Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Alex J. Cavanaugh on the Insecure Writers Support Group

Have you ever felt insecure as a writer? You’re not the only one. Today we’re sitting down with Alex J. Cavanaugh to discuss the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, an online community of writers that provides encouragement and advice to one another.

1). How would you describe Insecure Writer’s Support Group to those who are not familiar with it?

It’s a safe haven for writers at all stages in the process. We began as a monthly blog posting before founding the website, which is the database of databases of all things writing related, plus there are weekly articles from experts. We also have a Facebook group where members can share and help one another, plus an Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads book group. We also hold an anthology contest and host #IWSGPit on Twitter.

2). How long has IWSG been operating?

The blogging began on September 7, 2011 (ten years ago!) and the website was founded the following year. The site has been named a top writing site by Writer’s Digest, The Write Life, and UK Writers Club.

3). How many members do you have?

Bloggers – 150, Twitter – 10,900, Facebook – 4,800, Instagram – 1,180, Goodreads Book Club – 440, and following the website – tons!

4). What kinds of writers can we find in IWSG? (Traditionally or indie published, unpublished, specializing in certain genres over others, debut or seasoned authors, etc.)

It’s a total mix, which is perfect as there is always someone one step ahead who can offer advice. But otherwise, we are all equal here.

5). In your opinion, what can writers who participate in IWSG expect to get out of the community? What purpose / benefit does IWSG serve for writers?

They will get support, encouragement, advice, find critique partners and editors, help with marketing, maybe land a book deal, and all while learning along the way.

6). Does your IWSG exist only online, or are there physical branches as well?

No physical groups, although you can own a piece of the IWSG from our swag store – https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-merchandise.html

Bonus question: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

One who is still moving forward, still growing, and still finds joy in writing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design and graphics and is experienced in technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Find more at http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com and https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

Which social media platform is best for promoting your book?

Social media can be your most powerful tool for getting your book in front of readers–but are you using the “right” platform to effectively reach your audience? We’ve broken down the most popular social media platforms to help you determine which offers the best social media promotion opportunities for your book. Find out which social media you should be using below!

Facebook
With 2.8 billion users worldwide, Facebook still dominates social media. However, the platform is not necessarily seeing the same level of engagement that it was a decade ago. The most active users on Facebook are still millennials ages 25-34, 18.8% of whom are male. Facebook is the best social media platform for growing a personality-based brand. No matter your genre, we recommend that all authors create an author Facebook page, and post at least once per week. The genres that will find the most success on this platform are personality-driven nonfiction including self-help, how-tos, business, and lifestyle brands. Romance and mystery/thriller authors will also find an engaged audience on Facebook.

YouTube
YouTube maintains 2.3 billion users worldwide, and is the second largest social media network. YouTube is also not what it was a decade ago. The popular video-viewing platform has been saturated by “content farms” churning out derivative videos to soak up as many views as possible from the algorithm, celebrity brands, and a select number of influencers who dominate the space. However, BookTube is alive and kicking, even though traditionally published A-listers still get top billing.

Genre fiction authors (romance, YA, fantasy, historical fiction, sci-fi, horror, and “book club bait” mainstream literary/women’s fiction) will have the most success in approaching BookTubers for reviews, unboxings, or book haul videos. If you’re an author who is considering starting your own YouTube channel, understand that (much like starting a successful podcast) it’s a long term endeavor with a high degree of investment and slow rate of return. You must be prepared to create consistent, weekly content that is related to, but not solely about, your book. True crime, supernatural, and paranormal authors may find success here, as (again) will personality-driven nonfiction authors who can create self-help, how-to, business, and lifestyle content.

Instagram
Of Instagram’s 1.4 billion users, the highest percentage are aged 25-34, followed closely by users who are aged 18-24. Because Instagram is a photo and video platform, highly visual, aesthetic, and/or informative content reign supreme. Personality-driven lifestyle authors will continue to find a receptive audience on Instagram, as will self-help, business, and how-to nonfiction authors. YA, historical fiction, romance, and mysteries also perform well on Instagram.

TikTok
With 732 million users, TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms, with more than 50% of users under the age of 34 (the majority are teens). “BookTok” has already become a popular buzzword in the literary sphere. YA authors–fantasy in particular–will perform best on TikTok. Romance, historical fiction, and paranormal fiction will also thrive on BookTok. Nonfiction authors who specialize in true crime and “life hacks” can also find a dedicated following in this space. As with YouTube, be prepared to create regular short-form video content that does not always revolve around your book(s) in order to find success.

Pinterest
Pinterest has 478 million users. 77.1% of users are female, and 38% are 50-64 years old, with the 30-49 demographic coming in second place at 34%. Like Instagram, Pinterest is driven by images, so “aesthetic” genres like adult historical fiction, fantasy, and romance will draw attention. Lifestyle how-tos are also incredibly popular. Unlike Instagram, book discovery is more circumstantial rather than personality-driven, so we would recommend using Pinterest to promote your book if you are familiar with and actively engaged on the platform already.

Twitter
Twitter has 397 million users, 63.7% of whom are male. Twitter is the perfect platform for political, social commentary, historical, self-help, and business nonfiction. Content can be either topical or personality-driven. While any author in any genre can have a Twitter page, we would recommend using Twitter to promote your book if you are already familiar with and actively engaged on the platform.

 

Ask an Expert: Interview with BookToker Azanta Thakur @AzantaReads on BookTok and BookTalk

Today on our Ask an Expert series, we’re excited to sit down with BookToker Azanta Thakur for a conversation on why TikTok is transforming publishing, and the future of readers and authors on social media. Azana is an avid reader and literary advocate who has created a substantial platform on TikTok (aka “BookTok”), with more than 17,000 TikTok followers on her account @azantareads, and more than 5,000 followers on Instagram. She is also the founder of BookTalk, a new digital conference that is connecting authors and readers like never before.

Learn more about Azanta, BookTok, and BookTalk below, and follow Azanta on social media:
TikTok: tiktok.com/@azantareads
Instagram: instagram.com/azantareads
BookTalk / instagram.com/booktalkevent

When did you first get involved in BookTok? Were you a Bookstagrammer prior to joining TikTok, and if so, what prompted you to branch out to BookTok?

