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text 2018-07-18 11:00
Facts About Me: Always Learning

As an author, you have to be prepared to learn every single day of your career. Nothing ever stays the same and nor should it. It's a world of revolving rules, etiquette and creativity.

I'm not someone who writes to the latest crazy genre, but I do like to keep my writing as varied and as up to date as I can make it. That's why I brand myself a 'romantic at heart', because I will always write romance novels, but sometimes those romance novels will be in the guise of a contemporary or historical setting, or a science fiction alternative world, or be full of supernatural/paranormal creatures. Either way, romance will always be at the heart of my stories and that's why I can write such a variety of sub-genres, because they all fit into what I discovered as my niche: romance. I've tried and failed to write other genres without a romantic setting and I learned why it failed and how I could fix those stories to be used at a later date. It all revolved around learning who I was as an author.

But, just because I write a particular genre doesn't mean that I can't learn or adapt to write a new one. I used to only write paranormal/supernatural stories. Then I drifted into Contemporary and, because of my passion for reading them, attempted my first ever fantasy novel. It didn't work, but I kept the story and waited, then I eventually figured out why. In the time I'd been away from that story - nearly two years - my writing had evolved, my storytelling ability had evolved and I had learned how to better focus my words on what was important. I had learned enough to give it a second shot and it turned out brilliantly, if I do say so myself. I did the same with science fiction, eventually finding that I had a real freedom of creativity within those worlds.

With my writing ability, my creativity grew. Not just for the writing itself, but also in how I wanted to market and brand and portray those stories. I found a 'voice' I never knew I had for visually effective marketing and branding. But even that is constantly evolving. Over time, I realised that a look I loved a year or two ago is no longer who I am as an 'artist' (though I would never deign to use that label on myself, it's the only appropriate word for this explanation.)

I learned so much about effective branding and marketing from my publishing house, CHBB Publishing, and the wonderful people there. They have a handful of experts who can look at my posters and help me hone in on what I'm trying to say or show an dhow I can go about doing it. This post, really, is to celebrate that evolution, where they helped me grow from naive little me into someone confident enough to rebrand every book I've ever written, just because I know myself and the books better now. In a few years, when I've grown even more, I may look back on this new progression and think 'oh how naive I was, even then', but that's the whole fun of being an author. Everything is in constant flux.

In the end, these posters I'm going to share with you are a representation of me and my work, as well as the book's themes/brand. I want to portray them the best I can, to show what the books are about, what they mean and what the 'tone' might be. It took me a long time to find my "brand" for each series/solo novel, but I'm happy with what I have now. I've chosen something that, for each theme/brand, has a lot of scope but is instantly recognisable at a glance. So people see chess or invitational elegance and they think The Royal Series. If they see colourful, bright and playful, they think The Trade. Broody and dark with a specific model is The One That Got Away; art deco is The Cellist; and Forged in Fire is all about personal, intimate portraits of life. You can see all of that here. And, in reality, that is what their brands have always been; I've just found a better way of showing them off to their full potential.

In reality, I have scrapped over 100 posters for multiple books in the last two years, as I swapped from my old iffy branding to what I have now. I don't regret it for a second, because it works. But it took trial and error, seeing what my readers thought of the posters and how they reacted, e.g. comments and sales. I had to learn that if sales weren't happening or if I felt I needed to change my brand, I shouldn't be afraid to do it. As long as I'm not changing it every other week, but sticking to something that will last for years, then I'm still growing, still changing and adapting to my 'author' life. Look at JK Rowling, George R.R. Martin etc; they changed the branding and book covers of their books until they found the ones that fit. And, even after that, they still know that offering their readers alternatives and variety is key to good branding.

