Why I’ll Never Participate in NaNoWriMo Again

I have dreamed of successfully completing at least one NaNoWriMo competition since 2011, and this past year I finally realized that dream. I wrote 50,014 words of This Dread Road, Book Three of The Bennett Series, in November 2015.

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I was so proud of myself. Not only had I finally managed to complete a challenge, I did it in the same month my husband and I purchased a home and moved.

For several months after I finished, I was convinced that participating in NaNo was a great thing that everyone should do. After all, I’d never managed to write so much so quickly in my life. But now that I’m finished with revisions, I can look back and say with all manner of certainty that NaNoWrioMo, while well-intentioned, did me far more harm than good.

 

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For one thing, it ushered in a horrific period of burnout. I never stopped working on This Dread Road, but it took nearly six months for me to finish the second half of the book. I went through several weeks of just not caring about the story anymore. Working on it was painful and torturous. For a while, I worried I wouldn’t finish it in time. Or at all.

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Our trip to South Carolina in March forced me to rest and rejuvenate. I came home more excited about the story than ever, having seen places like Stella Maris Church (pictured above) that were connected to the story of This Dread Road. It took another month after our return, but I finally finished the draft. I was so happy to finish, and still eternally gratefully for NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t written that 50,014 words last November, how much further behind schedule would I be?

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But when I started revisions a few weeks ago, I realized that those first 50,000 words were essentially useless. That section of the book was packed with filler words, unnecessary characters, and subplots I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out. I could almost map my exhaustion during the month of November just looking at that first half.

I had to rewrite the first twenty-seven chapters.

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I don’t wish that I hadn’t participated in NaNo last year–it was a fun experience, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and solidarity that I experienced all across the Internet. It was finals week, but without the stress of grades hanging over my head. I got a lot done. Had I not participated, I most likely wouldn’t have taken a break to redesign all three of the covers for The Bennett Series. I wouldn’t have been able to let my experience in Charleston influence my descriptions nearly as much.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson: what works for others does not necessarily work for me.


This Dread Road is currently in the editing stage and is tentatively scheduled for a December 2016 release. I will hopefully have a firm date for you soon! 

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 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.

#TeaserThursday – New Trailer for The Bennett Series

Check out the new book trailer for The Bennett Series! Trailers for the individual books will be out soon. Tell me what you think in the comments, and make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

An Open Book – March Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.)

Now, let’s get started!

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My husband has been reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne off and on for the past few months (he doesn’t have a lot of spare time for reading, due to his work schedule). I haven’t read any of Jules Verne, sadly–something I really need to remedy if I’m serious about diving headlong into science fiction writing over the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to hearing his report and opinion when he finishes this one up!

 

 

 

 

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I am revisiting the Harry Potter series via audiobook during my commutes and times at the gym. I finished up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone last week, and have started in strong with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this week. This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

 

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I’ve also started reading Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac, an ARC I received from Netgalley some time ago that I’m only now getting a chance to read. The story follows Milo Andret, a mathematical genius, as he comes of age during his graduate studies at UC Berkeley in the alluring, seductive seventies. I’ve been studying quite a bit of literary fiction these days for the creative writing course I’m taking, so I was interested to see what’s out there on the commercial side of the genre. So far (about 5% in) I’m not super impressed, but we’ll see what happens.

 

 

 

What are you reading?

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

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#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.

 

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.

Top 10 Ways to Review a Book as an Author

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In this digital age, an author’s Internet presence can make or break their reputation, their success, or even their career. We’ve all seen the horror stories about authors reacting badly to reviews posted online. There’s the one where Kathleen Hale obsessed over and stalked a Goodreads reviewer online and in person, going so far as to physically visit the woman’s home, after she left a one star review. There’s the one where Richard Brittain took creepiness a step further when he tracked down an eighteen-year-old snarky Amazon reviewer and bludgeoned her with a wine bottle.

Simply put, the existence of the Internet has not always jived well with our kind. We are a sensitive breed, and without proper discipline and restraint, things can turn ugly.

Interestingly enough, though, I’ve noticed a growing trend of self-published and independent authors who struggle with having a good Internet presence on the opposite side of the spotlight. Instead of losing control with a reviewer of their own work, they lose control when they’re reviewing someone else’s work.

This should not be happening, guys. We authors should be the example when it comes to leaving stellar reviews, whether positive or negative. We know firsthand how hard the writing, revising, editing, promoting, publishing, and marketing processes can be. Whatever our opinion of a work, it can and should be handled with grace.

With that being said, here are a few basic guidelines I think we would all be smart to follow when reviewing books written by our brothers and sisters in this strange, wonderful world of writing. (And yes, I am maintaining eye contact with my own reflection as I deliver this edict, because I’m sure I’ve broken all of these at one point or another.)

1. Acknowledge upfront if you’ve been given a free review copy.

When you’re a member of online writing groups or have other contacts in the industry, receiving free copies of books in exchange for honest reviews happens a lot, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that . . . as long as you tell people that’s what happened.

Why? Well, you might be familiar with the concept of avoiding even the appearance of evil. If you give an honest five star review of a book but neglect to inform everyone up front that the author sent you a copy for free, that five star review isn’t looking so honest anymore. If word came out about your relationship with the author and how you came about the book, it suddenly doesn’t matter that you were honest in your review. It doesn’t even matter that you barely know the author and have only been acquainted with her online for two weeks. Because you didn’t add a disclaimer, now everything you’ve said about the book is suspect. People don’t feel like they can trust you anymore. And they certainly aren’t interested in learning more about what you write.

