books, community

A Question of Ethics?

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I’m having a bit of a crisis here. In the last few months, I’ve heard numerous reports about and the corporate bully it’s become. Workers in several states and even foreign countries have gone on strike to protest unsafe conditions in the processing centers. Staff have been seriously injured on the job, and Amazon’s response was to basically pretend it didn’t happen.

Indie authors are struggling with Amazon, too. Recently, the website’s review policy changed, and many reviews were taken down without warning or consent of the people who posted them. Others (trad pub authors as well) have had their Kindle version ebooks hacked, and Amazon didn’t seem to care or be ready to do anything about it.

Customer service for many — writers, readers, and purveyors of other sorts of goods — has either been nonexistent, or so unhelpful it may as well not have occurred. More and more frequently when you turn on the news, there’s another interview with a former employee, a report on another business sector the conglomorate giant is trying to acquire, or statistics of how often we use this company.

And it concerns me. Because here we are in a supposedly civilized, advanced society, that has ethics and laws, and apparently we’re ready to forget all of this with a click of the mouse. Because of the savings. The great bargain. The quick shipping. Heaven’s sake, ordered something from Amazon last month myself.

But, if when we place our order, an employee — a hardworking person with a family to support — is then thrown into a system of tumult and chaos, just to ensure our item is located, packed, and ready to mail in the time it takes a cheetah to chase down its dinner, is it really worth it?

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Plus, aren’t we in a free market? With fair trade regulations? Shouldn’t we relish the fact that we live in countries (appealing to all Westerners, and even non-Westerners, here) where we do have choices? And order from some of these other businesses?

Every time you comparison shop for a book, a DVD, a video game, pet food, running shoes, school supplies, a set of tires, Amazon automatically comes up in the search engine. It’s taken a bit of extra time and energy, but I’ve started deliberately finding alternatives. Barnes & Noble sells books, movies, and CDs. Target and Walmart, CVS and Walgreens sell plenty of household wares and school stuff. You can go to Old and find clothing for your whole family at reasonable prices. for that new duvet or shower curtain. Zappos for those Nikes.

And a lot of these companies have reputations as good employers.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but as I see Amazon attempting to build their corporate empire more and more, I can’t help but think: “And one ring to rule them all.”

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Although as a freelance author, I’m an independent contractor, I feel more comfortable having my publications associated with Barnes & Noble. I’m very pleased with Nook Press, they’ve been efficient and helpful, and my books look lovely, and they’re a company I’m proud to be connected to.

I could’ve gone with Amazon for self-publishing. So many folks do. But there was just something about the idea that made me nervous. Very unsettled. And I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts.

Do I fault my fellow indie authors who chose Amazon? No. It’s a big name, it’s well-known, it’s easily accessible. I heard the siren song myself.

For me, though, self-publishing is the culmination of a life-long dream. To have my books in my hand, and be able to show them to other people and say, “I wrote this!” Throughout my youth, I’d walk into bookstores like Barnes & Noble and imagine finding a cover with my name on it.

In an actual, brick-and-mortar bookstore.

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Probably this is one of the things about Amazon that bugs me the most. It’s encouraging a trend towards doing everything online, less and less in person. Going into a B&N, or a Waterstones, picking up the book, sniffing the ink, rubbing the pages… No, it’s not a weird book geek thing. It’s amazing. A part of life no one should be without.

And as a writer, who deeply appreciates the craft and art of creative writing, I honestly feel that this experience is something that should always be available to authors as well.

So, what to do now? I don’t approve of flatout boycotts. I don’t want to call for one, because of all the indie authors I know or know of who use Amazon. Or the staff who like their jobs.

And yet…

And yet, we do have other options.

And some of those other options seem to come without heavy ethical debate.

Do I have concrete answers? Not all the way around.

Do I want people to start thinking about this stuff? Yes. Absolutely yes.

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community, reading

Are the Standards for Classics Changing?

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What makes a classic, a classic? What determines that a novel should be lauded as an outstanding piece of literature, and handed down for generations upon generations to enjoy and gain insight from? Do these criteria vary, depending on the culture, the time period, the literary expectations of the day? Can the status of “classic” actually change, to “outdated” or even “no longer important”?

Is it ever acceptable for this to happen to a book that was beloved for decades, perhaps centuries?

So, addressing the first point: How does a classic get to be that way? Usually, it’s when a book have been revered by at least a couple of consecutive generations, and often include big social or cultural themes in their story — such as racism, feminism, coming of age, war, surviving the passing of a close family member, teaching a valued religious or moral lesson.

And, yes, these qualifications do alter depending on the era, the government, the traditions and viewpoints of that particular century and nation. (And just for the record, I’m not justifying or defending any of that, I’m simply stating the fact.)

So, here we come to the heart of the matter in this particular post: Can a long-standing classic become un-classic-ified? (That is completely a word. Amen.)

And, should it?

