Calling Book Bloggers

Hey all! So with The Blood Mage due out this summer (official launch date and cover reveal happening here on Tuesday), I’m currently looking for book bloggers/reviewers to receive a digital ARC sometime in June. I don’t care about the size of your social following or how many blog readers you have. If you’re new and trying to build a following, great! Me too. Let’s work together!

Here’s the deal. To receive an ARC for The Blood Mage you must meet the following requirements:

  1. You’ve read The Wheel Mages. Haven’t read it yet? No problem, if you’re a book blogger and you’re interested, shoot me an email and I can hook you up with a digital copy of The Wheel Mages. You can then decide if you’re still interested in receiving The Blood Mage.
  2. You have to have a way to read the book digitally. I’m not doing hard copies of ARCs, this is digital only. I’m self-published and operating on a dwindling budget, so physical copies of ARCs were just not financially viable. That said, I’ll have the book available in epub, mobi, and PDF, so I can accommodate almost all ereaders.
  3. You’re willing (and able) to post a review of the book between July and August, 2017. I know this is a time crunch, but never fear! If you can’t meet the deadline, I’d still love for you to read it, just send me an email, and I’ll get you a final copy after it’s been published.

Haven’t read The Wheel Mages and trying to decide if it’s worth it for you to commit to reading two books in a short time frame? Let me give you some bullet points about the Changing Tides series!

  • Young adult, high fantasy
  • Self-published, professionally edited–developmental and copy/line editing
  • Strong female protagonist (and strong female friendships!)
  • Elemental magic
  • Romance
  • Plot twists
  • Trope-bending
  • LGBTQ rep (lesbian, not MC)
  • Mental illness rep (PTSD, MC, second book)
  • Diverse cast
  • Eastern European, late 1800s inspired

What are other book bloggers saying about The Wheel Mages?

“It was so refreshing to read such a mysterious and captivating book. I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait to read the next one.” – A Bibliophiles Book Blog

“The world building was exquisite, and the characters’ developments were written so well, that I just want to go back and read it all over again.” Shihtzu Book Reviews

“This book is action-packed, bubbling with magic and such a page turner.” – Adoread

“Aimee’s writing style for this book was emphatic, eloquent, and crisp.” Maxxesbooktopia

So, all that said, if you’re interested, please send an email to yours truly at aimee@aimee-davis.com with a link to your blog and your preference of digital file!

❤ Aimee

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Broken Girl Cured by Love: On Tropes and the Lies They Tell

Author’s Note: For the past few days I’ve been in Tennessee at a workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats about writing cross culturally. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience, and I’m only sharing a snippet of what I learned there, so I highly recommend you participate in one of their workshops if you ever get the chance to. 


There are ways to create narratives of hope that don’t feel like a lie.

~ Leigh Bardugo

To fully understand this post, you’ll need to watch this video (there’s also a transcript, but if you can watch I recommend doing that).

The idea of a single story is (obviously), not mine, but over the weekend, it was one of the concepts that hit nearest my heart. There are single stories for every marginalized group of people. In the video, you’ll hear some of them. During my workshop, I heard others. I’m not going to talk about the stories of others, because you should listen to their voices for that. What I am going to talk about is what the single story for me has been, why it’s hurtful, and why that matters to your writing (and mine).

For those who might not follow this blog regularly, I’ll start by telling you that I’m a self-published author. My debut novel, The Wheel Mages, is a young adult high fantasy. I’m a twenty-nine year old, cisgender, heterosexual, female. I was raised outside of Philadelphia. I’m privileged. Most people would not think of me as part of a marginalized group. Mostly, I don’t think of myself that way.

I do, however, suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. I have an invisible marginalization which I can usually hide, but it affects every aspect of my life.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional or physical trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape. (Source). PTSD and CPTSD are slightly different in that PTSD can result from single events, or short-term exposure to extreme stress or trauma whereas CPTSD is generally associated with long-term trauma. That said, most people don’t know what CPTSD is, so I typically tell people I have PTSD.

When I do “out” myself, the most typical question that follows is, “What war?”

This is the single story in action. (If you haven’t watched the Chimamanda Adichie video or read the transcript yet, go ahead and do it now. Here’s another link. Seriously, it’s that important.)

PTSD is most often associated with veterans. That’s the single story literature, television, and film have created for us. And because of that single story, my experience somehow seems less valid. When I don’t play into people’s perceptions or expectations, my experience is diminished. Surely, I must be faking it. Surely, I must be overly sensitive. Surely, nothing can be as traumatizing as war. Surely, my experience doesn’t matter.

For years, I resisted fighting against this narrative because it felt like fighting against veterans who have PTSD. The single story of PTSD made me feel like I had no right to voice my own experience because by telling my story I was challenging their story. This is not, however, the case. I’m not challenging the narrative at all. There are veterans who have PTSD. But there are people who are not veterans who have PTSD as well, and their stories deserve to be told too. We can tell multiple stories without threatening others. We, as people, deserve more than a single story. We deserve more than two or three or ten stories. Every story gives us a fuller life experience.

The above example is contemporary, but the single story concept extends beyond as well. It permeates every facet of literature. In fantasy, especially young adult fantasy, there is another single story narrative pertinent to PTSD that’s repeated over and over, and it is this: Broken Girl meets The One and is fixed through the curative power of Love.

This narrative hurts me. It is a dangerous lie.

Growing up, I often escaped to fantasy worlds to help me cope with what was unraveling around me. I still do. But especially as a young reader, I internalized much of what I read. And this narrative, the “Broken Girl Cured by Love” narrative, buried itself deep. So deep I didn’t realize how much it had shaped my behavior until this weekend, and to be honest, I’m still trying to untangle a lot of it.

