There is Time

Authoring is hard. And those seventeen hour days finally caught up to me.

Here’s some truth: Being an author doesn’t only involve writing and editing. It involves answering emails and posting on social media and writing blogs and marketing. It involves updating your website and keeping track of trends in the market and thinking of innovative ways to sell your work. It involves reading and reading and reading some more, inside and outside of your genre.

And if you work a full time job (like so many of us), that means a lot of late nights and weekend hours. The reality of being an author is much less illustrious than the movies make it out to be. Over 77% of self-published authors make less than $1,000 a year from their writing. For traditional authors, that number is still 53.9% making less than $1,000 a year.

I don’t know about you, but $1,000 a year really isn’t going to pay my bills. Especially considering my rent is $1,200 a month, and I’m single. So I work a full-time job. A vast majority of authors work part-time or full-time or have another income to help out. And at the end of the day, the full-time job has to come before writing. Because I have to eat. And not live on the street.

So I work my 9-5:30 (or later), Monday through Friday, and I write/edit/market/blog/Twitter/Instagram/Facebook during the evenings/into the wee hours of the morning and on the weekends. But that kind of schedule catches up to you.

In my world, things started to pile up. My apartment was a mess. I was ordering out too much because I felt like I had too much to do to go to the grocery store or cook (which increased my expenses). My diet suffered. I drank too much caffeine. My dog got antsy and bored. My social life suffered. I hardly left my apartment. Sleep was something I daydreamed about.

So I promised myself that after I submitted to Pitch Wars I would take a break. Not just from writing, but from everything. From social media, from blogging, even from reading. I needed to recharge my batteries.

At first, the author anxiety almost destroyed my much needed authoring hiatus. For the first few days of said break, I found myself in the presence of my friends without engaging. Instead, I sat in a literal corner silently obsessing over what I had to do. I have a third book in a series to finish revising. I have continuing edits to The King’s Blade to hammer out, because regardless of how it does in Pitch Wars, I’ll be querying soon. I have an idea for a women’s fiction novel that’s itching at me. I have emails to answer. I have reading to do. I have to post on social media to keep my presence up. I have to write a blog. I have to do, do, do.

The “break” didn’t come easy. I had to force myself to take it. But after three or four days, I started to slide into it. There is time became my mantra. It’s okay not to write every day. It’s okay not to read two books a week. It’s okay to leave my phone on the charger. It’s okay to take a day or two to respond to an email. It’s okay to take some time to clean my apartment and go to the grocery store and catch up on Game of Thrones and sit outside with my friends for hours doing nothing but shooting the shit.

We only get one life. Writing is my passion. It’s what I love to do. But when it becomes a chore, I’ve lost something. And that something is the fire, and I need the fire to write.

So writers, as hard as it can be, go ahead and give yourself that break. You don’t need to write every day. There is time.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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On Beta Readers

I think I promised to write a post about beta readers back in November when my first book came out and then… didn’t. Until now!

Let’s start with basics and branch out, shall we? I’m going to try another FAQ format, because I think that worked last time I used one.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are non-professional readers (read: not editors or sensitivity readers who are being paid by you or your agent, publishing house, etc.) who read your manuscript (your unpublished book) at varying stages in the process. Some people also use the term “alpha reader” which is basically the beta reader who reads your manuscript first. I don’t differentiate, so for purposes of this post, any non-professional reader will be referred to as a beta reader.

A beta reader is different from a critique partner. A critique partner is another writer with whom you exchange chapters and/or whole works. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, kind of thing. A beta reader does not necessarily have to be a writer nor does the relationship extend both ways. So a critique partner is always a beta reader but a beta reader is not always a critique partner.

When should you send your manuscript for beta reads? 

Every writer is different and the timing of when to send your manuscript for beta reads might vary based on the way your process works and the time your beta readers can devote to the project. For me, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I don’t send my manuscript out for beta reads until it’s finished and I’ve been through it at least twice. I take beta reads seriously (if you hadn’t noticed, I’m a pretty serious person). My beta readers are reading my manuscripts for free, meaning they’re spending their valuable time on my work pro bono. I don’t want to waste that time by sending them something I know isn’t as good as it could be. Also, if your beta reader is too caught up in gaping plot holes, or confusing description, he/she/they might be unable to really hunker down and get to the meat of your work. Basically, my thought is to treat a beta reader exactly as I’d treat an agent or an editor. I make the manuscript shine, then send it out, then I have the room to really grow and level up my work.

