Top 10 Results from One Week of Bodyweight Workouts

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I’ve never really been a bodyweight workout kind of person. Walking, aerobics, (attempting to do) Zumba: these are more my speed. But since I have so little time to exercise these days, I needed to find a way to fit an intense workout into a short amount of time–thirty minutes or less.

My husband talked me into downloading an app called FitStar Personal Trainer, which he’d been following for a couple of weeks. After taking an initial fitness test and inputting the usual information like height, weight, age, and sex, the app personalizes workouts tailored to your fitness level. Each workout takes you through a cycle of exercises, and you tell the app how well you did on each one.

I was skeptical, mostly because I am not in shape. I’d always assumed that bodyweight workouts like these were only for people who were already in somewhat decent shape. I was also nervous about the $40 yearly subscription fee, because I didn’t want to pay for something I didn’t end up using.

But something had to give, because my old exercise habits just weren’t working with my schedule anymore. So I did the fitness test, did the free sample workout, and bit the bullet.

I. Love. It. Here are my top 10 results and revelations from only one week of bodyweight workouts.

1. The human body adapts quickly. Within minutes, sometimes.

2. I packed on three pounds, but my clothes also started fitting better.

3. My balance has improved.

4. My energy levels are up.

5. I can go from sitting to standing without having to use my hands to push off.

6. My back doesn’t hurt anymore.

7. My flexibility is increased.

8. I can lift heavier objects with less exertion.

9. My joints ache less.

10. I have finally accepted that taking five minutes to stretch really does make a difference. Gym teachers don’t just make that stuff up.

I can’t wait to see the results I get after a few months on this regimen!

For more information on the FitStar Personal Trainer app, visit their website. 

Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Creative Person

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This past Saturday, I had a booth at a local arts festival. This was not my first event as an author–in fact, it’s more like the sixth or seventh–and each time it gets a little easier to shove my trembling, terrified introverted self deep in my brain, take a deep breath, and start initiating conversation with strangers with a smile on my face.

Now that I’ve practiced coming out of my shell enough times, I can actually say it’s fun! I connected with so many old friends, new acquaintances, and eager future readers. I packed up my booth at the end of the day feeling tired, hungry, and rewarded. But as they always do, this event drew my attention to how creative people–artists, musicians, craftsmen, authors, you name it–are often treated in the public. They’re not treated particularly well, if you’re wondering; not overwhelmingly so, at least.

The more I do in-person events like these, the more I grow used to it. I don’t take comments and looks personally like I might have in the past. But it breaks my heart to know that there is a burgeoning artist out there who has worked up the courage to present their work to the public, perhaps for the first time, only to be met with rudeness and disrespect. A handful of ill-thought comments and remarks made by strangers could be enough to sever whatever glimmering, tenuous thread of hope and enthusiasm they have about their art. And that’s just unacceptable.

So today, here’s my list of what not to say to a creative person. Most of these are book related, since that’s obviously what I know, but I know several of my visual artist friends have had similar experiences.

1. “I can’t buy books from you. I only support local bookstores.”

Rest assured, purchasing a book from an author–especially one who self-publishes–is about as local as it gets. It’s great if you eschew the big chains in favor of independent shops, but don’t lose the spirit of what you’re trying to do by focusing on the letter of the law. A local author is a local business, and does not pose a threat to indie shops.

2. “I’m not interested in talking about your books. I need you to tell me how I can publish mine.”

I often meet budding writers, and that’s always a fantastic experience! It’s great to meet a brother or sister in ink, to paraphrase my friend Lissa Bryan’s expression. But when someone has a booth obviously dedicated to selling their works, it’s very rude to completely ignore their books and ask them for free advice on writing and publishing. They’re in selling mode, and odds are they are not equipped to become your pro bono writing coach at a drop of a hat. Publishing a book is no picnic, no matter which route you take, and you can’t expect someone to give you all the answers in three easy steps. Try to establish a connection instead. Read the back cover of the books, make a few polite comments, and if you think they might be able to help you, ask if it would be all right if you sent them an email later, at a more appropriate time. They will most likely say yes.

3. “I’m a writer, too. I have a fantastic pitch for you.”

