And now it’s time for a light-hearted book review #Bookreview of Sentinel of Darkness from @katiereus #MondayBlogs #AmReading

Another week, another excuse for not finding time to read my current Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction. *hangs head in shame* But, let’s face it, sometimes you need to read something light. Something that’s not hundreds of pages long. Something that doesn’t force you to use your brain while you try to remember some obscure historical event or grab the dictionary because no one’s vocabulary is that expansive.

NetGalley to the rescue! I received Sentinel of Darkness just when I needed it most.

Sentinel of Darkness

 

This novella delivers everything it promises: sexy dragon shifters, suspense, romance and sexy times. There are even a few laughs. I’ve devoured every book in the Darkness Series, and Sentinel of Darkness, although a novella, was no different.

I liked Keva. She was finally finding herself after her tragic past. Dagen was hot. Who doesn’t drool after a dragon shifter who knows who is mate is and is determined to protect her with all he’s worth? Oh, and he wants to woo her with pastries! If Keva didn’t want him, I’ll have him! Several other characters in the Darkness Series made cameo appearances. Cue the laughing!

Sentinel of Darkness is the perfect read for when you need to escape every day life, but you haven’t got much time stay away.

So, if like me, you need a break from life. I highly recommend the Darkness Series.

Happy reading!

keep calm and read a book

In praise of banned books! Read one today! #BannedBooksWeek #AmReading

I’m stepping on my soap box for this blog article. If you are easily offended, please stop reading now.

Get on your soapbox... the downside includes "rude and irrational" debates.

As it is banned books week, I thought I’d talk about the importance of reading banned books. Personally, I was very lucky to have had several teachers and professors in my educational past who forced me to read books that had been banned or challenged. Native Son, Go Tell It On The Mountain, Brown Girl, Brownstones, and The Awakening are just a few examples. There were many more, but for some reason, these are the books I’ve carted around the world with me.

banned books week 2

Why should we read banned books? Banned books are provocative and challenging. Yikes! Why not just read something nice and easy? (Please note: There is NOTHING wrong with reading nice and easy.) The themes dealt with in banned books are anything but nice and easy. And that’s exactly why we should read them. Some of the themes of the books currently in the top 10 of banned books include: sexual violence, religion, same-sex marriage, gender identification, racial slurs. The list goes on and on.

Here’s the thing: Each and every theme used as an excuse to ban a book is part of everyday life. Sexual violence is a daily occurrence. In fact, a woman is raped every two minutes in America. Maybe if we start talking about this violence and how it’s wrong and not to be blamed on the victim, people would stop thinking it’s okay to sexually intimidate or sexually abuse another person.

Same-sex marriage, gender identification, LGBTQ rights… the list could go on. These ‘sensitive’ topics should be discussed, because they are part of life and not talking about them only makes people fearful. People are fearful of the unknown, after all.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I think I’ve made it clear why I believe we should read difficult books and discuss the uncomfortable issues they bring up. So, go ahead, grab a banned book and dive in.

 

Write what you know. Just not literally. #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #WritingTips

26 sept 1Write what you know. This advice is repeated to writers ad nauseum. But what does it mean? Should you only write about things and places you know?  What about professions? Do all your characters have to work in fields with which you are familiar? Can you only write from a woman’s perspective if you are a woman? You can quickly fall into the rabbit hole with this advice.

Personally, I don’t think write what you know should be taken literally. Otherwise, I’d only be writing about fed-up lawyers working in the corporate world in The Netherlands. Or maybe women in the military. Let me tell you. That is definitely not what I want to write about. Been there, done that. Instead, I think we writers should not be so literal when figuring out how to handle this piece of writing advice. Let’s look at an example.

26 sept 2I spent the past week renovating our house in Germany as the caretakers had trashed it. (Make that TRASHED it.) I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say, these supposed caretakers cost us thousands of Euros in renovations costs as well as thousands of Euros in lost revenue as guests for the vacation rental walked out when they saw how filthy the place was. When we informed them that they were paying for the container to take away their trash (two containers full to be precise), they sent us an email detailing all the horrible things we had done to them. For example, after they’d lived there for FREE for a year, our heating costs went up by 150 Euros and I made them pay that amount. How dare I?

What does this have to do with writing? Looking at our former caretakers, they feel they are entitled to free things and shouldn’t have to work for them. This is not a state of mind with which I personally am familiar. Nope. I grew up the daughter of a factory worker and knew from the beginning I would have to fight to get the things I wanted – an education, a good job, financial security, etc. I didn’t think anyone would give me these things. In fact, I knew they wouldn’t!