That’s how I do it. Others do it differently (obviously). I’ve been the beta reader for scenes, excerpts, unfinished works, etc. and that’s fine as long as I know what I’m getting myself into. Sometimes bouncing ideas off people and getting a new perspective before the work is complete can help you breathe new life into your ideas or help you get unstuck. I do send small scenes to my beta readers on occasion, mostly to share excitement and get out of my own head, but when it’s time to send the final thing, I want to try and respect the time of my betas by sending them a self-edited product.

How do you pick beta readers?

There are some great resources online about where to find beta readers. I just googled it and briefly perused. This looked like a good start. But that’s not how I found my beta readers.

I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of talented, bright people in my social network who read in my genre, so I put a post out on Facebook seeking beta readers. I had a bunch of responses. It worked well, and I’m extremely grateful for all the help I received on that first manuscript.

Now, though, I’ve narrowed my beta readers down to three. These three all bring something different to the table, but they share some commonality I think is important to have in a good beta reader:

  1. Knowledge of the genre. Meaning they’re widely read and are up to date on the latest works. They might not be market experts, but they know what they like and they’ve read the big names of the genre. They know what a book in your genre is supposed to look like. Bonus points if they’re aware of popular tropes and themes and are willing to discuss their likes and dislikes and why they have those views.
  2. Analytical readers. My beta readers don’t stop at “this is good” or “this is bad”. They all tell me why they like what they like in my work and why they dislike what they dislike. They know what world building is, they know some common pitfalls, and they have a good understanding of what good writing looks like, even if they don’t know the technicalities. Bonus points if they do know the technicalities.
  3. Constructive Criticism. This one seems like a no brainer in a beta reader, but I’ve found that it’s not. I see a lot of writers default to beta readers who are “safe” for the writer. And by safe I mean they’ll serve as an ego booster to the writer. “My beta reader said it was great!” Is something I see a lot. My first thought when I see this is: “You don’t have a good beta reader.” I know, it sounds shitty, but in my experience, it’s true. “This is great,” is the least helpful “critique” you can receive. Nothing is ever perfect, not published works, and certainly not manuscripts. Having someone there to cheer you on is excellent and important for writers who tend to be a down on themselves lot, but a cheerleader is not a good beta reader. A beta reader is someone who will be willing to tell you the hard truths behind your work. The opposite end of the spectrum is a beta reader who only sends negative feedback through the line. Negative feedback is arguably more important than positive, but you need to know what is working, too. I like to have beta readers who understand how to provide both.
  4. Enthusiasm. Not to be confused with “cheerleader” as discussed above. A beta reader should be enthusiastic about your work, but not to the point where he/she/they is blinded by said enthusiasm and defaults to “everything you write is divine.” True enthusiasm, as I see it, is a beta reader who enjoys your work so much she’s excited to help you make it better. One of my beta readers, for example, consistently kicks my ass on her critiques, but she was the first person to buy my book when it came out, and she was the first person to get my book into a real library. A good beta reader has some skin in the game, and is emotionally invested in your work because they helped make it what it is.
  5. Growth. A great beta reader will become a better reader as you become a better writer, and you’ll grow together. When I learn something at a conference or workshop or read an article that sparks me or something happens on Twitter that makes me reflect on my own work, I share it with my betas. We all learn and grow together. It’s definitely a collaborative process.

How many beta readers do you need?

I think this is subjective. I currently have three, as I said. These three give super detailed feedback. I’m confident in their opinions, and I’ve created a close working relationship with them. I might seek more readers for the standalone fantasy I’m working on right now, but for my series, I’m content. I tend to prefer a smaller number of readers who will give me more detailed feedback than lots of readers who will give me small amounts of feedback, but there’s a lot to be said about many different eyes and points of view as well.

If you could do it again…

I definitely made some mistakes with my beta readers in the beginning, and my process is constantly changing as my knowledge of craft grows. The good news is that if you’re planning on doing this writing thing for a living, you have more books in you, so you can make some mistakes and still keep moving forward. I’ve been able to correct my beta reading process in subsequent manuscripts, but if you’re looking to maybe save time and do this a tad more efficiently than I did, here are some things you might want to consider.