I’ve been on Bookstagram since November of 2018 and joined BookTok in January of 2021 after landing on BookTok on my personal for you page. I had been avidly following BookTokers like @lluuuuuuu_ and @aymansbooks for a few weeks and after seeing how quickly people had connected over their shared love of books, I decided to make a couple of videos. I still consider Instagram my true main platform but because I have more followers on TikTok, I tend to focus more on my content on TikTok now.

Which genres / types of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I’ve been an avid YA fantasy reader for years and I don’t see myself growing out of that any time soon, especially with all the new fantasy books entering the market being inspired by different cultures. As a teenager, I read mostly western-inspired and Eurocentric fantasies because that’s what I had access to but now there are books like Witches Steeped in Gold and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin and the upcoming The Keeper of Night that span across the world. At the end of 2020, I started broaching Adult Fantasy as well as Adult Romance. I’m still working through my intimidation of adult fantasy books but these days, I find myself gravitating towards more romance books than fantasy. They’re fantastic to help work through reading slumps!

What types of BookTok content do you enjoy creating the most?

Although they’re far and few between, I love making my little skits. I love to incorporate hijab jokes in them because I just get a kick out of them and those videos are when I feel the most creative and although I’m not normally a very funny person, I find them hilarious. I’m a very big proponent of creating content that I myself would consume and one day, when I find some more time, I’m going to get back to making more of those minute-long skits!

What are some misconceptions that you’ve seen people have about BookTok / TikTok in general? What do you think people don’t understand about BookTok?

I think for some reason people think we get paid a ton of money to promote books. Sure, some of the bigger BookTokers do get paid, whether it’s via views or via contracts with publishers/sponsors, but it’s nothing like booktube/YouTube in general. Most of us don’t get paid at all, and if we do, it’s a small remuneration here and there. All the books I promote are ones that I truly love, enjoy, and recommend. Another misconception that I’ve seen a lot of people have lately is that BookTok is a harsh, critical place with constant drama. And while yes, there tends to be a lot of discourse surrounding constructive criticism, calling someone out (politely) to do better — especially when it’s related to race and diversity in publishing — is not drama. BookTok is not only a place to partake in the bookish community and celebrate our collective thirst over fictional characters but also a place full of educational opportunities!

What advice would you give to authors who are interested in joining TikTok to promote their books?

Interact with BookTokers/readers in your comments — people love it! Be sure to use trending audios and partake in trends if you want to promote your videos and turn on your Q&A for readers to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to larger BookTokers to introduce yourself if you’re a new author, as well!

What is BookTalk? How / why did you found BookTalk?

Thank you so much for asking! I founded BookTalk back in March of this year as a way to bring together the community we were creating on BookTok and Bookstagram by connecting authors, readers, and those in the publishing industry. I set out to create a weekend full of events and panels — think Yallwest, but smaller, virtual, and focused on debut/newer/authors from marginalized backgrounds. I reached out to several of my mutuals a few months ago, asking them to come on board and help with this massive project, and thus, BookTalk was born!

How did this year’s BookTalk conference go?

Honestly, BookTalk 2021 hit every single one of the goals we had set out to do. The night before we announced BookTalk in May, the Leads and I sat down together and defined our versions of success. We collectively agreed that we would be “successful” if we managed to introduce a new author and a new book to even just one reader and helped them connect with other readers. Over the course of the weekend, we received several messages from participants saying exactly that — how they were so excited to read these new books and how many friends they had made. We created a community for readers, by readers, and I could not be more proud of it.

Where do you see BookTalk going in the future?

There is so much potential with BookTalk and I hope to take it to the lengths I see in my visions for our organization. We will obviously continue our summer virtual event full of author panels and activities for participants and we hope to expand from one to two weekends for 2021. Beyond our event, we eventually have the goal of doing an in-person event in addition to our virtual one, as well continuing with events throughout the entire year to build hype for books. We will continue to bring BookTokers and Bookstagrammers onto our team so that we can create collective content for readers and we hope to introduce a book club, a podcast, and other platforms to promote authors on.

Ask An Expert: Interview with Book Cover Designer Eric Labacz

Ask An Expert: Interview with Book Cover Designer Eric Labacz on Great Book Cover Design Trends in 2021 and Beyond

What design elements contribute to a great book cover design? And what book cover design trends are popular in 2021 and beyond? Today on our Ask an Expert series, we’re sitting down with book cover designer Eric Labacz, who has created some of our most eye-catching and popular cover designs for our sister publishing company Books Fluent. Eric shares what key elements make for timeless, great book cover design, how genre should influence cover design, and some of the biggest cover trends we’re seeing right now.

What do you enjoy most about designing book covers?

Hands down the creative process that is involved in communicating certain details about a book in a unique way that urges readers to explore it further.

How long have you been a book cover designer? How did you get involved in this industry?

I have been designing covers for four years now. Prior to that, I worked for an agency and worked as a Senior Designer and Art Director in the toy, video and food packaging industries. In 2016, I decided to create a home-based studio and I was fortunate to connect with a local publisher a year into it. She started giving me cover projects and I instantly fell in love with cover design. I decided to put all my efforts into connecting with other publisher and author clients and, four years later, here we are.

In your opinion, what are the key elements of great book cover design?

Well, of course, you need the title, the subtitle if it pertains, and the author’s name, but the difference between a so-so cover and a great cover are how those elements are creatively arranged along with imagery and color. An interesting and engaging composition, a focal point that intrigues the reader and eye-catching colors are some elements of great covers.

Should a book’s genre influence a book’s cover design? If so, how does genre influence design?

Absolutely. Readers who are looking for a new book expect to see certain design criteria which communicate the genre to them. If you were in the business of selling toasters, would you sell them in boxes that have a picture of a blender on them? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, you would have a lot of confused, angry customers. Similarly, you don’t want your non-fiction book on furniture making to have a romance-styled photo of embracing lovers on the cover and vice-versa.

Genre definitely affects the choices I make regarding the types of images, fonts and colors to use on a cover and how to arrange them. I need to get a reader to look at a cover and think, “Ok, this is scary, or this is funny or this is very suspenseful” and educate their decision-making. Going back to my favorite part of cover design, it is such a fun challenge to figure out how to communicate a genre using collectively understood images and meanings, but do it in a way that is different, clever and makes a statement.

