Old Favorites and New Hits: What I Read Over My Vacation

For the first week of September, I took a week off from work. And if you know me, you know the vacation always means one thing: more time to read! Below you’ll find a list of the books I read over vacation, including one that I disliked. I don’t usually post negative reviews here. I don’t have anything against them, I just prefer to talk about the books I enjoy. But, if I want to cover what I read over this vacation, it’s going to have to include a title that just didn’t work for me.

In addition, this post is actually missing a review! That’s because one of the books I read over vacation was Map of Shadows by JF Penn. This book is part of my reading for Self Published Fantasy month, and I have a post about that going up next week. It felt strange to post an almost identical review for the same book two weeks in a row, so I thought I’d just remove it from this one.

Here we go!

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Science Fiction/Young Adult)- Tyler Jones is a top student at Aurora Academy. He should have his pick of students to form his first squad, but he misses his chance when he decides to rescue a young woman trapped in cryogenic sleep. Left with the dregs, Tyler must find a way to make his team work while they unravel the mystery of the woman he saved. After all, the knowledge and abilities she carries has the power to change the universe.

Aurora Rising is a fast paced, action packed novel, filled with tons of space opera tropes. Unfortunately, as someone who’s been reading/watching sci-fi for decades now, everything ended up feeling a little too familiar for me. Don’t get me wrong, I normally like seeing a new perspective on classic story lines, but these authors didn’t necessarily add anything new and interesting to the genre that I hadn’t already experiencing watching say Star Trek or Firefly and the corresponding movie Serenity. I also found that I just couldn’t connect with the characters.

Aurora Rising was a reminder that while I still enjoy reading young adult books, they’re not written for me, a woman in her 30s. Given the amount of praise that had been heaped on this book, it’s clear the a teenaged/early 20s reader with less experience with the space opera genre would likely enjoy it more, and find the characters more relatable. But for me, Aurora Rising didn’t work and I won’t be reading the sequel.

What Happens at Con by Cathy Yardley (Romance)– Ani is an over stressed grad student looking to blow off some steam at Erotica City Con, which leads her straight into the bed of a mysterious stranger. Unfortunately, once the masks come off, Ani realizes that this “stranger” is actually the misogynistic Abraham, a local game designer that she can’t stand. But there’s no denying the heat that exists between the two of them. Are Ani and Alabaman meant to be a one night stand. or more?

The hate-to-love romance has certainly been done before, but Yardley handles it really well here. I love the journeys that the two characters go through. Abraham must learn to shed his misogynistic ways (inherited from his father, and nurtured in the military), and Ani needs to learn to out smart and stand up to her jerk off adviser. The chemistry between the two characters is really well done, and the ending feels earned. This may be my favorite book in the Fandom Hearts series yet.

First Test and Page by Tamora Pierce– In the spring, I reread Tamora Pierce’s Immortals Quartet. I ended up enjoying the experience so much that I decided it was time to revisit The Protector of the Small series. I ended up reading the first two books (First Test and Page) and a big chunk of the third (Squire) during vacation.

Ten years after Alanna the Lioness disguised herself as a boy to become a lady knight, girls are now allowed to openly train for their shields. The first person to attempt this is Keladry of Mindelan. The Protector of the Small series is all about her journey from first year page to full grown knight and the physical, emotional and societal challenges she must face as Tortall’s first openly female trainee in centuries.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t read Kel’s story in over a decade, but I was nevertheless impressed at how easy it was to get pulled back into her story, which seems more relevant now than ever. Progress is wonderful, but it’s never without backlash. In the years since Alanna has earned her shield and saved Tortall, conspiracy theories have cropped up to explain how she could possibly accomplished such unfeminine things. And it’s this backlash that really sets Kel’s journey apart from Alanna’s, who never had to deal with outright sexism during her training, as everyone believed her to be a boy. Kel’s discipline, and her ability to do what is right and fair impressed me again and again.

I’m so glad I decided to reread this series, and look forward to finishing it.

And those are the books I read over my vacation.


Self Published Fantasy Month: An Interview with Jennifer Ridge

So how is everyone’s Self Published Fantasy Month going? If you’re looking to wander into the faery realm, then I have a perfect author for you. Today I have an interview with young adult fantasy author Jennifer Ridge. Learn about her books, experience with self publishing, and her vibrant cover art below.