  1. Sending your manuscript too soon. See: When should you send your manuscript? I was so excited to share my first manuscript with the world that I sent it for beta reads before it was ready. As a consequence, I think some of my potential beta readers dropped out, and I might have lost some good readers. This was also a problem because for those beta readers who did stick around, a lot of time was spent discussing things I knew had to be fixed, which wasn’t especially helpful and was frustrating for both parties. Additionally, for the few beta readers who were willing to give the manuscript a second look after I’d made changes, some things became confused because they no longer had “virgin” eyes. They’d already read the work at that point and versions became confused, dampening the impact of some of my revisions.
  2. Being specific. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to feel like they’re infringing on someone or being too pushy or sounding ungrateful. Beta readers are doing me a huge favor in agreeing to read my work, so when I sent my first manuscript out I was basically just a ball of excitement, fervent gratitude, wishful thinking, and “here it is.” This was… not helpful. As the writer, it’s your job to explain to your betas what they’re getting into, especially if they’re not a writer. You need to be specific: “This is not finished. There are going to be grammar errors.” Your beta readers aren’t line or copy editors, but they might not know that, so you should tell them. Specific instructions can help. “Please tell me the exact location where you stopped reading or felt thrown from the story.” “Please tell me where you became bored.” “Please tell me where confusion happened and what you were confused about, specifically.”
  3. Thicken your skin. Seriously. This might sound callous, but I mean it. Criticism is hard, and it hurts, and thickening your skin is the only way you’re going to be able to protect yourself from it. If you want to be a writer, be prepared to take some hits. I joke that my beta readers are the toughest reviewers I have, but my betas are also people I know in real life who are aware they’re speaking to an actual human being on the other end of the keyboard, one they mostly like. The critique of your betas is nothing compared to hits your manuscript-turned-book will receive in the big, wide world, so consider this a test run.

Final thoughts

LISTEN. You don’t have to take every bit of advice your betas give you, but make sure you consider it and consider it hard. Think past the sting and the pain it might cause you and really chew on it, then digest, then edit.

WAIT. Always, always let your critique rest before you start making edits. Do not allow yourself to be blinded by whatever initial feelings you might have about your critique. Give yourself some time to get over yourself (and your feelings) before you make a determination about any critique point. Bonus, as you grow as a writer, and as your relationship with your betas grow, a lot of your knee-jerk reactions to their critique and advice will fade and you won’t have to wait as long.

THANK. Do not forget to thank your beta readers. They are awesome, amazing people who have done you a great service. Put them in your acknowledgements, talk about them on your blog, bake them cookies, give them free copies of your book, bring them presents, and mostly, when your book is out there in the wild, make sure to remind them that their hands are on this thing, too, and you love them for it.

Have things to add? Pop them in the comments.

❤ Aimee

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The Great American Lie

My alarm goes off at 7:00 a.m. I don’t hit snooze. Fun fact about me, I’m not someone who hits the snooze button. I know. That’s super annoying, right? Morning people.

Here’s another fun fact: I’m not a morning person. I don’t hit the snooze button because I never have an opportunity to do so because every single morning I wake up with debilitating anxiety. As soon as that alarm sounds, my stomach begins to turn. My brain comes out of slumber like a racehorse out of the gate. Usually, I run to the bathroom to throw up. It’s all stomach acid and blood, and it’s incredibly painful.

My dog licks my face from around the edges of the toilet. I stand up, wipe away tears of pain, and start my day. I say to my Google Home, “Okay Google, play music,” like a real suburbanite. I listen to Christian rock mostly (weird, I know). I brush my teeth, get dressed, do my hair, put on layers of makeup to cover the bruising and redness from under my eyes. If you ever wondered what someone my age is doing still wearing so much eyeliner, it’s basically because I suck at makeup and figure eyeliner is better than bags. I feed my pets, make my coffee, do all the regular get ready for work things.

I take my dog out to play ball and go to the bathroom, bring her back in, get in my car. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to my 9-5:30. I don’t talk about my “real” job much here on the blog because this is a space for my writing career, but yes, I do have full-time employment other than writing. I have to pay the bills, after all, and only selling a few books a month isn’t going to make rent. So Monday through Friday, I work as a paralegal at a civil defense firm–labor and employment. I love my firm and my coworkers, but ask anyone who works in the legal field about it, and you’ll likely hear that it’s high-paced and stressful. Sometimes we have slow periods, but when it’s busy, you better buckle up because you’re in for a hell of a ride.