What I have realized, however, is that I truly believed I could be cured by love. In fact, up until recently, one of my primary criterion for a partner was that I could spend a night with him and not suffer nightmares. I was sure that somewhere out there someone existed who would save me from my nightmares. This internalized narrative that I picked up from fantasy books is harmful to me in real, tangible ways.

One of the ways my PTSD manifests itself is through touch aversion. When I’m touched (especially by a stranger), I experience physical symptoms. My heart rate rises, my breathing shallows, I become dizzy, I grind my teeth, I sweat, my pulse hammers in my ears so I can’t hear properly. Often, I freeze, completely debilitated by terror. Sometimes, I lash out, verbally or physically. This is not a comfortable feeling.

Yet, because of the Broken Girl Cured by Love narrative, I’ve put myself in this position time and time again. I’ve retraumatized myself  while I search for The One To Defeat The Nightmares. I’ve spent nights with men I was revolted by hoping that this time I’ll find him. This time, the Magical Cure Love will save me from my PTSD. I’ve numbed myself with drugs and alcohol while I try to find The One Who Wields the Cure Love, hoping that when I do I’ll be able to be touched without the need for chemical alteration.

It has not and will not ever happen. Love is not a cure for PTSD. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope; it simply means this narrative is not the “hope” people like me need. The lie of this single story has damaged me, and I don’t think it takes much extrapolation to understand it could damage other people, or to see the damage done could be more extreme than it has been in my case.

One of the main takeaways from my weekend workshop is that words are powerful, more powerful than we might realize. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers and that is to tell the Truth as best we can. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it is our duty to try, to put in the work, and to hopefully do no harm.

There is no such thing as a single story of the human experience, and it’s far past time we stopped trying to tell one. As Daniel Older told me over the weekend, “It doesn’t have to be sexy.” I suppose the Truth hardly ever is.

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Valentine’s Day and News

Okay! So… I finally did it y’all. I finally made a newsletter… well… sort of. I made a mailing list, which you can sign up for by clicking on the link to the right of your screen where I joyfully declare I have done a thing. Or you can click here.

We’ll see. I’m still not convinced on the newsletter thing, but I recently had a discussion with a beta reader who told me she does in fact read author newsletters, so I bit the bullet and did it. I’m hoping to send them monthly, and I won’t sell your information and all that good SEC stuff here.

Now, the information that would go in a February newsletter but didn’t because I didn’t create such a thing until today is as follows:

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, people! In honor of the holiday and in honor of my first in I don’t know how long Valentine’s Day single, I will be teasing the new novel all day tomorrow in 140 characters or less. That’s right everyone, #TheBloodMage is going to be rocking it on Twitter. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you can find me @writingwaimee or click here. I’m allll about the links today.

Of course there will be gooey goodness, and the hashtag for the day will be #TheBloodMage. It’s not only about amorous affections though, there will be some other kinds of love on display as well, and I promise it will be spoiler free.

As a preview, here’s one of the fun ones I pulled yesterday that didn’t make the 140 character cutoff but was too good to ignore. This is about one of the new lead’s love affair with the loveliest of all full-bodied flavors—wine.

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Writing Workshop in Reading, PA – My workshop which was originally going to be in mid-February was rearranged, so it will now be happening on March 22nd with details to come (in the new newsletter so go ahead and sign up for that if you want to meet me live and in the flesh, because I’m not going to tell you where it is except in the newsletter!)

The Blood Mage – Comes back from the editor sometime today. In case you couldn’t tell, by all the links and the rambling, I’m a bit nervous. We’ll see how it goes!

And that’s a wrap! Happy V-Day everyone, and make sure to click on some of my fancy new links!

❤ Aimee

 

First Month Sales

Okay… deep breaths… I’m going to do this.

When I first started out on this whole self-publishing venture, I told myself I would be honest and open about the entire process, including releasing my sales figures. Of course, now that the time has come to do so, I’m nervous.

You see, before I published, I saw plenty of blog posts from established independent authors sharing their sales figures, and how much they made per year, per month, etc. and the numbers were, quite frankly, staggering. Six figure salaries and five figure per month marketing budgets were plentiful. But I didn’t see many (read: any) new indie authors sharing their sales figures, at least not publicly, so I said to myself, “Self, when we do this, we shall publish our sales figures every month, so other indie authors have a better understanding of what this process really looks like.”

It sounded great before I knew what the sales were going to be. Now, I’m less than enthused about sharing my first month’s sales, but… I will. Because I need to learn how to be brave. Because this industry requires courage and tenacity and strength. Because if I’m ever going to succeed, I must first learn to embrace my failures.

So… without further ado… here are the sales figures for the first month of sales of my debut novel, The Wheel Mages.


Sales Period: November 29, 2016 (launch date) through December 29, 2016

Vendor: Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle)

Copies sold: 27

Territories sold: United States (26) and Denmark! (1)

Royalties: 71.21 USD, 2.18 EUR

Vendor: CreateSpace (Paperback)

Copies sold: 23

Territories sold: United States (23)

Royalties: 26.68 USD

Vendor: Personal Sales (Paperback)

Copies sold: 7

Territories sold: United States (7)

Royalties: 36.12 USD

Vendor: iTunes (iBook)

Copies sold: 1

Territories sold: United States (1)

Royalties: 2.80 USD

Total copies sold in the first month: 58

Territories sold: United States (57) and Denmark! (1)

Royalties: 136.81 USD, 2.18 EUR

To put this into perspective, my cover art cost $175, so in my first month of sales, I’ve almost made that back. Except none of this money, with the exception of the money I made from selling books to friends and family (see: Vendor: Personal Sales) has actually arrived in my bank account yet, because Amazon doesn’t release the royalties until you’ve accumulated $100. So, there’s that. And my next book is due to the content editor in 17 days, so unless I wake up one morning and I’ve miraculously sold 2,000 copies overnight (listen, this is something I still sort of hope for), there’s another big check looming in my not-too-distant future. Sidenote: If you’re writing a series, maybe consider budgeting for the first two books.