Again, please remember that the author you are talking to is just that: an author. They are most likely not also an agent, an editor, the head of a publishing house, or anyone who could help you get a book contract. Even if they weren’t, a signing event specifically for their books is not the time. They are trying to connect with potential readers and don’t have resources on hand to help you at the moment. Ask for their email address and try your questions later.

4. “Is this novel based on your life?”

Maybe this isn’t always a rude question, but when the copy of the book they’re holding is about a girl entering a forbidden affair with her professor, it’s kind of inappropriate.

5. “I’ll buy these on Kindle, as long as they’re not more than two dollars. I never read a book for more than two dollars.”

…Sigh.

I don’t have a problem with eBooks. In fact, due to my busy schedule, I read almost exclusively eBooks these days, because it allows me to read in quick 2-3 minute bursts between classes, on lunch breaks, during unexpected traffic jams, etc. But what I do hate is how they have desensitized the reader when it comes to pricing.

Books don’t pop into existence free of charge. For a decent self-published book, assume that at least $1,000 has gone into cover design, interior formatting, editing, proofreading, and marketing. For a book published through an indie house or one of the Big 5, multiply that number by a lot. And that’s nothing compared to the hours and hours of drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and last minute reading that goes into producing a manuscript worthy of the public.

Now factor in that for a Kindle book costing less than $2.99, royalties are only 30%. That means that a self-published author, who doesn’t have to split royalties with anyone, receive a whopping $0.30 for an eBook that costs $0.99. Authors who have publishers to split the royalties with get even less than that.

I understand money is tight sometimes. I get that eBooks are sometimes way, way overpriced–I’ve seen some that are the same price as the print book, and that’s a little extreme.

But if you want to buy a book and support an author, I really urge you to consider paying more than $2 every once and a while. There are some great free and $0.99 books out there, and it’s always nice to find a bargain, but please don’t expect everyone to be able to afford to give their work away for $0.30–or free.

Top 10 4- and 5-Star NetGalley Reads

It’s time to confess that I have a problem. I request entirely too many titles on NetGalley. Between taking classes, writing, and working, I really don’t have time to be reading for pleasure, but what can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.

Thanks to the generosity of several publishers and authors, I’ve been exposed to some truly amazing reads lately. I post my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and my review site Read Yourself to Sleep, but I rarely share my thoughts on books here. Today, I’d like to change that! Here’s a list of the ten most recent 4- and 5-star reads I’ve experienced thanks to NetGalley!

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Top 10 Ways to Manage Stress & Anxiety

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My current situation is stressful. I work two jobs, which total close to fifty hours per week. I’m taking two college courses, both of which require lots of writing and reading. I’m working actively on one novel, the third in a series, and am planning two novellas which I intend to release before the end of the year. I became a homeowner not too long ago. I have a marriage, which like all relationships need regular care and attention to maintain. I want to be a mother soon. Oh, and I have an anxiety disorder.

So you could say I’m a little stressed right now.

Here’s the thing, though–thanks to my anxiety disorder, I’m almost always stressed about something. So even though my situation is a little over the top, I’ve managed to keep it together because honestly, I’m having a blast. I love my main job, I don’t hate my weekend gig, writing is what gives me purpose, owning a home is such a rewarding adventure, my husband is amazing, and kids can be fun, or so I hear. Even though this is the busiest I’ve been since, like, ever, I’ve managed to keep my anxiety in check. In fact, I haven’t had a major panic attack in months, and I haven’t needed to take my anxiety medication–which used to be a twice daily occurrence–in more than nine months.

I don’t pretend to be some kind of guru or expert, and I’m definitely not a doctor, so don’t take this list as a scientific prescription. You might need to take your responsibilities down a notch or say no to requests a little more often than you’d like. But here are the top ten ways I’ve managed to keep my stress and anxiety down to a realistic level this semester.

1. Prioritize

When I have a long to-do list, my gut instinct is to attempt all tasks at once and then collapse in a heap of failure when I realize that isn’t possible. The best way to tackle several tasks in a short period of time is to prioritize them, then work them start to finish one by one. You’ll be more likely to finish them all, and you’ll be rewarded with a more regular feeling of accomplishment.

2. Exercise

I’ll admit that I’m still working on making this a habit. When you have a ton of work to do, none of which can be accomplished on a treadmill, taking an exercise break seems counterintuitive, but the truth is that your mind will be sharper and more alert after even 15 minutes of physical activity. It’s worth it.