After the 9-5:30 is over (if it’s over at 5:30, sometimes it’s not), I travel 45 minutes home. I feed my pets, take my dog out to play ball again. While I’m throwing the ball for her, I’m trying my best to answer/send emails. A self-published author has no marketing team, so I have to find people to blurb my books, I have to find book bloggers to read and review the book, I have to run my own website, I have to try and find new and interesting ways to self-promote. A large chunk of this is done with a tennis ball in my hand. In case you ever wondered.

When I go back in the house, I turn on CNN. I allow myself approximately 1 hour of TV time per day, and it’s always to watch the news. Depending on the day and if I have any after work appointments, it’s the end of Wolf Blitzer and beginning of Erin Burnett or the end of Erin Burnett and beginning of Anderson Cooper. While I’m catching up on the news, I’m trying to throw something together for dinner.

Let’s be real, here: most of my meals come from a box. Frozen pizza, pasta with some Alfredo sauce (bought, not made). Hell, even my salad comes out of a bag. Why? Because I don’t have time or money to spare. Don’t talk to me about crock pot meals or Pinterest ideas or planning my meals in advance. They all sound perfectly lovely, but I’m not going to do them, so don’t waste your breath. I’m overwhelmed by my daily existence as it is without having to try to figure out cooking or planning or any of it. And yes, I know it’s healthier, and cheaper, and would save me time, and why-don’t-I-just-go-vegan-if-I-love-animals-so-much? But it’s new and trying new things is a constant source of anxiety for me, and there’s only so much of that I can take. My anxiety quota is spent mostly on my full-time job and my fledgling writing career, not meal planning.

As I eat and listen to whatever CNN is talking about (something loud and orange, usually), I’m continuing to answer emails and update social media, maybe working on a blog. Very, very rarely am I doing only one thing at once. I’m high strung and hyper focused. Slowing down is the enemy because slowing down leaves me exposed.

Whenever my hour of TV time is over, I get back to work. I write or edit or work on yet more lists of reviewers to query and people to solicit. Whenever I run out of steam for whatever I’m working on, I move to something else. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I work on editing another book. I’m currently developing three books, all in various stages of the process. I ALWAYS have something to do. And if I’m not feeling creative, I’m sending out requests to reviewers, or I’m working on a blog, or I’m trying to schedule social media posts, or I’m simply running through Twitter to take stock of what the market looks like, what’s happening, what people are enjoying, and what they aren’t. I’m constantly watching and listening and learning.

This goes on until somewhere between 1 and 2 a.m. Then I try to go to sleep. I put on something narrated by David Attenborough. His voice is soothing. I fall asleep to the sounds of science.

But I don’t stay asleep. Somewhere between 2:45 and 3:15, my dog paws my face. She does this because she’s a service dog trained to wake me up when I’m self-harming in my sleep, which happens when I have night terrors. When I start to scratch myself bloody, or grind my teeth into nothing, or scream, Gabi will whine. If I don’t wake up at the sound of her whining, she’ll smack me right across the face.

Rinse and repeat. Sometimes, she only has to wake me up once. Sometimes, she has to wake me up half a dozen times. Depends on the night. Either way, there is very little sleep. Then, at 7:00 a.m., I get up and do it again.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m telling it to you because I want to expose a lie that we’ve been told all our lives and that is this: If you simply work hard at the thing you love, success will come to you.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble friends, but this. is. a. lie. Not only is it a lie, it is a harmful lie. It’s not a little white lie. It’s not telling a friend she looks great in that dress that’s the wrong color for her complexion. It is a problematic, harmful lie that can lead people to burnout and early graves. I know because I’m headed toward one, and even though I’m aware of it, I’m unable to stop.

There are so many things that go into success that we don’t have control over. There is no secret formula to “making it”. You can do everything “right” and still struggle. You can have talent and persistence and grit and still fail. It’s horribly frightening, not having control, but that doesn’t mean we can or should lie our way out of reality. And reality is this: there are forces at work in our lives we cannot control. We cannot always work away our socioeconomic status. We cannot lie away racism or homophobia or the way society looks on “the different”. We can’t say, “If you just worked harder, then…” and wipe our hands of the very real outside forces at play in our lives, one of which is simple luck. Another of which is privilege, in all it’s varying forms, which I’m very aware has helped me get as far as I am today.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard and do your best, because obviously, you should. It’s like the saying about the lottery, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” The work is the “play” part, but just because you play doesn’t mean you’ll win, either. Work is not everything. Hard work and persistence and grit are only a few of many, many factors at play in overall success. Reaching the “American Dream” is not a one-two punch, “Work hard. Get rich.” Sorry, but it’s just not. If it were, I would be working full-time as a writer, as would many others.

