Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: The Truth About Cats and Wolves by @AletheaKontis plus Once Upon a Kiss

These two new releases by Alethea Kontis will entertain and nurture the romantic in you. What better way to weather these trying times? And as per usual with Ms. Kontis, the stories have a delightful depth to them, blasting through tropes even in the context of a fairy tale.

The Truth About Cats and Wolves: A Nocturne Falls Universe Story by Alethea Kontis is a fun, refreshing romantic urban fantasy following Kai Xanthopoulos, a young woman on the verge of discovering--and deciding--her fate, beginning with her inexplicable encounter with a refugee werewolf who wants the Nocturne Falls police to catch him. Finn's arrival is certainly no accident, but his connection to Kai comes as a surprise to everyone and leads to the discovery of her long-awaited powers. To add to the fun, Owen--the cat that can talk to her?--he's more than he's let on, and his secrets could mean trouble for Kai on the distant horizon.

Kontis' love story busts through urban fantasy tropes with glee. Kai is a wonderfully strong young woman, both in personality and in her emerging powers. Kai's powers give her options, as contrasted with some urban fantasy stories where the woman is constantly beholden to her dangerous companions. Furthermore, Kai's introspection--balanced well by the story's action and magic--is honest in a way that makes me want to be her. Where other protagonists might simper over the abusive bad boy, Kai evaluates her options and her emotions in a way that respects her self and those around her. As icing on the cake, werewolf Finn is not your typical 'bad' boy, either, or Kai would kick him to the curb in the second chapter.

There's plenty of magic and fun, too. Both cat and wolf carry endearing traits over to their human form. Kai's family and friends range from fairy to novice witch. Nocturne Falls is a delightful urban fantasy town (by Kristen Painter) where paranormals like Kai keep the human residents in the dark using spelled water. But of course, spelled water can't hide everything! Kai and her fae friends have to be careful not to give away the town's secret (or get in trouble with Harmswood paranormal school) as they seek to break Finn's curse.

I hope there's a follow-up to The Truth About Cats and Wolves. Kontis gives readers a light-hearted coming-of-age romance, with a tasty hint of more adventure to come.

And as long as we're talking about Alethea Kontis, here's another recent release that I couldn't resist snatching up!

Let's take a look at Once Upon a Kiss: 17 Romantic Faerie Tales anthology, with "Glass Mountain" by Alethea Kontis.

In this gorgeous anthology, an author's note accompanies each story, noting the original fairy tale inspiration and thoughts behind changes made to the original source material. Many of the original fairy tales will be familiar to readers--such as the little mermaid in "The Sea King's Daughter," a beautiful retelling by Anthea Sharp. Kontis' tale is based on a folk tale I'd never read before and is even more enjoyable for it, complete with strange spells and princesses who fall into them. The stories range in length from short stories to novellas with chapters. A very enjoyable anthology with surprising diversity in tone and subject, and a steal at its current 99c price.

Here's a fun "Fairy Tale Rant" by Alethea Kontis covering the original fairy tale, Old RinkRank. I'd never read the tale before myself and found it enjoyable to look it up after reading the anthology. Her Fairy Tale Rants were quite popular and she would love to do them again for her patreon members.


Monday, January 2, 2017

How to Meet Your Goals in 10 Not-So-Easy Steps!

I'm a very goal-oriented person, but also easily distracted and not always organized. Here's what I've learned over the past few years about setting better goals, and my goals for 2017:

  1. Don't Compare. This is the hardest for me because I'm naturally competitive and use that to motivate myself. However, it is too easy to make unfair comparisons to people whose lives differ greatly from ours. Am I going to compare myself to a novelist who writes full time? No. Comparing to someone far more productive than yourself creates internal backlash. Always compare yourself to yourself first, and then to other people at a similar level of output. This will start you out right for the next steps:
  2. Depend On Yourself. Set goals that depend on you, not on an agent or publisher agreeing to publish your work. Shift the focus of your goals to how many places you submit, or, for a bit of humor, how many rejections you get, like this 100 rejections goal. 100 rejections means you've submitted 100+ places, and that's the point. With longer projects, there's always word counts!
  3. Know Your Output Level. As you get a baseline of experience tracking your writing speed and other measures of output, you'll be able to set reasonable goals. Know how much time you have and how fast you write, and how much time or how many steps a project needs before it is complete. Remember that real life WILL get in the way at some point, so leave time for that. I wrote 50k+ for NaNoWriMo and then barely met my 15k goal for December. I knew I'd need to do holiday things and give a little time to other projects that I didn't count.
  4. Know What Motivates You. Do you reward yourself when you reach a goal? And remember to let your completed art to be a reward in of itself, too. If your writing is not intrinsically rewarding, either you've hit a temporary bad spot, or your life and/or writing may be out of balance. Word counts motivate me so I find ways to use them even when I'm revising.
  5. Set Short-term Goals. Break projects down into manageable steps. Instead of thinking only "I'm going to publish this fantasy series!" (eek!), breaking it down into word count goals and the revision steps needed after that brings a big project down so you can wrap your head around it.
  6. Revise Your Goals. We're all human and we all make mistakes. Maybe we get to the end of a word count goal only to realize that the draft needs 30,000 more words, which has totally never happened to me ever. Also, we're all human and have to live on this physical plane where we need food and have to work or raise kids and then goodness forbid something tragic happens. Or maybe you hear about a short story deadline and you have the best idea for an entry. Don't be afraid to revise your goals in order to make room for opportunities or to acknowledge that you're not superhuman (bummer!).
  7. Set Flexible Goals. Long-term goals are important for flexibility. That way, if you don't meet your short term-goals, you can see that you've at least made progress, if not as much as you wanted. But you don't want to be revising your goals all the time--that's a sign that you're chasing after every new idea or you're setting your goals way too high (because life!). One way to avoid adjusting your goals all the time is to have a "goal" and a "super goal." The super goal is that high goal you know you can reach if all the stars align, like if my toddler sleeps at night. The regular goal is something that allows for life and all that, but still means that I didn't spend all month procrastinating by magically finding other things to do besides write. 
  8. Organize. I Guess. Last year I attempted to organize by moving all my files off every device and unto the cloud. I was tired of having to switch devices to find the latest draft of a project or a file I needed to submit, plus I didn't want to lose files in a computer crash. What I didn't do was organize every single file in the cloud to make everything as perfect as I want it. I wrote a novel instead. So, organize enough that you can find what you need, but don't use organization as an excuse to procrastinate, either. Thanks to search features, I can find the files I need, and websites like Submissions Grinder help me keep track of short story submissions. I use my google calendar to set alerts for deadlines and for reminders of projects I don't want to leave behind. My other organization accomplishment last year was to create media files for each published and soon-to-be-published work, so that when I want to reach out to beta readers or give potential readers a purchase link, I know where to find it.
  9. Be Nice To Yourself! Do you know what bites? Not meeting my goals! A lot of this advice boils down to being nice to yourself. Sure, you want to push yourself, but that doesn't mean you have to be mean about it! Set reasonable goals and if life really kicks you, revise your goals. Meeting reasonable goals gives you the confidence and experience needed to know when to take a risk - like NaNoWriMo, or pushing a new project into the mix.
  10. WRITE. You can't meet your goals if you don't write! You won't know your output level if you never output. Yoda says there is no try! You can conceivably publish fiction without setting goals, but you can't publish anything if you don't write. Use goals as motivation and focus on the process of writing itself, on sitting down and typing those words. 

Review of 2016 Goals:
  1. Revise opening of Dragon Islands - 50%. I did revise (a lot!) but plan to revise again and technically don't have an opening scene right now. (I have two... This was before the great migration to the cloud!)
  2. Finish and submit short stories. 100% I have 7 pieces and 20 rejections. This was a huge deal to me as I've been focusing quite a bit on Dragon Islands.
  3. Some kind of NaNoWriMo. 100% I surprised myself by changing my mind from doing revisions to writing the next book in Dragon Islands, and it was absolutely the right choice at 65k since Nov 1.
  4. Improve my platform for Premeditations. 100% My publisher recently thanked me for 'not giving up' on my chapbook. See, many authors and publishers act like a book is dead after a few months to a year. But that doesn't fit my long-term goals. I felt like I could have done more when Premeditations came out, but I saw no reason for that to be a permanent mistake. I learned more about marketing and long-term planning.
  5. Reviews and blogging. 100% I review 1 magazine a month for Tangent Online, and on top of that, I wanted to review more on my blog, keep up with Pendragon Variety posts, and release regular content both here and on my homeschool blog. I mention this because I think periodically about giving up, but I didn't. I even sold an article or two to homeschooling magazines. Done!
  6. SURPRISE GOAL! At the beginning of the year, I had no idea I'd write, illustrate, and self-publish a children's book, Charlie Cat Does NOT Like Halloween. It's been a long-term goal of mine to write picture books and this year I did it! 