My goal was to sell 100 books in the first month. As you can see, I didn’t make it. And although I wish I could tell you I sold 10,000 copies, the truth is less extraordinary, which I suppose in some ways, makes it all the more important to share.

This is reality, y’all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So here’s to selling more books in 2017!

❤ Aimee

P.S. On a WAY more exciting note, I received my first bit of fanart yesterday! FANART! Can you believe it? Yeah, I’m super pumped. I smiled so hard my face almost fell off. Check it out!!! There’s another piece as well, but I want to save it to share in another post, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Querying for Reviews

Let me go ahead and reveal something to you right now: I never quite connected marketing and publishing. I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s true. Before I launched The Wheel Mages, my thought process went something like this: 1. Write a good book 2. Make sure said book is technically sound 3. Publish book 4. Wait.

This thought process is not from lack of research. I read tons of books and articles and accounts from other indie authors. I listened to Joanna Penn’s podcasts and her Facebook live events. I did webinars. I knew marketing was a thing, and an important one, but for some reason, it wasn’t until recently that I somehow miraculously connected “good book” with “marketing”.

Here’s the deal—through this entire research process, I was continually frustrated by all the information out there about marketing. There is a wealth of information about Facebook ads and Twitter campaigns and cover art and promo material and mailing lists and Amazon reviews. In all this advice which is sometimes conflicting and sometimes a scam and is all kinds of confusing, the one thing I felt was lacking was this key piece of advice: Write a good book. Full stop.

Will everyone like The Wheel Mages? No. It’s not for everyone. That’s fine. What it is, though, is technically sound. I put a considerable amount of effort into making sure it was as good as it could be. I wanted the product to speak for itself. If the book is good, I shouldn’t have to put tons of money into marketing.

Right. Makes sense. But for whatever reason, what I didn’t connect was that I’d have to put the legwork into making sure people read it so it had the opportunity to speak for itself.

Over the weekend, as I despaired about book sales (I’m almost 2 weeks in post-launch and have sold 43 copies, for the record), I had an epiphany. I need people to talk about the book. I need people to “buzz” about it. Duh. People need to read the damn thing for it to speak for itself—which will take marketing.

Ding, ding, ding, Aimee, you win the prize you miserable idiot!

Reinvigorated by my newfound knowledge (I say this with a shake of my head), I jumped back into the whole marketing thing. I decided I’d start with reviews from bloggers and Bookstagrammers. (Sidenote: If you don’t know what a #bookstagram is like I didn’t until recently, check it out and start following these people. Not only is their work beautiful and interesting, a lot of them are reviewers too. You know, people with an audience who might want to read your book).

Which brings me to the point of this post: the query letter for reviews.

Now, there isn’t as much information about querying for reviews as there is for querying for an agent or publisher, but it’s out there. Here are a few articles to consider:

There are others as well, but these sum up how to query pretty well. I’m not going to talk about how to query, so if you’re interested, read those. What I’m going to talk about is how querying feels and how I’m working through it.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’m more interested in the emotional journey of self-publishing than the technical aspects. Of course I share technicalities along the way and am happy to talk shop, but I think there’s plenty of information like that out there without me getting involved. My aim is to be open and honest about the emotional experience behind the industry because I sort of wish there had been a little bit more support out there for me in my moments of despair.

So… about querying for reviews.

It’s a lot like applying for a job, to be honest. Anyone who has had to search for a job knows it’s miserable. There are rules you have to follow about resumes and cover letters. You have to appear professional but also genuine. You have to research and cater each cover letter to the appropriate person. You have to tweak your resume to put different focus on different aspects of the position you’re applying for. Writing a cover letter or email to a potential employer is like being told to “smile” through your words. It’s frustrating and awkward.

Querying is exactly like that. What’s especially difficult for me is that I have a completely different “internet” voice than my actual voice which are both different than my writing. My book does not sound like these blogs (thank goodness, right?) and to hear me speak is different than both of them (there’s a lot more cursing, for one). I have a friend who is a Communications major at Cornell who once told me my internet voice is annoying and disingenuous. At the time, I told her she was a jerk and didn’t much care.

Now, I care.  I care because my internet voice is what I use to query for reviews. It’s what I use to market. It’s what I use to try to convince people to read the book so it can speak for itself. I have to speak for it first. And that’s a real problem for me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being I’m terrible at self-promotion. I don’t like to talk about myself. I have an issue with arrogance, and I’m constantly second guessing whether or not what I said makes me sound arrogant. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here or not, but full disclaimer, I have intense anxiety issues that coupled with post traumatic stress disorder make me worry about things I probably shouldn’t. This is the fourth time I’ve read this post, for example, and I’m still fretting about whether or not it’s appropriate to publish it.

Writing query emails sets every awkward bone in my body on fire. Be professional, they say. Okay, that’s actually something I’m pretty decent at doing. I’ve worked at a law firm for the past six years. I’ve learned how to be professional over the years. But being professional and genuine? Well, that’s a different dance, my friends.

Because to be genuine, my query email would like this:

Hey [book blogger],

I’m Aimee. I’m the author of the debut novel The Wheel Mages. I’m super self-conscious and talking about myself and my book really aren’t my strong suits, but I’m told I have to do it because… sales, so here we are. Please don’t think this query is representative of my work, because it’s not. I have a totally different voice in my writing than I do in this email, but I’m told writing in the voice of your character is gimmicky, so I guess I’m stuck with my own lame voice.

