Monday, December 29, 2014

The Law of Diminishing Returns

I recently finished my manuscript for my third novel, Shattered Angel, and I’m in edit mode. I think this part of the process stresses me out more than actually writing the novel because there is no definitive end. I could edit and edit and edit... and still my perfectionist brain would want to edit more (and more and more and more...)

Enter the Law of Diminishing Returns.

This law is not just for business processes. If you are not familiar with this law, here’s the definition from

In economics, diminishing returns (also called law of diminishing returns, law of variable proportions, principle of diminishing marginal productivity, or diminishing marginal returns) is the decrease in the marginal (incremental) output of a production process as the amount of a single factor of production is incrementally increased, while the amounts of all other factors of production stay constant.

The law of diminishing returns states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant ("ceteris paribus"), will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns. The law of diminishing returns does not imply that adding more of a factor will decrease the total production, a condition known as negative returns, though in fact this is common.

Having now self-published two books, I believe this law is one of the most important concepts to implement during the editing processI'm talking about all the edits that take place from the moment I type the final word in my first draft to the moment when I send my manuscript to my proof-reader. Using the definition above for the Law of Diminishing Returns, the two variables in my process are:

Output (return): reader enjoyment
Factor of Production: edits

I know that I could read and revise my manuscript forever. Literally—forever. This is because nothing in life is perfect, and there would be no end to revisions if I didn’t put some sort of arbitrary end date out there. To help keep myself out of the endless abyss of editing, I’ve grouped my editing process into three separate phases:

Phase 1: Quick review
I do this right after I finish the book. I look for obvious errors, inconsistencies, and wording changes. The return in this phase is still relatively high due to the importance. It’s hard for someone to enjoy a book that’s filled with typos and silly mistakes. For example, in my second novel I had realized that the name of one of my secondary characters changed half way through the book. Oops. This is something that’s insignificant in the grand scheme of the entire novel, but it can turn a reader off quickly. The feeling is that if I don’t care about my characters enough to get their names right, why should the reader care about them either?

Phase 2: Beta reader edits
As a self-published author, I can define my own process. Instead of paying for one person to edit my book and receive only one perspective, I like to have several volunteer beta readers. I’m talking in the range of 10-15 people from my target reading audience. If there is a specific topic that requires an expert for validation, I include them in the beta read. I’m also a part of my beta read—this is where I read it on my Kindle and try to become the ‘reader’.

My beta readers tell me exactly what they think—words that annoy them, little things they love, errors, plot inconsistencies, characters they hate/love, how they felt when reading certain parts, etc. I also follow up with some very specific questions on areas that I’m debating on changing. The reason I have so many beta readers is because they all read with a different perspective. One person my love my main character while another may hate him. Seeing the story from so many different angles helps me to determine if there are any perceptions I wish to eliminate, or at least lessen. For example, if someone hates my main character and my goal is for the reader to love him, then I might want to make some tweaks based on that reader’s feedback. The many different perceptions also help me establish patterns—if a vast majority of the beta readers are confused by a certain part then I know I need to change something.

With my second book I started using a tiered process that I think works great. I designate a certain time period for my beta reads—for example the month of December. I then ask my beta readers to sign up for a week with the requirement that they read and send me comments by the end of that week. I give myself some time between the weeks to make any changes/corrections. I started doing this because I found that during the edits on my first book, I’d make changes based on feedback but then didn’t have anyone who could read the updated version. I had to resend certain parts to see what the beta readers thought. With my new process, there is always someone to read the new content. I also let the prior beta readers know about significant content changes I’ve made in case they are interested.

I don’t skimp on this phase of the editing process because it really is where I reach the peak of my returns. Remember, my return is ‘reader enjoyment’ so there’s no better way to affect that then to use feedback from readers in my target group. I don’t change things based on all the feedback, but I’m confident that I’m able to capture the important changes that will affect the reading enjoyment for the majority of my target group.

Really, my beta readers are awesome.

Phase 3: Endless tweaks
This is where the return on edits drops significantly. Without a deadline from a publisher forcing me to cut it off, this phase could go on forever. I could adjust the way a sentence is worded or add/remove content until the day I die. However, changes in this phase won’t significantly alter the reading experience, positively or negatively. At least it won’t for the majority of the reading population in my target audience. Remembering the Law of Diminishing Returns helps keep me from remaining in Phase 3 too long.

So when you start to edit your manuscript think about the Law of Diminishing Returns, and don’t get caught in the endless abyss of Phase 3. It will save you a lot of stress, headaches, and time.

Let us know in the comments how you avoid the pitfall of Phase 3!

~ Carrie

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reading Challenges

I'm a huge fan of reading challenges. They help me work toward a goal and push me to spend more time reading. And, really...who doesn't want to spend more time reading?

Goodreads is great for reading challenges and even counts books for you. At the moment, I'm behind my goal of thirty books this year, but I'm hopeful that I can get as close to that number as possible before the year is up!

Back in January, I blogged about a 2014 Challenge I was taking part in against my brother, Sunshine. Basically, whoever read the most books would receive a $20 gift card from the loser. My brother wants his card for the PlayStation store, while I want mine for Amazon. Of course I'll use it to buy more books.