What I am saying is that we need to be more careful about our vocabulary. I had no idea how deeply the “work hard” mentality was ingrained in my psyche until I started seeing a therapist, and she pointed out that I was slowly killing myself. Not a metaphor, that’s meant in a very real way. “Work hard” is a mantra I’ve heard my whole life. It’s one of the foundations of my belief system, one of the hardest things to root out of a person, and though it seems benign, maybe even positive, when it’s taken to the extreme, it can be damaging.

I’m one of the people quickest to advocate for self-care and one of the last to practice what I preach on that front. I hold myself to a higher standard than those around me. I’m less empathetic with myself than I am with others. And that’s not actually a compliment, it’s a very real character flaw. One that’s premised upon the “work hard” mentality. Even now, sitting here writing this post, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that what I say about other outside factors influencing my life, my career, my ambitions, is true, I’m hesitant to publish this because I must be wrong, I must not be working hard enough.

That’s why I explained to you what my day looks like. Because this is how insidious this mentality can be. I have myself convinced that the reason I haven’t “made it” as a writer is because I’m not working hard enough. There are a lot of reasons I might not have made it: time; luck; talent; ingenuity in marketing; the market in general; other people’s tastes; biases toward self-published authors; bad SEO on the website; shitty Amazon keywords; a product people don’t like. I mean, there are a bazillion things that could be affecting my sales figures but probably the least likely is how hard I work, yet here I am, convinced that if I just work harder I can turn everything around.

This is a really unsafe mentality to foster in young writers specifically, but I think it’s pervasive in all career paths. Be persistent, and gritty, and work hard, yes, but hard work is not a magic cure to all the ills we face in our lives, and we need to stop acting like it is. We need to stop telling the Great American Lie.

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As always, take care of yourselves. ❤ Aimee

On Professional Headshots

Y’all might have noticed I don’t have photographs of myself anywhere on my website. If you check out my author Facebook page, my Twitter, my Instagram, you won’t find them either. I hate photographs of myself. I always have. I imagine I probably always will.

But conventional wisdom says professional head shots are a part of this industry, so I finally caved to said wisdom and had head shots done. I figured I can no longer hide behind anonymity, especially with my second book coming out. I guess I’m really doing this.

Now, as I have mentioned before, I have PTSD. One of the symptoms of my particular brand of PTSD is that I have difficulty being touched, especially by strangers. Because of this, I haven’t had a haircut in three years. So last weekend, I bit the bullet and started with this small step.

Three hours of being touched even by a stranger with the best intentions (making me look like I actually care about myself), was emotionally exhausting, but I felt better having done it. Look at me! I declared to the world. I’m doing a thing! My therapist will be so proud.

Still, I knew better than to try and rush it, so I scheduled the hair appointment a full week before the photo shoot, that way I didn’t have to do everything in one shot. Turns out, this was a great strategy for my sometimes fragile nerves.

The morning of the shoot, I had my hair blown out (forty-five minutes of touching) and my makeup done by a professional (another hour of unwanted but necessary stranger touching and this was especially anxiety inducing because it was close up). By the time I arrived at the studio, I was already exhausted.

Here’s the good thing about photographers, however: they’re artists too and a lot of them choose the side of the camera they’re on for a reason. I was happy to have a sympathetic ear to the plight that is, “Why is this a thing for authors?” Seriously though, can someone answer this for me? Why is this a thing for authors? Does what I look like truly matter?

Buuut, a sympathetic ear couldn’t save me from the studio or the camera. In addition to a tactile issue, I also have difficulty making eye contact. As it turns out, this difficulty extends to looking into a camera. Bless Krista’s soul for patiently repeating 7,000 times to look at the camera (honestly, I had no idea I wasn’t, it’s just a thing I do!).

Another fun fact about doing a professional photo shoot for those who might not have been through it yet: it’s not as easy as it may seem. I used to think the models who did this were just naturally pretty (and they are) but there’s more to it than just looking pretty. A lot of the body positioning is subtle and somewhat awkward feeling. It involves muscles many of us don’t frequently activate, which confuses the body (or at least it did mine). In addition, most of the poses are counter intuitive. You want me to turn my chin down to avoid making it look like I have a double chin? I’m supposed to angle my shoulder in an awkward way to make it look natural? Huh? For a clumsy, awkward, shy girl who is already emotionally exhausted, a lot of things that seemed basic enough felt massively complicated. In short, I will never make comment on how modeling must be so easy ever again.

