I’m super excited to be posting my review for Hel On High by Michael Clark. Thanks to ZooLoo’s Book Tours and Brigids Gate Press for the gifted ebook in exchange for an honest review. Prepare for adventure as Juliana, a nineteen-year-old Brazilian, finds herself forced to run from an occult overlord, leaving her sister in […]Michael Clark – Hell On High #HellOnHigh #MichealClark #Zooloosbooktours #SharonBTB
Author: MJ Pankey
ARC Review | Tales of Thread, by Hegeleen Kissel
Tales of Thread is a visceral collection of inspired tales whose gravity and emotional depth would meet the approval of the most renowned ancient playwrights.
Tales of Thread is a visceral collection of inspired tales whose gravity and emotional depth would meet the approval of the most renowned ancient playwrights.
Hegeleen Kissel has created a collection of short stories and poems that are a mix of mythology retellings and brand-new stories pulled from the rich history of ancient Greece. This collection could very well be inspired by the Muses themselves. Her master of prose captures the raw human emotion in every character in these stories, and her knowledge of the ancient Greek world and culture resonates in every scene.
Her style of writing, in particular, drew me in. Most of the stories are written in first person, and the way she has chosen to combine monologue, dialogue, and exposition made me feel like everything was actually happening to me, like I was really the character. Which made the horrific choices some of them make all the more gut-wrenching and visceral.
Let me be clear, this is not a collection for the faint of heart. There are very adult themes and graphic descriptions in some of these stories that are brutal in their beautiful execution. I’m just amazed, honestly.
It’s rare that I read a short story collection where I love every single story, but I will enthusiastically add Tales of Thread to that small list. There are three stories in particular that invoked such strong emotional reactions from me: “The Boy”, “Tales of Thread”, and “XXIV”. I am a mother, and oh. These stories hit me hard. All in unique ways.
A fourth story I want to mention is “The World Beneath”, which I found to be extremely unique and interesting; a refreshing twist on the myth of the Minotaur that depicted a progression of insanity so natural that it had me overanalyzing every thought I had for the next 24 hours.
The book is also visually appealing. Each chapter has a beautiful graphic on its chapter title page. It is clear that Kissel has put an enormous amount of effort into this collection and presentation, and it is gorgeous. My only hope is that she will offer this as a physical book because I will buy it so quickly to display proudly on my shelves and re-read on those days when I need my heart ripped out of my chest and fed back to me to remind me I’m still alive.
When I say I read this in one sit down, I mean I couldn’t read this fast enough. I’m no stranger to the mythical tales and plays of ancient Greece. They’re tragic, they’re heartbreaking, they make you want to scream, they make you want to cry, sometimes laugh, and Tales of Thread captures all of that and transports you to the scene of the crime. If you love ancient Greek mythology, you must read this book and add it your collection.
Tales of Thread will be available to purchase on 14 August, so mark your calendars!
Monthly Writing Prompt | May 2023
The ground shakes. Overhead, birds of every type are flapping wildly, feathers rain down as they collide in their frenzy to escape. Behind you, a splintered tree crashes to the ground. You want your feet to move, but it feels like you’re stuck in mud.
- What catastrophic thing is happening?
- What was happening just before this event began?
- How does this event change your character’s trajectory?
- What happens next?
How to self-publish a book…
…in 1000 steps.
Am I? I’m not sure. Let me rewind.
I decided to do a simple (relatively) step-by-step blog about what exactly I’ve done to create a book I’m proud of and that, as of right now, seems to be exceeding my wildest expectations from a reader standpoint (see Epic of Helinthia’s current rating on Goodreads). For anyone looking to self-publish a book, either you have always known this was the route you wanted to take, or you’ve tried to obtain an agent to solicit a traditional publishing avenue and been unsuccessful, I hope I can help you set realistic expectations about self-publishing through what I’ve done and the success that has followed as a result.
My book, Epic of Helinthia, is currently in the marketing/preorder stage, so if you choose to subscribe to my blog, and I hope you do, you can see firsthand in (almost) real-time how well my self-publishing choices have turned out for me so you can decide for yourself if these are worthy investments for your own self-publishing venture.
I will preface this first by saying that I spent 0 effort trying to land an agent to get a traditional publishing deal. The reason for this is I’ve lost faith in the traditional publishing system. I can’t tell you how many ARCs I’ve reviewed that are just subpar, not original, not well written, have typos, etc. In contrast, I’ve read a LOT of self-published books that were rejected by trad pub and are absolutely phenomenal! The main one being Kill Your Darlings, by L.E. Harper, which was rejected over 200 times and is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. (If you haven’t already, you should order Kill Your Darlings right now).