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There are some classics that have become outdated, as of the early 21st century — for example, I’m thinking Pride and Prejudice (because, seriously, do arranged marriages occur anywhere civilized anymore?), The Great Gatsby (the Roaring 20s and Prohibition is not something people can relate to these days), and Catcher in the Rye (since the concept of a book becoming an instant bestseller purely for being controversial is no longer shocking). Now, before anybody starts throwing copies of said titles at me, I’m not saying fans of these books can’t continue to be fans of these books. I’m only suggesting that whether we keep them on the high school/college curriculum should be re-evaluated.

Should novels such as Frankenstein and Moby Dick still be used to teach the epitome of bad decision making? Is Huckleberry Finn still necessary to start a conversation on racism? Haven’t we all had enough drama from Jane Eyre and Great Expectations?

Since the way we approach certain topics in school and book clubs nowadays has changed distinctly from how it was done even 30 years ago, I really think our reading choices should reflect that. I seriously vote in favor of putting titles like The Book Thief, The Joy Luck Club, The Road, and The Hunger Games into the rotation.

Too many current teenagers complain that they don’t understand books written 150 years ago — literally, don’t comprehend the language, the customs, the importance of characters’ motivations or concerns. Lots of middle-aged adults complain that being forced to read such drudgery in school nearly turned them off reading altogether.

That’s just sad.

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And what about the constantly expanding perimeters on genres and what “counts” as a high standard for each? Why can’t all the genres get equal time and appreciation?

Recently I heard someone say that Lord of the Rings was not high quality literature. Are you kidding me?!?! My personal preferences aside, Tolkien WAS a professor of English and Classics, and he wrote his magnum opus in what IS a classic literary fiction style, and just because it’s fantasy should NOT mean it’s perceived as “less”.

The same goes for mysteries (Sherlock Holmes is one of the most beloved characters in English Lit, why are none of his tales on the required reading list?), updated sci-fi (HG Wells and Jules Verne need to take a backseat while Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov get more of the spotlight), and children’s books elementary students of 2018 actually relate to (like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).

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And then there’s the whole “diversity fiction” platform, that needs a fair bit of revamping. Books that used to be seen as only fitting into a niche (like urban or “street” lit) really should become about reaching people who aren’t in that culture. Contemporary or dystopia titles by authors such as Marie Lu, Sandhya Menon, and Jenny Han really deserve more publicity — not as hip new dystopias or cute fluffy romances, but as next-generation diversity.

Recently, White Fang and I watched the film of The Breadwinner, based on the novel of the same name, which is about life for females under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. It’s a perfect diversity pick. But it’s not being hyped anywhere. We happened across a preview for it — and it was the first I’d heard of this truly amazing story.

(What’s up with that?)

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In 25 years, what books will we consider classics?

Selections like Little House on the Prairie and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which are now frequently decried as terribly dull and un-connect-able (still a word, hush), are already fading in popularity. (What will they be replaced with, I wonder?)

Novels that have been insanely popular in the past decade or so (The Da Vinci Code, Life of Pi, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) are well poised to leap to the heights of recommended reading everywhere. Each of these isn’t without its controversy, and that appears to be one of the hallmarks of establishing classic status.

(By the way, I wouldn’t vote for any of those mentioned above. I’d much rather most of them get swept into the out of print bin at their publishers.)

In the meantime, I firmly believe I’ll stick to my tendency of reading 90% fantasy. Many more of those novels deserve to become classics, in my view.

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blogging, community, reading

Reviews Are Still Important


Here’s a sad little suggestion going around the internet: Book blogging isn’t necessary anymore. Yes, a lot of book bloggers are getting burned out, because it’s time consuming, and not always rewarding, and can feel repetitive. Well, on World Book Day, here’s why I think taking the time and effort to create our reviews and put them on our blogs is still important.

We can present an unbiased account of a title to a weary, cash-strapped public in desperate need of something good to read. Okay, maybe I’m getting a little dramatic here. But heaven knows that I’m a lot more satisfied with my library selections since subscribing to book blogs and Goodreads. As a busy mom/work-from-home writer, I can totally affirm for the majority of book-lovers that our spare time and spare money is limited. So we’d really appreciate a heads-up if we’re about to drop precious coin and hours on a novel that will make us want to run away to Albania and become a goat-herder in despair.

Since we aren’t being paid for our opinions, we have no reason to sugarcoat what we didn’t like about a book, or encourage people to buy it if we honestly feel they’re better off choosing a different release.


We’re helping to keep alive the art of literary analysis. Yes, I’m completely serious. Less and less in college and even high school are English classes teaching how to accurately analyze a piece of literature. More and more on Goodreads, I’m seeing low ratings posted by younger (teen) readers for literary-complex books, and their reason is simply: “I didn’t get it.” No, most people won’t go on to break down symbolism and allegory and archetype for a living. But it is a VITAL skill to possess. It encompasses problem solving, objective debate, understanding motivation, and learning from past failures.