Here are the rules for the 2014 Challenge, in no particular order:
  1. Books must be added to and tracked on Goodreads to count, with a special 2014 Challenge shelf.
  2. Books must be published (so my critiquing doesn't count, nor do my read-throughs of my own drafts). 
  3. Only novels count toward the total read (no non-fiction, comics, graphic novels, etc.). 
  4. Every two audiobooks listened to equals one book read.
  5. Only one book started before January 1, 2014 counts toward the total for 2014 (for me, this was Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, started December 30, 2013). 
  6. Revamped books will only count if added to the 2014 Challenge shelf. 
As of today, I have finished twenty-six books. Of those, eighteen were new reads, seven were audiobooks, and one was a reread. Considering I work from home, unschool two kiddos, and cover a wide range of other duties that would lead people to believe my alter ego is Wonder Woman, I think I'm doing okay. 

In 2015, I already have plans to participate is in this reading challenge:

I'm already excited and thinking of which books on my TBR list can count toward each check!

Do you participate in any reading challenges? How are you doing for 2014? What are your reading goals for 2015?

--Brianna Lebrecht

Friday, December 19, 2014

BILLY's on sale! BILLY's on sale!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve! 

BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS is on sale for $0.99 from now until 3:00 am EST December 25th!  My great publisher Severed Press is throwing this sale, and they're the ones that took a chance on BILLY in the first place.  I'm still a little embarrassed that I haven't been able to deliver them a spot on the bestseller list (all my other books have been there), but maybe with this sale we can change all that!  I hope you'll pick up a copy if you haven't.  And if you have, I hope you'll share this sale with your friends, both cyber and real.  Here's the purchase link:


Want to know more about what you're getting into?  Well, every mention of BATC on the web is listed here. And here is what some of the hottest (both in terms of physical attractiveness and pop culture relevancy) reviewers have to say:

"Billy and the Cloneasaurus is one of the most brilliantly constructed and elegantly written satirical stories I have ever read."
 - Eduardo Aduna, Readers' Favorite

"This is a totally unique and unforgettable read which was thought-provoking as well as amusing."

- Sharon Stevenson, author of RAISED and the GALLOWS books

" has the same razor sharp edges to it that don’t show very much remorse when you get cut by them."

- Patrick D'Orazio, author of the DARK series
Thanks everybody!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Remembering a Few Things I'd Forgotten

I was recently surfing the Internet like I'm wont to do (too much) and I came across someone saying that you shouldn't look at others' journeys, and compare them to yours. Lightbulb moment! How could I have forgotten this? Here's how.

You know those days when you feel like you're the worst writer in the world? And you're all down on yourself and want to just eat chocolate and watch TV? Then in a few days-- or hours-- you're feeling more okay with yourself and your abilities? Well, I've been experiencing this up and down here lately when I think about publishing.

There are so many different paths to get where it is that I want to be. And that's an author. I know some people dicker about this, but to me an author is someone who has actually been published. Big or little, doesn't matter, but published. And here lately, I've been stressing my journey to that path. I've been peering anxiously down it, trying to figure out if it's going to fork left or right, or continue straight, or even just stop dead.

All the while looking over at someone else's path that seems to be paved with gold brick and headed exactly where they want it.

I don't like this. I want to accept that I am not them, and they are not me, and that's okay. I want to just try the hardest I can to achieve my dream and be open to dreams not always happening exactly the way I think they should. Because sometimes when you let go, things can happen even better than what you had ever imagined.

So here's to following our own paths, wherever they may lead! *raises glass with a double shot of vanilla*

~ Leandra

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best YA Stories I Can't Read

Spoiler alert: I write YA! I also watch a lot of teen shows because I think the stories are better than grown up shows.

I particularly love Disney movies/TV shows, and sometimes I wonder: if they had actually been YA novels would they have been given more credit? Would the concepts draw you in more without the cheesy dialogue, abysmal acting, and random outbursts of song and dance numbers? (for the record, I FREAKING LOVE ALL OF THESE THINGS.)

Anyway. I thought it would be interesting to strip them down to the basic heart of their stories, and present them as though you were scanning the back jacket of a book.

Here are my top 5 favorite stories/couples that are so YA but not in book form.

5). Brady and Mack (Ross Lynch and Maia Mitchell) in the movie Teen Beach Movie.

Mack's about to leave for the east coast for a new school, but not before breaking her boyfriend Brady's heart, and certainly not before tackling one final surf. When she's dragged out by a dangerous wave, Brady dives in to rescue her. But when they step out of the ocean they've somehow been transported into Brady's favorite 1960's musical. Things get way worse when the musical's two ditzy stars fall for Brady and Mack rather than each other. Until Mack and Brady can change the movie back to normal, they'll never get home again.

4) Chad Danforth and Taylor McKessie (Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman) in the films High School Musical 1, 2, & 3.

Brainiac Taylor harbors a pretty deep hatred for "lughead" Chad. As they work together to keep their respective best friends from dating (then work together to repair the damage they've done) they realize they like each other. A lot. Taylor takes him down a peg or two, and Chad teaches her that emitting a girly squeal every now and then won't lower her IQ points.