Which leads me to my point… for me, it was totally worth it to have a professional do these photos. Krista (website here) was sympathetic, kind, easy to work with, patient, knowledgeable and most importantly, talented. When she sent me the proofs later that evening (how about that for turnaround time, right?) it was like receiving my cover art for The Wheel Mages all over again. I got that tingly feeling and a stupid grin on my face. Not because I am enamored with myself (I still am not my own biggest fan), but because these photos said “Author” in the same way seeing my name on the front of a book cover for the first time did. Plus, we artists all need to support each other, right?

Okay, so without further ado… tada! A real life picture of me.

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Have a great weekend everyone!

❤ Aimee

 

 

For Book Bloggers: How to Entice an Author

As you all might remember, I’m in the process of querying for reviews. This is a long and ongoing process, but during it, I’ve come to realize something quite interesting: book bloggers and authors have a lot more in common than one might suspect.

The relationship between book blogger/reviewer and author should be a symbiotic one. From an author’s point of view, the book blogger is a valuable marketing tool who can open the book up to different audiences the author hasn’t been able to reach yet (especially in the case of us debut, indie authors). From the book blogger’s point of view (book bloggers, correct me if I’m wrong), the author is offering a free product the blogger enjoys (hopefully). The relationship also works both ways in that the author is pitching to the blogger, but the blogger is also pitching to the author.

A brief Google search tells me there are as many articles out there about how to develop a good book blog as there are how to market your book to book bloggers. What I didn’t see, though, was talk about this from the author’s perspective. My guess is this might be because it’s sort of faux pas for an author to discuss what she’s looking for in a book blog, but I try to be real here, so I’m going to go ahead and do that, and hopefully, we can learn some things together.

Okay, so for new writers who are reading this who aren’t reviewers, let me set this up very briefly: The author/publisher solicits to book bloggers via query asking the blogger to review the book. If the blogger accepts, the book is provided free of charge in whatever format the blogger desires and the blogger reviews it based on his/her review policy.

The part of this equation I want to hone in on is the part before the query—the part where the author/publisher searches for the book blog to query. This is the part I think book bloggers (especially those who are trying to develop their blogs) might be interested in. Because, just like you choose which queries to accept, we authors choose which bloggers to query to in the first place.

So… you as a book blogger want to attract authors to your blog, IG, etc.? Fantastic. I’m going to share with you the things I look for when choosing which blogs to query.

1. Review Policies – Have one, and make it readily accessible. A review policy is the very first thing I check on any book blog. The reason for this is because there are some bloggers who won’t accept indie authors. If you don’t want to solicit to us indies, that’s totally fine. I understand why you’re not interested, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings, but if you don’t take indies, go ahead and put that right up front. It saves me time and effort, and I very much appreciate it. If you do accept self-published books and authors, make sure to put that in there, too. Also, if you’re not currently accepting requests, please put that in your review policy (and keep it up to date). I keep a list of bloggers to check back with periodically, so I won’t forget you. No need to take on more than you can handle. It sours the experience, and I want you to love reading my book!

Review policies are both our friends. They make everything simple for both parties, and I’ll make sure to follow your policy to the letter. As an aside, I think you’re completely right for rejecting someone who doesn’t, and if I fail to, shame on me.

2. About – The “About Me” section of a book blog is the second thing I check. I personalize every query I write, and I want to know a little bit about you so I can figure out if my work is in your wheelhouse. I don’t want to waste your time (or mine). If you say you’ll read anything, but you actually like mystery, you’re either not going to like my book or you’re not going to read it. There are so many books out there, there’s no need for you to waste your time reading books you don’t like. Tell me what you enjoy. This is important from the author side too, because every book I send out costs me money, so I want to make sure every book goes into the hands of someone who at least enjoys the genre.

In addition to knowing what books you like to read, I also want to know about you—how old are you, where are you from, what are some of your hobbies? I want to learn a little bit about you so I can determine if my work will speak to you. An author who’s doing her homework will do her very best to make sure she presents you with something that’s enjoyable to you. You’re special, and a query should make you feel that way, so give me some material to work with.