What are some of the biggest trends you’ve noticed in book cover design in 2021?

One of the big ones I’ve noticed is what I call modern retro. There seems to be this love affair with combining all things 70s and 80’s with modern elements and I really dig it.

Another one of my favorites from the past few years is the trend of partially obscuring and affecting individual title letters as they interact with a cover image. I see that continue this year as cover designers continue to push the boundaries of how we read letter forms and I really enjoy it.

I have been noticing a lot of really bold, bright colors and patterns this year as well as the continuing trend of titles taking up the entire cover. SVG fonts have become really popular over the past few years and their use continues too. The SVG format allows for fonts to appear in different transparencies and I see them a lot on covers now. They have a hand painted or drawn feel.

The use of minimalism on covers will always be with us and I see designers play with it to keep it current.

I also see the continued trend of combining imagery with silhouetted forms. Designers are pushing how they interact with one another and some of the results are really interesting. Lastly, I have been really enjoying looking at new illustrations on covers and watching how digital illustration techniques continue to change. I see a lot of unique, gritty-brushed and textural illustration styles right now and I see it continuing as digital drawing software and apps continue to evolve. It’s some pretty exciting stuff.

Learn more about Eric Labacz, and see more of his awesome cover designs, at http://www.labaczdesign.com. Learn more about publishing your book with Books Fluent at https://booksfluent.com.

Boozy Books 2021: Easy DIY Summer Cocktails Paired with 12 New Books

Boozy Books List 2021 

Summer is here, and we’ve created the perfect pairings of this season’s hottest summer reads with cool, delicious summer cocktails! Relax and enjoy with our Boozy Books List for Summer 2021, and share pics of your favorite pairings with us via Instagram and Twitter!

The Suffragette + The Accidental Suffragist by Galia Gichon

There’s nothing accidental about how much you’ll enjoy this gorgeous novel or this classic cocktail that, according to the 1909 San Francisco Call, “makes a man willing to listen to the suffragettes’ proposition.” In fact, “two convince him that it has some merit. Three make him a missionary, willing to spread the gospel abroad, and four make him go home and wash the dishes.”

What you’ll need: Sloe gin, vermouth, orange bitters, lemon peelGet the recipe, or try this version with elderflower 

About the book: It’s 1912, and protagonist Helen Fox is a factory worker living in New York’s tenements. When tragedy strikes in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Helen is seduced by the Suffragist cause and is soon immersed, working alongside famous activists. 

As Helen’s involvement with the cause deepens, she encounters myriad sources of tension that test her perseverance: estrangement from her husband, who is blindsided by his wife’s sudden activism; ostracization by neighbors; unease at working side by side with wealthier suffragettes; and worry about her children as she leaves them to picket the White House in Washington. 

The narrative spans World War One and concludes with the triumph of 1919. In a time when the obstacles for women, from any background, were insurmountable, Helen discovers her voice as an independent woman and dreams of equality in a male-dominated society.

Release date: June 1, 2021, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Chocolate Martini + Read My Lips by Kelle Z. Riley

Indulge in this glass of chocolatey goodness as you enjoy this delicious Cinderella romance about a billionaire chocolatier who takes a chance on love when least expected. 

What you’ll need: Heavy cream, semi sweet chocolate, vodka, Baileys irish cream, grated chocolate – Get the recipe

About the Book: Temptation always leads to trouble…

Claire Lennox thought she could have it all—until trusting the wrong man destroyed her career, her reputation, and her heart. Now, as director of a literacy foundation, she has new ambitions. But when a sexy client tempts her to love again, does she dare? Billionaire chocolatier Clayton McClaine risks everything—even his heart—when he goes incognito, hoping to overcome the dyslexia that haunts him and threatens to destroy his carefully crafted image. They’re perfect for each other, except for one little thing—the billion-dollar deception that lies between them.

Release Date: September 7, 2021, Entangled

Magic Martini + Dutybound by Mark A. Alvarez

This epic fantasy novel is absolutely magical–and so is this vivid color-changing cocktail that will make you feel as if you have powers of your own. 

What you’ll need: Gin, ginger liqueur, b’Lure butterfly pea extract, fresh-squeezed lemon juice  – Get the recipe

About the Book: When young Lucia Sannon, High Maiden of Moz, receives a gift from her long lost father, her whole world changes. Lucia and the other heirs of nobility are forced to face the Sins of their forefathers and bring their world from the brink of Darkness. With the help of the Light Wings and its power, Lucia must heed the call to assemble the Light’s Virtues and lead them into battle against the very Sins that seek to destroy their world. But finding the four Virtues will not be easy, for much of the knowledge is lost and the understanding of one’s own morality is the only key to unlocking the power each of them holds within.

A story of faith and morality, Dutybound: Light Wings Volume 1 will lead you through a journey of self-discovery as our heroes face conflict from outside and within themselves. Duty, desire, envy, hope, hate, love, pride, and temperance all are challenged within this series in an epic tale that is sure to have you pondering your own true nature.

Release Date: June 22, 2021, Light Wings Promotions LLC

Cocktail Glitter + Mercury Boys by Chandra Prasad

Turn any drink as silvery and magical looking as liquid mercury, and enjoy your beverage while you become enthralled by this gripping YA thriller about a group of high school girls who form a secret society after discovering they can communicate with boys from the past, but the situation devolves into a crucible of female desire, jealousy, and the shifting lines between friendship and rivalry. 

What you’ll need: Your favorite cocktail + this silver cocktail glitter

About the Book: After her life is upended by divorce and a cross-country move, 16-year-old Saskia Brown feels like an outsider at her new school—not only is she a transplant, but she’s also biracial in a population of mostly white students. One day while visiting her only friend at her part-time library job, Saskia encounters a vial of liquid mercury, then touches an old daguerreotype—the precursor of the modern-day photograph—and makes a startling discovery. She is somehow able to visit the man in the portrait: Robert Cornelius, a brilliant young inventor from the nineteenth century. The hitch: she can see him only in her dreams. Saskia shares her revelation with some classmates, hoping to find connection and friendship among strangers. Under her guidance, the other girls steal portraits of young men from a local college’s daguerreotype collection and try the dangerous experiment for themselves. Soon, they each form a bond with their own “Mercury Boy,” from an injured Union soldier to a charming pickpocket in New York City. At night, the girls visit the boys in their dreams. During the day, they hold clandestine meetings of their new secret society. At first, the Mercury Boys Club is a thrilling diversion from their troubled everyday lives, but it’s not long before jealousy, violence and secrets threaten everything the girls hold dear.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, Soho Teen

Bay Breeze Cocktail + A Lot Like Love by Jennifer Snow

Feel the ocean breeze with this sweet cocktail and this seaside romance that will warm your heart like the summer sun. 

