with the design…even though everyone I’ve shown them to thinks they’re lovely. My website is in horrible need of updating. I really should schedule in a day every single month to update my website. I should, so I shall.

In an effort to keep myself accountable to my goals, I’m going to start each quarter by listing the things I’d like to accomplish, and going forward, I’ll also recap how I did for the previous quarter. Here goes nothing:

  1. | Print business cards
  2. | Print bookmarks
  3. | Get signed copies of Technicalities and Formalities for sale
  4. | Write 65,000 words of Alabama Rain (at 5,000 words per week)
  5. | Update the website at least once per month
  6. | Send three newsletters
  7. | Keep up with the blogging schedule
  8. | Utilize Instagram no less than 5x per week
  9. | Update both cover and interior of Sex, Love, and Formalities
  10. | Attend the writing/book festival in Dahlonega, GA

Those are just for the first three months of the year. I’ll let you know how I do on March 29th. To be honest, if I accomplish 8 out of those 10 goals, I’ll consider it a successful quarter, because I have a ton of personal goals as well, including health goals—and not just weight loss. For those of you who don’t know, I suffer from frequent headaches. Some are mild, but some are crippling, so this year I want to do whatever it takes to get a handle on them without having to chew up fistfuls of painkillers.

As you can see, I’m going to be a busy girl. I figured if I had such a lengthy list of goals, that surely other writers were feeling a bit bogged down by everything they wanted to accomplish too. Thus, #WriterGoals2018 was born on Twitter. If you haven’t checked it out, I hope it will become a jumping off point for encouragement between authors as we step off of the invisible milestone of a New Year. With any luck, I look forward to seeing you there.

Whether in the hashtag, or the comments below, I am genuinely interested in how your goals are shaping up for the year. Younger me would choke on these words: but I make a pretty good cheerleader! Happy New Year, my friends! I wish you all the best and nothing but success!


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Interview, Marketing, Self-Publishing, Writer's Life, Writing

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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Self-Publishing, Writer's Life, Writing

Crisis of Creative Faith: My Take on Self-Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Amazon is beyond flooded with really bad Indie Books

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

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

Writer vs. Author

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

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

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

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

Indie Authors are pretty freakin’ hardcore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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