First off, tell us a little about yourself and your books.

I’m 27 and I’ve been writing for about 15 years now. I write novels as well as shorter works—my novels and novellas are usually fantasy, but I also write horror short stories. I have two sort of standalone works right now, Not Quite Wonderland (2014, I don’t talk about it much) and Don’t Go Into the Forest (Novella from earlier this year), but my main work is the Faery Realm series, which currently has three published books and a free novella. I first had the idea for this series about 10 years ago, and was finally able to publish the first book in 2017. The series follows different characters as they handle the magic, romance and intrigue of the dangerous fae world.

Some people have been fond of fantasy stories since childhood, while others discovered the genre as adults. How did you come to fantasy?

Sort of in childhood. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid, but around 11 I found manga and read a lot fantasy story-lines. I was about 13 when I read The Hunter’s Moon by O.R. Melling and fell completely in love with faeries, so a lot of my writing and reading as a teenager became focused on the mysterious creatures.

For other fantasy writers that are interested in trying out self publishing, what are some of the benefits of going indie? What are some of the challenges?

I’ve always said that the benefits are control. I can choose my plot, deadlines, cover, editors, and price (to an extent). If I’m late on a deadline because of mental health, writer’s block, or anything like that, I’m usually the only one who will know. I know that traditional publishers have to fit in so many books in a year, so sometimes if a deadline is missed, it takes another year to two years to find an open spot for the book’s release (happened to two of my favorites).

The biggest challenges I’ve seen are probably budget and marketing. Yes, as an Indie you get control over who you work with and what’s done to the book, but it also means that you’re mostly on your own for marketing. Hiring it out is really expensive, and might not show any results—I’ve had a lot of bad luck with that, actually. Not to mention, sometimes people have potentially good books, but they don’t have the money to afford an editor, and maybe that potential is overpowered by proofreading mistakes, editing inconsistencies, and other issues that just turn readers away. It can be really expensive to be an Indie author, and the return isn’t always there.

I’ve noticed that your Faery Realm series has particularly vibrant and colorful cover art that really stands out. Can you tell us a little about the covers for the Faery Realm series?

I always think of my covers as two separate elements: there’s the girl(s), drawn by a different artist each time, and then there’s the graphics for the title, background, summary, all of that stuff. The covers for Between Worlds and Divided Worlds were updated last year. The originals only had the original artwork, and then the title, author name, spine, and back were all generated by the self-publishing sites cover-maker. They were … well, the girls are still beautiful, but the rest of it was kind of meh. There’s a long, rambly explanation to why I re-did them, but the basic is that someone advised me to, and I took that advice. I still have the artwork, but now a graphic designer I use through DartFrog does everything else.

What comes next? Do you have more books for the Faery Realm series, or any other projects in the works?

Right now, I have 5 books planned for the series. The fourth book, Strange Worlds, is currently with Beta Readers. I’ll start on the fifth book after that’s published. Other than that, I’m usually working on some kind of short story or novella. My current project is a sort of follow up to Don’t Go Into The Forest. I’m trying to make it so that they both stand alone, but they do take place in the same town. The tentative title is Don’t Trust the Witch.

 Where can people find you online?

I’m most active on Instagram, where I participate in monthly challenges to talk about my works in progress. I post short stories, scenes and novella chapters on Patreon. And I post flash fiction, reviews, and informative pieces on writing, diversity, and other issues I’m invested in on my blog. I also have a Facebook page. I’m not as active on it as I am other places—it’s mostly for important updates.

Thank you Jennifer! I hope people will consider checking out your books for Self Published Fantasy Month, and beyond!

Come and see me at the Tewksbury Local Author Fair Next Saturday

As I mentioned in my August in Review post, Dawn and Alex are hitting the road! Well…kinda. I will be attending my first author fair on September 21st at the Tewksbury Public Library. The event runs from 10:30AM to noon. I will be talking briefly about my book, and for the last half hour there will be an opportunity to buy a signed copy of either Red and Black and/or Black and Blue. According to this press release, there will be both free coffee AND donuts!

This event sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to try in-person appearances, but have found the concept to be a little intimidating. A library event seems like a good way to ease into things. Also, the Tewksbury Public Library holds a special place in my heart, because they were my first employer! I shelved books there all through high school, and the summer after my first year of college. I haven’t been there since I moved out of my parents house, so I’m interested in seeing how it’s changed.