What you’ll need: Vodka, pineapple juice, cranberry juice – Get the recipe

About the Book: They have different ideas about the fate of an old inn…until it brings them together. When Sarah Lewis inherits a run-down B&B from her late grandmother in coastal Blue Moon Bay, the logical thing to do is sell it and focus on her life in L.A. But when she learns that interested buyers will only tear it down in its current state, she feels a sense of obligation to her grandmother to get it back to the landmark tourist destination it once was…even if that means hiring the best contractor for the job, who happens to be her old high school crush. 

Wes Sharrun’s life has continued to unravel since the death of his wife three years before. Now with a struggling construction company and a nine-year-old daughter, he sees the B&B as an opportunity to get back on his feet. Unfortunately, despite trying to keep his distance, his daughter has taken a liking to Sarah, and his own feelings are tough to deny. As they spend more time together painting, exploring a forgotten treasure trove of wine in a basement cellar, and arguing over balcony placement, the more the spark between them ignites. But will saving the B&B be enough to convince them both to take a second chance at love?

Release Date: June 29, 2021, Entangled

The Passport + Em’s Awful Good Fortune by Marcie Maxfield

Grab your passport — aka, this cocktail — and settle in for an armchair adventure around the world with this compelling, sardonic, and unusual memoir of (reluctant) expat life. 

What you’ll need: Ginger liqueur, vodka, ice – Get the recipe

About the Book: Part dysfunctional marriage, part global romp, this is not your typical expat story. Em’s Awful Good Fortune is a deeply personal, marriage coming-apart-at-the-seams look at the struggle between a woman’s desire for partnership and her need for identity. Fueled by twin demons, love and rage, Em stomps her way around the world coming to terms with the fantasy of having it all: husband, kids, and a career. Em is not just married; it’s more like being handcuffed to her husband’s international career. Her life reads like a fantasy, bouncing between Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul. But–the good fortune is all her husband’s: Em is just the tagalong wife. Maxfield’s compelling, non-linear story explores the expatriate lifestyle through the lens of a crumbling marriage, while at the same time tracing the lasting impact of sexual assault and PTSD. Em’s journey exposes the dark corners of this seemingly privileged world: loneliness, depression, infidelity, and loss of career. An empowering, uncomfortably funny narrative about compromise that every woman should read. As Em begins to value her needs before those of her husband’s career, she stops letting herself be dragged along for the ride–and ultimately emerges triumphant.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, She Writes Press

Boilermaker + The Sightless City by Noah Lemelson

This classic, smoky drink is the kind of hardboiled beverage we need for a steampunk-esque mystery about a veteran PI who gets embroiled in a plot that puts him in the crosshairs of a mysterious force. 

What you’ll need: Whiskey, beer – Get the recipe

About the Book: Kidnapping. Enslavement. Murder. Those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to actions some will take to protect their interests in æther-oil, the coveted substance that fuels the city of Huile. As both veteran and private investigator, Marcel Talwar knows this firsthand, and he likes to think he’d never participate in such things. However, that naïve idea comes to a crashing end when he takes on a new case that quickly shatters his worldview. A trail of evidence points to someone in Marcel’s inner circle who’s using him as a pawn to conduct grisly experiments-experiments that could lead to genocide.

Now, Marcel is more determined than ever to discover who’s pulling the strings to this sinister plot. But the further he gets, the larger the target on his back becomes, and it’s not long before Marcel has to ask himself how much and how many he’s willing to sacrifice to get to the truth.

Release Date: July 20, 2021, Tiny Fox Press LLC

Justice Served + Leading for Justice by Rita Sever

Justice never tasted so good. Sit back, sip, and relax while perusing this essential guide–and while you’re at it, check out this list of cocktail bars that donate to good causes to see if there’s a location near you!

What you’ll need: Ginger beer, Fernet, orange wedge, orange rind – Get the recipe

About the Book: Leading in organizations working for justice is not the same as leading anywhere else. Staff expect to be treated as partners and demand internal practices that center equity. Justice leaders must meet these expectations, as well as recognize and address the ways that individuals and organizations inadvertently replicate oppression. Created specifically for social justice leaders, Leading for Justice addresses specific concerns and issues that beset organizations working for social justice and offers practices and models that center justice and equity. Topics include: the role of a supervisor in a social justice organization, the importance of self-awareness, issues of power and privilege, human resources as a justice partner, misses and messes, and clear guidelines for holding people accountable in a manner that is respectful and effective. Written in a friendly, accessible, and supportive tone, and offering discussion questions at the end of each short section to make the book user-friendly for both individuals and teams, Leading for Justice is a book for leaders who want to walk the talk of supporting social justice, in their organizations and in the world.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, She Writes Press

Icy Blue Curacao + Cold Consequences by David Rohlfing

Revenge is best served cold (and so is this cocktail) as we’re caught in the chilling grip of a new Sasha Frank detective mystery and prequel to his hit debut, Deliberate Duplicity. 

What you’ll need: Ice cubes, Blue Curacao, Smirnoff Ice, peppermint sticks  – Get the recipe

About the book: Ashley Cummins, the granddaughter of a powerful judge, is unexpectedly shot while buying drugs from her dealer late one night on a city street. As detective Sasha Frank investigates her murder, all of his possible suspects start showing up dead or missing. Who is behind the killings? As pressure builds on Sasha to solve the case, he uncovers new information that begins to unravel a complicated web of evidence–will Sasha be able to prove who the killer is and take down the person responsible for the murders? Cold Consequences is the exciting second book in David Rohlfing’s Detective Sasha Frank Mystery Series.

It serves as a prequel to Rohlfing’s Deliberate Duplicity. Fans of the mystery-thriller genre will love this gripping new tale. Full of exciting twists and turns, readers won’t be able to put the book down as Sasha pursues every lead to find the killer.