So, here's a look at my evolution. From the first poster ever made for a book to the eventual 2017 edition:

(Top Row: R-L: New, Old

Bottom Rows: R-L Top: Old, Bottom: New)

(Left: Old. Right: New)

~

And it's not just posters. I've reinvented the way I make mock-covers, too. I use these for myself or Wattpad only, not for the final product, so it allows me to re-make them as often as I want, to really play around with effects and looks until I find whatever works best. For me, I use the covers to inspire me to write the story and keep writing until it's done. I even attach it to the finished story, convert it into a mobi file using Calibre and put it onto my Kindle to read, as a reader, so that I can edit it. It's also a great way for me to 'test' a potential image for publication. If I hate it after only seeing it a few times, it's not going to be the published book cover, so I know to look for something else and test that until I find one I'm happy with.

       

.

     

(From Top to Bottom: New to Old)

~

And just for kicks, here are a few mock-covers (the first) of novels that were later published. Obviously, there is NO comparison. :P

~

Not only are the new versions more visually appealing, but the text, font use and image choice is clearer, to the point and epitomises the story so much better. And I'm sure that, after seeing the mess of my old work, you can see the benefit of my growth, right? Without it, I'd still be just slapping stuff together and hoping that it worked, instead of properly checking, rechecking, considering image, colour, composition and so much more.

I've learned a lot since I was first thrust into this author world and I hope I never stop learning.

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text 2018-07-11 11:00
Facts About Me: Being A Reviewer

Reviewing books is hard. It's not a simple matter of reading a book and either loving or hating it. There are in between books, books that you don't finish, books that you fall in love with but feel speechless at the end of. There are so many variables and you, the reviewer, have to put it into words.

Now, when I talk about reviews, I'm not talking about my two pet hates of the reviewing world:
* A rewording of your blurb, with a simple "I liked it" or not at the end.
* A sentence of "I liked it" or "I hated it"

To me, those are fine for regular readers to leave on a book. But, of you are in the business of being a reviewer and you are given books by the author, for the express purpose of reviewing it, then you better have more to say. I've been on both sides - having to be the reviewer who is struggling to explain what a book made me feel and also being the author who got a review from a company whose purpose is to review or a book blog, only to receive one of the above examples.

In my mind, a review is proof that you read and understood the book, but it's also about exploring what did and didn't work for you, the reader. You can't call yourself a proper reviewer if all you ever do is reword the blurb. Anyone can do that and it doesn't prove you've read the book. Trust me, I've known people who left a one line review or a reworded blurb review, only to confess that their deadline was so tight that they didn't have time to read actually read the book. I can't do that, in good conscience. I know that deadlines get in the way and sometimes it will take me a year or so to read a book, if I've not been given a deadline to meet, but I *will* always read that book, before putting my name on a review. I honestly can't understand people who don't. And I can't be that kind of author who would be okay with fake reviews left for the sake of fulfilling that review.

That's why I find it so hard to review. Because you really have to be able to explain what you liked, why and what you didn't like and why. Sometimes, that means I write more for a negative review - to explain what didn't work for me and why - than I do for a rave review. Sometimes, a rave review is just me being speechless over a book and trying to formulate something intelligent from the mess of my brain.

Worse still, there are times as a review that I can really enjoy a book while reading it, make nothing but positive notes and then sit down to write my review and it's dropped from a 5 star rave review to a 3 star iffy review, because suddenly all of the problems are staring me in the face, now that I've stopped reading. With the magic of the sparkly lights and the shiny words over, my brain processes what it was reading and I find that there are actually more flaws than I realised. Certainly more than I wrote notes for. And I have to sit there and let the words flow, because I can't just ignore the flaws after noticing them, just because I enjoyed it while reading it. If I'd been a regular reader and not a reviewer, I'd have probably finished the book, gone to Goodreads and logged a 5 star rating, then written a few sentences about how I cried a lot or how certain parts touched me. I wouldn't even give myself time to think it over and realise that, actually, there were some really niggly parts that, the more I think about it, I really didn't like. Or, actually, after thinking about it, I didn't like that aspect of the story at all, because it felt weird or unreal or derogatory.

Just as there are so many variable to the books you read and how you might have to review them, there are just as many variables once you sit down to write that review. You brain stops to really think about things and suddenly, that hilarious moment is actually really cheesy. That totally swoon-worthy scene was cringe-worthy and maybe that romantic speech was actually corny and pathetic.

