Reblog – Epic of Helinthia: ARC Review

Epic of Helinthia by MJ Pankey This book consumed me. From the prologue I was gripped. All details of the world around me were reduced to nil. I had fallen into a new world, a world that was familiar but also, so new. When Annassa Iptys falls and a usurper takes her thrown, the lands […]

Epic of Helinthia: ARC Review

Book Trailers, worth it or not?

I’m a slut for a great movie trailer, especially when they’re combined with epic music, action, and effects. I’ve caught myself rewatching movie trailers multiple times even after I’ve seen the movie because good ones are such a rush. So when I started seeing book trailers popping up on twitter and Instagram, I was intrigued.

Intrigued though I was, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make one for Epic of Helinthia. I’d seen some really good book trailers that honestly made me want to investigate the book more, and I’d seen some that I just scrolled past, and a few that made me cringe.

Like with book covers, I believe any kind of exposure for your book needs to make the best impression possible, otherwise, whether it’s fair or not, it’s going to reflect badly on your story. Having a poorly constructed book trailer, in my opinion, is worse than not having one at all.

Of course, there are the exceptions to this rule, where exposure being reaaaallly bad can drive traffic just from sheer hilarity or outrage, but that outcome is most often accidental, and the results are extremely unreliable, and often unfavorable.

In my quest to lure readers to my book, I’ve been exploring Canva, learning how to create Brand colors, fonts, and templates to reuse for social media, then slowly progressing to animations, graphics, and even swag items like stickers, posters, banners, and bookmarks. Though I’m no expert, I’ve found Canva to be a decent tool with a minimal learning curve, and well worth the $9.99/month for the Pro version. If you are tackling book marketing and publicity on your own, this is an excellent investment.

But I was not ready to take on creating a video with Canva. That’s a whole new level of savvy… right?

So, I looked into Fiverr to see about hiring someone. Fiverr is where I found my cover designer, and I’ve received soooooo many compliments on my cover, I could not be more pleased with Sadie at Lune View Publishing. So I figured it would be a good place to start looking for someone to do a book trailer too. But after browsing a couple of portfolios from some of the top-rated sellers, I decided that this wasn’t the route I wanted to take.

So what did I do? I went to youtube, of course, and found a few tutorial videos on how to create a video in Canva. And you know what? It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Canva has a vast database of videos, audio clips, music tracks, photos, everything you need to create your own book trailer. I used the pro version, but even the free version had an insane selection to choose from, so if you’re not sure you want to take the plunge and invest in a subscription, I still encourage you to check out the free version and play around with it, I bet you’ll be shocked what you come up with!

The creation of my book trailer began outside of Canva, with a script. I’ve spent a lot of time creating, tweaking, drafting, and recreating a short description of my book in various lengths for dozens of different sites now, so it didn’t take me long to piece together a short script briefly describing the synopsis of my story, and then I’ve also had several amazing reviews which I decided to use as well.

Having a script made it a LOT easier to sift through Canva and find elements that worked together to create something epic and aligned with my book. I started with the text of the script, finding relevant background videos, then added sound effects, then added music, and continued tweaking everything. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it took me all day to create a book trailer I’m proud of, but it was actually a LOT of fun.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful, and I would love to know your thoughts on book trailers in the comments below. I hope you enjoy my book trailer and if you do, preorder links are below!

Pre-Order Epic of Helinthia:

Barnes and Noble

Michael Clark – Hell On High #HellOnHigh #MichealClark #Zooloosbooktours #SharonBTB

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

How to self-publish a book…

…in 1000 steps.

Just kidding.


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:

Book creation:

  • 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

Pre-publication steps:

  • 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

Cover Design:

  • 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

Book Formatting:

  • 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

eBook formatting:

  • 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

Copyedit (again)

  • 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.

Happy Writing!


Ultimate Writing Tool: The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck

Let me tell you a story…

My name is MJ and I’ve been in love with storytelling since I was a child. 

I never had trouble coming up with a rough plot or concepts for my stories, but once I started the actual writing part, I would always come to a place in the story where I would realize I hadn’t worked out an important detail. So, I would backtrack and try to weave it in. More often than not, this caused a snowball of issues that would quickly become overwhelming, and I would end up starting over completely from scratch or abandoning the story altogether.