3. Hydrate

If you’re like me, you caffeinate when there are deadlines approaching. No judgment here–caffeine is a beautiful thing, and it can help us accomplish a lot–but soda, energy drinks, and coffee will never be able to replace water when it comes to our health. If you catch yourself lagging, suffering from headaches, or you’re hungrier, thirstier, or more tired than you should be, drink a liter of water. Nine times out of ten, it makes me feel better.

4. Eat Well

Your nerves will try to entice you with ice cream and pizza. You have to fight the good fight! Make sure you’re getting enough vegetables, fruit, and lean protein in your diet. Going too heavy on the carbs will make you feel yucky and irritable, and will result in weight gain if you do it for an extended period of time.

5. Take Your Vitamins

You don’t have to choose between Flintstones vitamins and those gigantic, foul-tasting pills anymore. They make gummy vitamins now that are basically candy! I started taking a multivitamin regularly back in September and it has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. When I feel better, I’m able to accomplish more!

6. Breathe

If you struggle with panic attacks, like I do, something that’s helped me cope with them (without medication) is to take long, deep breaths while I focus on various physical objects within my reach. Think about your blanket in mundane detail, over and over again. Talk about it out loud, if you need to. And don’t forget to breathe. Hyperventilation can lead to high blood pressure, among other issues, and can leave you feeling even more stressed and tired, so it’s best to avoid it if you can. (Note: If you experience panic or anxiety attacks that are interfering with your daily life, please seek medical attention.)

7. Ask for Help

Whether this means you finally go to see a doctor about your anxiety and accept a prescription, or you just ask your spouse to take over some of your responsibilities, asking for help is important. I know it can be hard sometimes, especially if you’re like me and don’t like admitting you can’t do ALL THE THINGS, but it’s important to recognize your limitations and own them. Asking for help prevents you from overextending yourself and burning out.

8. Sleep

This, like several of the points here, seems counterintuitive, but it’s important. Sleep deprivation is unhealthy and, depending on the situation, can be dangerous to you and others around you. It’s all right to pull the occasional all-nighter, but that isn’t a good habit to cultivate. On an average night, you should be getting enough sleep that you feel rested in the morning (an amount which varies from person to person).

9. Enjoy Yourself

I don’t get to read for pleasure nearly as much as I would like to these days, so I’ve recently turned to audio books. I listen to them when I’m driving, exercising, or doing tasks that don’t require too much active thought. Listening to stories I already know calm me, and most narrators have very soothing, rhythmic voices. Find something like this that helps you enjoy yourself, even in your busy schedule. It’s worth it!

10. Relax

This seems like a silly thing to say, but relaxation is important! Sometimes you need to push your responsibilities aside and watch a movie with your family, play a game, or even just take a quick nap. No one can run on empty, not even you. Remember to stop and refuel!

 

 

Top 10 Ways to Use Instagram as an Author

Top Ten.jpgI’ll admit, for a long time I didn’t really see the point of Instagram as an app unto itself. I basically just used it as a photo editing app for everything I wanted to post to Facebook. I never only posted a photo on Instagram. I rarely added captions, and never utilized hashtags. I let people follow me and I followed them back, but I never checked the feed or interacted with others.

I realized a few short months ago that this was a mistake. To help out one of my favorite indie authors, I joined forces with a couple of other fans and helped start a grassroots Instagram campaign. I was amazed at the book culture that is alive and well on a social network I’d largely considered pointless. Instagram has a thriving booklover community, and it is dying for more author-reader interaction.

I’m by no means an expert, having only danced around the fringes of #bookstagram culture for a couple of months, but there are some valuable things I’ve learned that I think more authors can take advantage of.

1. Pay Attention to Hashtags

The hashtags that will be important to you vary depending on what genre and age group your books fall into, but some of the broad ones to use are #bookstagram, #booksofinstagram, #bookish, #booknerd, #bibliophile, #readinglist, and #amreading. Use these hashtags when you post about your books, but also search to see who else is using them and interact with people who look like they might enjoy reading your books.

2. Form Relationships

When you come across users who look like they might enjoy your books, don’t spam them with buy links or suggestions right away. Instead, take the time to look through their photos. Leave a few likes and comments. Ask questions that show you’re interested in getting to know them, not just making a sale.