My characters often mirror my own background – hard working professionals. Even the bad guys are mostly educated men or women who got off track due to something hideous happening in their past. I’m writing what I know. But I now also know what self-entitled people are like because I’ve had personal and painful history with them. This is something I can use in my writing. I can tap into the minds of those former caretakers and create characters based on those feelings.

This is what write what you know now means to me. Time to go make that murderer in my current WIP multi-dimensional.

 

Dialogue tags and ‘show, not tell’ #WriterWednesday #AuthorToolBoxHop #AmWriting #WritingTips

show not tellShow, not tell. The advice is the bane of every writer’s existence. Of course, we want to show you our story and not tell it. But how? For me this is especially difficult with dialogue. Dialogue tags are my personal nemesis, and my novels are dialogue-driven. Eek! He said, she said sounds horrible (not to mention boring!) to me. On the other hand, writing ‘he grunted with annoyance’ or some such drivel doesn’t sound great either. So, what’s the solution?

I’ve combined the ‘show, not tell’ with the ‘don’t overuse dialogue tags’ advice to come up with a strategy. Instead of indicating who is speaking and the manner in which they speak (grunting, whispering, etc.), I now try to show what the speaker or listener is feeling. Please note: Like all good advice, this shouldn’t be overused. Otherwise, your dialogue will be difficult to find between all the information about how the characters are feeling. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Relief. Relief is a difficult emotion to write as humans surely don’t sigh as much as I write ‘sighed’ in my novels. Must. Stop. That. Here’s an example of how I managed to rid myself of yet another character sighing.

First draft: “Oh, it’s you Melanie,” Betty sighed in relief. “You nearly scared me to death.

Edited draft: “Oh, it’s you Melanie.” Betty placed a hand over her heart before collapsing in her chair. “You nearly scared me to death.”

Better, right?

Anger. My characters (especially those alpha men who are always protecting their girlfriends who think they can solve crimes) tend to growl in anger a lot. Now, I’m all for a bit of growling. It’s hot! But it can be too much when the male protagonist is constantly growling (I don’t write paranormal, after all!).

First draft. “That’s messed up,” growled Pru.

Yikes! Even my female characters are growling all over the place.

Edited draft. Pru’s jaw clenched. “That’s messed up.”

Annoyed. Annoyance is another difficult one. My characters are always snorting. I absolutely refuse to get rid of the snort, but I am trying to lessen the frequency with which I use it. Here are some ideas of how to show annoyance instead of saying something like He said in an annoyed voice.

• Narrowing eyes
• Crossing arms
• Tapping a foot
• Rigid posture
• Throwing hands up
• Rubbing the brow as if to ward off a headache
• Running a hand through the hair
• Fidgeting

Example:

“What are you doing here?” She asked.

“What are you doing here?” Mel crossed her arms over her chest and huffed.

The above is merely an example of a few emotions. I try to employ this strategy with most emotions to avoid the dreaded he said, she said while not going overboard with dialogue tags.

P.S. The writers helping writers blog has some awesome blogs with examples for a variety of emotions. Check it out!

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This blog post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. This is a monthly blog hop hosted by @raimeygallant. Make sure to stop by the other author blog posts in this month’s blog hop to fill up your author toolbox!

authortoolbox 5

 

Improving clicks and buys of your Amazon Ad #WriterWednesday #BookMarketing #Amazon #AmWriting

First, a disclaimer. I am in no way, no means, no how, an expert in Amazon ads. If I were, I’d be setting up courses that cost several hundred dollars to attend instead of writing this blog post. I am, however, someone who has done several Amazon ads. Some work. Some work well. Some work okay. Some fail. Some fail spectacularly. As an analytically minded person (that’s code for total geek), I tend to examine my results ad nauseum. This has enabled me to improve upon previous ads. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be able to give that course after all.

The following applies to sponsored product ads as I haven’t figured out how to make money with product display ads – yet. When you run a sponsored product ad, customers will see: the cover, ad copy, price, number of reviews, and overall review rating. This is what my current Fat Girl Begone! ad looks like.

FGB August 2018 ad

If you are not getting clicks on your ad, then you need to review the cover, ad copy, price, and review situation. Does your cover match the genre? How about the price? Too high? Too low? Ad copy is also important, but less so as ad copy is not shown when customers search Amazon on their phones. After my first (or was it hundredth?) ad attempt, I raised the price of Fat Girl Begone! and fiddled around with the ad copy. The above ad copy is doing better than previous attempts.