3. The Website – I have, at this point, looked through literally hundreds of book blogs. I’ve queried to 22. I strike a lot of blogs at this stage, but because this is the most variable, I can’t really speak to what all authors/publishers are looking for in terms of website. I can, however, speak to what I’m looking for.

  • Links that work. This is important. If I click on a tab that’s supposed to take me to reviews, and I get a page unknown error, I will strike the blog. If I can’t get to your reviews, how are other people supposed to get to them and read about my book?
  • A clean and simple design. I am not a website designer (obviously), so I try not to make too many judgments, but I do like clean sites. If the website is jumbled and confusing or has too many tabs or topics, I will usually pass. Remember, this isn’t only a book I’m trying to sell, it’s a brand, and I want to associate it with clean, simple, accessible, professional.
  • Followers/Social Media Links. The amount of followers you have on your blog is not a deal breaker for me, but if you’re trying to solicit big names (especially publishers), it will be. Don’t despair, there are indie authors (like me) and authors from smaller presses who are willing to grow with you. That said, if you have a bookish Instagram or a Twitter or a Facebook or a Snap-it (sorry, was my disdain for Snapchat coming through there?) absolutely link it to your blog. I check that, too, and if you’re willing to share my work over more platforms than your blog, that’s a HUGE bonus to me.
    • I should probably note, too, that number of followers isn’t the only important thing, I also look at the number of people who are engaging with your posts in the form of comments and likes. Like I said, not a deal breaker for me either way, but I want to add it because if I’m noticing that, it would be a wise bet to assume publishers and agents and marketing professionals are noticing it too.

4. The Reviews – Are you surprised to find these so far down my list? Yeah, interesting that, isn’t it? Okay, so if your blog has made it this far, it’s time for me to really sit down and delve into things.

First, let me put this right out front: I do not expect a five star review from anyone, but I do expect my work to be treated with respect. If I see you trashing other authors from here to Venus, no matter how much I may agree with you, I will not query you. Plain and simple: Every time you trash an author there’s another author reading it and thinking, “That could be my book.” I’ve read this same advice given from very successful book bloggers to new bloggers, and I couldn’t agree with it more. Listen to the people who are doing it well. They’re right. This industry means we have to have thick skins, but we’re still people, and we’ve put a lot of time and energy and money into these books. When we send you a book, we’re not sending you a $10 lump of paper or a $3.99 chunk of internet ether, we’re sending you a piece of our souls, thousands of hours of time and, in the case of indie authors, thousands upon thousands of dollars of our own hard-earned cash. It matters to us, especially to those of us who are new to the industry. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows how much I care about honesty in all things, but I also believe very strongly that you can be honest and still respectful.

Okay, less heavy stuff:

  • Keep your blog up to date. If you haven’t posted a review in three months, I’ll likely strike you. I’ll also check to make sure the reviews are coming at a relatively steady pace. I completely understand you’re busy and it’s not perfect, and you’re not getting paid to do this, and I’m happy to wait, but if I see month-long gaps in posts happening regularly, I hope you’ll understand when I say there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get around to reading my book, so it’s better if I go to someone who will.
  • Along those same lines, make sure your posts are dated. If they’re not, I can’t determine the above, and I’ll err on the side of caution and hold on to my book.
  • Have some reviews of big names in the genre you’re reviewing. Even if you’re specializing in reviewing indie authors (you’re an awesome soul if you’re doing this), throwing in a few of the big names from the big presses can be helpful to an author trying to gauge what kind of books you like. I write young adult high fantasy so the first reviews I read on a blog are any written on anything by Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, Marissa Meyer, Kiera Cass, Victoria Aveyard, or Veronica Roth. I’ve read all the works of most of these authors and know how I would rate their work compared to my own, so knowing how you do it gives me a better idea of whether or not you’ll like my work. If you only gave Maas’ Court of Mist and Fury 2.5 stars, I can pretty much assure you that you are not interested in The Wheel Mages, and I won’t send it. That is not to say your opinion isn’t valid, it’s just to say there are authors out there for you that aren’t me.
    • Side Note: J.K. Rowling is not on my list of big names because I almost never read reviews of J.K. Rowling’s work. Everyone loves it, so it isn’t a good indicator of preference for me.
  • Other than what I talked about above, I don’t really care about stars, except to see that not every book is getting five stars but some books are. Like I said, I don’t expect my book to get five stars every time, but if you’re not giving five stars to anyone, I’m leery. That said, if you’re giving five stars to everyone it’s also a red flag to me. I also want to add that I appreciate how hard your job is to assign ratings to something so subjective. It’s not one I think I could do – so kudos to you.
  • If you don’t give stars, that’s almost better. There aren’t many book blogs that don’t give stars, but I really like the ones that simply write a review. They’re refreshing and from the author’s perspective, a little less scary. Of course, readers probably feel differently, and you have to appeal to us both, so it’s all good either way.
  • Make me want to read the book you’re reviewing (if your objective is to say it was really good and everyone should read it). After I check for the authors I know, I will read a review about a book I don’t know that’s received a good review. If I walk away wanting to read that book, I’ll query you. You’ve done your job for me and that’s admittedly hard to do, so I know you’ll do it for others as well. There are tons of ways to accomplish this, but the way I find most persuasive is precise language with a spark of personality. I know, it’s tough, I’m telling you, I don’t envy you guys.
  • Review lists are great. I won’t strike a blog for not having a clickable list of reviews by title or author, but they’re awesome when I see them.