I think of reviewing like that bit in Pride and Prejudice, where Mr Darcy is making his big sweeping speech and he thinks he's doing the best thing, that he's saying all the right things, only for Elizabeth to notice the flaws and stand there thinking WTF? That's sometimes how I feel about my own reviews. I start writing a rave review, as the Mr Darcy of the scenario, until I finish, read it back or get to a bit where, actually, I'm Elizabeth thinking WTF did I just write? WTF did part that actually mean? Was it supposed to sound so insulting or am I reading too much into it? Then I start second guessing myself and wondering whether I've completely lost the plot, or not.

In the end, I write my notes up into something that makes sense, then read the whole thing through from beginning to end, rearranging or deleting/adding whatever is necessary or comes to mind as I'm reading the review. Then, I read it back until no changes are made. It's actually sometimes just as complicated as editing a book. Because, what I always remember, is that there's an author on the other side of that review, reading my words about their book. I want to be as articulate as possible, to explain what I can, to reason and validate my points wherever I can, because it's important that I make myself clear.

Whatever I write - 1 star or 5 star - every review takes time. Often a day, for a novel, or three if I don't have a lot of time on my hands, just to read it. Then it takes about an hour to write my notes up, make it resemble sensible words and then get it edited/read through and sorted into a real review. I have to make sure that I'm happy to put my name on the words I've written. It might only be a review, but an author could come back to me for another review in the future, if I can prove to be impartial, logical and express myself well. Either way, every author who lets me review their work knows that I'll give nothing but my honest opinion and that not everyone will agree with me. That's not for me to judge. I can only say how I feel and hope that either someone disagrees with my bad review, to go buy the book and support the author, or maybe it can help the author pinpoint mistakes. Or a good review can encourage people to read an awesome story that I loved and let the author know that there are people out there who are touched by their words.

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text 2018-07-04 11:00
Facts About Me: From MF to MM

You might have noticed by now, especially if you've been reading my 'Origin Story' posts, that I used to write MF exclusively and that I've ended up turning a lot of those old stories into MM stories. This is not, as some might say, a way to cash in on a popular genre. Hell, the simple fact is, I would make more money selling them as MF's. The reason I've switched the genre of these stories is simple: I never knew MM existed when I started writing.

I grew up in a world that was pretty accepting. I had gay friends, lesbian friends, bi friends. I knew people on the spectrum all my life and it was never an 'issue' or something like it's presented in Glee - that they're segregated or looked down on. If they were, I never saw it. It was all perfectly normal for people to be different in a million little ways. We had refugee children at our school when I was just in primary school, so under the age of twelve. There was a Bosnian girl that I was friends with and who came over to make Christmas decorations one year, which was also never an 'issue' to be discussed and debated in the news. It just was.

Yet, there was nothing like that in the novels I was reading. I wasn't even a particularly avid reader, back then, either, because I didn't have the time between school and TV. I was obsessed with crime shows like CSI from a young age, because I wanted to be a forensic scientist or an archaeologist - I was a serious child, as I think you can tell, by now. Books never really factored into it, unless they were non-fiction or the occasional Roahl Dahl or Sweet Valley High. There were never any characters, minor or major, that represented people I knew or that I wanted to read about, and I guess that's why I wasn't a huge fan of reading, back then.

It was much later, in my early twenties that I began focusing more on my writing and getting published. Purely by accident, I found a book on Amazon that was free and claimed to be 'mm'. Whatever that meant. I read it, loved it, and started searching for other books like it. FINALLY, there were people in books who were like the people I knew in real life. It was also around this time that I realised I was asexual - thanks to an article in New Scientist magazine, so thanks for that New Scientist! - and I began realising that although I loved to read about romances and didn't mind the hotter pages, at all, it just wasn't something *I* was interested in. You could say it was an awakening, of sorts. Perhaps a bit late, but then from the ages of 15-19 I was more concerned with staying alive, because of cancer, chemo and recovering from all that, so I don't think it's anything that can really be judged too harshly.