Would you like to receive one of the books in this box below? Maybe just drop by to say hi? Then show up at the author fair on September 21st from 10:30 to noon. Looks like pre-registration is required, although I’m not sure how much advance notice they’re looking for.


Lessons Learned From Launching my Second Novel

With my July in Review post, I talked about publishing my second novel, Black and Blue. Now that the dust has settled, I’ll explain in more detail about how I handled the book launch, what seemed to work well, and what I think I’ll be doing differently next time.

#1- I Started Planning Early

Back in February, I announced that I was going to publish Black and Blue in the summer. At that time, I also started thinking about the launch. Admittedly, I don’t think that everyone needs to do a book launch. If you’re the type of person who publishes quite frequently, you probably won’t need to to much more beyond a few newsletter swaps. In addition, if you’re brand spankin’ new, you might not have all of the tools/connections that more established authors have.

As for me, I knew I didn’t want to do a huge launch, but as someone who hadn’t published a book in almost a year, I wanted to remind people of who I was, and why my books were worth checking out.

#2- I began communicating with my newsletter more frequently

Until February, my communication with my newsletter was pretty sporadic. But I knew that I was going to do things like offer my subscribers free advance readers copies, so I upped my communication to roughly once a month to keep my work more present in their mind. That way when I came to them with a request for reviews, they would remember who I was. I think this worked out well, and hope to keep up this more frequent communication, even when I’m not planning a launch.

#3- The Blog Tour

In May, I put out the word that I was going to do a blog tour. This is something that I had hoped to do with Red and Black, but hadn’t made enough connections in the blogging community to do more of a couple of stops. Black and Blue‘s launch was an improvement on this. I knew I didn’t want to do a huge tour, so seven stops was actually perfect.

So, was this helpful in selling books? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. When I post a link to amazon from this blog or my newsletter, I’m able to track how many people click on it. With other people’s blogs, it isn’t something I can see. I did get sales and steady page reads on kindle unlimited for the duration of the blog tour (and after), but there’s no way to be sure if they came from this tour or say, my newsletter swaps. In addition, the blog tour was quite time consuming. It’s clear that if I need to cut anywhere in my launch strategy, this would probably be the most efficient way.

At the same time, I did enjoy creating content for the tour, and it did help to get the word out on social media. Interestingly, I noticed that interest did seem to drop off in week two, so if I do another tour, I’ll probably schedule them all for the same week.

#4- Advance Readers Copies

Reviews are important.  If someone stumbles upon your book on amazon and it has no reviews, they’re probably not gonna buy it. Knowing this, I ended up putting out a call for reviews on my blog and newsletter, as well as contacting people who had reviewed ARCs for Red and Black. I did this at the very beginning of June in hopes that the reviews would be up by the end of August. I ended up contacting eight different people, and got seven to agree to do reviews. This didn’t seem like enough at the time, and it still feels that way. I hope that as my newsletter gets bigger that more people will be willing to review ARCs of future books.

#5- Personal blogging

I also knew that I wanted to promote Black and Blue‘s release with this blog, which has grown since last year. So I posted things like a cover reveal, and sample chapters. The cover reveal got a nice amount of attention, and is currently one of my most viewed posts of the year. The sample chapters got less love. This is a little disappointing, but also weirdly amusing, as I’ve never been fond of reading sample chapters myself. If I’m gonna read a book, just give me the whole damn thing, thank you! As a result, for my next book, I’ll probably just do a single sample chapter, and may only send that to my newsletter.

It’s worth noting that one of the ways that I was able to get so much content up during the launch (eighteen posts between the tour, personal blogging, and my posts for Speculative Chic) is by, once again, planning ahead. A lot of these posts were either completely or partially written in June. I’m really glad I did this, because I don’t react well when I’m overwhelmed!

#6- Red and Black ebook sale

As a reader, I’ve noticed that a lot of publishers will put the first ebook in a series on sale when they have the latest book up for preorder, or recently published. Given that this has been a successful way to yank me into a new series, I figured, why not try it out? And it seemed to have worked, at least on a small scale, as I noticed some people on goodreads that read book one during this time certainly went on to read book two when it was released. This is something I will likely try again, although next time I may wait until the new book is actually available to read.