Seeing amazing books get trampled on by traditional publishing houses because they deal with challenging themes or because they’re not “trending” at the moment just makes me want to snub trad pub in solidarity with these brilliant authors and their amazing works of fiction. Whether or not this will prove to be a good move on my part, time will tell.
I have been working overtime to make sure my novel gets the best possible chance, however, and this success (or failure, who knows?) is what I’m going to share with you through this series of blog posts.
My hope is that this can serve as a blueprint for anyone who is trying to publish their own book. I know there are lots of blogs and youtube and tiktok videos on this topic already, but wouldn’t it be nice to just have it ALL in one blog? Here is a bulleted list of everything I have done so far, each of these I will cover in much more detail in the coming weeks:
- Streamlined character and story arcs
- Wrote the chapters
- Submitted chapters to critique group
- Incorporated feedback from critique group
- Wrote more chapters – this included removing chapters that were bogging down the narrative based on critique group feedback and my own gut feelings as I reread my book – if YOU don’t want to reread your chapter for some reason, then that’s a good sign it needs to be overhauled or scrapped.
- Participated in Nanowrimo to finish a very rough 1st draft of the rest of the story
- Revised chapters one by one and submitted to my critique group for feedback
- Incorporated more feedback
2nd Completed draft:
- Created a list of outstanding concerns I had about the manuscript
- Submitted to beta readers – I chose people I didn’t know first because I wanted honest feedback. Family members and friends are often nervous about telling you things they don’t like about your book, and stranger are a more reliable comparison to your readers
- Incorporated feedback from beta readers – 5 total – There was one from my critique group who read it from the beginning again, and 4 that I found on social media – this step was critical.
- Read-aloud of my story and corrected anything that was still confusing or disjointed
- First copy-edit
- Created a book blurb and short description
- I purchased a 10 ISBN bundle from Bowker
- Assigned ISBNs in Bowker. I also purchased a barcode for the paperback and hardcover versions–though I’m no longer sure if this was a necessary step
- Created a copyright page. I also looked at how books similar to mine were formatted and worded and made sure the quality was matched
- I registered my manuscript with the US copyright office
- I applied for an LCCN number – this allows librarians to be able to search for and catalogue my book easier
- Don’t skimp on your cover!!! Your cover is your primary marketing tool! If the cover doesn’t look good, readers will not click on your book to learn more and therefore they will not buy it. This also means that ARC readers are less likely to consider reading it as well.
- Researched the covers of other books that I envisioned my book appearing on the shelf next to in a bonafide bookstore. After I had done this, I went on the hunt for a cover artist
- Found a cover artist on Fiverr
- I combed through fiverr looking for portfolios that matched the style of the book covers similar to what I was going for, and then reached out to Sadie and let me know my thoughts. I even did a very rough mockup of what I thought might look good in MS Paint and sent that to her, and found other book covers with color schemes I liked and also sent those to her.
- Sadie came through with such a beautiful cover, I could not be more thrilled. She produced several options from my rough MS paint sketch and the color schemes I wanted and then we tweaked the design here and there
- Don’t skimp on this step. It is SO IMPORTANT
- I decided to go with IngramSpark POD services and they have a cover template that you need to download and supply to your cover artist so it will fit your book exactly
- I formatted my book myself in MS Word. Professional book formatters are worth every single penny they charge for their work, I can attest. However, I was working on a limited budget, so I decided to try it myself.
- I formatted my manuscript to CMOS standards, which is no headers or page numbers on front matter, specific verso and recto pages, and no headers on chapter title pages. This was a challenge to do in Word, and if you’re interested in learning how to do it, I’ll try to create a blog on it soon
- Once you do this, supply the total page count to your cover designer with an updated template from Ingram (if you’re using them) to adjust the cover specs if necessary
- I made the mistake of formatting the physical book first, so all the work I did on the headers and footers had to be removed for the ebook, which was a pain. Also, all the drop caps I added to the chapter pages also had to be removed because the epub software I used moved them around on the page when it converted. So I recommend formatting the ebook first and then format the paperback. Some of the same steps are necessary for the ebook, but there are extra steps for the paperback
- I used calibre, which is a free software that has a bit of a learning curve to it, but it produces a decent epub with minimal effort
- Main things to note for the epub is that all chapter titles have to have a style heading assigned to them in word, it cannot be normal text just manipulated to look like a chapter heading. Otherwise, the table of contents will not generate in calibre
- This is also something I learned after the fact and had to go back and reformat all the chapter headings – not hard, just a pain
- At this point, I decided to do another copy edit of my book, and I’m glad I did, not only did I discover several italicized lines that had lost their italics during my formatting process somehow, but I also discovered some errors I introduced here and there and some that I had missed
- Disclaimer: I am a professional editor by trade. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get a professional editor to edit your work. It makes a big difference in reader satisfaction and understandability. Grammar check is NOT enough. If you need more convincing, read my article I wrote for Huntsville Independent Press about editing.