3. Austin Moon and Ally Dawson (Ross Lynch and Laura Marano) in the TV show Austin & Ally.

He's a world famous pop star, and she writes the songs that make him famous. As the series develops, Ally overcomes her crippling stage fright, gets a record deal of her very own, and signs to the same label as Austin. They've finally admitted to themselves and each other that they want to be together, but the president of the label wants Austin to remain single for business purposes.

2) Mitchie Torres and Shane Gray (Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas) in the films Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam.

Mitchie can't afford her dream: to attend Camp Rock. So when her mom gets the gig to be the camp's caterer for the summer, Mitchie gets to go at a discount. She's thrilled--until she arrives and wants nothing more than to fit in with the popular girls. In order to do that, she tells them her mom is the president of Hot Tunes China. Everyone thinks she's rich and privileged, just like all the cool campers. Meanwhile, wild pop star Shane Gray is forced by his "people" to teach at the camp to repair his bad-boy rep. He overhears a mystery girl singing in the practice room and falls for the song, the voice, and the heartfelt lyrics. He can't find her, but in the meantime he befriends Mitchie. His softer side is revealed when he starts to fall for Mitchie, but everything comes crashing down when a summer's worth of Mitchie's lies comes tumbling out. (Best moment ever: when Shane sees Mitchie perform at Final Jam and learns she's The Girl with The Voice--think The Little Mermaid's Prince Eric realizing mute, sweet Ariel is actually the singing girl who rescued him.)

1) Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) in High School Musical 1, 2, & 3.

He's captain of the basketball team and all around star of East High, and she's the math whiz and "freaky genius" girl who's never settled in one school--until now. Since finding each other, they've both discovered an unknown passion for musical theater. But it'll ruin Troy's rep and let down his team if he devotes himself to the high school musical rather than practice for the upcoming basketball game. Until he can admit his newfound passion to his team, his dad, and, most importantly, himself, he'll never find the courage to be with Gabriella.

Which of these stories/couples would you love to read in book form? Do you have a favorite that didn't make my list?
xoxo Beth

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How did it feel when you wrote "The End"?

A post by Jonathan

So... I did it. I finally did it! After nearly ten years of working on my first novel, I finally wrote “The End”! Okay, so it wasn’t ten years straight, a thousand words a night or anything like that. That would be like a 3,650,000 page book! Boy, when you put that way, I did not manage my time well at all…

Seriously though, I’m super proud of myself. There were definitely times when I thought this day would never come. But now that it’s finally here, I can’t believe how good it feels! It’s like graduating from college, making the basketball team, and having a baby all at the same time. I feel totally legit, like I’m finally part of the club. I’m no longer the guy who’s writing a book, I’m the guy who finished a book. I talked the talk and walked the walk. I climbed the mountain, I peered into the valley, and it was good.  Sure, I’ve got a ton of revisions ahead of me. Sure, half of what I wrote is crap. But right now. Today. I am a doer. I am a finisher. I am a writer. I can say that now... without question.

All right, my hand is starting to hurt from patting myself on the back, so I’m going to sign off. But before I go, I’d like to ask you, reader-writers, to tell us how it felt when you first wrote “The End”. Did you walk on air for a few days or was it totally anticlimactic? Did the act of finishing give you a sense of legitimacy you didn’t feel before, or did very little change? Did you think finishing was a big deal, or were you holding out for the agent/first sale to pat yourself on the back? Or maybe you haven't finished yet... if so, what are you most looking forward to when that day finally comes? Either way, I'd love to hear from you!

In the meantime, please have a piece of virtual cake to celebrate with me! Also, I’d like to give a big shout-out to my fellow Boarders, Carrie and Nilah, for recently finishing books as well. Carrie completed her fourth novel just a few days ago and Nilah won NaNoWriMo. You two can fight over the first piece of cake! Virtual food fight = easy cleanup.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by sisters, Jaime Morrow & Erin L. Funk. It's a great way to keep everyone updated on, well, what you've been up to! For a full list of participants or to link your own post, please visit either of their blogs.

* * * 

What I'm Reading:I recently finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. This was the first book by Rowell that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books. I’m currently reading my newly finished manuscript.

What I'm Writing:
This past weekend I finished the first draft of my manuscript for Shattered Angel! I’m now in revise mode and I’ve started the beta read process. I’m supposed to have cover concepts this Friday—I can’t wait to see what Scarlett Rugers comes up with this time!

What Works for Me
When I finish a manuscript, I usually go through it once quickly on the computer to look for errors or changes. Then I take a short break by reading something else, or I finish reading a current book. The short break gives my mind a chance to recharge and detach a bit from the story. Then I send my finished manuscript to my Kindle for a more in depth review. I find that I read it differently when I read it on my Kindle versus on the computer. It seems to put me in ‘reader mode’ rather than ‘author mode’ and I catch a lot more that way.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

It’s holiday season, so I’ve been putting up decorations and shopping. I finished the 10 week challenge for my fitness program, and now I’ve joined the one year challenge. I have a long road ahead of me, but I’m excited for the possibilities.