3. Participate in Challenges

There will almost always be an ongoing photo challenge that centers on books, reading, or writing. In February, I participated (half-heartedly) in the #AuthorLifeMonth challenge. This month, I’ve been doing the #YABookADay challenge. Next month, I’m planning my own! This is a great way to connect with readers, book bloggers, and other authors, and it really helps get you in the habit of posting at least once a day.

4. Host Giveaways

Last month, I participated in an Instagram giveaway with several other indie authors. We all gave away a printed copy of one of our books. People entered to win by following me, liking the post, commenting with the hashtag #iLovePrinted Books, and tagging a friend who also loves printed books. Each of the participating authors linked to another author in our post, so theoretically an Instagram follower could click through the chain and enter each author’s giveaway. I had a blast participating in this–I received several new followers, met some great authors, and I gained a new reader in England thanks to the giveaway! It was a great experience and I hope to do it again soon.

5. Increase Blog Traffic

Create free graphics for your blog posts on sites like Canva and post them on Instagram with a sample of your blog for the day. Believe it or not, people will actually hop on over to your blog if you ask them to! I’ve seen increased traffic since I started doing this.

6. Promos, Sales, and New Releases

Continuously spamming buy links is no more successful on Instagram than it is on Twitter or Facebook. However, Instagram is a great place to share occasional promotional posts for your books, as well as eBook sales and new releases! Use hashtags like #ebooks, #kindle, #freebies, #FreeEbooks, and #newrelease in conjunction with the usual book-related hashtags I listed above to get the best coverage.

7. Provide Regular Updates

Did you just finish an amazing outline? Do you have impressive, serial-killer-like notes stuck all over your desk? Did you just print out your manuscript in all its several hundred page glory? Readers love seeing these kinds of visual progress reports. They’re fun to share, and you just might snag some future readers by keeping your followers informed about your WIP.

8. Help Boost Author Friends

Help your fellow authors out by taking a screenshot of their photos and reposting them with the hashtag #regram and tag them in the caption. It feels easier and more natural to promote others rather than ourselves, so it won’t be as obnoxious as us constantly reposting stuff about our own books, and it shows that authors are friends, not competitors.

9. Create Your Own Hashtag

Before doing this, make sure to search Instagram for it to ensure it’s not being used by another group already.

10. Post Non-Writing Related Photos

This probably seems counterintuitive, but think about it for a second. I’m sure you appreciate when the celebrities you follow on social media post about their movies, shows, albums, and books, since that’s probably why you’re following them to begin with. But don’t you really love it when they drop that persona and just get real with you? Aren’t we all dying to know what Stephen King is having for dinner, or what Nathan Fillion’s backyard looks like? Obviously, most of us self-published and indie authors aren’t celebrities by any stretch of the word, but people love to see what lies behind our writing persona. It makes us seem more like real people and encourages connection.

Top 10 Obscure-ish Movies You Should Watch on Netflix

More often than not, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, I use Netflix as a means to obtaining background noise when my husband isn’t at home. I cook dinner, clean house, and let my mind melt into a puddle at the end of a long day as long-familiar episodes of Friends, The Office, Parks & Rec30 Rock, and/or Gossip Girl play on loop on my mantel.

But every once in awhile, I use Netflix in the way it’s meant to be used. I scroll through the nearly endless lists of movies and documentaries until one strikes my fancy. This method of selection sometimes ends in horror and regret, like the time we tried to watch Children of the Revolution–trust me, just don’t–but oftentimes we end up discovering real gems. Here are the top 10 obscure-ish movies you should watch on Netflix.

Disclaimer: Some of these movies might have been removed from Netflix since I watched them last. If that’s the case, I apologize, but you should still track every last one of these movies down and watch them! 

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Top 8 Indie Books You Should Read in 2016

We avid readers are all familiar with the books that are hot right now, aren’t we? When we browse our local bookshops, we head first toward that shelf just up front that house those coveted New York Times Best Sellers spots.

But what if I told you that the books found in the NYT represent only a handful of the great books out there?  That some of the greatest authors of our time may never have the publicity they need to get their title on that list?

I honestly believe that’s the case. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books over the past two years, ever since I started reading indie and self-published books. There are some real treasures out there just waiting to be found. So grab a shovel, and come with me! I’ll make sure to show you where to dig.