Release date: July 27, 2021, River Grove Books

Fancy Whisky Cocktail + Hitched to the Gunslinger by Michelle McLean

Both the drink and this steamy Western romance are rugged, sweet, and totally sexy.

What you’ll need: Blended whiskey, triple sec, superfine sugar, bitters – Get the recipe

About the Book: Gray “Quick Shot” Woodson is the fastest gun west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, he’s ready to hang up his hat. Sure, being notorious has its perks. But the nomadic lifestyle–and people always tryin’ to kill you–gets old real fast. 

Now he just wants to find a place to retire so he can spend his days the way the good Lord intended. Staring at the sunset. And napping. 

When his stubborn horse drags him into a hole-in-the-wall town called Desolation, something about the place calls to Gray, and he figures he might actually have a shot at a sleepy retirement. 

His optimism lasts about a minute and a half. 

Soon he finds himself embroiled in a town vendetta and married to a woman named Mercy. Who, judging by her aggravating personality, doesn’t know the meaning of her own name. In fact, she’s downright impossible. 

But dang it if his wife isn’t irresistible. If only she’d stop trying to steal his guns to go after the bad guys herself. 

There goes his peace and quiet…

Release Date: August 24, 2021, Entangled

Seven Deadly Sins Sangria + Siege of the Seven Sins by Emily Colin 

This dark and sinfully delicious sangria is sure to be a conversation starter, just like this gripping YA fantasy series about a dystopian government that punishes people based on the seven deadly sins–but love is the most forbidden of all.  

What you’ll need: Apples, oranges, pears, red wine, cinnamon sticks, brandy, Sparkling Ice Orange MangoGet the recipe

About the Book: What do you do when the victory you’ve been fighting for is doomed to break your heart? Rogue bellators Eva Marteinn and Ari Westergaard have escaped the restrictive world of the Commonwealth, and they would like nothing more than to leave it behind forever. But Eva is the formidable weapon the Commonwealth wants-and they’ll stop at nothing to get her back. For years, Ari has seen Eva as his temptation and his secret, his virtue and his sin.

Now that they’re finally free, he wants what he’s been craving-to start a new life…with her. But Eva is keeping a devastating secret of her own: the very victory against the Commonwealth the two of them have been fighting for is doomed to break their hearts. She faces an impossible decision-to be the face of the revolution she’s dedicated her life to and abandon the boy she loves…or to sacrifice everything she’s fought for to stand by his side.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, Blue Crow Publishing

The Phoenix Cocktail + Creatrix Rising by Stephanie Raffelock

This glorious cocktail undergoes a colorful transformation and (literally) burns with a vibrant flame, making it the perfect pairing for this wonderful book on “unlocking the power of midlife women.”

What you’ll need: Gin, rum, b’Lure butterfly pea extract, lemon and elderflower syrup, cinnamon, ice – Get the recipe

About the Book: Ever since Eve was banned from the garden, women have endured the oftentimes painful and inaccurate definitions foisted upon them by the patriarchy. Maiden, mother, and crone, representing the three stages assigned to a woman’s life cycle, have been the limiting categories of both ancient and modern (neo-pagan) mythology. And one label in particular rankles: crone. The word conjures a wizened hag–useless for the most part, marginalized by appearance and ability. None of us has ever truly fit the old-crone image, and for today’s midlife women, a new archetype is being birthed: the creatrix. In Creatrix Rising, Stephanie Raffelock lays out–through personal stories and essays–the highlights of the past fifty years, in which women have gone from a quiet strength to a resounding voice. She invites us along on her own transformational journey by providing probing questions for reflection so that we can flesh out and bring to life this new archetype within ourselves. If what the Dalai Lama has predicted–that women will save the world–proves true, then the creatrix will for certain be out front, leading the pack.

Release Date: August 24, 2021, She Writes Press

Ask An Expert: Interview with Editor and NYT-Bestselling Author Emily Colin on Why Editing Transforms Writing

As we continue our Ask an Expert series, today on the blog we’re sitting down with New York Times-bestselling author and editor Emily Colin, author of The Seven Sins Series, The Memory Thief, and The Dream Keeper’s Daughter. Emily shares how she brings a story to life through the various stages of editing, and brings a writer’s perspective to why editing is essential.

1). Can you tell us a bit about your editorial work?

I do a wide range of editorial work—from developmental editing to copyediting to proofreading. When I work as a developmental editor, I take a deep dive into all of the elements that bring a novel to life: setting, pacing, point of view, dialogue, plot, description, characterization, tone…you get the idea. I may suggest that the author revisit the catalyst for the story, beginning the book in a different place; tighten a saggy middle; deepen the theme; give us a more nuanced sense of characters’ emotions; step up the pace; make some changes to resonate with the market…it all depends on the project. If the manuscript is based on historical events, I’ll do a bit of research to make sure those are reflected accurately. Of course, if I notice inconsistencies or errors in spelling or grammar, I’ll mark those—but that’s not my primary objective. My role is never to change the author’s voice, but rather to make sure that the manuscript is dynamic throughout, the characters are vivid, the dialogue resonates, the plot moves along at a nice clip, and the prose shines.

When I take on a copyediting job, my role is very different. By the time a manuscript comes to me to copyedit, it’s ideally already gone through the developmental editing process. As a copyeditor, I do my work based on a style guide—typically, the Chicago Manual of Style—and a dictionary, usually Merriam-Webster. As I copyedit a manuscript, I’ll make sure that it adheres to both of these points of reference when it comes to spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and all manner of other minutiae. I’ll also suggest that the author rephrase certain sentences if I feel they’re awkward and could be more concise. If the manuscript is non-fiction or based on historical events, I’ll fact-check to make sure there are no glaring errors, and doublecheck any links included in the book. I’ll also peruse Works Cited pages to ensure the formatting is correct, and doublecheck any quotes for accuracy.

By the time a job comes to me for proofreading, it’s already gone through a developmental edit and a copyedit. In fact, it’s generally been formatted by the designer, and is coming to me as a final step before going to print. At this point, no major changes should be needed. As a proofreader—again, relying on the Chicago Manual and Merriam-Webster—I’ll doublecheck for spelling errors, typos, and missing words; make sure that the page numbers in the table of contents match those at the beginning of each chapter; ensure that the line breaks occur appropriately and that there are no extra or missing spaces between paragraphs; and, if the manuscript is non-fiction, doublecheck references, facts, historical figures’ names, links, and anything else that might possibly contain an error.