What I'm Reading 
Oh man, I just finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the third book in the Ravens Boys quartet and it was ah-mazing. Maggie Stiefvater is my author hero, especially when it comes to characterization. I cannot stop thinking about the book. I recommend the Raven Boys to everyone I know. The first book is on sale on Amazon for $2.99. You're welcome.

What I'm Writing 
I'm still working on my novella. I took a vacation when my friend was here visiting from the UK. But now, I'm back at it and the thing will be drafted by the end of the year.

What Works for Me
 Right now, nothing. I have a hard time focusing. Snow days and vacations mean our routines are all screwed up and my kids are watching a lot of TV so that I can work. It's not ideal. I need to live where it doesn't snow.

What Else I've Been Up To
Not much, other than shopping online for the holidays. And trying not to eat all the chocolate in my house. Because there's a lot.


What I'm Reading
Just started the latest Shopaholic novel by Sophie Kinsella, Shopaholic to the Stars!

What I'm Writing
Still drafting my NA WIP. I hit about 60,000 in draft mode and now I’m starting to piece the beginning together.

What Works for Me
Nothing inspires me to write like reading. And if you know me, you know how much I adore Sophie Kinsella, so reading anything by her is always the biggest chick-lit writing boost!

What Else I've Been Up To
Getting set for Chanukah! And happy to be able to enjoy it, stress-free, because we just got the news a few days ago that my dad’s 18 month post-stem cell transplant bone marrow aspiration came back clean!! (non-medical speak: he’s healthy and Amyloidosis free 1.5 years following treatment.)

~Carrie, Kimberly, & Beth

Monday, December 8, 2014

Adventures in NaNoWriMo

Something happened this past month that I thought I was safe from. I took every precaution. I’d fallen victim to it in the past, I’d been weak, but I wouldn’t fall for it again. That’s what I told myself, but sadly, I couldn’t hold firm to my convictions.

That’s right, friends. I let myself get talked into doing NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The premise is simple: write a 50,000-word novel from November 1 to November 30. At a steady pace, that means roughly 1,667 words a day.

I did it in 2013 and won; it was my first win, and such a rush! I was so ecstatic that I planned to do it this year as well, but of course life got in the way. November’s a truly horrible month to schedule anything that requires more than half-hearted dedication. As November approached, I saw my free time dwindling, and I made the decision to bow out this year.

From elementary school, we all learn the dangers of peer pressure. You’d think I’d know better by now. But my friend was sneaky, you see. Take note, dear readers: friends can be sneaky, but writer friends are the sneakiest. This friend reminded me that when we became Writing Buddies on the NaNo site, we had never met and lived 2,700 miles from one another. Then I moved across the country, and when I glanced at my Buddies list in 2013, I was shocked to notice the name of my coworker! That's right, folks: my virtual Writing Buddy serendipitously became my real life Office Buddy.

This year, she persuaded me to join her in the NaNo madness. “We started as strangers, we end as friends!” she declared. How could anyone say no to that?

And so, I embarked on 30 days of heeeeeeell!

Actually, it wasn’t so bad. Keeping up in NaNoWriMo is all about pacing. You’ve got to start strong and maintain a manageable pace throughout the month. Missing a day here and there is fine, but dangerous: your necessary word count goes nowhere as the days tick on. It becomes a mountain, and the higher it gets, the more discouraging it can become to press on.

When I do NaNo, my goal is always 2,000 words a day—a few hundred over the recommended number. That way I’m building up a buffer, and if I do have to miss a day, there’s little damage. But I knew going in that this was going to be a crazy month. Not only was I getting started on upcoming end-of-year projects, but I was exhibiting at an art event the weekend before Thanksgiving. Writing 2k words a day AND keeping up with my art was no easy task.

In fact, the week of the event, I slid. I really slid. By the time I was ready to look at NaNo again, I was 12,000 words behind with only three days left! I really had to book it. When I got home on November 28, I sat my butt in my computer chair and began writing.

And I reeeeeally didn’t want to. I was so tired! But I was so close, and my friend was just 5k away from the end! Man oh man, if she hadn’t gotten me into this mess..!

But, she was the very thing that kept me going. The reason I like NaNoWriMo is that it fosters community. There’s something about knowing you’re struggling alongside like-minded individuals that keeps you motivated… and also a little too scared of failure to give into it. You want everyone else to get to the finish line, but you want to be right there with them. It’s not so much competitiveness as it is camaraderie.

So when I saw my friend cross the finish line, I sucked it up and dug in. By Saturday, I had less than 8,000 words to go. I stayed inside all day and kept my fingers over the keyboard.

How did I do? Well...

Pretty good, I think.