- I also discovered that a couple lines were different (somehow) between the physcial book and the ebook.
- To remedy this, I used the compare versions option in MS Word and compared both documents, and then made the corrections to ensure they were both exactly the same.
- Yes, this required a lot of scrolling, but it’s a very important step.
- IngramSpark is its own beast
- Firstly, I purchased an ebook/physical book bundle and a separate physical book because I wanted three versions. Buying a book bundle was a mistake.
- I discovered that IngramSpark doesn’t accept epubs formatted by calibre and it threw a thousand errors when I uploaded it that I couldn’t even begin to figure out. So I consulted with my friend who also used IngramSpark and she told me Ingram’s ebook service is a mess and I should use Draft2Digital instead.
- That was one of the best decisions I’ve made for this book yet
- Draft2Digital accepted my epub without issues and the distribution is really amazing
- The problem is that now IngramSpark would not let me publish just the physical book without the ebook since I’d bundled it, so I had to delete both titles and start with a physical book again. This resulted in an error that the ISBN for my physical book was not available. Wait 24 hours, Ingram’s databases will sync up and the error will go away
- With the physical book, I discovered that Ingram doesn’t accept MS Word documents that have been saved as pdf. I don’t know why (except they’re discriminatory against authors on a budget), but I learned through a youtuber that if you print to pdf the error goes away and the manuscript is accepted.
- Unfortunately, the built-in print to pdf, Microsoft print to pdf, only prints a letter size (8.5×11) document. It SAYS 6×9, but it doesn’t print a 6×9.
- I downloaded Bullzip print to pdf instead, which there is also a learning curve to, and I’ll cover that in a later blog post
- Tip: be sure to add your editor and cover designer in Ingram’s collaborator menu – they’re part of your success and recognizing them for it helps their business and rapport
- Ordered a physical proof copy
- Made MORE copyedits because looking at a screen is different than reading an actual book
- Also, I had to change the paper type which meant a cover resize, so keep in touch with your cover artist just in case you need to tweak the cover in any way
- I scouted some marketing options on Reedsy and engaged with a couple people. Ultimately, I chose not to go this route and instead I did/am doing all of these things:
- Became an IBPA member
- Learned to use Canva and create social media images
- Submitted for a Clarion foreword review
- Signed up to use StoryOrigin to disseminate ARCs
- Uploaded book to Goodreads
- Created a Goodreads Author page and that was its own fiasco
- Created an Amazon author page
- Created an author instagram account
- Entered the Booklife Fiction Contest
- Signed up for Booksirens ARCs
- Purchased the IndieReader Review and Edelweiss plus DRC combo
- Signed up for the Victory Editing Netgalley Coop
- I can’t stress the significance of good COVER design in this stage
- Voracious Readers Only giveaway and Evergreen program
- Blogs 🙂
- youtube (sort of)
- Book tour (TBD because this is in the planning stages)
- Signed up to attend ALA conference and put my book on IBPA’s bookshelf
- Twitter outreach
- Engagement with readers
As of the writing of THIS article, I have not utilized a mailing list for any of my marketing, which is something that is frequently pushed as a critical marketing tool, especially for self-published authors. I will discuss this a bit more in a later blog post about why I haven’t used one. I may decide to try it, but as of right now, I haven’t.
Okay. That’s just about everything I’ve done so far. When I try more things I will post another list. If you are curious about any of the items in my list and want to know when I post the more in-depth article, please subscribe to my blog to get alerts on when those articles are published. I’m running on burn out hardcore at the moment because between all of this and normal stuff, like day job and family and laundry, I am exhausted. So, I’m not even going to promise a regular blogging schedule at this point, but I have so much information that is vying to get out, so I will be publishing it eventually, hopefully soon.