But what if you are getting clicks but no buys? First and foremost, the number of buys to clicks is low. Depressingly low. For a no name self-published author like myself, it’s somewhere around 30 clicks for one purchase. If I’m lucky. Also, if your book is on kindle unlimited (and that’s the only way I know to make these ads work), the Amazon Ads Manager does not take pages read into consideration. So, it may seem like you’re not getting any purchases for a week, but then – boom! – your pages read will explode.

You’ve analyzed your purchases to clicks ratio and it’s still low and your pages read aren’t increasing. Now what? Then, it’s time to look at the blurb. I recently experienced this problem with the above ad. There were tons of impressions, a fair number of clicks, but the purchase numbers weren’t there. Eek! What to do? I went to the blurb. I read a few articles about blurb writing and realized I’d made a few critical errors. Here is the original blurb:

I’m a total mess. My boyfriend dumped me – get this – because I diet too much. Not because I’m fat, mind you. Of course, this spurs me into the diet-fitness-revenge-plan of the century, which leads me to the gym and a scorching hot personal trainer. I even manage to make some cool new friends, including a millionaire if you can believe it. Things are looking up! Naturally, that’s the moment my ex decides he wants me back, the personal trainer asks me out, and my millionaire male buddy decides to throw his hat in the ring. But that’s not enough drama. No, not for me. Because I’ve also lost my job and decided to start my own business. Just call me Ms. Drama.

Warning: Bad language, bumpy roads, and embarrassing moments ahead. But there’s also more than a bit of romance and even, if we’re lucky, love. Fingers crossed.

Not endorsed by or affiliated with any brand of tequila.

I really liked this blurb. I thought it was fun. But it was missing a few things. First of all, there was no hook. Also, there was no call to action. I hadn’t included the prize I’d won for the novel. And, finally but possibly most important, the tone of the blurb didn’t match the novel itself. The novel is written in first person and Everly is snarky with a capital S. That doesn’t come across in the original blurb. So, I worked on the blurb and came up with this:

Amazon ads 3

What do you think? Better? Since I’ve changed the blurb, my click rate has gone up! Yeah! (PS If you want to know how to add bold typeface to your Amazon blurb, I’ve written a blog post about it here.)

What’s your experience with Amazon ads?

Making book club selections – a different perspective #MondayBlogs #AmReading #Books

Full disclosure. I haven’t even cracked the cover on The Orphan Master’s Son, the next Pulitzer Prize winner on my list to read. I could use a little break from the Pulitzer Prize winners after finally (Finally!) finishing The Goldfinch. I’m also busy trying to finish a book for book club. (Great excuse, right?) As I was reading The Italian Teacher yesterday – a book I would never have chosen for book club – it occurred to me that making book club selections is not always an easy task. So, how do you pick a book for book club?

making book club selections

Cost. A lot of advice surrounding picking book club books centers on the books, but price is important as well. If you’re in a club that meets once a month, you can’t expect people to spend $15 a month on a book. It’s just not reasonable. Personally, I hardly ever spend that much on a book. And living overseas, the library isn’t always an option. If it is, then there is only one copy of the book club book available and that’s hardly fair. In past book clubs, we’ve agreed to only read books that were already out in paperback. Obviously, that was in the dark ages. Now, with ebooks immediately available, we don’t need to wait to read recent releases. Still, I think it’s important to find novels that are under $10 (preferably less!).

Almost Prize winners. If you’re stuck on choosing a book, the long and short lists of the big literary prizes (Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, etc.), is a good place to look. If your group is large, there is a good chance that at least one member has already read the prize winner. So, looking at the long and short lists is great alternate.

Not literature. Sometimes book clubs get caught up in only reading novels that can be classed as literature. There’s no reason for that. The most important element in choosing a novel is that the story is one that lends itself to discussion. There are a ton of books that qualify even if they aren’t prize-winning-literature-tomes. I tend to pick these lighter reads for meetings around the holidays when everyone is too busy to read (something I have a hard time understanding. Too busy to read???).

Member selections. In one book club I joined, each member got a chance to pick a book. They then hosted the next book club meeting and lead the discussion. This was interesting as we had an array of members from around the world. I ended up reading quite a few selections I would never have picked (probably because I’d never even heard of the authors!). If your book club isn’t full of expats from different countries, you can select a country and find a popular book written by an author from that country. You can go all out at the meeting with food and drink selections from that country as well. (I once chose a Russian novel. Somehow a bottle of vodka disappeared during that meeting. I was not a happy camper at work the next day.)

How does your book club pick books? I’d love to hear some fun ideas.