Though my NaNo adventure was a little (well, very) unexpected, I'm glad I did it. I was hoping to get rolling on a rewrite of this manuscript before the end of the year, but the way things were going, I was pretty sure I wouldn't make my goal. Now the manuscript is over halfway done! It's a grueling pace, but I've found NaNo to be a great way to make progress on early drafts.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm still catching up on my beauty sleep.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ISWG: Submission Anxiety, Mushy Brain, & Reading Reviews

Founder: Alex J. Cavanaugh

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. {This has been taken from the IWSG site, where a full list of participants can be found}

Beth: Being on sub has a tendency to beat even the most positive person down. I’m trying incredibly hard to overcome the disappointment each time an editor passes on my manuscript. I try to plow through with current works despite going on multiple rounds of sub with a finished project my agent and I are passionate about. Lately, when I sit down to tackle some work on my WIP, I find that I just stare at the screen and worry: Am I good enough? What if my on-sub book amounts to nothing? What’s to say this new project won’t sell? All these what-ifs are detrimental to my writing and my psyche. And the worst part is that with all the time spent worrying and trying to predict a future that may or may not come, I could have written twelve novels! (Don’t worry—I’m writing through the insecurities! I hit 60,000 words this month on my WIP! Now to make them make sense…)

Kimberly: Grunge Gods and Graveyards has been out in the wild for six months and sales are down to a trickle. You'd think that would make me all insecure, but honestly I was prepared for this. What I'm struggling with is trying to finish my other writing projects. After my third child was born in May, my ability to sit and focus is also down to a trickle. I can't seem to get anything done. It's taken me a few months to draft a 30K-word novella. I'm still drafting a YA ghost story mystery after an entire year. I started an outline for a historical mystery that may not get drafted for another year. And I have a great idea for a series I want to get moving on. That's the thing: I have all these ideas but my ability to work consistently has stalled. Because I have three kids and my brain is mush. By the time the kids are in bed, I'm useless and only interested in browsing Etsy. It's my own damn fault. I'm well aware of it and yet...I'm just so tired. But if I want to be a writer, I have to write. Obviously.

Carrie: Before publishing my first novel, I spent 17 years in corporate industry. One of the primary beliefs at our company was the importance of customer feedback. It was viewed as critical information that helped us improve our products and service. Customer feedback was also a critical element in the performance review process. Basically, I’m programmed to care about what people think.

I’ve read several posts/articles that recommend writers NOT read reviews from readers. Well, it’s a little hard for me to reverse 17 years of programming. So yes, I read reviews. And let me tell you, it makes things very difficult.

One of my primary insecurities in general is the feeling of not being good enough. In the corporate world, I could usually tell what kind of performance feedback I was going to receive. I mean, I worked closely with the people over the year and it was easy to know which were satisfied with my performance and which felt I needed some improvement. Customer feedback on a process for which I was responsible wasn’t personal, so it was easy to absorb.

Book reviews are very personal. It’s all me in the words between the covers. It’s hard to detach myself from the comments and look at them objectively. If someone doesn’t like one of my novels, I feel as if I’ve let them down. They took a chance with my book, in some cases paid money, and in all cases invested part of their valuable personal time. I want to respect that and give them an entertaining story to enjoy.

I’ve been genuinely surprised by the positive feedback I’ve received on my first novel, Kingston’s Project. Not because I don’t think that my book is good, but because the feedback has been so consistent. I had expected to have a few more people who didn’t like it by now. I know not everyone will like every book—it’s just not possible. It’s been so rewarding to see the positive response to this novel. So where’s the insecurity coming from?

Well, that would be on my second novel, Kingston’s Promise, which is the sequel to the first. So far, the feedback has reached both ends of the spectrum. I’ve had some readers tell me that they loved the sequel more than the first. On the flip side, some readers who had loved and raved about the first book expressed their disappointment in the second. The feedback is not consistent and that has been difficult for me.

I know all the logic that says poor reviews are OK and might actually be a good thing, but the heart is having a hard time. It’s taken a lot of effort to ignore my 17 years of training that’s telling me the feedback means I need to change something. I had to stop writing my third novel for a bit, just so I could recalibrate my emotions. I didn’t want it to affect what I was writing or how I was writing it. As I said, in the corporate world feedback is used to make changes! I’m continuously fighting to pull myself back to the logical side of the equation, as well as focus on the positive comments. Since I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop reading reviews, I’m hoping to figure out a way to take the personal emotions out of it. I’d like to be able to use reader reviews to see if there is genuine criticism I can use to improve my writing, but I don’t want to let it completely change what and how I write—or worse, stop me from writing all together.

If anyone has a quick and effective way to reprogram 17 years of learning, please let me know!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hefting a Grim Cup of Holiday Obligation

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Ho, ho-ho! It's time to celebrate everyone's favorite holiday. Yes, that magical time of year when you plant a tree in the yard, put on your Guy Fawkes mask, and remember the sacrifices of organized labor to bring us the 8-hour workday, weekends, and child labor laws.  Such warm memories.  Such pleasant future memories to look forward to tomorrow.

How will you be celebrating this year? Traditionally, you're supposed to bring chocolate and flowers to a romantic, candlelit dinner with your sweetheart. But what about other traditions? Other cultures? Perhaps this year you'll play dreidl, or leave a sugarspun skull on the grave of your lost loved ones, or even heft a stein with dozens of sweaty Teutonic men down at the Biergarten.

What of me, you ask? I'll be celebrating as I do every year: by getting falldown drunk on green-tinted beer and Jameson's, then passing out in a gutter. Traditions are important you know.

But still, let's not forget the reason for the season. We all like to have fun and spend time with our families this time of year, barbecuing and setting off sometimes illicit fireworks, but it's also important to remember that if it wasn't for Washington, Lincoln, Columbus, and King, we wouldn't even have anything to celebrate. Let's try to keep that in mind as we're popping the champagne and kissing our sweethearts at midnight this week.