2). What is your favorite type of editing?

Of all three of these, my favorite is probably developmental editing, since it gives me the opportunity to work closely with the author to help them hone their creative vision and make their manuscript the best it can be.

3). What would you say to authors who are still in the beginning stages of polishing their manuscripts, and who are on the fence about whether or not copyediting or proofreading are necessary?

I would say that copyediting and proofreading are always necessary. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, this is part of the package—and the same person doesn’t usually copyedit and proofread a given manuscript. It’s ideal to employ two different individuals for each stage of the process, since one will invariably catch something the other’s missed. No matter how hard a copyeditor or proofreader tries to be eagle-eyed, something always slips through (much to the chagrin of every editor out there).

If you’re independently publishing your book, then the responsibility falls to you to make sure your manuscript looks professional—and the last thing you want is for a reader to be humming along, loving your story, only to be jolted out of the world you’ve created by a glaring typo on page fifty-two.

The thing is—no matter how many times you’ve read your manuscript, as the author, you’re not ever going to be able to catch everything. You’re too close to the project. On top of that, unless you’re familiar with guides like the Chicago Manual, there are some details that will fall outside your wheelhouse. This is why it’s great to employ folks who do this for a living, so you can get back to what you really love—writing your next book.

4). You are a New York Times-bestselling author, and you’re releasing the latest book in your celebrated Seven Sins series on August 3. As an author, how do you find the editing process? What part do you enjoy the most? What part do you find the most challenging?

I’m an odd author, in that I love editing even more than writing. To me, it’s like arranging a room to achieve perfect feng shui, once you’ve already invested in all the furniture and decorations. I adore revisions and tend to tear through them rather quickly—far more quickly than the writing itself. One of my favorite parts of the process is to get feedback from my editor and see what I can do to incorporate it into the story. Writing is so solitary, the moment I actually have someone else giving me suggestions on how to make my books better, I get ridiculously excited!

I’m also a fan of searching for words in my manuscripts that serve no true purpose, such as “just,” “really,” or “seemed.” I have a list of about ten words that I tend to overuse every time I write, and I use MS Word’s Find and Replace function to search for and eliminate them. This results in a far cleaner—and leaner!—manuscript than I had to begin with. Depending on what genre I’m writing in, I’m always aware of my target word count based on what the market will bear, and so this part of the process is a relatively painless way of hitting my goal.

As a final step, before sending a manuscript to my agent or editor, I’ll upload it to an app called Voice Dream Reader and listen to it. When I hear my manuscript read aloud, I often catch repetition, small typos, and other things I miss during physical read-throughs.

In terms of what I find the most challenging, it’s likely killing off my darlings—those scenes I adore, but that don’t necessarily move the manuscript forward. If left unchecked, I have a dreadful tendency to let my characters wander around bantering and kissing for far too long. Trimming those sections always hurts my heart—but it makes the manuscript stronger in the end!

5). Do you hire someone else to copyedit and proofread your own books?

Since all of my books have been traditionally published, the publisher has handled the copyediting and proofreading—though of course, I’ve proofed my galleys! Though I make every effort to deliver as clean a manuscript as possible (see above exhaustive efforts), the final responsibility doesn’t rest on my shoulders (thank goodness).

The one exception to this rule is UNBOUND: STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION, LOVE, AND MONSTERS, the young adult anthology I co-edited (and contributed to), which came out this past February. Since that was published as part of an authors’ cooperative, I did copyedit and proof it—and my co-contributors can attest to the fact that I read through that bad boy no fewer than thirty times!

6). How do you balance your editorial work and your writing life?

This can sometimes be challenging. If I’m on deadline for a book, I have to be careful about what editorial projects I take on. I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish and not over-commit. This was harder when my career first began, but now I generally have a good sense of how long something will take me to accomplish—unless the editing project turns out to be far more complex than I anticipated.

7). What new projects (either writing or editing) are you looking forward to?

Oooh, great question! I’m excited to finish writing the third book in my Seven Sins trilogy, as well as to complete the revisions on a women’s fiction manuscript that’s been in the works for some time. The two projects are incredibly different, so vacillating between them gives me a bit of whiplash—but it’s never boring, that’s for sure!

As for editing, I’m always excited when a book comes across my transom that’s something I would’ve loved to read anyhow. For me, that’s often a manuscript that incorporates some element of romance, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, or an unexpected glimpse into history.

8). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

I don’t think there’s a single definition for this. It truly depends on the person. Finishing a book is a massive accomplishment and should be celebrated! Beyond that, every writer has different goals. For some, it’s simply about seeing their book in print, holding the physical volume in their hands. Others feel like they’ve arrived when they’ve walked into a bookstore and can find their novel or memoir on the shelf. For still others, it’s about hitting a particular financial goal, winning an award, or making a bestseller list.

For me personally, I feel like I’ve succeeded when I hear from readers who’ve been moved in some way by the stories I’ve told. When they say my books have helped them through difficult times, made them laugh or cry, or even kept them up all night turning the pages, I feel a tremendous sense of happiness—and awe, that I get to do this for a living. Without my readers, I wouldn’t have a career. I’m grateful for them every single day.

Emily Colin’s debut novel, THE MEMORY THIEF, was a New York Times bestseller and a Target Emerging Authors Pick. She is also the author of THE DREAM KEEPER’S DAUGHTER (Ballantine Books). Her young adult titles include the anthology WICKED SOUTH: SECRETS AND LIES and the Seven Sins series, both from Blue Crow Publishing, as well as the anthology UNBOUND: STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION, LOVE, AND MONSTERS (Five Points Press). SWORD OF THE SEVEN SINS, the first book in her Seven Sins series, was a Foreword INDIES Award finalist, a #1 Amazon bestseller, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Emily’s diverse life experience includes organizing a Coney Island tattoo and piercing show, hauling fish at a dolphin research center, roaming New York City as an itinerant teenage violinist, helping launch two small publishing companies, and working to facilitate community engagement in the arts. Currently, she finds joy in teaching classes for the Writers Workshop at Authors Publish and working as a freelance editor. Originally from Brooklyn, Emily lives in coastal North Carolina with her family. She loves chocolate, is addicted to tiramisu, and dislikes anything containing beans. You can find her trying to do yoga, with her nose buried in a book, or getting dragged down the block by her over-enthusiastic dog, Moo. Visit her at www.emilycolin.com, on IG at @emily_colin, or get a free short story at emilycolinnews.com.