Up to this point, I had been secretly writing stories for years! From at least the age of twelve or thirteen. I remember staying at my gran's house one summer and asking if I could borrow a book from her bookcase, to read at nights. I picked up 'The Beach' - something she'd picked up for about 50p at the library sale table and hadn't read yet. Well, I read it and I wasn't nearly old enough to. I went back for another book and found this set of 3 Mills and Boons books. Nope, not old enough for them, either. But they sure were an awakening. Well, of a writer's sort. You see, I found issues in the books and the plots. I hate the whole Alpha male trope where the guy is basically a stalker, there's domestic abuse all over the place, and all the girl does is swoon at it. So I got a notebook and secretly rewrote parts of the plots - sorry Mills and Boons!

My writing career began, writing dirty snippets of Mills and Boons books, at an age I should never have been writing about what went on behind waterfalls between two adults who had been fighting sexual attraction for years. But, I began writing my own stories, starting with the Secrets of Avelina Chronicles and The Devereaux Case Files, both MF leads and both dramatic as all get out. Also, both terrible. I'm sorry for anyone who had to read them, because I know now that I can do SO much better!

Anyway, I wrote them and then a dozen more followed. As bad as it sounds, I never really liked them. There was always 'something' wrong with them that I couldn't put my finger on. I thought that it was just a case of self-doubt, because I didn't have any training, any experience and I had no real idea what I was doing other than writing what came naturally to me. MF was all I had ever read, so I never considered writing anything else. Of course, like my real life, there were minor LGBT characters, but I had never seen one have their own book at that point and, really, what did I know about being gay? I didn't have a sexual attraction to anyone, but I had read enough books to know what to write, how to write it and what was 'popular' - don't stone me for saying that! I was innocent and naive.

Eventually, once I discovered the MM genre in my reading, I began realising that I *could* write LGBT main characters. It was a real thing. I wouldn't be the only one who felt more natural writing from a male perspective (that probably means something, psychologically, but I have no idea what it is). All I knew was that I hated those simpering women from novels and I hated that, to fit in, I had to write them. At least, that was what I believed, at first. So I usually wrote more often from the male POV, because they could be strong and independent without limits or expectations and readers wouldn't get angry with me for it or say that I was some 'feminist' (still a dirty word, back then, for a writer). I really just wanted to write stories I loved, that people would like...and it was that last part that kept me prisoner to the MF genre for such a long time.

I didn't have the confidence or knowledge to break out and do something (that I thought at the time) revolutionary. I didn't believe in myself or my work enough to say - here I am, this is what I want to write and if you like it, great. If not, that's okay, but it's what I'm going to keep writing. It took YEARS to get to that place, and only after my first few novels had been published. Unsurprisingly (because I've read them!) they didn't sell well. I also had no idea how to promote myself, so that was a big factor.

But, even with the book in my hand, in paperback form, I wasn't happy with it. I wanted to change so much that I actually hated the fact that my mum placed it in the living room, in a case, on a book stand, for everyone to see. Because, though I didn't tell anyone, every time I looked at it, I felt like a failure. I had put something out there that was only half me. It was only part of what it should have been, because I hadn't been brave enough to really be me with it.

After reading MM books for about a year or so, I finally put my hand to writing it. My first attempt was Decadent, the single novel in its original format. It was kind of awful, too. But, by then, I had learned a lot and it was accepted by CHBB for publishing. They taught me how to market, how to brand, how to BE an author, and I found some amazing beta readers, one of which taught me what I'd done wrong with the story. I had given it an unnatural progression because that was what I had read in other MM books. Jumping straight to the dirty stuff. Again, I was making the same mistakes - doing what was popular, what I had read, and not listening to myself. When I got that feedback that it moved too fast, I instantly knew what was wrong, because I'd thought the same thing while writing it. So, I took a deep breath, pulled my big girl pants up and started rewriting...how I wanted it rewritten. The beta's approved. The buyers approved. It did well.