I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I studied creative writing and English. If you asked me who my favorite author was, I’d tell you either Tamora Pierce or John Milton, and you’d probably be pretty confused. According to my therapist, I’m a confusing person, but she thinks that’s part of my charm. I’m still learning to embrace it. My characters are a little bit confusing too, but not in a bad, plot-hole sort of way, in a deep, emotionally complex sort of way. I’m rambling, aren’t I? Sorry about that.

Back to the book. It’s a new adult fantasy set in the Trade Nations, a federation of countries not unlike the European Union. It’s written in first person and the protagonist is the first water mage to be inducted into the Sanctum, the magical world’s institution, in fifty years. There’s romance and mystery and a bit of dramatic flair… [insert more rambling, terrible summary here].

I really hope you’ll read it (and love it, and give me all the stars).

Genuinely,

Aimee

Okay, I might have over dramatized that a bit, but you get the point, right? Not very professional. Walking the tightrope between professional and genuine is hard for me. In my case, I tend to lean more professional and come across as rigid or disingenuous (hence my friend’s comment), or it sounds like I’ve created a form letter of some kind. It’s agonizing and completely draining, but it has to be done.

So how am I doing it? Well… slowly, for starters. I’m making sure to pace myself. I know I’ll receive rejections and probably a lot of radio silence (which is a rejection but for some reason seems better to me, I guess I don’t like clean wounds), and knowing that makes me want to rush. As my dad always says, “Every no you get is one no closer to a yes.” True. Meaning I should send requests out to all the reviewers as quickly as possible so I can bypass the nos and get to the yes’.

But every no I get also takes a toll on my spirit, so I want to make sure I’m not rushed into overwhelm. Also, I really do think it’s important to know your target audience in terms of reviewers, which means I have to dedicate time to researching them. The people I’ve asked to review my book are people I actually like. I like their photos or their blogs or their taste in books. They’re people I imagine myself connecting with and befriending, which is maybe another reason the review request takes a toll on me. It’s like the worst parts of applying for a job and asking someone out on a friend date. Do you want to be my employer/friend? No. Well, that’s cool, I guess. I’ll just… thanks for your time… *silently sobs in corner*. They don’t LIKE me.

I have to remind myself it’s not personal. It’s not actually a reflection on me (well, it sort of is, but only the part of me that can be shoved into a two paragraph email which isn’t much because I’m complicated, like everyone else). I have to take it slow but most importantly, I have to do things that reinvigorate my spirit and remind me I’m more than a query email. I have to read and write and spend time with friends and family and play with my dog who will love me unconditionally and my cats who will love me as long as I continue to feed them. I have to take care of myself because if I don’t—who will?

It’s all right, I say. You have time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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Why my cat? Because the internet loves cats, that’s why.

For anyone querying, best of luck to you and all the virtual hugs I can give. We’ll get through it, promise.

❤ Aimee

On HEAs (Happily Ever Afters)

Ah yes… the beloved trope. Trope, by the way, is one of those words you shall not speak of except in hushed whispers in serious creative writing programs. It is shoved in a box with other words like “cliches” and “allegory” and “fable”. If your work is ever tagged with one of these labels you have done something shameful and should pay penance to the muses immediately.

So, as you might imagine, after four years of being trained to write serious fiction, I was well out of the genre fiction loop by the time The Wheel Mages entered my head and was shocked to learn that a trope was considered by many authors as not only okay but necessary. Can you imagine? A TROPE.

I remember the exact moment I was listening to one of Joanna Penn’s interviews with romance writer J.A. Huss and Julie said, “In romance, you have to have an HEA, which is ‘happily ever after,’ and there is really no way around it.” I about fell out of my chair. I sputtered obscenities at the computer screen. “Real life does not work that way!” I screamed. Then I thought about it, and I realized the trope does make sense for romance. People read romance for… well… romance. And it’s not very romantic if the characters don’t end up together at the end. “Okay, fine.” I settled back in my chair and listened on. “Romance, you can have your HEAs.”

But I write fantasy. Fantasy is different. Good fantasy is a way to examine real world problems through a less intimidating lens. It’s a way to express frustrations with big picture ideas without screaming on YouTube. Also, there’s magic. I mean… who doesn’t love magic, right? Fantasy may be set in another world or some other plane of this world but it’s grounded in reality. Reality isn’t neat. Real issues can’t be tied up with a bow. Fantasy therefore doesn’t require an HEA.

Or does it?

As I pondered, I realized that a vast majority of the most popular fantasy I’ve read does in fact contain an HEA. Harry defeats the bad guy and marries his best friend’s sister. Alanna achieves her dream and settles down (as much as you can use that phrase with her character) with the man who’s been in love with her since book one. Katiniss survives the games and reunites the people. Clary saves the world and ends up with the love of her life. Bella… well you all know about Bella.

Even epic fantasy has its HEA. Bilbo defeats the dragon. Frodo destroys the ring. Rand… doesn’t die. Daenerys… oh wait. Well, if anyone is going to break the mold, George R.R. Martin will be the one to do it.

My point is, an HEA is not the exception in fantasy—it’s the rule. That got me to thinking… why? The best guess I have is that readers want HEAs. They’ve dedicated a lot of time and emotion to their favorite characters. They want them to beat the bad guy, and find themselves, and fall in love, and change the world. They want them to succeed. Because they want to succeed. They want all those things. want all those things. I think it’s a human response.

It’s not how real life works, though. It’s not precisely truth. And I know it might sound kind of odd to discuss truth when discussing fiction, even more so when discussing fantasy, but I believe it’s fundamental to creation. “Write what you know,” is the mantra of so many writers. But what we know often contains so much suffering. What we know also doesn’t hold an ending. Maybe that’s why the HEA has such a prevalent role in fiction, especially genre fiction which is written as a means of escape. We don’t know our own endings, so we can only hope, and we all hope for a happily ever after, too.