 

How to Create the “Perfect” Writing Schedule

As an author (or an aspiring author), you’ve probably felt the pressure to be “more disciplined” in your writing life at some point. Maybe someone told you you should get up every morning and write for two hours before work. Maybe you heard that you should carry a small notebook at all times, and scribble inspiration daily. Or maybe you’ve simply heard other writers wax poetic about their incredibly regular and productive writing schedules, and thought “I should be more like that.”

If you are one of those writers who already has an incredibly disciplined and productive writing schedule, we would warmly invite you to continue doing whatever it is that you’re doing, because this post isn’t going to help you very much. But if you’re one of those writers who feels like you should have a writing schedule that resembles a well-oiled machine, then stick around, because we’re going to let you in on a little secret.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

The perfect writing schedule doesn’t exist.

But what about all of those incredibly disciplined and productive writers who we just cordially invited to exit this post–don’t they have the perfect writing schedules?

Simply put: no. What they have is a writing schedule that works for them (or so they say). And there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for that.

Writing is highly personal and individual. Your writing schedule should be too.

In a Reddit post (before he published his blockbuster novel The Fault in Our Stars), mega-bestselling author John Green said,

“I think a lot of writers lie about their schedules and discipline. (I know I do.) We do this so that people will think that we are, like, extremely disciplined and hard-working and whatever. I try to write every day (except for when I’m traveling, which is quite a lot of the time) for five hours in the morning, but you may notice that it is morning right now, and I am not technically working on my new story.”

Let’s put this bold: If you try to shove your writing time into a schedule that doesn’t work for you, you will damage your writing time–or worse, you will stop writing.

Here are some questions that will help you design a writing schedule that actually fits you:

  1. Realistically, how much time can you devote to writing each week, after your other obligations, social activities, and (yes this is important) rest time are adequately fulfilled? Maybe you’ll find you can write for five hours per day, like John Green is pretending to. Maybe you’ll find you only have an hour per week, or a couple hours per month. That’s ok. Choose a time slot that fits your lifestyle, because the more realistic you are with the time you have available, the more accessible (and productive!) your writing time will become.
  2. Do you work best when you complete tasks at the same time every day, or when you diversify and adapt your schedule daily? Some people enjoy–and even require–a routine. But others work best when they adapt their daily activities around the demands of each individual day. Variation is a part of life, and that’s ok! The important thing is to be honest about what approach works for you.
  3. Are there little things you can do to reward yourself for a productive writing time–and also forgive yourself for an unproductive writing time? Writing is not always its own reward–it’s hard work! Find little ways to reward yourself for every period of time that you take to write. Conversely, don’t beat yourself up if a writing sesh (or two, or three) was not as productive as you hoped.

The important thing is that you are actively seeking to create workable writing opportunities for yourself–and with time, practice, and a hefty dose of realism and self-acceptance, you will get there!

Interview: Serenity Gerbman–The Southern Festival of Books

The Southern Festival of Books is a large annual book festival that is celebrating its 33rd year in Nashville, Tennessee this year. Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Festival Director Serenity Gerbman to learn more about how virtual events have transformed the literary event circuit, the secrets of running a successful book festival, and how authors can make the most of festivals and events.

Serenity Gerbman

1). What is The Southern Festival of Books?

The Festival is a celebration of reading and the written word, bringing together readers and writers both in person and online. Our mission is to engage readers of all ages and interests in the joy of reading and in lifelong education. It is entirely free to the public.

2). What is your role with the festival, and how did you get involved?

I am the Festival Director as part of my job as Director of Literature and Language Programs at Humanities Tennessee. My first career was in journalism, where I spent 10 years working for local newspapers. A good friend recommended me for a position at Humanities Tennessee, and my role there has evolved over time.

3). What challenges and new opportunities did the pandemic create for the festival, and how did you adapt?

Everything changed! Rather than our usual three-day Festival in person, we held a 10-day online Festival in 2020, and will hold a hybrid Festival of both online and in person events in 2021. The big challenge for us, like many, was in getting educated as a staff quickly in how to hold online events. We have an incredibly talented program officer, Patrick Shaffner, who guided us through that process and made the online Festival work seamlessly. The opportunity for us has been in seeing how successful online events can be. We are now partnering with a different library in the state every month for an online author event that they present. Many people can now attend these events who were limited before by time, distance, and finances.

4). What kind of planning and work goes into creating a book festival?

It’s a year-round process. Beginning in the winter months, we’re reviewing catalogs, meeting with publishers, reading forthcoming books, and thinking about programming that will be exciting and engaging for readers. Beginning in early spring, we meet regularly with our full events team on site logistics and preparation. As is probably true with all events, we do our best to attend to every tiny detail in advance, as preparation makes an event run smoothly. When the Festival begins, we go into event mode and handle and adjust to issues and changes as they happen.

5). What advice would you give to authors and aspiring writers to get “the most” out of a book festival, signing, and/or speaking events?

If you’re new and haven’t yet built an audience that knows you, be realistic in your expectations and remember that you are there because you’ve already accomplished something tremendous. Be courteous with your co-panelists and moderator. Watch your speaking time. And then, relax and let the audience see the passion that drove you to write your book. Readers are generous and curious souls.

6). Will you do the festival online again this year? Was attendance still pretty good at the online event?

We had really strong attendance for the online event last year, and we will be doing a hybrid event this year, with both online and in person programming. Although attendance at online events is dipping this spring as people experience screen fatigue and are able to go back out into the world, we think that online events have a lot of potential and will continue to be with us in some form or another. The in person dates for us are Oct. 9-10.

7). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

To me, a successful writer is anyone who has created the circumstances for themselves that allow them to keep writing. It is a difficult, solitary creative process. If you’re doing the work and are determined to keep getting better, you’re successful. Most people don’t get that far. Everything after that, from finding an agent to pitching to sales to bestseller lists to awards, is business.