This wasn’t a complete success though, as I’ve noticed that these types of sales are becoming less profitable for me. As a result, I don’t know if I’ll be running quite so many of them from now on.

#7- Newsletter Swaps

I must admit, I am a little hesitant about newsletter swaps. For one thing, my newsletter is tiny. All of my sign ups happened organically, meaning the people clicked the link in the back of my book or on my website as opposed to being required to sign up as some sort of a giveaway. As a result, my open rates are great, but I don’t feel comfortable asking people for a lot of swaps (in some cases, I don’t even have the required numbers). In addition, I feel strange about constantly recommending a large list of books that I haven’t even read.

As a result, I only did a couple of newsletter swaps for Black and Blue, and the two authors I did it with are pretty cool and have titles that have shown up in my also boughts. Next book, I will likely do more, as this is a pretty reliable way to get the word out.

#8- Social Media

In June, I warned my followers on twitter and Instagram that I would be posting a lot more blatantly “buy my book” type updates in preparation for Black and Blue’s publication. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind. and a lot of people were actually quite supportive! I ended up creating a spreadsheet for how exactly I would do my social media promo. When I would tweet about certain blog tour events, what would show up in my Instagram stories versus my regular feed, etc. I ended up sticking to this spreadsheet about 90% of the time, and I’m glad I did it, as I was less likely to be overwhelmed with the day to day activities of the launch. All I needed to do was check off a few items on my spreadsheet, and move on.

So ultimately, how did everything go?

I came away with a few takeaways from Black and Blue‘s launch. Financially, it was more successful then Red and Black’s launch by about 37%, which is a solid increase. I think that you can equate all of that to kindle unlimited, with not only Black and Blue getting a fair amount of page reads, but Red and Black as well. But while things are looking up, it was also another reminder that I’m still a pretty small fish in a small pond. Let’s just say I don’t foresee myself quitting my day job anytime soon (it’s a good thing I like it!).

I think I had an overall solid launch plan, even if there were some things I would  do differently (more ARC readers, shorter blog tour, more newsletter swaps, a different time frame for my ebook sale). I’d also like to try some new stuff next time. There were things I considered, like a presale giveaway, that I chose not to do this time around that I might feel differently about for book three. I’d also like to try promoting the series on a podcast.

The final thing I took away from this launch is that I was so glad that I planned ahead so carefully, and prepared so much of my content in advance, because book launches are STRESSFUL. Honestly, I see why some people just press publish and hide, if just because they don’t have to deal with the anxiety that comes with a launch (will anyone read it? will anyone like it?). Still, until I figure out how to put out a book every six months or so, I feel like doing some kind of a launch is still a good idea.

Recovering from Launching My Second Book: August in Review

August Posts

  1. Publishing My Second Book: July In Review
  2. My Self Published Fantasy Month TBR
  3. Would you like to beta read a Red and Black side story?
  4. The Red and Black Series is Not a Trilogy: A Public Service Announcement

Speculative Chic Posts

  1. Roundtable: Spec in Translation
  2. Universe Hopping and Crossover Woes: A Review of Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider, Vol 1: Spider-Geddon

In my July in Review post, I mentioned that the launch for Black and Blue had burnt me out a little. Therefore, August was going to be all about mental recovery. This lead to doing more personal life-focused events like visiting family, attending an annual BBQ, and a goodbye party. I also made time read every day, and started watching a new-for-me TV show, Star Trek: Voyager. My spouse and I watched all of season one, and some of season two in August, which is quite a feat for us. I find that I’m really enjoying it. Sure, I’m excited about the next season of Discovery, but the latest Star Trek show can be pretty dark/intense, and right now I’m in the mood for something a little lighter. That, and Janeway is pretty awesome.

Speaking of taking care of myself, my latest struggle has been an old one: insomnia. Now there’s never been a point in my life when I haven’t struggled with sleep in some way. According to my mom, this problem started when I was a nap-averse baby. It’s just so hard for me to turn my brain off, whether I’m obsessing over a new story idea, or stressing out about my day. Over the years I’ve come up with a wide variety of solutions, but I still find myself coming up against periods where nothing seems to work, which is what this entire summer has been if I had to be honest. Now, at the end of August, I seem to be starting to wrestle things under control, but it hasn’t been easy.