We’re giving critical feedback to authors — especially indie authors. Indie authors are quite often people without creative writing degrees who are self-publishing purely for their love of the written word. A lot of us can benefit from receiving detailed reviews that point out what readers loved and what they thought could stand to improve. We don’t have big publishing companies throwing a ton of advertising at our work, so this can definitely make a difference in sales, as we can get a concrete idea of what our target audience is after.


So, what makes or breaks a review? Not whether you give the book a positive or negative review. It’s the WHYS.

You need to be specific. You don’t have to go through the selection chapter by chapter (in fact, many people would rather you not do that), but you must explain why you did or didn’t like something.

A lot of it does come down to personal taste. Certain content and genre preference should not be considered gold standards for “good” or “bad.” It’s absolutely valid for “like” or “dislike.” But, please, please know the difference.


Here’s what I look for when I read a review:

Adjectives. PLEASE stop just typing in, “This is soooo good!!!” and logging off. This tells me NOTHING. If you say, “This novel had a lot of clean humor that had me laughing out loud, flawed but relateable characters that I was cheering for, and an action-packed plot with a jawdropping resolution,” then I have a much better idea of what you think. And, by the way, I’m aware how “writer-y” the above example sounds. But I feel it’s important to develop a real craft to how you opine. Even if you never intend to have a career as an author/journalist/librarian, there’s an impactful difference between: “This book was stupid” and “The main character made a choice that put others in danger, and I thought that was a bad move.”

More than a rehashing of the blurb on the cover. I can find the synopsis of the plot aaaaanywhere. That doesn’t give me any insider information. Which is what I’m after as I peruse blogs and social media.


I avoid haters. If you really, loathed the content, the style, the story, or everything of a book, this is actually fine. This is free speech in action. I’ve left a few scathing reviews myself, when I truly felt it was warranted. However, you’ll never catch me sending hate email or tweets to the author, or the reviewer, and I won’t track with those who do.

You must have read the book for yourself. Recently I learned that some people are leaving 1-star/5-star ratings for titles they’ve never laid eyes on simply because their friend/relative/minister/favorite celebrity claimed it was racist/prejudiced/inappropriate. No. …No. 

The same goes for folks who think that any fiction tackling tough topics (racism, war, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, self-harm, addictions) is “bad” simply for discussing the hard stuff. NOPE. Not a valid reason to slam a publication.



A final few words: Are all our reviews going to be totally awesome little articles of genius? Yeesh, no. I’m sure some of mine aren’t detailed enough, or may have used too much slang for a broader audience. Is this okay, too? Yeah. If I had a tough time getting my thoughts to coalesce on this or that book, well, I’m only human. And I can always go back to my Goodreads account and revise later.

Do remember that people are getting something out of your reviews. Keep it up.



blogging, community, reading

How to Avoid Book Blogger Burnout


Book blogger burnout is a very real thing.

It seems almost like a silly, made-up syndrome, because you can’t qualify it with physical symptoms, or point to a tangible experience and say, “This was when my burnout hit.”

Also, we’re talking about reading, and how could that be stressful or traumatic, right?

Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times.

Just a few years ago, book blogging was an exciting new way to connect with others in your literary fandoms, and maybe even start establishing a name and reputation for yourself if your ultimate goal was to get paid to write book reviews.

It all sounds like fun. It should be. It’s a crying shame that too many bloggers in recent months are either going on an indefinite hiatus or shutting down their blogs entirely — because it is far from fun anymore for them.

I can certainly understand if life gets to be too much — maybe you’ve just changed jobs, moved house, gotten married, had a baby, gone on vacation, been ill. When a member of the community announces they’re taking a break, we know we’ll miss them, but we also support their need to take care of themselves.

But when somebody says they’re leaving the scene because they’ve simply been treated badly by random other bloggers, reviewers, and sometimes even authors, that just isn’t right.

So, here are some thoughts on how to avoided the dreaded burnout.

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Don’t put too much on your plate. Set limits about how much you plan to read/review in a month. There is no reason to aim for the moon.

Also don’t worry about setting a new world record when it comes to your general TBR. Yes, absolutely, make a note of a book you think you’d really like to read. But don’t you dare fall into that trap of Feeling Left Out if you know a hyped new release just won’t be your thing.

Oh, and put up boundaries for requesting ARCs — and stick to them. The less reviews you have to write with an actual deadline, the better for your stress level.

Take a relaxed attitude towards criticism. Yes, some of these really nasty arguments in the comments section can be upsetting. And I’m not saying this behavior (the people who rip your head off because you posted a negative but respectful post on one of their favorite titles) is acceptable or should be tolerated. But it is VERY important for those of us on the receiving end to form a measured, mature, appropriate response. Remember, you have every right to block people from your site, not reply to their comments, and refuse to be dragged into this ridiculousness.