I started writing - and reading - more MM stories. Eventually, I stopped writing new MF stories and only gave the completed stories to my other publisher. I still wasn't happy with them, but I had read so much online, in groups and articles, about people changing their MF books to MM and being criticised for it, with readers saying they did it to corner both markets, that they were just looking for more money. I didn't want anyone to think that of me, so I kept my awful MF versions for a long time.

I was STILL caring too much about 'what people might say', as I always had.

After my second MM book was published, I sort of found myself. I found that I was more comfortable writing MM books, that it felt more natural and that I loved the way I could be more free with my storylines and characters, within them. I opened up, creatively. That was when I learned to do what I wanted to do with my stories. Maybe people wouldn't like it, but I was finally being real with myself and faithful to who I was.

A couple of years in, I began looking at my old stories and realising what I hated about them. I had never been made to write MF stories, but it was all I knew, at the time. And if there's one piece of writing advice that has been going around for eons, it's 'write what you know'. I knew MF, because it was every book I'd ever read. So that's what I wrote.

Once I knew MM existed, it was all I could write. All I still can write. I've tried going back to MF, but there are just so many stipulations to it, if you want a publisher to accept you. So many tropes that make me teeth itch and I just can't do it. I can't go back to being that person who just wrote what other people wanted. I've learned who I am as an author, a writer, and a person, so I have to be true to that.

Even if that means turning my awful MF stories into MM's. Because the reality is that they were probably always meant to be that way. Any time I wrote a strong female, she was regarded as too pushy or unrealistic or a feminist. That, or I was trying to copy the likes of Sookie Stackhouse or Anita Blake, because clearly any strong female had to be a carbon copy of someone else's strong female. But, if you write a strong male, he's not compared to anyone else. If you write a man who cries or who is sensitive in any way, he's not labelled a sissy or weak or beneath his counterpart. He's just as strong for being expressive. Femme, butch, androgynous - whatever a man is in a MM story, he's real and natural, because there are all kinds of men in the world. The same is never said about women. Not in novels.

Over the last two or three years, I've become more comfortable converting my old MF stories into MM's. It's so natural and so simple to make the change and that's the real reason I believe it was meant to be that way. If it wasn't, then surely it would be harder. I'm not just changing the pronouns and hoping no one notices. Each book gets a complete rewrite, because I've grown so much since then that they need that change.

Since the rights to some of my books were returned to me, I've been making plans for how to improve them. Recent changes include the novel Esthim, the story Darkness in the Blood being integrated into MM series Creatures of the Night, and plans to have the entire Secrets of Avelina Chronicles and Belesone Pack Trilogy novels converted into extensions of the Creatures of the Night spin-off, Rediscovering Vihaan. The novel Courage in the Kiss will be integrated into The Tales of S'Idiaz, a spin-off trilogy to follow on from the events of The Tales of Talyn. All of them need major rewrites, major plot changes and a complete overhaul. But I'm willing to put in the world, because the foundations are good; it's just a hard truth that they need to be knocked down, brought back to the bare bones and rebuilt.

Eventually, the only MF stories of mine that will be published will be those that are within anthologies still on sale, that I can't change. It will be confusing, because there are shorts for The Belesone Pack Trilogy and The Secrets of Avelina Chronicles in two of those anthologies, but nothing can be done about that. They'll need to remain stand alones and, maybe, depending on the changes I make to the original plots, I might leave the originals on Wattpad, for free, so that people can still read the rest. However, that will be at the discretion of my publisher, if they're accepted in their rebuilt form.

That's still far in the future. For now, I'm working one story at a time. I have so many WIP's that it will take a LONG time to get round to it all, but, in the end, I will have books that I'm proud to put my name to. Books that represent me.

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text 2018-06-27 11:00
Facts About Me: Favourite Books

As you all know, I'm a huge fan of reading, so I thought it would be fun to have a little run down of my all time favourite books. But, as a reader and writer of MM romance, I'm sure you'll be surprised to find that not all of my favourite books are in that genre. In fact, I could easily cut it in half...so I will.