2. Use professional language.

We all know how fun it can be to employ the four S’s–sarcasm, snark, slang, and swearing–especially when we’re talking about a book we didn’t particularly enjoy. But when you’re writing a review, especially one intended for online display, you should handily avoid all of them. You’re not just a reader on Goodreads anymore, you’re criticizing or praising a colleague, and you need to do so with decorum and respect.

This goes double if you’re in any way acquainted with the author, and that includes ways as nebulous as “I think we were in an online writing group together once five years ago.” Don’t address the author in a familiar manner, i.e. “Suzie, this was such a good read! So much better than your last one. You should post more about this book in the group next Wednesday.” Instead, shoot for, “In The Great American Novel, Ms. Smith displays a marked improvement in her skills as a writer and a storyteller.”

3. Be honest, but also kind.

Sometimes, as much as you like an author’s online presence or the cute photos of their kids they post on Instagram or the great advice they give in your writing group, you just don’t like their work. That’s okay. If you choose to review their work, you need to be honest about your reactions to their books. But before you hit “send” on that two or three star review, check yourself and make sure that you wrote your thoughts in the best possible way.

Did you, in emotionally neutral words, explain the issues you had with their work, or did you just say “This book sucks, what a disappointment”? Did you come up with at least two things the author did well to sandwich the complaint? If both answers are no, you might want to reconsider posting your review just yet. There is always a way to express how we feel about a book without being downright mean, and that’s what you should do. It isn’t easy, but we’re writers, after all–if anyone is able to temper honesty with kindness, it should be us.

4. Put some time and effort into writing your review.

First impressions are rarely indicative of your true opinion. I’ve found that if I read a book in a day or two and immediately throw a review up online, a few days later I realize it’s not really how I felt. Sometimes I like the book more after a week or so; sometimes I like it less.

Let stories rest on your mind for at least two or three days before you sit down to write a review. Don’t swallow the book whole in a few hours and belch out a review twenty minutes later. The author spent months, if not years, finishing up their novel. The most you can give them is a few days of introspection and consideration.

5. If you can’t find at least one positive thing to say about the book, consider not leaving a public review.

If, like me, you dislike confrontation, this is extremely difficult to do. How do you say to the nice author you met online, the one who has helped you out so much, “I know I promised I would read and review your book, but I doubt you would appreciate me posting my feedback for the world to see”?

It’s not fun. It stinks. And to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this myself. But in the interest of professionalism, you should definitely talk it out with the author before you post a review that has not a single positive note.

6. If you are unable to finish the book, say so.

Whether you just didn’t have time, you couldn’t get interested in the story, or the writing was really just that awful, if you didn’t finish reading a book, it’s important to say so. Not only that, you need to include details. At which page number/Kindle % did you stop reading? Did you just skip around for a bit before giving up? This helps other people struggling to finish decide whether they should push through or not.

It’s also a courtesy to the author. What if the problem you had with the book was resolved one chapter over from where you stopped reading? If that’s the case, you have misrepresented the work, and you might have even led potential readers astray.

7. Avoid falling into the “I would have written it this way instead” trap.

There’s almost nothing more insulting to an author than when another writer rolls up their sleeves and turns into an armchair quarterback. You might wish a character had handled a certain situation differently, and it’s fine to say so, but it’s rather tacky to start listing all the different ways you would have handled it as a writer. You’re leaving a review online; you’re not teaching a creative writing course. What you would have done is irrelevant, because the work in question is not yours. Not only will you potentially damage your relationship with the author, you might cause would-be readers to lose faith in the author’s credibility. It also makes you look like a snobby, pompous ass, and makes people less interested in your work.

8. Don’t give a star rating unless you mean it.

Do you really want to give this book a two star rating, or are you just trying to be extra tough on this author, because of that whole “avoid even the appearance of evil” thing? Make sure you are committed to the star rating you assign; otherwise, if posting on your blog or Goodreads, just leave that option blank and include a text-only review. Don’t saddle the author with a deceptively low or inflated rating because you’re not sure what to do.

9. Don’t participate in a publicized release event if you can’t give a positive review.

It’s happened to me before. I  signed up to be a part of a new release blog tour, I tried to read the book, and . . . bam. I couldn’t even finish it. It might be the worst book I’ve ever try to read. Luckily I’m not acquainted with the author and I had no qualms about leaving my review on Amazon, but I just couldn’t bring myself to post my review on my blog on a day I knew the author would be trying her best to sell the book. I could have opted out and just posted a promotional blurb, but I didn’t want my followers to think I recommended the book either, so I did the not-so-comfortable thing: I went to the publisher’s blog tour coordinator and told her I was unable to participate.

If this happens to you, the coordinator will probably tell you it’s fine if you have a negative review and they would still love for you to participate. It’ll be up to you at that point whether you decline or not. If you were just a book blogger, I’d say go for it, it’s your job to tell the truth. But as an author, I’d say bow out. You don’t need to showcase a negative review of another author on your blog, on a day when lots of traffic will be coming through. It just isn’t a good idea.

10. Write the review you would want to see left for your own book–positive or negative.

This is pretty much a culmination of the nine preceding points. If your review is positive, make it more interesting that, “Good book. I recommend it.” You’re an author! You know how much you crave those well-thought-out, elegantly written reviews–give that gift to someone who craves those, too. If your review is negative, make it more constructive and kind than, “This book sucks. Don’t read it.” Again, you’re an author! You know how much those hasty, vague one stars hurt. Write the kind of negative review that you would be okay with, one that after reading it, you find yourself nodding thoughtfully and murmuring, “I see where they’re coming from.”

Basically, in the words of Cinderella,

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Isn’t this pretty? Click on the image to visit the artist’s Etsy page.