Does that take a work containing an HEA further from the truth writers strive to create? Does that make it somehow less? For that matter, does any kind of ending devalue the work in some way?

To be honest, I’m not sure. My ideas are still evolving, as they hopefully always will. What I do know, however, is that it’s something worth thinking about.

Sound off in the comments, I’m excited to hear what you think!

And as always, happy writing!

❤ Aimee

Step by Painful Step

I recently shared with you how and where The Wheel Mages was born. Now, I want to share with you the more technical aspects of how 238 handwritten pages became an eBook and a print. This is only a skeleton of what went into the launch of The Wheel Mages and some things were not successful or how other authors would do them. I learned from the launch of my first book as most authors do and hopefully you’ll find some help in those failures.

Step One (May, 2016): Beta Readers

In May, 2016, I started soliciting beta readers for The Wheel Mages. I’ve read recently that some authors don’t use beta readers, but for me, this was a crucial step. Beta readers will help you save money on editing costs and will immensely improve the quality of your work. When you send your manuscript to your editor, you want to send the best possible version. You want to hand your editor something that you feel confident you could publish tomorrow. That way, when the editor gets it, he or she will be able to dig deep into the work and help guide you to the next level, beyond even your own expectations.

I found my beta readers by putting out a call on Facebook. I posted a brief synopsis of my manuscript and asked if anyone was interested in reading it for me to tell me what he or she thought. I was fortunate to get a lot of great feedback and interest. Not only did this call help me find beta readers, it also helped me gauge interest and potential target market. The people who responded to my call were the people who were most likely to become future readers.

I intend to write an entire post on beta readers in the future, so I’ll leave you with this: don’t expect your beta readers to blow smoke up your ass. If you’re looking for someone to tell you your work is perfect and not to change a thing, you’re not ready to publish yet.

Step Two (May, 2016): Cover Art

I did this a little bit out of order. For the second book in my series, I intend to send my book to the content editor (see Step Three) before I hook back up with my designer for cover art. The reason I did the cover art for The Wheel Mages before I did anything else was to give myself a little bit of encouragement. Once I paid that invoice, there was no going back. As soon as there was a book cover with my name on the front, I was committed. It helped give me a little bit of bravery I needed.

My cover art and all the graphics for my website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. were done by Fiona Jayde Media. I found Fiona through Google research. I viewed the portfolios of dozens of artists before I settled on her. It’s important to note that finding a cover artist who works in your genre is important. People do judge your book by its cover. Make sure you pick an artist who not only creates a breathtaking cover but also understands your market and target audience. Remember: I write because I have to, I publish to make money. To make money, you have to create something appealing to your audience, not you. If you find the right designer, you’ll hopefully end up with both, but if your designer tells you that your idea for a cover isn’t right for the market—listen. They know what they’re doing, that’s why you’re paying them.

Step Three (July, 2016): Content Editor

In July, after I’d overhauled my manuscript based on the great insights provided to me by my beta readers, I decided it was ready for a content editor. This step is important. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is for your manuscript to be reviewed by an editor before it’s published. A book coming out of a publishing house would never be sent to print without being reviewed by editors (plural). In order to compete with the publishing houses, your book has to be a professional product, which means it has to be handled by editors. My editor, Katie McCoach, has a great blog on this explaining it from an editor’s perspective which you can read here.

If you’re serious about writing, you’re also serious about the process. Editors are arguably the biggest part of the process (perhaps even bigger than writing the dang thing). A good editor will better not only the manuscript in front of them, but your future writing as well. They’ll help you evolve as an artist. They’re expensive, there’s really no way around that, but they’re worth every penny.

I found my editor on a list provided by the fabulously successful indie author and fierce advocate for self-publishing, Joanna Penn. Joanna’s insights are incredibly helpful and I highly recommend reading her blog, following her on Facebook, and listening to her podcasts. She is a wealth of FREE knowledge.

Step Four (August, 2016): Re-Read 

After I received my manuscript back from Katie, my content editor, I spent a few days mulling over her critique. I think as artists our gut instinct is to go on the defensive when receiving critique, even when it’s handled well. The reason I find Katie to be such a fantastic editor is because she tells me what I’m doing right as often as she tells me what I’m doing wrong. Both are important.

Still, receiving feedback is never easy. It feels like a gut punch to the soul. Let me be completely honest with you here. When I received Katie’s first critique of The Wheel Mages, I was an angry, snarling beast. I was like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. She didn’t GET it. She didn’t UNDERSTAND. She was blind to MY VISION. I couldn’t believe I’d paid her so much money.

I received her report on Friday, August 5th. On Monday, August 8th, after I’d had time to settle down and think, I re-read the critique and realized she did, in fact, get it. She wasn’t blind. She had her eyes wide open. I was the blind one. I was the one who didn’t understand she was trying to make my vision more accessible to the reader. She’d done everything I’d asked her to do and more. It was time to suck it up and stop being a petulant child because there was work to be done. I sent her an email on August 8th and fibbed a little (Katie: If you happen to read this, sorry!). I didn’t feel the need to share my gut reaction because the gut reaction wasn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, I told her my new truth—her critique was insightful, well thought out, professionally presented and, most importantly, helpful.

Then, I got to work making revisions. Shortly thereafter, I sent her a revised version of the manuscript for a re-read.

Step Five (October, 2016): Copy Edit

After the re-read and more revisions, I felt like I was ready for a copy edit. I chose to work with a copy editor that works with Katie. By that point, I knew Katie well, I was pleased with her work, and wanted to stick with people she recommended. A side note, it’s pretty important to trust your editor. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, you probably need to find a new editor. The copy editor Katie suggested was a little bit more expensive than I had originally budgeted, but when I saw a sample of her work, I decided it was worth it.