This goes for indie authors who are also book bloggers as well. Yes, getting a harsh review of your book is gutting. But it is freedom of speech, and if you feel everyone should have it, doesn’t that include the people who don’t share your opinion on subjective things, like reading material?

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Shake up your TBR a little. If you feel a “reading slump” coming on, try switching genres, category (say, non-fiction instead of fiction), or age group (adult over YA, or MG instead of adult).

And don’t impose unrealistic deadlines for finishing selections. If, for example, Christmas is right around the corner, and you know you’re going to be busy, throw time frames out the window.

No matter how many subscribers you have, no matter how many people you think might be pacing their kitchen floor awaiting your next post, NOTHING is worth putting your own sanity or health at risk.

To heck with the idea of trying to read all the books of ever. Yup, that’s right — I promise you WILL survive if you don’t get to read every single title published in your favorite genre or by your favorite authors.

This goes back to limiting your TBR, too — there is nothing wrong with only adding to it books you really think you’ll enjoy. Forcing yourself to finish hyped titles that contain all the content/tropes/agendas you’re hoping to avoid creates nothing but frustration.

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Don’t feel pressured to join every social media site in the world. In theory, your blog/website will get more traffic with greater exposure. But what about those of us that don’t take enough photos to have an Instagram account, hate the idea of appearing on camera for YouTube, and don’t understand the way Tumblr works? Remain true to what’s most effective for you.

Above all, have fun.

What do you think, fellow bookdragons? Are we putting ourselves under too much pressure? How can we support each other and keep the climate of this community a positive one?

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community, self-publishing, writing

So, You Want to Be an Indie Author…


You do? Huh, what’s wrong with you? Completely kidding. Total snark. Yes, come back here! Considering that I’ve successfully made it through my first year as a self-published author, I think a post with some advice for those hoping to enter this field is appropriate. And, really, you can approach me on Twitter or something, too, I swear I don’t bite. (Seriously, not ever, because I don’t like close physical contact with people I don’t know, and I am terrified of the zombie virus.)

First — welcome! Go, you! You’ll find we’re generally a very friendly community, and we support each other. Through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, you should be able to pretty quickly find some other authors who write/publish in your genre, and are more than willing to connect. (In fact, most of us don’t bite.) The readers’ base for indie works is growing, too, so reaching out to people who you hope to interest in reading (yes, even purchasing) your work one day is also important to networking and making new acquaintances.


Next, here are my major tips for new self-publishers:

1. Do your research.

Not for social media connections or marketing platforms. Yes, do that, too. But in this instance, I’m talking specifically about your book. Is it fiction, or nonfiction? Which age group are you aiming it at (little kids, elementary school, teens, or adults)? What’s your setting (century, real or invented)? Whether you’re writing about real people or characters you made up yourself, you need to have the details of their lives right. Take into consideration slang of the era, the technology, religion, education level, industries, hobbies, cooking, fashion — all of it (even in a fantasy or sci-fi setting!) makes a BIG difference in whether your book really comes alive to readers.

2. Do the other kind of research.

For the marketing stuff. What’s your genre? Check out what other indies in that same genre have recently released. And do not compare yourselves to them. Do not even go there. Be looking for what readers said they liked — for example, do praise for worldbuilding and character growth seem to be major factors in garnering high-star reviews? Listen to them. Use this to your advantage. If an indie author has a big following (say, 5,000 people subscribe to their newsletter), check their site for anything they may have posted about how they developed their winning formula/strategy.

3. Don’t quit your day job.

Sorry, guys, but selling (realistically) a few dozen to a few hundred copies of your work a year won’t pay all the bills. A lot of self-published authors are also teachers, professors, librarians, college students, graphic designers, etc. (And if any of these occupations seem a bit cliche, hey, it happens to be the truth — most writers are people who have a good grasp of language, the entertainment culture, and creative endeavors.)


4. Be informed of what trends, topics, and genres are currently hot in traditional publishing.

Not just so that you know what to avoid. Being informed is important so that you can decide what you want your own work to reflect. Are there particular tropes in your genre that you really want to turn inside out? Certain authors of the past (or present) that you’d like to pay homage to? Is there a movement or cultural discussion going on right now that you actually want to be part of? For example, as an autistic adult, I belong to a Twitter movement called #ActuallyAutistic, since too many of the books being published with “autism rep” are in fact authored by non-autism-affected individuals.

5. Time is not your friend.

It will not just hand over an extra 4 hours each day to you and you alone. Real life does not stop just because you are writing a book. Beating time into submission and making it your slave is vital. Carve out space in your schedule for writing, research, editing, proofreading, and marketing. Take plenty of breaks. On a daily basis, eat, sleep, exercise, be face-to-face with your family. An awesome perk of being an indie author is the ability to set your own deadlines.