2017 Goals:

  1. Release Charlie Cat Needs a Break on Thanksgiving.
  2. Write another Charlie Cat book.
  3. Finish drafting the Dragon Islands series. (Continue logging word counts).
  4. Revise the opening to Dragon Islands and send the first book to beta readers.
  5. Write, revise, and submit more short stories for 30 rejections.
Ahhhh, so scary! A year is a long time to plan for! Anything could go wrong!

Or things could go right. Hmm.

Here's to a great 2017!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Writers: 10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Social Media Presence

Participating in the #NaNo Blog Hop inspired me to tweak my social media presence, and clicking on several hundred twitter, facebook, and blog profiles makes you hyper-aware of what works and what doesn't. So here are a few things you can check on your profiles right now, especially Twitter:

  1. List your genre(s). I can't tell you how many twitter and facebook profiles I read that said they were a writer or aspiring author, but didn't list genre. I love a lot of genres but there are some I'm simply not interested in. So if you write something I'm not interested in, me following you isn't going to help either of us. You'll get that cool notification and that's it. I'll never click on anything you post and I'll never buy your book.
  2. Links. Let's say you write SFF. Sweet! I'm interested. And maybe I like some other things about your profile. What now? Give me a website or something to click. There is nothing more frustrating than looking at someone's profile, which indicates that I'm already interested, and then not finding anywhere else to go from Twitter. And know where you want to funnel potential readers, because I'll probably only click one link and you'll be lucky if I click another link on from that first landing page. Like, I might link my SFF chapbook, Premeditations, and my PB Charlie Cat Does NOT Like Halloween, and my Readers Club newsletter,.
  3. Examples. If you have product to sell (such as books) I want to see examples of what you've written. I don't mean that I expect thousands of words for free, but come on, give me something. Be proud of your work and let it speak for you. And if possible, have your example link directly to your email list or a book you want us to buy.
  4. Images. You have about 30 seconds to catch a potential follower's attention. I saw all sorts of images; most of you had an author photo, which helps with professionalism. Some had covers on their back splash which often helped indicate genre. Some had cool photos which give a peak into that 'I swear I'm a real person' stuff (appropriate for Twitter if not facebook and goodreads). Some had more generic images of book shelves. What caught my eye were the bad images. The ones that were pixelated and a few that didn't have images at all (which is better than a bad image). Generic didn't bother me but bad did. These are social media websites that make it easy for you to add images. Add high-quality images that say something about you.
  5. Your Personal Life. Unlike in a short story cover letter, I like to see that tiny bit of you that says hey, you're a real person! Oh my gosh, are we both moms who like SFF? I just clicked follow. You like Star Trek, too? I'm a sucker. I clicked Follow. And as much as I like the witty profile descriptions, that description had better also say something about who you are (or at least your genre!). Adjust this advice for different platforms, but it works for twitter, which is a mix of professional and personal and has low-risk for following new people.
  6. Interact. So, I get that people hate those auto-DMs and even Twitter officially discourages it. But I'll admit to clicking on a few of the links sent to me this way--Now I'm not saying that you should break Twitter's rules, but I am saying that you should interact with the people who are your target audience or otherwise have a lot in common with you. There were also plenty of auto-DMs that I did not click on because, wow, you can't reach me if I'm not even your target audience. Twitter in particular is a platform where people expect a lot of short, quick interactions. Even though I found you on a list of 300+ NaNo bloggers, we might actually like talking to each other, yanno? Plus, you joining the blog hop tells me that you're open to almost-random contacts from everyone else on the list. /Advice from a social butterfly.
  7. Pick a Platform. What I mean here is to know what you can handle. Don't join every platform in existence without even knowing what that platform is good for. Exceptions might include Goodreads and Facebook, where having your book/author page up is good and interacting is even better but not really required. So don't reach out through DMs and whatnot using a platform that you're not going to stick with. Pick a few that work for you and make it clear where fans can best interact with you. I know an author who periodically has to remind her followers that a FB DM to her is a sure waste of your time, but she still finds Facebook useful because it's Facebook and she does interact on her author page. I didn't follow a lot of the FB profiles because I actually use Facebook for a lot of real-life things and don't need heaps of extra notifications. I have a Goodreads account and a Reddit account that I mostly neglect. Oops. So, for the record, I'd love to connect with you through TwitterFacebook, and my Readers Club newsletter.
  8. Media Sheets. Do yourself a favor and create a media sheet for anything you publish. A media sheet is a document that lists all those annoying things that you have to look up or write all over again when advertising your work, yourself, and otherwise engaging your social media superpowers. For example, amazon link, goodreads link, links to all your social media platforms, small versions of the cover, the blurb, your author blurb, pre-written tweets, etc. My media sheets made my life tons easier as I was filling out the blog hop and responding to new followers.
  9. Schedule Posts. As a creative person I often cycle through productive periods. For instance, NaNo meant that I was writing 50k+ words in my WIP, but of course I have to toil more before I can show that to my readers. Then I'll go through periods where I'm writing blog posts because I have an idea or because something timely is coming up. Rather than posting 20 blog posts in a week and then nothing for 6 months, I like to schedule these posts ahead of time and I use fancy magic to automatically tweet my blog posts and share them to facebook. And for advertising my books, I like to have a reason to advertise and I definitely don't want to spam followers every day, so I take something like Premeditiations bookversary and do something special for my Readers Club subscribers. Then there's my Charlie Cat picture book series which centers around certain holidays, so obviously that has a time factor to it. And here I am going back to my media sheets to embed links in this post. Whew!
  10. Go Back to Writing! Ever heard the 80/20 rule? Spend most of your time writing, not gleefully making hundreds of maybe-friends on social media. It was fun to participate in the blog hop and I 'met' quite a number of people I'm happy to have in my networks, but it meant that I spent less time writing and now I've got to get back to that. Buh-bye!
P.S. Want to learn more? Try these Simple SEO Practices That Do Get More Blog Traffic

