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 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.

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.