So, this is me, signing off. I know this is a religious holiday, and not everyone subscribes to the same faith. So just bear in mind that as I wish you all the traditional holiday greeting for this time of year, I mean it only with the warmest of hearts and most inclusive of intentions. And so I shall sign off as is customary with a cheerful: "RATS OFF TO YA!"

Rats off to ya, everyone.

(Note: In honor of...something or other, I can't quite remember what, Across the Board will not be updating this Thursday. We will, however, be back with a regular post next Monday, despite the sacred trust that is Cyber Monday. Oh, I remember now. HAPPY BLACK FRIDAY'S EVE, EVERYBODY! Lu lu lu lu lu lu lu...)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Qualities of a Highland Hero

~ by Amy Jarecki

Many people have asked me how I came up with the tag line “Adventure Kissed by Romance”. That’s an easy question to answer…My first published novel was a Native American Adventure (Boy Man Chief). After writing that book, I decided to focus on romance, first contemporary and then Scottish historical. Also, early on in my writing career, I tried different genres and found I love writing action/adventure. The most prominent common thread in all my books is that they have adventure and steamy romance.

So, what’s my ideal Scottish Highland hero? Though they probably have much in common with heroes of other genres, here are the key redeeming qualities in my fifteenth and sixteenth century heroes:
1.     Total alpha male. These rugged warriors cannot afford to be passive. They have a duty to protect their clans and their women and nothing will stop them from doing so.
2.     Honor. The Scottish Highlander’s honor is his most treasured attribute, guiding his every decision. No one could ever strip away his honor.
3.     Respect and Chivalry. Both his honor and the code of chivalry ensure the Highlander will treat the heroine reverently, respect her virtue, and when in a crowd, he will make her feel as if she’s the only and most beautiful woman in the room.
4.     Ruggedly good looking. These Highland heroes are generally tall and sturdy, and definitely not pretty. With firm jaws, broad foreheads and intense eyes, there is no question who is in command when you enter their lair.
5.     Did I mention powerful? Their sturdy build and constant training tones their solid frames. A Highlander would be a good contender for Mr. Universe, though he’s not conceited about it. His muscular build is necessary for the protection of his clan.
6.     Well trained warrior. These men must be trained in the use of all weapons, and expertly wield a claymore, shoot arrows, and know how to handle a deadly dirk.
7.     A sense of humor. They don’t take themselves too seriously and know when to laugh at their own mistakes…but not always.
8.     Practiced lover. Any woman will swoon in their arms and consider herself completely ravished in the morning.
9.     Finally, my Highland heroes have a fervent passion for the heroine that drives them to the ragged edge of madness.

Who wouldn’t fall in love with rugged warrior, who only has eyes for you, would protect you with his life, and speaks with a deep, lilting Scottish burr? *swoons*

Amy's books:

Coming January 1, 
To celebrate the release of KNIGHT IN HIGHLAND ARMOR, I'm running a GIVEAWAY! ENTER TO WIN!!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Distraction free writing a.k.a the Alphasmart post

If you're any sort of writer like me, then the internet is just one big, bright, shiny object and you can't look away. Something happened after I had kids and stopped working -- I got lonely. I love my kids but I can't have a deep conversation about publishing trends with my four-year-old, go figure. So I filled the absence of adult interaction with Facebook and Twitter and writer forums instead. Then, it got to the point where I couldn't even sit down to write and focus. I had to first check my email and then scroll through my Facebook feed and tweet my senator and then naptime was over and I got nothing done. In an effort to connect, I couldn't disconnect when I needed to.

So I began browsing the web looking for ideas on how to write without distractions (is that irony?) when I came up upon an awesome thread on Kboards about the Alphasmart. Alphasmarts are old-school word processors that were popular in elementary schools. They have a calculator screen and an old clickety-clack keyboard and they only show a few lines of text at a time. They run on AA batteries and turn on within seconds. You can upload your work to any program with a click of a button. They're super portable too. Since two AA batteries can last a year, you can take these suckers anywhere. Not to mention, they're pretty durable. Best part: no wireless.

I bought this duo on Ebay for $30. A B1G1 free deal. Good thing I have two because they are no longer made. And many writers do buy a backup just in case.

Alphasmarts have a cult following, including a Flickr group. Writers also get jazzy with their Neos -- some dismantling them to paint and customize them. I bought a can of pink Rustoleum, but I haven't taken my Neo apart yet to paint it. And when I say me, I really mean my husband.

In the short time since getting my Alphasmart Neo, I have nearly doubled my drafting time, writing up to 2,000 words in 90 minutes. That's unheard of for me. That's the kicker -- I can only draft in the Neo. After I upload my draft to Scrivener and I revise and edit in there. But I'm a natural editor. Revisions are my favorite part of the writing process and I find I'm less likely to d^ck around online.

So, dear readers -- do you use an Alphasmart? Do you love it? Did you customize yours? How has it changed your writing?

For those who don't use Alphasmarts, how do you write without distractions?

Does anyone draft on a typewriter?

Thanks for checking in,

Saturday, November 15, 2014

If You're a Fantasy Fan...