 

Here's my Top 10 favourite MM series, and my Top 10 non-MM series. That way, if you read one genre but not the other, then you can skip one list and just check out the books on the one you're interested in.

 

Happy Reading!

 

~

 

Top 10 MF Series

 

1. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

2. Awakened by Blood by Marie Treanor

3. Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters

4. Dark/Carpathian by Christine Feehan

5. Cornelius Quaint Chronicles by Darren Craske

6. The Chadash Chronicles by David G. Johnson

7. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

8. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

9. Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia

10. The Elders and Welders Chronicles by Margaret Foxe

 

~

 

Top 10 MM Series

 

1. Life Lessons by Kaje Harper

2. The Hampton Road Club by Morticia Knight

3. North Pole City Tales by Charlie Cochet

4. A Study in Demonology by T.J. Nichols

5. The Warlock Brothers of Havenbridge by Jacob Z. Flores

6. The Immemorial Year by T.J. Klune

7. Being(s) in Love by R. Cooper

8. The Crofton Chronicles by Rebecca Cohen

9. A Planet Called Wish by Caitlin Ricci

10. The Chronicles of Tournai by Antonia Aquilante

 

~

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text 2018-06-20 11:00
Facts About Me: Too Many WIP's - Part 4

I'm a notorious busy bee. I can never stop, even when I'm already in the middle of something, so I usually have at least four or five WIP's (works in progress) on the go at once.

 

Here's a quick glance at some that I'll be working on throughout 2018. And, because I'm so bad at starting a story and not finishing it, or coming up with new ideas when I'm supposed to be doing something else, there are too many for one post, so keep an eye out for more, in the future.

 

 

~

 

 

Moonglaive has been the home of the Gods since the human world was created. A place of worship and serenity, it is the home to the Moonglaive monastery, who do all they can to serve the demon Gods who created humanity.

It has been decades since the Gods sent a chosen into their care...until Pipper. Arriving as a child, his true fate marks him as the chosen of the demon Gods, someone who will be their conduit, learn from them and work with his demon to keep the human world safe.

Years pass and Pipper's true purpose has been to battle sin, one case at a time. But when the world begins to show signs of a coming apocalypse, Pipper must draw human hunter Finore into his confidence. Together, they will travel the world with his demon God, Azelel, in an attempt to prevent the destruction of all they hold dear. In the process, they will reveal forbidden secrets, expose long forgotten truths, and go on a journey of self discovery that will spell death for one member of their group.

 

~

 

 

The baby of his family, Willow has always been the odd one out. While his brothers have superpowers like controlling Fire, Air, and Water, he's left with the elemental gift of Earth. A gift that, despite turning twenty-one, he has yet to master.

Add on the awkward fact that his first day on campus is full of whispers about the four new boys who all looked like trouble. Black leather and black jeans; that was the way all Grace boys dressed. It was the unwritten rule of their status as princes in the warlock world.

But being a prince won't help Willow navigate college. Or help him figure out why that strange redhead keeps staring at him.

 

 

~

 

 

All Eli ever wanted was to be in a band, be a singer, and write lyrics for songs that touched people's hearts. That dream came true when indie band Graceless Nights rebranded themselves with a new name and a new lead singer – Eli.

But fame comes at a price. And the price, for Eli, is not worth the rewards.

A threat of blackmail, from a blogger with a story to sell, leaves Eli unbalanced, lost in a haze of secrets that he must expose before the blogger can.

Even if it means losing himself, his privacy, and everyone he's ever held dear.

 

 

~

 

When the King dies unexpected, his daughter assumes the role of Queen in his stead. Until the council of elders gather and try to tell her that a woman cannot rule.

Unwilling to accept that she can only rule with a man by her side, self-made Queen Rachael takes matters into her own hands.

Sending notes far and wide, she invites all eligible Counts, Lords, and Princes of the realm to the castle, under the guise of a week long celebration of her father's life and rule. Convincing the council that she will marry one of the men, Rachael begins the most daring adventure of her tomboy life, yet...stealing a throne that already rightfully belongs to her.

 

 

~

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