Learn more about The Southern Festival of Books here: https://www.humanitiestennessee.org/programs-grants/core-program-overview/southern-festival-of-books

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7 Geeky Reads for Geek Pride Day

Calling all geeks! In honor of May 25th’s Geek Pride Day, we have some notably nerdy, deliciously dorky, and gloriously geeky reads that are perfect to get your geek on! Whether you’re into Lovecraftian horror, quirky romance, or speculative space fiction, we’ve got something for every geek on this list. Check it out!

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. Perfect for fans of Marie Lu and E. Lockhart, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a twisty YA sci-fi that follows the story of two sisters, separated by an ocean, desperately trying to find each other in a climate-ravaged future.

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay, and it’s up to Cee to cross the ocean and find her.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara lives in an eco-city built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But nevertheless, she decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi

In the epic, action-packed sequel to the “brilliant” (Booklist, starred review) novel War Girls, the battles are over, but the fight for justice has just begun.

It’s been five years since the Biafran War ended. Ify is now nineteen and living where she’s always dreamed–the Space Colonies. She is a respected, high-ranking medical officer and has dedicated her life to helping refugees like herself rebuild in the Colonies.

Back in the still devastated Nigeria, Uzo, a young synth, is helping an aid worker, Xifeng, recover images and details of the war held in the technology of destroyed androids. Uzo, Xifeng, and the rest of their team are working to preserve memories of the many lives lost, despite the government’s best efforts to eradicate any signs that the war ever happened.

Though they are working toward common goals of helping those who suffered, Ify and Uzo are worlds apart. But when a mysterious virus breaks out among the children in the Space Colonies, their paths collide. Ify makes it her mission to figure out what’s causing the deadly disease. And doing so means going back to the homeland she thought she’d left behind forever.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemison

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.

In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.

In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.
In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.

And they’re not the only ones.

Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games.

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. The alternate history first contact adventure Axiom’s End is an extraordinary debut from Hugo finalist and video essayist Lindsay Ellis.

Truth is a human right.

It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government—and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him—until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.

Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human—and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy.

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens–and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

Brimming with celestial intrigue, this sparkling YA debut is perfect for fans of Roshani Chokshi and Laini Taylor.

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.

We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead…

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

Interview: Joining Susannah Felts on The Porch

Have you ever wanted to improve your writing through amazing writing classes, participate in absorbing literary events, and meet other fascinating authors, poets, journalists, essayists and wordsmiths? Look no further than The Porch in Nashville, Tennessee. The Porch is a nonprofit writing center, offering workshops, youth outreach, and events to enrich and celebrate the local literary community.

Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Susannah Felts, co-founder and co-director of The Porch to learn more about what it takes to run a successful writers collective, and how this organization improves not only the individual writing craft of its participants, but elevates the literary community as a whole.

1). What is The Porch? What do you do?

The Porch is a nonprofit literary arts organization, founded in 2014, and our mission is to inspire, educate, and connect readers and writers of all ages and stages through classes and literary events. We offer classes in creative writing year-round, a youth program, public community events, initiatives to expand literary access, local arts partnerships, and the Porch Prize, a writing contest. There’s always something going on!

2). How did The Porch originate, and how did you get involved?

The Porch was founded by myself and Katie McDougall in 2014. We met in a writing group at a moment when both of us were ready for a new challenge, and we shared enthusiasm about the idea of a local literary center for Nashvillle. Prior to founding the Porch, Katie was teaching high-school English and I worked as freelance writer/editor and adjunct college professor. For several years before The Porch came to be, I was also teaching writing workshops in the community on my own, held at a coffee shop near my house (shout-out to Portland Brew East!) or around my dining room table. That small-scale effort was going really well, and I kept thinking, This could be something more, something bigger. But how? Katie had dabbled in offering writing retreats, too. So, together, we made this new thing happen, taking a lot of inspiration and advice from helpful mentors: local arts organizations and established literary centers in other cities.

3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like The Porch? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?

Writers, like all artists/creators, need community. You may do the bulk of the work alone at your desk, but the sharing of ideas and feedback and resources that happens in a writing community is what really shapes a writing life. So many sparks fly this way. Writers connect in ways that can both move their work forward and help them navigate the waters of the publishing world, if they choose to wade in. Work evolves, lasting friendships are forged, audiences are found. Art is never really forged in isolation. We’ve seen many writers form lasting writing groups and relationships after taking our classes, and we’ve seen them publish and enter MFA programs. This spring we have someone teaching for us whom we first met when they took a class with us. They went on to earn an MFA out of state, and now they’re back! I love seeing the work come full circle. Seven years in, we’ve seen so many writing lives evolve and intersect in wonderful ways.

4). The Porch organizes a diverse array of literary events and initiatives. What kind of planning and work goes into creating your events? What advice would you give to fellow writers who want to successfully organize and/or participate in an event?

I love this question, because a lot more planning and work goes into running events and programs that some may believe! There are several stages and moving parts to even a small event, and all along you’re hoping to build relationships that will continue to grow long after a single event is complete. It takes a lot of love and effort and stamina to program and to keep programs going. Advice? Start small, and give yourself as much time to plan an event as you can. Collaboration is a beautiful thing, but maybe be mindful not to bring too many cooks into the kitchen. But above all, just learn as you go, and know that you’re going to make mistakes and that is absolutely a healthy part of the process.

If you’re eager to participate in an event — for example, to read in a regular reading series — try to be an enthusiastic audience member first. Show up for others, listen to and read their work. Be a genuine part of the world you want to see your work highlighted in, and the rest will probably come naturally.

5). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Being a successful writer means figuring out what feeds your creative spirit and then consistently doing and thinking about those things, then acting on that “source material” to create work that matters to you. I could go on at length about this, but there are all kinds of ways, small and large, that you can shape your life to make it more conducive to writing, and doing that in itself is a kind of success. You don’t have to write every day, but some level of consistency will make a huge difference; as with other practices of all kinds, it pays to use those muscles regularly. Being a successful writer means reading, reading, reading, and learning to see books as your mentors, as Katie always says. Don’t confuse a successful writing life with a successful publishing life; these often intertwine, but they are two separate things. And try not to get too hung up on the idea of success at all. “Success” is such an emotionally loaded concept, and not always a useful one for a creative life. Much of a writing life feels or looks or smells like failure — is failure — and honestly, you have to be OK with that.

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