So. Frustrating. 

Does this sound familiar?

To help me figure out where I was going wrong, I started the Augusta Writer’s Critique Group on Meetup in August 2018 to collaborate with other writers, learn from them, share my experiences, and support a community that loves words and assembling them into sentences as much as I do. Now boasting over 550 members, the Augusta Writer’s Critique Group has given me the opportunity to work with many writers who have become successfully published authors. 

Augusta Writer’s Critique Group

And it’s also given me the chance to work alongside writers who get stuck just like me.

My experience as a critique host has helped me to pinpoint the key questions that successful writers answer during their planning stage and unsuccessful writers do not. 

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck was born!

 I had 3 basic principles in mind when I was forming my vision for this project. 

1) I wanted to make a product that was straightforward and simple to use for any genre of fiction. 

I’ve acquired a lot of writing tools over the years, but a common problem in all of them was they were overcomplicated and hard to keep organized, not applicable to the genre I was writing, and most were too jargony. I found myself looking up more terms to understand those tools than doing actual research for my novel. 

Another problem, and perhaps the most impactful, was that none of these tools took my unique writing style into account, and I found the rigidness of their application very stunting for my Muse, which only added to my frustration.

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck is simple and easy to use.

There are 54 cards, comprised of eight categories shared across all genres of fiction: 

  • Muse
  • Plot
  • Main Character
  • Side Characters
  • Antagonist
  • Macro-Level Worldbuilding
  • Micro-Level Worldbuilding
  • Exercises

The cards are color-coded by category and numbered 1-54 so you can tailor them to YOUR unique writing style:

1) Go one by one from start to finish for a more structured approach

2) Select the exact color-coded category for a targeted approach

3) Or shuffle the deck for a spontaneous or randomized approach

Whether you’re writing a children’s picture book, a gruesome horror, a complex high fantasy world, or whichever section of the bookstore you imagine your novel displayed, the Writer’s Muse Focus Deck’s questions are applicable to all genres. 

2) I wanted to make a product that would be useful for both experienced authors and new writers alike

The biggest obstacle for new writers is not having a clue what questions to ask to create cohesive narrative and compelling characters, or to introduce page-turning tension into the story to hook readers and keep them engaged until the very last word. 

Even as an experienced writer, I still need a focus; a one-stop shop to invoke my Muse and pour my inspiration out into a cohesive, complete, and clear path to novel writing success. 

When it boils down to it, writers just want to write, to complete novels and get them out into the world for reader consumption. Spending weeks or months eeking out the details of a plot or characters, then finding out halfway through a draft that something important was overlooked and major rewrites are needed to resolve them is a nonstarter. 

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck is a smooth, fast, repeatable process that all writers can use to iron out the important details and get writing with confidence.

The deck’s eight color-coded categories address critical elements of storytelling shared across all genres of fiction. No matter how complex your story, this deck is specific enough to uncover the finer details, and high level enough to reuse multiple times in your planning stage to address more complexities if needed.

  • Four separate planets? Run through the Macro-level worldbuilding questions for each one. 
  • Eight main characters? The Main Character cards will enable you to give each one their own unique voice. 
  • Six antagonists? The Antagonist cards will help you sort out all of their devious intentions. 

3) I wanted to make a product that could be valuable for every stage of the writing process

As an experienced writer, I fully understand that a first draft is not a perfect specimen, no matter how meticulous your planning stage or process is. Once you start writing, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the story and move your fingers faster than your brain can keep up. A few things are bound to need a bit more fleshing out after that first draft is done.

That’s why I also wanted a product that would help writers revise their first draft, and pinpoint exactly what needs more development to polish their efforts into something that’s ready to send to an editor, a beta reader, or an agent.  

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck lets you easily identify areas in your narrative that need more development so you can get to work on your next revision with a clear focus. 

So where am I in the production process?

The Kickstarter has officially launched!!!!! And you can see it for yourself by clicking here: Kickstarter Campaign

Watch the video!

The questions are written, and the vendor who will be printing them selected. 

The decks pictured in the photographs above are prototypes

I’m still narrowing down the cardstock I want the cards printed on. I have experimented with two different cardstock options so far: smooth and linen. 

The linen cardstock is by far the more durable and pleasant to touch than the smooth, but it’s slightly more expensive. 