6. Learn about creative writing.

There are many ways to do this. Read books by editors or successful writers (in this case, yes, I do mean lots of sales), watch podcasts, join a group at your local library or on Goodreads. This covers everything from flushing out characters to make them feel more real or writing dialogue that doesn’t read like a 1950s laundry detergent commercial, to tips on hosting giveaways of your new release and not spamming your Twitter feed with “buy my book or my dog will eat your comfy slippers.”


7. Interact with your readers. 

After all, without them, whether you’re just posting on Wattpad or Tumblr, or you’re actually printing or releasing digital copies and hoping to get paid, you don’t have much going. Writing is meant to be read. So reply to their comments, thank them for their support, respond to their questions about your future plans for the series/next title.

8. Choose your platforms. 

This should probably come earlier in this list, actually. If social media seems terrifying, DON’T DO IT. Yes, it’s a big part of marketing, but you are not required to have an account on every single site under the sun. I limit myself to Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. I find Goodreads to be especially kind to indies, as they give your books all the stuff trad authors have — the ability for readers to star rate, review, interact with you, share with each other. And it’s free to join.

9. Carefully select your printer/distribution center. 

I tried to work with Amazon, and just creating an account for self-publishing made my head want to explode. I did not find their system helpful or not confusing. Plus I heard they weren’t paying indies as much as they really should be. So, to start with, I found a local printing press that does individually copyrighted books, and for a reasonable cost, they formatted, proofed, put together the cover design, and printed 100 copies of the first edition of Masters and Beginners. It got my baby out into the world, and I was very happy.

The reason I decided to switch to Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press was because the price of shipping all my orders myself became a bit rough on the wallet, and on the socially anxious part of me. (I was becoming slightly paranoid that the post office clerks rolled their eyes every time they saw me walk in the lobby.)

Barnes & Noble has been awesome in helping me through formatting or account concerns, I find their uploading/proofing software very simple to use, and they do the shipping for me.

10. Have fun. 

Writing is also meant to be fun for the writer. Yes, publishing is work. But if it ever becomes a hassle or feels like a struggle, take a step back and remember why you’re trying to craft those words. Recently, I read in a review of Rulers and Mages that the ending was “slightly evil and hurt my heart (in the best way)”. That’s why I do this, folks.


Autism, community

The Time To Stay Silent Has Passed

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Okay, it may make me physically sick to have to write this post, but I do have to.

Yesterday it came to my attention that there’s a non-fiction book, being peddled as an “autism mom memoir” entitled “To Siri With Love,” by a barely human person called Judith Newman. She has an autistic son, and relates throughout the entire book how she sees him as inferior, not a whole being, and actually blatantly says she believes so strongly he shouldn’t have children of his own that she plans to have him forcibly sterilized when he’s 18.

Bucket, anyone, bucket? Yeah, I should’ve offered to hand them out before you started reading.

So, after getting this initial shock to the system, I went on Goodreads, and found that plenty of people (most of them autistic or with ASD relatives) are up in arms (thank God) about this farce of a publication, and are actively boycotting it.

Sadly — horribly — unimaginably — there are also plenty of 4-star reviews, and this book is on the bestseller lists in some countries.

That’s right — in this supposed “advanced” era of “humanity,” we actually live in a world where people support the view that someone with a neurological condition that makes him or her “different” or “limited” does not deserve control over their own lives, reproductive rights, and major personal decisions.

Second round of passing out buckets going on now…

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…And I’ll hand out ear plugs before I begin my absolutely justified rant.



If you need any further proof that this point of view is utterly evil: The Nazis ran programs in the concentration camps to forcibly sterilize those with physical and mental disabilities.

Okay. *clears throat and dries eyes* Time to get our warrior outfits on.

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Don’t stay silent. Stand up for your autistic family, friends, and online contacts. Even if you don’t know anyone on the spectrum, stand up for the justice of letting us live our lives.

For those of you on Twitter, the hashtag is #BoycottToSiri. Otherwise, talk up this subject on Facebook, Goodreads, WordPress and Blogspot. Don’t let people think this title is acceptable to purchase. Write the publisher and holler. Write to Congress and yell.

I have also joined the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic, which encourages autistic writers to share their voices — whether their work features ASD or not, and whatever genre, style, or age group we write for — and you can spread the word that way, too.

The autistic community — MY community — needs your support. We ARE your classmates, neighbors, cousins, co-workers, online contacts.

We can’t combat fear and hate all by ourselves. We don’t want to feel alone anymore.

We DESERVE better.

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blogging, community

Please Pardon Me If I Don’t Follow You Back

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This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

There’s this thing called “community.” It used to mean your neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers. Now it includes your contacts on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress.

As we venture forth online and build virtual communities — which then turn into very real communities — there are guidelines that develop regarding stuff like manners. One of these ideas is that when someone is nice enough to follow your site/handle/content, you should do the same for them, or at least pay their pages a few visits.

Now, in a lot of ways, I am one hundred percent behind this. I’ve met some wonderful people by doing so. However, lately, I kind of suck at visiting other people’s sites.