I might even write a blog post about it. I know that insomnia is something a lot of writers deal with.

Just because I put a lot of mental energy into recovery last month doesn’t mean I skipped out on writing. One of my big accomplishments for August was finishing the second draft of Red and Black 4.  This book still needs a lot of work before I’m comfortable letting other people see it, and given that I have a lot of projects to work on over the next few months (including the beta reads for Red and Black 3!), I think this one is going to be on the back burner until 2020.

Next up is Riley’s Story. I’m currently on the lookout for a couple new beta readers. Riley’s Story is the first Red and Black side story. Basically, some of my normal beta readers, who are currently finishing up Red and Black 3, have expressed to me that they’re pretty busy/overwhelmed, so I’d love to get a couple new perspectives to help me out with this smaller project. Take a look at this post for more information.

Another cool writing-related development is that I will be attending my first author fair this September, and it will take place in a very familiar place. You see, back when I was fifteen-years-old, I got my first job at my local library in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. It wasn’t much, just shelving books for ten hours a week (with a few more in the summer) for a grand total of $6 an hour (which became $6.75 when the minimum wage was raised). Ultimately, this job helped to foster my love of reading, and is a big part of why I decided to become a professional librarian.

This same library is hosting a local author fair for Tewksbury writers, past and present, and I’m pretty excited to be a part of it. Not just because it will give me a chance to interact face-to-face with readers and maybe sell a few books, but because it will allow me to revisit and important part of my teenage years.

If you’re in the area, and are available on Saturday, September 21st, I’d love to meet you. The author fair runs from 10:30-12 noon.

That’s it for August! Between the author fair, Red and Black 3 beta edits, and Self Published Fantasy Month, there’s a lot to be excited about next month. I’ll be sure to report on how everything goes!


The Red and Black Series is Not a Trilogy: A Public Service Announcement

Since Black and Blue‘s publication, I’ve noticed a couple people use the word “trilogy” to describe the Red and Black series. And while I have nothing against trilogies (in fact, it’s one of my favorite formats), that word doesn’t accurately describe the Red and Black series, which is more of an ongoing series.

So, you may ask, how many books am I talking about?

Given what I’ve worked on so far, there will be at least four, with book three coming out sometime next year (it’s too soon to give a real estimate). But ideally, I would love to be able to release seven books. Ultimately, there are two storylines involving two very different villainous forces, and it will take seven books (and maybe a side story here and there) to wrap things up in a satisfactory manner. I blame this unusual series length on two of my biggest obsessions from adolescence–Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Harry Potter–which managed to tell damn good stories in seven installments.

So, as you can see, Dawn and Alex’s story is a little longer than a trilogy. I hope you’ll stick around to see how things turn out!

Would you like to beta read a Red and Black side story?

I’ve you’ve visited my blog (or just my works-in-progress page) over the past few months, you may have heard me mention the project Riley’s Story. While Riley is a pretty important character in my novel, Black and Blue, he is still a side character, meaning that there’s a lot of his story that didn’t make the page.

Riley’s Story: A Red and Black One Shot is what didn’t make the page. This 15,000 word novelette dives into Riley’s backstory, including his experience growing up in a Forger community, and rather complex relationship with his parents. With this story I attempted to strike a balance. I didn’t want to write mindless filler, but something that would genuinely contribute to people’s experience with the series. At the same time, I didn’t want anyone who only read the main novels to be confused.

I hope to submit this piece to my newsletter subscribers around the new year, but in order to do that, I may need your help. You see, I have a regular group of beta readers, but they’re currently hard at work with Red and Black 3. As a result, I’m on the look out for a few people who have already read Red and Black and Black and Blue and would like to beta read this smaller project.

So what does being a beta read entail? Basically, you read the story and tell me what you think about it. That’s all. The things you liked. The things that didn’t work for you. The things that confused you. Etc. Etc. Some beta readers chose to highlight things like typos and grammatical issues, which is super helpful, but as I will be using a professional copy editor, not required of you. I’d also need you to be open to some follow up questions.

If you think you’re up for reading Riley’s Story, and can have it done by October first, please let me know! You can either email me at nancyotoolemeservier@gmail.com, or leave a comment here with your email so I can get in touch with you.