Thank you for reading and happy writing!
WIP Challenge – March 2023
Time for another monthly writing challenge!
Consider a time when you felt embarrassed by something or someone. Remember your emotions, your physical sensations, how you reacted.
Now write a scene in your story that would elicit the same reaction from your main character.
Work this incident into their character development arc.
Monthly Writing Prompt | March 2023
Blood surges through every appendage as you clutch the cargo closer. This thing… your mind scrambles as you feel it; your pulse thrums against your fingertips–as though your own heartbeat is desperate to reach the thing you hold. Someone waits for you to relinquish it. You step closer to comply…
- What is the POV carrying?
- Is the POV’s reaction a positive one or a negative one? Why?
- Why is the POV giving the thing away? Do they follow through?
- What benefit does the POV see in performing this action?
- What happens next?
ARC Review | El Flamingo, by Nick Davies
El Flamingo by Nick Davies
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Sometimes, even in Mexico, an extra sombrero is too much to ask…”
That one line should tell you just about everything you need to know to decide that this book is a must read.
El Flamingo follows the story of a failed Hollywood actor named Lou Galloway to a beach bar in Mexico to drown his sorrows. There, he strikes up a conversation with another sad man, as one does, and is thrust into the Oscar-winning acting performance of a lifetime. Lou Galloway is unknowingly mistaken for an assassin, and being the actor he is, he rises to the challenge, and shenanigans ensue.
This Desperado meets James Bond meets The Big Lebowski is a funny, clever, action packed, romantic thrill ride that sucks you in from the very first line until the very last.
This book is brimming with witty monologue, dialogue, tension-filled action scenes, and rich Hispanic culture that honestly made me want to try salsa lessons again. It’s fast-paced, never dull, with a slight whodunit vibe, and one of my favorite parts is that the main character and the main supporting character, Maria-Carla, are both middle-aged adults. As a middle-aged adult myself, it’s so wonderful to read a book about older people that dares to do something fun and exciting with them, and El Flamingo delivers.
Lou Galloway is very relatable; a dreamer with high aspirations and no chances to shine. Like many of us, the ‘one role’ to make his career has poofed away, and he’s left with no idea what to do next. In the same vein, Maria-Carla is also a very relatable character for many; a strong woman stuck in a marriage she despises and biding her time until the right moment she can break free for good.
There are so many layers to these characters, and a short review cannot even begin to scratch the surface. I could not put this book down, and the only reason I did was because it was way past my bedtime. I finished this book in three sit downs. Every page had a laugh, every scene carried impeccable tension and intrigue, and I absolutely LOVED the Spanish dialogue woven in.
Nick Davies is an amazing writer; his style connects you immediately to the characters and immerses you into the setting with very little exposition; I was never bored. I will be adding Nick Davies to my Authors-to-Watch list for sure. I can’t wait to see what he publishes next.
El Flamingo publishes March 15 by YBK publishers, and you’re going to want to read this one!
I was given a free ARC for an honest review.
WIP Challenge – February 2023
Need to spice up your current novel with a writing challenge?
Write a scene that takes place before your book begins. Detail something specific that happened to your main character that still haunts/influences/motivates them.
- What new insights does this activity give you about your character and their world?
- How can you weave this into your novel and provide a resolution/show character growth from this event in your current narrative?
- Does this change anything about your current plot?
- Does this change anything about the relationships your character has in the book?
Monthly Writing Prompt | February 2023
Are you a writer looking for some inspiration for your next scene or story? Read this month’s writing prompt and let your Muse guide you:
Ping. Another one drops, and your heart races inside your chest. How many are there now? You’ve lost count. Ping. You try to remember all the ones that came before… it’s imperative that you keep track. Ping ping. Your mind scrambles, overwhelmed. It’s all just too much.
- What is dropping?
- Why does the POV need to keep track of the pings?
- What will happen if the POV can’t keep up and what will happen if they do?
- How did the POV get into this situation?
- What happens next?
WIP Challenge – January 2023
Write a short description of something important to your character. Include where it came from, why it’s important to your MC, if it’s value is monetary, sentimental, or functional, and how your character typically interacts with it.
Now write a short scene where your character loses this thing. Address the following elements:
- How is it lost?
- What does your character feel?
- How do they interact with their environment after?
- How does this impact their relationships with other characters? Consider short term and long term impact.
- How does this influence what they do next?