1. Stay With Me by Carolyn Astfalk

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Stay With Me is an inspirational contemporary romance that somehow manages to stay light and sweet while tackling difficult topics like propriety, communication, theology, sex, love, family, marriage, and the nature of sin, and without coming across as heavy-handed or preachy at that! You will fall in love with Chris and Rebecca as they fall in love with each other. If you’re looking for a feel-good read, this is the book for you. Check out my review of this book here.

This book can be found on Amazon.

 

 

2. Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron

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Ophelia’s Muse is an elegantly written piece of historical fiction dealing primarily with the life of Lizzie Siddal, and her work as a model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, especially Dante Rossetti. This book rescued me last year, when after spending so much time working on my own writing I worried I would never be able to enjoy reading again. I was shocked to learn that this was Ms. Cameron’s debut novel, and I’m eagerly anticipating her next literary contribution. Check out my review of this book here.

This book can be found on Amazon.

 

3. Knotted by Quenby Olson

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Knotted is a quirky YA romance that follows Olivia Davies, an American teenager, as she journeys across the pond for her father’s London wedding. When she arrives, she discovers that her future stepmother, Emmy, is only a few years older than she is! As you can imagine, chaos and intrigue ensues as she struggles to walk the line between supporting her father and getting along with Emmy’s sneering snobby brother, Ian. Fans of Pride and Prejudice and contemporary YA lit will love the blending of old and new to make a fun, unique story everyone will relate to and love. Check out my review of this book here.

This book can be found on Amazon.

 

4. Under These Restless Skies by Lissa Bryan

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This book combines two of my favorite things, historical fiction and fantasy. Have you ever wondered what the court of King Henry VIII might have looked like if magic existed? Wonder no more. Follow this love story between Henry’s Fool, Will Somers, and his wife Emma, who just so happens to be a selkie. Filled with all the drama and intrigue you want from a story set in the tumultuous Tudor court, paired with the sweet love and fantasy Emma’s background affords, you won’t want to put this book down until the very last page. Check out my review of this book here.

This book is available on Amazon.

 

5. How to Get Ainsley Bishop to Fall In Love With You by T. M. Franklin20824759.jpg

 

If you’re in the market for a zany YA romance told from the male perspective, you’ve found the right book! Oliver Wendall Holmes (yes, that’s his real name!) is a shy, smart seventeen-year-old high school student determined to make his long-time crush, Ainsley Bishop, fall in love with him before they both leave for school. A quick, light read that manages to delve into serious topics. Age appropriate for all puberty survivors! Check out my review of this book here.

This book is available on Amazon.

 

 

6. Soulless Creatures by Katharine Grubb

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Soulless Creatures is part romance, part action/suspense, part metaphysical musings, and ALL eighties! Set on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in 1986, this laugh-out-loud hilarious story follows Roy Castleberry and Jonathan Campbell on their quests for glory and transcendence, respectively. Eighties kids will love all the rad references, and millennials will still enjoy all the hijinks these characters find themselves in. Check out my review of this book here.

This book is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

7. The Heartbreakers by Ali Novak

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This romance is cute, funky, and endearing in a way a romance involving boy bands and cancer can be. Stella will do anything for her sister, Cara–even if it means standing in line to get the autographs of a band she despises. But things get complicated when she realizes that the leader singer might like her . . . and she just might like him back.  If you enjoy YA books that give equal attention to romance and personal growth/family matters, you’ll love The Heartbreakers. Ali Novak originally got her start publishing the first version of this story on Wattpad, which is exciting to see for independent and self-publishing authors everywhere! See my review of this book here.

This book is available on Amazon.

 

8. The Business of Death by Leigh Teale

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Jacquelyn “Jack” Devlin has been lucky her entire life, but everyone around her has not been so fortunate . . . including her twin sister, Mallory. When Mallory decides to take fate into her own hands, she ushers herself into the great Beyond. Determined to make her sister pay for her good fortune, Mallory seeks out help from the head of the Department of Death and Demise, not realizing just how complicated the business of death can be. Ms. Teale’s debut novel is perfect for fans of speculative fiction–despite the macabre subject matter, the story isn’t overly gory or graphic, and it is more mystery and fantasy than horror. See my review of this book here.

This book is available on Amazon.