Wow, okay, this post is long, but I’m hoping helpful. I just want to add something really quickly here: This is obviously not an exact formula. Nothing about this industry is exact. It’s simply a set of ideas from the other side of the equation. And please note I realize I am not like every indie author. I’m sure there are plenty of authors who don’t put as much time into querying as I do, but I happen to think the amount of time I put into it speaks to who I am and what my book is. If you like that, this is how to catch someone like me.

Finally, I think I made it clear throughout, but in case I didn’t, I want you to know, book bloggers, that I appreciate you so, so much. I actually think authors might be able to commiserate with you more than most. We’re all writers who love books, struggling to make ourselves stand out in an over-saturated market, driving ourselves crazy in the process. So much love to you.

Keep on keeping on, and if you have anything you’d like to contribute or ask about, sound off in the comments.

❤ Aimee

P.s. If you’re a book blogger interested in enticing indie authors and don’t know where to start, get on this list! http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/

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Seemed appropriate

On Discussing Your Book

What’s it about?

Whoever thought that one question could so paralyze an author. But it does—every time. Without fail. No matter how many times I’ve rehearsed what I’ll say about the book in my head, no matter how many intriguing phrases I’ve tried to come up with to better pitch my work, whenever this question spills out of an unassuming throat, all the words fly from my brain.

Last night, I was fortunate enough to have a mini-reunion of sorts with a bunch of people I haven’t seen in almost a decade. Of course, my big news was I published a book. And almost instantly the next question came out and the paralysis began. Example:

Person: So what’s it about?

Me: Uh…it’s a young adult fantasy.

[long awkward pause]

Person: And…?

Me: Uh…there’s magic?

Person: Cool, cool.

[increasingly awkward pause as person slinks away]

I wish I was making this up for comedic value, but I’m really not. Talking about my book is HARD. Making whatever comes out of my mouth sound both interesting and genuine is even harder. It’s not that the book isn’t interesting (it is, I promise!) or that I’m not passionate about it (I am!), it’s simply… awkward. How am I supposed to sum up what took me months of development in a few sentences? And more importantly, how am I supposed to sum it up in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m reading the back of the book? Sidenote: At one point during my evening, a friend of mine took her copy of the book out and I legit handed it to people who asked what it was about so they could read the back instead of attempting to communicate. I know this is probably not the right course of action, but I was feeling the pressure.

I think it feels so awkward because the book has such a huge part of my soul thrown into it that I’m terrified of talking about it because it feels almost too personal a conversation to have. What is it about? Well, it’s about struggle, and failure, and feeling helpless and alone even when you’re surrounded by humanity. It’s about people depending on you when you still don’t know how to depend on yourself. It’s about love and how painful it is. It’s me, bleeding onto a page, that’s what it’s about. Can you imagine the looks I would receive for throwing that into a crowded room?

Separating myself from my work is something I’ve always struggled with and something I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on. I’ve done it successfully enough when it comes to critiques, but apparently I’ve failed to replicate it in terms of having a normal conversation with someone about the finished product.

Whatever the reason, be it my own anxiety, social awkwardness, or simply being a new author, it’s a terrifying hurdle I didn’t expect to have to climb, but will work on doing so, one foot at a time.

Anyone else have this problem when it comes to his/her writing? Make me feel less alone in the comments!

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My dad and stepmom got this for me for Christmas, I’m so excited about it!