It isn’t intentionally mean-spirited. I’m not jealous if somebody else has 787,923 more subscribers than me. It’s not that I don’t support others’ endeavors.

No, there are very good reasons for me sliding into the woodwork of social media.

Number one: I AM BUSY. Yes, we’re all busy — we all have families/jobs/holidays coming up. But I am extra busy writing and publishing my own novels, doing all the marketing for these titles myself, and making sure my cat doesn’t destroy the world if his food dish is empty.

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Number two: I have autism, and this means that time management and I have an ongoing rivalry. (Spoiler: Time usually wins.) I swear, I sit down at 8 a.m. to craft a blog post, and within 16 seconds, it’s noon, and the universe has had a good laugh at my expense. And there are still two loads of laundry to fold and put away, children to feed, library materials to return, and — worst of all — my tea has gone cold in the intervening period.

This definitely leaves a lot less wiggle room for reading 10 new blogs and scrolling through 35 follow suggestions on Twitter.

Number three: I am TIRED. All of this makes for a potentially hectic schedule as it is, and I am only human (sorry, no, it’s true) and I simply don’t have the capability to stay awake for 18 hours straight. Not even to check out somebody’s truly awesome reviews on Rick Riordan’s new series, or photos of their trip to Ireland.

I need to SLEEP. I need to RELAX. So that I can keep being amazing myself, and continue writing what will undoubtedly be the biggest bestselling fantasy YA series of the 21st century.

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Number four: Now that I have added so much more to my life via self-publishing, something else has to go.

If you used to see me on your blog a lot, and suddenly realize it’s been a while, this is most likely why.

There are still many websites I have bookmarked or return to visit now and then — except my presence may remain anonymous, due to the fact I often have about 12 nanoseconds to do this, and then get back to editing/marketing/updating my own stuff.

If you do visit my sites (and please do, because I live to bring enlightening and enjoyable posts to your inbox/feed) and interact (leave a comment, retweet, etc.), I will make the effort to respond in some fashion.

I completely appreciate what the online world has done for bolstering my sales, my little fan base, and my confidence. So I won’t be one of those totally silent bloggers.

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Number five: I’ve had to make some decisions about what I’ll be focusing on.

This means that my once-ideas of expanding my content to Tumblr or Blogspot, Instagram or Pinterest, are now moot. Dust in the wind. Kaput. They needed to be. If I spread myself too thin, I will quickly transform into a puddle of molten tears and burning hopes. Trust me, it ain’t worth it.

I cannot be everywhere at once, and I am okay with that.

It means I’ll put more effort into maintaining and growing my current platform.

And if our online paths don’t actually cross, though they may come very close, I want you to know that I wholeheartedly support your blogging/writing/taking photos/filming videos. You’re creative, you’re cool, you’re making a difference in somebody’s life.

Keep it up.

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books, community, writing

The Invisible Moth Self-Publishes: The Hows and The Whys

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Hello all! So, I’ve had a request to create a post on why I use the publisher/distributor I do. (And really, it’s part of a much bigger, more involved discussion, that I’ve been wanting to go into at some point, anyway.)

Also, I promised myself recently that I’d use more Supernatural gifs in my postings. (You’re welcome.)

So, when I first started on this journey… It was December 2016, I’d just won NaNo, and I wanted to take that leap and self-publish. Hopefully get some sales. After I finished dying from nerves, I began investigating the possible routes for doing this.

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I looked into, and got CONFUSED. There was too much fine print, too much I didn’t understand about the software CreateSpace uses, too much regarding the process of editing and formatting that made my head become way too ouchy.

So, shedding a fair amount of tears, I began Googling alternatives. Turns out a lot of small companies (at least in America) that print your wedding invitations/vacation scrapbook pages/independent business cards are also getting into self-publishing. (Especially for people who aren’t sure about entering the sellers’ market, and may only want to print 50 copies of their passion project for family and friends.)

Anyway, I found a local printer that has connected with Amazon and offers you the chance to buy an ISBN, and will provide copies of your book to Amazon for sale on the website, if you wish. Or they’ll just print however many copies you want to pay for, and then you can do what you want with them.

Given the intimidating process (to me) of working with Amazon directly, this sounded freaking amazing.

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As of spring 2017, I was finished with the proofreading, and deemed my document ready to print. (There were a few minor things I really wanted to make 110% perfect, but honestly, it wasn’t worth getting all wigged out about.)

At the time, I didn’t have the money to obtain an ISBN. (It’s why the first edition of Masters and Beginners — with the Toby cover — doesn’t have one.) But this little local storefront was SO helpful in terms of formatting, being patient as I proofed, designing the cover, answering my many questions, and not getting ticked off that it took me a couple of months to feel satisfied. They were awesome for a first-time indie author on a steep learning curve, and I am immensely grateful for that.

Now, the only downside of choosing this method was that I had to pay upfront for printing. And then if I sold books to, say, readers of my blog who live far, far away from me, I had to pay for shipping myself.