Step Six (November, 2016): Publishing

In November, after my book came back from the copy editor, and I’d reviewed and made decisions on her changes, I started to shore up the last pieces of the puzzle. I worked on formatting (formatting for print is the absolute worst, by the way), I launched my website, started an author Facebook page, got myself a Twitter and an Instagram, filled out tax information on the platforms I’d decided on, purchased ISBNs, and spent an incredible amount of time floundering around like a fish out of water. Here’s a brief overview of what services I used and how I’d fix errors I made:

ISBN Numbers: There’s only one place you can purchase ISBN numbers in the United States and that’s from Bowker. It’s really important to know that you need a different ISBN number for every single version of your book so if you’re going to sell a print version and an eBook, you’ll need at least two ISBN numbers. Smashwords, which is a distributor for indie authors, says you need a separate ISBN number for every online retailer as well, so if you distribute your eBook to Amazon and Apple, you need two distinct ISBN numbers. This advice seems to be somewhat different depending on who you talk to and Smashwords appears to be taking the most cautious approach. Regardless, it makes the most sense to purchase 10 ISBN numbers at the very least.

Website: WordPress. I actually started working on my website in the late summer. This was a great idea and for those who aren’t technologically savvy like me, I recommend it. Working with websites is hard on me. I get frustrated easily when it comes to technology, so having lots of time where I’m not pressed up against a deadline worked in my favor. Website designers are super expensive, so if you don’t have a limitless amount of money in your budget, this is probably something you’ll do on your own. Be patient with yourself.

Social Media: I have a Twitter, a Facebook and an Instagram. I briefly dabbled with the idea of launching a Snapchat but I don’t understand Snapchat and running a blog and three social media accounts while working full time, editing my second and third books, working on a fourth, taking care of three animals, and trying to maintain a home is already probably too much.

eBook Formatting: To format my eBook, I used Vellum. Vellum is an Apple-only product (sorry PC users) and it was a Godsend. All I had to do was plug in my Microsoft Word file, choose a format I liked, and Vellum created all the file formats I’d need for publishing. It. Was. Awesome. And all for the low, low price of $29.99.

eBook Platforms: My book is currently directly uploaded on Amazon and iBooks. It’s also registered with Smashwords where it’s distributed to a bunch of other smaller retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Printer: To create a print on demand version of my book, I used CreateSpace. For me, preparing the book for print was the most painful part of the process and the one I made the most mistakes with. First of all, in hindsight, this would be the very first part I prepare. If I could do it all over again, I would’ve set the print up weeks in advance. This was by far and away my biggest failure with the book launch, so I’m not about to give you any advice on it except to tell you CreateSpace is the way most indie authors do it and warn you to learn about the process in advance. Way in advance.

Whew. Okay, this blog is already 2,000(ish) words, so I’m going to cut it off there. Keep your eyes peeled for a future blog containing more detailed information regarding the above and some things I didn’t do and why.

❤ Aimee

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Launch Day

It’s raining here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had trouble sleeping last night which isn’t entirely unusual. At midnight, I couldn’t resist posting on my personal Facebook page that I’d received a notice from Amazon that The Wheel Mages went live although it wasn’t part of my “launch plan”. Sometime around 3 or 4 am, after I’d fallen asleep to the glorious voice belonging to Sir David Attenborough, my German shepherd, Gabi, had a dream so intense she “ran” herself right off the bed.

I woke to the sounds of yipping and a struggle with the sheets as she tore them trying to cling to the bed. She couldn’t hold on and fell with a dramatic thud. I spent about half an hour trying to convince her to come out from under the bed. That incident combined with the rain made me a little apprehensive about launch day, I’m not gonna lie.

But you know what? So far, it’s been splendid. I got up as soon as my alarm went off and sprung to action. Facebook posts, messages, and texts flooded my phone. I didn’t realize I had so many people cheering for me. It made me feel immensely blessed. I almost cried. Only almost, though, because there’s still work to be done!

I hopped onto the computer to throw out some tweets and make an announcement on my official Facebook page. Everything is falling into place. Except the print version of the book—that isn’t ready yet. Remember how I said you shouldn’t throw last minute plans on your designer? Uh huh.

It’s all right, there’s still time. As my dad always says, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

When I checked out my book on iBooks (figuring out how to link to an app was not something I was expecting to deal with this morning, by the way), I saw it was related to Game of Thrones and Tolkien. No lie, look!

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One of my friends sent me a picture of her electronic copy sitting spine to spine with Harry Potter. Wow. I’m still reeling. I’m a published author y’all. Published. The dream I’ve held since I was old enough to grip a pencil has finally been realized. After years of struggle and dozens of manuscripts, after hundreds of thousands of words and tens of journals filled to the brim with writing, I’ve finally done it. What an incredible feeling.

You know, when I started this post, I planned to write about how I got here. I was going to lay out the whole process of writing leading to publishing but I’m having difficulty finding the technical words when I’m so overwhelmed with emotion. That post will come but for now, I’m simply going to bask in this feeling while it lasts.

I hope you all enjoy The Wheel Mages. I know I enjoyed writing it.

❤ Aimee

P.s. In honor of Giving Tuesday, 50% of launch day proceeds will be going to HeARTsSpeak, an international organization I’m a member of which is dedicated to helping artists connect with shelter animals to improve their chances of finding a furever home.

A Room of My Own

Author’s note: This post was written on October 21, 2016 before the website was launched. I hesitated to post it because it’s deeply personal, but I decided when I launched this book that I would be transparent with my readers and hopefully give some encouragement for those who are currently struggling.

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Today, I sit down to put the final touches on my debut novel The Wheel Mages before I send it to the copy editor. It’s a time of great joy for me. I spent the first hour of my day dancing to Sia in my living room with my German shepherd, Gabi, chasing me, loving this grand game. But as the adrenaline that comes with ending the task you’ve been focused on for so many months wore off, I became reflective.