Then you might want to check out Ron Collins' GLAMOUR OF THE GOD-TOUCHED, which just released today!

Garrick is a mage’s apprentice, soon to be a full-fledged sorcerer. The course of his life is clear—he will be an apprentice, a mage, and then a superior. But a tragic accident finds him wielding a god-like power over life and death, and as rumors of mage war grow stronger around him, he learns his future is not fated to be as simple as he dreamed. Glamour of the God-Touched follows Garrick as he discovers the forces behind his new magic. The lessons he learns and how he deals with them will threaten the very nature of who he is.

Amazon | B&N | Smashwords | Kobo

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In the blink of a post: Interview with Ashley from Forever Ashley

A few months ago I connected with Ashley, the woman behind the blog Forever Ashley, while promoting my first novel to book bloggers. I liked the honest approach that Ashley took when writing her reviews, so I sent her a review request. That turned into not only a review of my book, but also a request from Ashley that I write up a post for her Women at Work series. Since then, I’ve enjoyed following her blog posts. One of the things I admire is her willingness to share her personal experiences in an effort to inspire others. From what I could tell, her blog had a steady following of loyal readers who engaged regularly in comments.

In early October she posted Why Your Crush on My Husband is Not OK. Again, I had admired the way she opened herself up honestly. A few days later, I started seeing that same post being shared on my personal Facebook news feed by some of my friends. I became curious and went back to her site to have a look.

Wow. In the blink of that post, Forever Ashley experienced a tremendous surge in page views, shares, comments, and followers. I, along with others, viewed that post as the sharing of a personal experience to help other women understand why they should not express their crushes on married men. Others found support and encouragement from Ashley’s words after having been through similar experiences, and they were happy she put voice to their own feelings. Others used it as sounding board to voice their own stories, some much worse than what Ashley had experienced. Unfortunately, there were also those that took it as an opportunity to say some unpleasant things, about the post and about Ashley herself.

I continue to follow the blog and have been inspired by the way Ashley handled the situation. That inspiration prompted me to reach out to her for this interview. It’s something that can happen to any blogger—a dramatic change in the blink of a post—and I thought it would be great to hear about the experience through Ashley’s perspective.

Hi, Ashley! Thanks for spending some time with me today on Across the Board. I think it would be great if you could first tell everyone about what inspired you to start your blog, Forever Ashley.

Hi Carrie!  Thanks for inviting me to Across the Board.  I'm so excited!  So, what inspired me to begin Forever Ashley?  If I'm being honest I'm not sure what inspired me.  I've always been a writer, at least for as long as I can remember, but I'm not a novelist like you and I couldn't write something like Kingston's Project.  I'm a storyteller but not in the fictional sense.  I had a public diary when I was in high school and I've had various blogs before this one but nothing personal.  When I started Forever Ashley (in June, 2014) I just needed a new place to write.  I was going through a lot of major life changes (a new career, moving to a new city in a new state, we had just lost our first pregnancy) and I needed an outlet.  I thought to myself, "So much is changing.  Everything feels so different.  I'm not even the same person I was a year ago." As I reflected on who I had been and who I am now I realized one thing - that no matter how much changes around me I am still ME.  I'm still Ashley.  I may be a different version of Ashley but I'm always Ashley.  Forever Ashley.  So I bought a domain name and began to blog. 

In your post Why Your Crush on My Husband is Not OK you comment that you debated for a while whether or not to share the experience on your blog. What ultimately tipped the scales and prompted you to write the post?

Oh, I did debate with myself!  I thought about it for weeks before I wrote it.  I wanted to write about it but it just didn't feel "right."  I didn't feel like I was able to tell the story properly and, honestly, I felt like I was over-reacting.  When her crush on my husband first came out I brushed it off but it didn't stop there.  The messages continued (and were ignored) but then one night she was inappropriate in a message to him and I lost it.  I was really upset that night and I said quite a few things out of anger that I really regret now.  Then I felt bad.  I felt bad that it had escalated to that point.  My anger was never directed toward my husband but he saw me in that negative light and I regretted that too.  I said to him, "This is why she shouldn't have even expressed the crush.  This is why it shouldn't have come up.  This is why that's best kept to herself.  Nothing good comes of it, surely she knew that, right?  What was she trying to accomplish anyway?"  That's when I realized how I could tell the story.  When I understood I could explain why it's inappropriate and speak from a place where I felt in control of my emotions I decided to share it, and so I did.

As the post when viral, did you see it coming gradually over the course of a few days, or was it kind of like waking up one day and looking out your window to see OZ rather than Kansas?

It was a little bit of both.  My traffic has steadily increased every week since I first began in June so I was used to seeing little increases.  I've had a few posts get more attention than normal so when I noticed the traffic doubled in a day I just smiled feeling happy it had resonated with some people.  Then that traffic doubled.  Then the next day it was about 10 times normal and I realized something really crazy was happening.  Then I started having trouble even getting into the backend of my site to write new posts because it was beginning to crash.  I called my host and they said my traffic was exceeding my allowance and I had to upgrade to a new package that could handle a 6-figure number of visitors per day.  That's when I realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  After I upgraded to a new package the traffic went really crazy and I assume that's because it wasn't crashing anymore and people could finally read it.  Even now, a month later, every single day it's my most visited post.