While, of course, I LOVE my readers, and was happy to make sure they received their orders, it made my initial earnings quickly dwindle.

So, as I was drafting Volume 2, and losing my mind a bit over the idea of further expenses, I wanted to find a more affordable way.

But I did NOT want to go through Amazon.

As I’ve come to meet other indie authors and hopefuls, I’ve been part of a lot of talk about the pros and cons of doing this yourself. One of the major cons seems to be (interestingly) The consensus is apparently: When Amazon works well, it’s great. But if it messes up, wow, is it a mess.

Every time I Googled “self-publishing,” Amazon immediately came up. Gah.

Then, one day, when I was placing a pre-order for White Fang on Barnes & Noble, I saw an advertisement for Nook Press print services.

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I thought Nook Press was only e-books. Personally, I don’t have anything against e-books, but I prefer to have the hardcopy option (as I am a traditionalist in this regard, and nothing beats a physical novel in your hand, turning the pages, sniffing the ink….).

I digress. At some point, Nook expanded and now includes hardcopy as well as digital.

*happy dance moment*

Barnes & Noble has a reputation for good customer service, encouraging indie authors, and will provide you with an ISBN free of additional charge.

My experience with Nook Press has been thus:

Their formatting software is very straightforward, with plenty of tutorials and tips. If you get stuck on something, contact the support department, and they’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

They charge a commission upfront for printing and shipping, so your royalties are based on what’s left after that. You get to decide how much to sell your book for. After submitting your final proofs and cover, your finished product should be ready to go within 4 days.

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In the interest of keeping costs down, I choose paperback, but through Nook Press you can have your title created in hard cover if you so desire.

Your publication will have its own spot on the Barnes & Noble website, and online customers can purchase it just like anything else the store offers. (You don’t need an account to order; guest checkout works well, too.)

Your friends and readers can post reviews on B&, singing the praises of your work. (I believe there is a word limit, so just keep that in mind.)

Compare this to the most recent grouch I saw about Amazon — that if you’re friends with an indie author on Amazon, they may take down your review “because it is more likely to be biased.”

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Yes, this came from an actual Tweet I saw yesterday. The Tweeter in question prompted me to make this post.

This is one of many reasons I decided not to use Amazon.

I am very happy with the choice I made to self-publish through Barnes & Noble.

I greatly support brick-and-mortar bookstores in an era when so much is digital or available with the click of a mouse. Although my titles are only obtained through a website purchase, I totally love that Barnes & Noble has real, tangible buildings that writers and readers can walk into, pick up a paperback or hard cover, turn the pages and sniff the ink.

I encourage others who are considering getting into indie publishing to select Nook Press.

(If you do use Amazon and are content with that, rock on.)

These are just my (requested) reflections.

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books, community, reading

Life Hacks for Bookdragons

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So, you are a bookdragon. You take pride in this (as well you should). But after you embark on this life, you realize there are some things that could be problematic — for example, running out of shelf space, losing your bookmarks, or not having the budget to acquire all of the books. Well, today we are here to save your precious little overwraught selves with some tips to quell the quandaries.

How to not run out of shelf space. Having a designated bookcase (a pre-built, independent piece of furniture) is extremely helpful. But, if you collect several new books a year, they’ll fill up pretty quickly. So it may work better for you to have shelves that can be placed on walls (think with nuts and bolts — do consider your safety), possibly expanding upwards or outwards as needed.

Also, think about getting rid of books every now and again to help make space for new acquisitions. I know, I know, to some ears that will be heresy. But honestly, sometimes we just know we’re not going to read a book again, and library sales and charity shops are more than happy to take on well-treated secondhand books.

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Keep things organized. If you tend to have a long TBR or maybe receive a lot of ARCs, take notes when deliveries arrive. Try having a journal detailing the date of when new books came to your home, or of when you need to post the review by. Place sticky notes on or near your bookshelves or calendar, so that you don’t accidentally start reading this August release before finishing that July ARC.

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Do use bookmarks. Some readers don’t, and it’s really a personal preference, but dog-earing pages is just, well, bad. Infrequent readers tend to commit the even more heinous sin of leaving the book out, facedown on the page where they stopped. In the interest of keeping the binding intact for longer, please do not do this. (Some bookdragons will come after you, and they will not be happy.)

Bookmarks are easy to find for sale in bookstores and on websites. Libraries also often give them away. And you can honestly use old grocery lists or receipts as well (my husband uses index cards). Or you can make your own, if you’re craft-inclined.

If your issue is losing bookmarks, sticky notes will help with that. Or bookmarks with clips that attach them directly to the page.

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Don’t underestimate the power of the public library. Money needs to be spent on a million things other than new books. So, if you just don’t have a spare thousand dollars for all those new releases (and who does?), be patient, and within a few months, many of them will be available through your local library. (Don’t forget about inter-library loans as well. If where you live the library is simply the size of a postage stamp, requesting books from bigger libraries nearby is usually pretty easy and free.)