I’ve been thinking about Virginia Woolf a lot this morning. I remember reading A Room of One’s Own for the first time in a high school English class. Virginia Woolf spoke to me in a way no classic author had before. Through the practicality of her message I felt a deep romanticism of writing—one I shared and it made it feel like she was truly speaking to me in the most personal way.

When I was in college studying creative writing, my dorm room was covered in quotes from my favorite authors—Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Christina Rossetti, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dante. But affixed above my head was a quote from Woolf:

“Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.”

I didn’t know it then but that quote would take on a new life for me many  years later.

You see, The Wheel Mages originated in a dark place.

In late January of this year, I self-committed to a behavioral health facility for suicidal ideation. I’d been having the thoughts for a long time but for whatever reason, that night, the dam broke and I knew I had to make a change or I wouldn’t survive.

Behavioral health facilities do not allow patients to have pens or pencils in their rooms, and the use of them is closely monitored in common areas. At first, this situation didn’t bother me. I hadn’t written anything of substance in years and it never occurred to me that might be something I’d want to do. Thoughts of what I wanted had fled not long after I graduated college.

But after a few days, my mind started to clear. Long hidden desires and dreams resurfaced. Through the fog of the medication, I saw the outline of what could be. It was like looking at a shadow at high noon—impossible and fuzzy but somehow still there.

During my years-long battle with mental illness and addiction (two dirty words, I know), I lost so much. Relationships with men and friends and family, my health, my spirit, my sanity. One after one, pieces of my life tumbled down around me like boulders falling down a mountainside. I watched them fall in silence because I felt I had no choice. No matter how hard I loved or fought or lied, the boulders fell. Eventually, I gave up trying to stop them.

For a long while, I lived like that—in stasis, in a cocoon of my own making. I existed, nothing more.

I think the thing people often don’t realize about mental illness and addiction is that while all the visible losses the person suffering sustains are indeed terrible, the greatest loss is unseen. It is often one of the first stones to fall but it isn’t a boulder—it’s a tiny, insignificant looking pebble that starts the slide. It is the voice of the sufferer.

By the time I found myself behind four layers of locked doors, lying on a plastic bed with a sheet that barely covered my body, my voice had long since fallen and it had taken my desire to write with it.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace.

There had been no peace in my life, no freedom. I bore my problems like heavy chains and sat in a pit of self-loathing while my mind made a meal of itself, strangling me from the inside out.

In that facility, with all its horrors and interruptions, a place Virginia Woolf certainly never meant to be the room of one’s own she envisioned for female novelists, I began to find some freedom.

For the first time in years, my time was my own. I had no responsibility to anyone except myself. It was a violent baptism of sorts. I had been stripped bare of all my defenses and distractions, forced to confront myself in the harshest of lights.

Alena took shape in the back of my mind. In many ways, she’s a reflection of who I wanted to be at that time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the first image the reader gets of her is of her standing tall, biting back her fears. That’s how I saw her and how I wanted to see myself.

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.

As the days in that place trickled by, the story spun outward. There would be a man who loved her and another to challenge her. She would stumble, as we all do. She would fail, as I had, but she would push forward.

My fingers started to itch in a way they hadn’t in a long time. Energy I thought I’d lost resurfaced. My voice started to whisper to me, a wellspring of hope, and I no longer felt alone.

When I was released, the first place I went was a bookstore. Among the familiar scent of fresh pages, new life blossomed. I caressed the titles of works I knew, breathing them in. I remembered college and the quotes on my wall, now stored in a box in my parents’ attic. I remembered how much I’d loved Milton and how ardently I’d argued with my professors over morality in Chekhov.

I remembered, too, how I’d been taught to write fiction but had always been drawn to fantasy. I remembered the shame I’d felt and the judgment I’d borne because I had such promising talent but I wanted to waste it on genre fiction.

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast.

I thought about writing the story of my ten-day stay in a mental hospital or about the events leading up to it but I couldn’t. If I were to find my way back to myself it would be in fantasy. It would be my path—no one else’s.

I bought all of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series and read them in two days. I ransacked my old room at my parents’ house, loading my car with books. My apartment, which had always been bare of books (looking back, I can’t help but shake my head, how deep was my despair that my world was bare of books?) was now full of them. Every flat surface held a title—Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, J.K. Rowling, Cassandra Clare—the novels of my genre touched spines with the classics of my training. I brought forth Durkheim’s work on the Elementary Forms of Religious Life and dove back into the dark writings of Nietzsche. I pulled out notebooks full of research on Eastern European history that has always fascinated me and read my old journals that even then were dripping with the deep darkness that would overwhelm me in time.

When my mind was full and saturated with art, I sat down with my legal pad and let the words bleed onto the page. The Wheel Mages was born.

Now, nearing the end of this journey and the beginning of a new one, I can’t help but look back and see how far I’ve come. For the first time in my life, I’m proud and unafraid to say so. As I sit here, settling into my desk chair with the cover page of a completed manuscript staring back at me and a light breeze drifting through my window, I feel the greatest sense of peace I have ever known.

I finally have a room of my own.

Sneak Peek (Chapter 1)

It’s less than a week away y’all! 6 days! And in celebration of the holiday weekend in which I have many things to be thankful for, I thought I’d share with you another little tidbit of my debut novel The Wheel Mages. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(P.s., if you haven’t read the Prologue, get it here)

Chapter One

The Inner Sanctum was silent and dark. Walking into the room made me feel like I was walking into a cave and despite the high ceilings and openness, my chest tightened. I felt caged and though the cage was beautiful, with its tall granite pillars and fine marble floors checkered black and white like a chessboard, it was still a cage.