What has been the most rewarding thing for you as a result of publishing that post?

This is kind of hard because there are three possible answers to this but since the other two also fit in the next two questions I'm going to talk about the Pastor.  I had a Pastor message me and tell me that he volunteers and councils couples who are going through troubled marriages.  He said that these couples are often facing troubles because of infidelity (physical or emotional) and it's hard to explain to one spouse how the other may be feeling.  Apparently he felt like I put those feelings into words well because he wanted permission to print, and copy, my article to use as a handout during his sessions to provide perspective into the feelings that accompany infidelity.  While my husband did not cheat, the feelings are similar. I was overjoyed at the idea of my words helping others gain perspective into their spouse’s feelings and potentially help save marriages.  It's amazing to me to think of that post going so far beyond the boundaries of my little blog.  He asked if I would grant rights for reproduction without compensation and of course I agreed.  It's not about the money and I'd feel ridiculous asking for payment over that.  

What has been the most difficult?

The people, definitely.  In total I've received over 620 e-mails and Facebook messages from women responding to that post.  I replied to each and every single one of them.  Some asked for prayers and I recorded them in my prayer journal to pray for nightly before bed.  Some I still e-mail and message with as they give me updates on their lives and their marriages.  Some poured out their hearts talking about the brokenness and worthlessness they feel after watching their marriages destruct because of another person.  It was heartbreaking to hear about the childhood sweethearts torn apart, the children who've suffered because of the infidelity, or the loss of trust in a marriage because of someone's deceit.  Even in the marriages that were saved, things aren't the same and it's been hard to read sad story after sad story.  I just pray continuously for these hurting people.  I try to remind myself that even though it's hard on me, emotionally, to hear these stories, God is using me to be there to share encouragement and show love when they need it.

How about the most surprising?

The most surprising was finding my blog being discussed on My Fox DC!  I had a comment from a reader that started off with, "I first heard about this on the news..." and I was convinced he was mistaken.  Then I saw a tweet from a reporter out of Washington DC that said she had done a story about my post and hoped I liked it.  She had included a link and I was terrified to click it.  Turns out she had gone on the streets asking people if they felt it was ok for a woman to express a crush on a married man, then back in the studio they talked about it.  Hearing my name, and my blog's name, said out loud on a Washington DC news station was absolutely shocking.  I would have never imagined that. 

If you had known that the post would receive this level of response, would you have done anything differently?

I don't know.  Sometimes I think yes and other times I think no, it all depends on the day.  Right now I'm thinking that no, I wouldn't have done anything differently.  I wrote the truth and expressed my feelings which is really all I can do.  Changing something would mean either holding back the truth or hiding my feelings and neither of those are good things.  I once said if I had known it would get this kind of response I wouldn't have even written it.  I said that after reading 60+ sad story e-mails and shedding tears over each one of them.  I immediately regretted that too.  Obviously that post touched a lot of people and affected a lot of women.  I repeatedly heard (or read) that they finally felt like someone understood their feelings and me being sad over e-mails is worth them feeling validated.  I'm glad I wrote it.  I'm glad it's out there.

Has the response to that post shifted what you share on your blog, or how you share it?

It did at first.  I was full of anxiety because I suddenly felt like I was in competition with myself, as though I had to top that post.  If something new didn't get the same kind of traffic I felt like I was failing or if it didn't get a lot of comments I felt like people didn't like it.  There was suddenly this pressure that hadn't been there before and it was overwhelming.  I usually write every day but I didn't publish anything for 4-5 days because I just felt like nothing was good enough anymore.  It was just like, "Where do you go from here?"  Then very suddenly I just realized that post resonated because it was written from my heart.  I realized people connected with that post because they had connected with me so I went back to writing like I write, sharing my heart, and hoping that people continue to like it.  If they don't, there's nothing I can do.  If that is the only post of mine that they ever read I hope it resonated with them in some small way. 

How do you push past the negativity you’ve received and stay focused on the positive aspects of what you do?

How do I push past it?  Who says I push past it?  It affects me greatly and it's really hard on me, that's a curse of being a sensitive person.  I'm in a few blogging groups and I've asked them for advice.  I'll re-read positive comments or thank you e-mails.  I'll read a book, watch a funny movie or just let it out in one big cry if I feel like I need to do that.  I try to consciously think about the positive things and force myself to focus on writing about that.  It's tough though because if I receive 100 positive e-mails and 1 negative e-mail it is the negative e-mail that will stay with me and bother me.  As I said, it's a curse of the sensitive but I just try to pray and move forward.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a blogger facing this same type of situation?

Connect with your new readers!  If someone takes the time to e-mail you, Facebook message you, tweet you, or comment on the post then take the time to respond.  It means a great deal to them and these are the people who will become followers, who will return, who will connect on social media so make sure they know they are important and valuable to you.  That's the big thing although there is the other stuff...make sure your server can handle the traffic, don't let it change your blog, don't try to duplicate it, etc.   

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions for Across the Board! I wish you the best of luck with Forever Ashley and look forward to your future posts.
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