Take advantage of secondhand bookstores, online sales, and entering giveaways. Self-explanatory, really, when it comes to saving money.

Don’t request ARCs. If your problem is too many books waiting to be read, then reduce your future TBR by discontinuing your requests for advance copies of new releases. Many of us are beginning to feel that the cons of ARCs outweigh the benefits.

Limit what’s on your Kindle. If most of your TBR is physical (rather than digital) it’ll be much easier to keep track of, and trimmed to a healthy size.

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community, Encouragement, writing

Sending Out The Call

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…Or, The Post That May Get Me In A Lot Of Trouble. And yet, I’m fairly sure that won’t stop me from going forward.

Lately, I’ve been coming across some pretty intense (and very important) discussions on “Christian media” and whether it’s actually effective, helpful, or even valuable to its own audience. And these discussions are happening among believers in the Christian doctrine. Since I count myself among that set of spiritual principles, but also as an artist, I’ve encountered several problems with “Christian” entertainment before. And this is something we need to talk about.

A lot of Christian musicians, writers, and other sorts of artists feel extreme pressure to only produce certain content in their art. If they cover a “taboo” topic, or include an image or wording that some in the Church find offensive, they are worried about being branded as a “heretic” or a “blasphemer.” (Now, is it just me, or aren’t we past the time when Catholics and Protestants put each other to death in the city square?)

Apparently, labeling something “Christian” means that it will already cover the issues of Biblical teachings and modern churchgoing lifestyle that most believers should know and/or generally follow. And often it seems to point a finger at those in the denomination or the faith that “aren’t measuring up.” It isn’t affirming of the message that the Messiah came to die for all of us, while we were still sinners. Nor does it present anything appealing or encouraging to non-believers.

Personal note time: I don’t read Christian fiction anymore, because I simply can’t relate to finding a husband being absolutely more important than anything else in life (even more than God, apparently); or to non-believers always being presented as drunks or child abusers or corrupt in business (since plenty of non-Christians are in fact very moral and very nice people); or to believers never getting angry or making a mistake that wasn’t forgiven at the drop of a hat, just because they prayed for God to show the other person they were “being unreasonable” (ahem…).

Not that absolutely all Christian fiction is this bad. But way too much of it is. So I’d rather spend my precious free time reading something that may not point to a spiritual lesson or spell out something of religious importance, but that provides lots of thought in the areas of growth and love.

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As artists, who are supposed to be creating and finding new and innovative ways to share our art (and our passion), we are continually being put in a box. As I attempted to finish the final draft of Volume 1, I explored the possibility of trying to get a Christian publishing agent, and was more than a little horrified by what I found. Too many companies informed prospective clients that “good Christian literature does not include swearing, sexuality, violence, any mention of other religions, the supernatural (even angels and demons), or reference other literature/music/art that is not Christian in origin and nature.”

Excuse me?! Have any of these people actually read the Bible, and discovered just how much violence there is, references to who “lay” with his wife, mentions of about 17,000 other cultures and sets of beliefs, and TONS of angels and demons?! And isn’t one of the major teachings of the New Testament that part of LOVE is respecting people who have a belief system/lifestyle/background you don’t agree with? Didn’t Jesus of Nazareth say that you could go to temple every week, follow all the instructions of the priests, and still be a sinner with a wicked heart if you ignored the beggars and the cripples on the street or didn’t give the repentent prostitutes a second chance?

This type of attitude among a lot of modern churchgoers is why I also don’t write Christian fiction. And believe me, I have worked way too hard on my “baby” to see it shoved into a corner of “not worth reading” by so, so many if it was labeled “Christian fiction.” Especially considering that most of the Christian publishers out there would call it “blasphemy” because it’s in the fantasy genre. (Haven’t they ever heard of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis?!)

Not that my series will be known for loads of profanity or explicit sexual references or graphic violence. But, somebody needs to tell me why, just because I write about faeries and unicorns and dragons — and angels and demons — I can’t call myself a Christian. And they need to have evidence that trumps the Gospels, which proclaim that my Savior came to die for autistic fantasy writers, too.

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Too much of the current Christian entertainment market is full of cheesy, unrealistic, dull, and even offensive portrayals that need to stop. I know for a fact I am not the only one who feels this way. That I am not the only one who feels the world as a whole needs to return to a higher moral standard, and that faith needs to be allowed to play a greater role than just “preaching to the choir.”

I don’t want to drop anybody’s names, in case you aren’t prepared for that; but if this is an issue that you face, as a believer and an artist, please raise your voice. To those of you who already have, thank you. We can band together to develop a place where our art is allowed to exist without discrimination, to reach all sorts of people through love of a shared interest or hobby, without in-fighting or unnecessary restrictions.

So, I am sending out the call. Let’s hear you.

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