I shuddered and stared down the long gold-and-silver aisle runner that stretched forward into the epicenter of the room.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the poor light provided by a single fire pit in the center of the room. Behind the fire pit sat four intimidating figures, each perched upon a marble throne. And at the top of each throne, carved into the stone, was an emblem outlined in jewels.

I walked forward, eyes wide with fear and awe. My knees trembled and my muscles felt like wobbling plates of jelly, making it necessary for me to check my footing with every step I took. Stop, I silently scolded my knees, but they weren’t to be controlled. My stomach sank. Then, at least, please don’t let me fall. If I fall, I’ll be an embarrassment. Gods, please don’t let me embarrass Nikolai.

As I continued to move forward, I tried to distract myself from my fear by looking over the Sanctum’s Four. To my far left, sat Master Bartholomew Johnson. He was from an isle in the western region of the Trade Nations, an independent, wealthy country called Glasland. The powerful island was famous for its agriculture and navy and had helped to lead the civilized world into the industrial era. Out of the dark and into the light, the Glaslandish proclaimed.

My lashes fluttered against my cheeks while I focused on my breathing. When your emotions start to overwhelm you, focus on the little things, Nikolai had taught me.

Bartholomew wore a fine red silk vest with a pocket on the right. It was fashionable and well made if a little tight. While I honed in on the exquisite stitching of his black tailcoat, my muscles solidified.

My gaze moved from the ebony, ruby-topped walking stick propped alongside Bartholomew’s throne and up to the top hat sitting upon his sand-washed hair. Above it, emblazoned into the marble behind him, was a single lick of fire decorated by rubies—fire, my opposite.

To Bartholomew’s left sat Lady Maria Garivaldi from the southern nation of Vinostio, famed for its exotic creatures and deeply religious subjects. Maria’s light brown skin was complemented by her deep green gown. Her black hair was styled atop her head in a complicated arrangement, and within it rested a lightweight tiara made of golden grapevines set with emeralds. Her throne boasted a single ivy leaf, also bejeweled with emeralds. Earth, like my master.

To Maria’s left was Master Albin Ahlberg, an imposing man whose hair was long, straight, and white. He wore tall white socks, short leather breeches, a silk shirt, and a long blue overcoat accented with green trim. His homeland was a nation made up of frigid, secretive islands in the far west called Drifafell, and the wave and sapphires on his throne announced that he was a water mage, like me. Maybe one of the last of our kind.

I stared at the sapphire-encrusted wave on his throne. If I passed the Tests, I might one day occupy that spot. I wondered, not for the first time, if Albin was the reason why the Four had been so desperate to find me and hide me away, keeping my existence secret from all but their most loyal mages. The Four all seemed wise, but Albin was by far the oldest, and peeking through the wisdom, I saw strain and fatigue. Not even a mage could keep himself alive forever, no matter how strong his will might be.

After a thorough investigation of Albin’s stoic, gray eyes, I let my gaze fall to the final member of the Four, Master Stefan Volkov, a native of Ledenstaza, the eastern seat of the Trade Nations and the home of the Sanctum. He was so swallowed by a gray fur coat and a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows I could barely see his face, but the two diamond-accented swirls of air on his throne would have told me he was an air mage even if I didn’t already know.

When I reached the edge of the fire pit, I fell into what I hoped was a graceful court curtsey and stayed that way, my gown spread out beneath me.

I didn’t need to turn and look at Nikolai, I could feel him bow and take a knee behind me. I listened to his breathing to calm myself. It was steady, strong; he was sure of me in a way I wasn’t sure of myself. He always had been. His confidence warmed me, and my shaking knees stilled.

“Rise, Nikolai Sokolov, and present your apprentice.” The voice was lilting, feminine, and dripped with a songlike accent. Maria.

“Masters, Lady, may I present Alena Kozlov of Ledenstaza and mage of water.” Nikolai’s voice was formal, but I heard the pride in it.

I smiled at the marble floor, and a trickle of warmth touched my cheeks. All I’d wanted almost from the day I’d become Nikolai’s apprentice was to make him proud. Even when I’d shunned him, fought him, distrusted and disbelieved him, there had still been a part of me that wanted to please him. He’d saved my life and though he’d never demanded anything in return, never even seemed to expect anything, I’d always wanted to repay him. Making him proud, becoming the Sanctum Mage he’d always wanted me to be, was my way of doing it.

“And do you find her worthy?” The scathing voice was Bartholomew’s.

“I do,” Nikolai answered.

“Then rise, Miss Kozlov, and face your Tests.” At the sound of Albin’s voice, I rose. My legs were cramped from holding a lowered position for so long, but I ignored the discomfort and focused my attention on the Four.

“Master Nikolai, you’re dismissed. You may return to your chambers and await the return of Miss Kozlov.” Maria flipped her dainty wrist forward, and I heard Nikolai drop his head in an informal bow and turn. I wanted to look at him, to get one last encouraging smile, but I forced myself to keep my eyes forward. Nikolai had given me strict instructions not to watch him go. “I will leave,” he’d said, “and you might be tempted to turn around, but Lena, my sprite, you must not. You must show them only strength.”

I held my blink for a moment longer than was natural, and my stomach clenched from the effort it took to hold back the overwhelming and sudden sense of despair that had set upon me.

Nikolai’s supple leather boots barely made a sound as they brushed the marble and too soon, I heard the wooden doors of the Inner Sanctum groan as they shut behind him. I was about to face the Tests of the Sanctum’s Four. And though I’d known all along I’d have to do it alone, there was a strange finality to Nikolai’s departure. No matter what happened, when this was over, I’d no longer be his apprentice.

The Wheel Mages is available for preorder on Amazon Kindle here. Keep your eyes peeled on November 29th for iBooks and print releases! 

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