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Birthday Twins! #Premeditations #Millroadacademy

Sign up for more of Lauren B. Harris' fiction!
Sign up for more of my fiction!

Everyone loves a book birthday!

A year ago today, both Premeditations and The Girl in Acid Park debuted!

Happy Book Birthday, Lauren Harris!

Books make great holiday gifts! Or maybe you'd like to gift yourself with something to read over the holidays.

Get Premeditations on your kindle for $2.99!

Or get a signed copy of Premeditations directly from me

Your support means a lot. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#Nano Blog Hop

Welcome, new followers!

Are you part of the #NaNo social media hop? Let me give you a quick run down of who I am:

Wow, am I enjoying this blog hop already! I'm "meeting" at lot of new people and already seeing many that I have a connection with through fandom, favorite genres to read and write, and parenthood.

See something you like? Join my Readers Club newsletter to keep abreast of all the awesome that is me. I won't spam you with random journal-esque entries and you can unsubscribe at any time. I'm teaming up with another author for something special to celebrate Premeditations' bookversary, so now's an opportune time to join! (Read an excerpt from Premeditations courtesy of my publisher.)

Follow me on Facebook for somewhat more noise, such as my reviews, and add me on twitter for much more noise, including retweeting my favorite authors and random things about kids.

Can't get enough about kids? Follow my homeschooling blog for reviews and releases geared towards the younger crowd. (Join my Readers Club and click the appropriate box to sign up for cool kid stuff!)

And don't forget to tell me a little about yourself! With all the new people I'm meeting, I'd hate to lose you in the crowd. If you've read this far, I bet we have something in common, so leave a comment or tweet me!

*My microphone bit the dust recently and I have three loud kids, but I still love to follow podcasting authors and maybe some day I'll narrate again (sniff!)