I’m waiting on a third prototype made of eco-herbage cardstock to arrive to determine if the durability is up to the standards required for novelists who will be using this product again and again. 

Follow the Kickstarter to be updated when I receive the eco-herbage prototype and compare all the options.

Pledge your support for this product on Kickstarter and reserve your Writer’s Muse Focus Deck to experience how this game-changing card deck can help you focus your muse and get writing!!!

Available on Kickstarter!

ARC Review | From Heartbreak to Hopeful – by Shelby Catalano

A journey of healing and its grief, frustration, anger, sadness, and acceptance, and all of the emotions and trauma in between. From Heartbreak to Hopeful is a powerful collection of poems that reaches into the soul of humanity’s most difficult challenge: overcoming heartbreak.

I was given a copy of this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

From Heartbreak to Hopeful‘s 51 poems explore Shelby’s climb out of the depths of heartbreak, delving into the lingering trauma of her experiences and the painful process of healing.

As someone who has experienced heartbreak and trauma from a manipulative relationship like Shelby’s, I connected with her story, identified with her self-doubt, her anger, at times desperation, oppressive hopelessness, and loss of confidence in herself and life in general.

Shelby’s journey continues through to hope: recovery, acceptance, closure, and the freedom that comes from learning to love oneself again.

For anyone who is going through heartbreak now, this is a beautiful collection to inspire hope for the future and share the collective energy of healing and self-love between survivors. For those of us who have gone through it before, it’s a gentle reminder of what we overcame and how we are better and stronger for our experiences.

What is so unique about From Heartbreak to Hopeful is that the poems are arranged in such a way that they can be read in order from back to front as well, showcasing just how feelings of love can spiral into heartbreak. Reading it this way was surprisingly insightful in pinpointing the behaviors and warning signs of a relationship turning sour; a vivid reminder of how subtle toxicity can be in a relationship and how it can worm its way into the seemingly happiest of places. It was creative and eye-opening, and I give major props to Shelby for arranging her poems so carefully to be read both ways.

In addition to the poems and arrangement, she has also included several of her own illustrations throughout which are absolutely beautiful and enhance the emotional connection to the poems.

This is an awesome and powerful poetry collection to add to your library; a beautiful reminder that while heartbreak reaches deep, it isn’t permanent.

You can purchase From Heartbreak to Hopeful on Amazon through this link.

Happy Writing!

Petey says hello!

Monthly Writing Prompt | July 2022

Excitement stirs inside your chest. It’s today! You’ve been looking forward to this for what feels like forever! As you get ready, something gives you pause. It doesn’t feel right, as though something, or someone, is pulling you back.

Muse Stimulators:

What is supposed to happen today?
Where is the POV?
Who, or what, is pulling them back and why?
How does your character feel about this sudden change?
What happens next?

Happy Writing!

Petey says hello!

ARC Review | Amazing Offer! – Edited by S.D. Vassallo and Elle Turpitt

Old advertisements were created to be eye-catching when they were released, but when one sees them today, they may be even more noticeable. And downright weird.

Brigids Gate Press opened a submission call for short stories inspired by that weird, with all proceeds going to support the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping refugee families in need around the globe, a crisis whose numbers continue grow exponentially every day.

Amazing Offer! features 24 short stories and poems inspired by a range of old advertisements. In some stories, the ad was more blatant, and others were more subtle, but all of them showed an incredible breadth of imagination, intrigue, and introspection. I came away from reading this collection awed by the amazing talent I had just read and still immersed in the emotional high I shared with these characters who, if they didn’t live in a supernatural world, could very well have been me in every sense.

These stories are fiction, but each one seemed to highlight a very human struggle within ourselves and the world around us, and I can honestly say that this is the first anthology I’ve read where every single story inside was an absolute delight.

Beautifully edited by S.D. Vassallo and Elle Turpitt, the cover design by Ellen Avigliano is also eye-catching and highlights the myriad of stories within.

This is my favorite anthology from Brigids Gate Press so far, and I will be purchasing a physical copy once it becomes available. The Kindle edition can now be purchased and read immediately from Amazon.

As mentioned previously, all proceeds go to support the International Rescue Committee. It is the best and most impactful $4.99 you will spend this year!

Click here to purchase your copy: Amazing Offer! and prepare to be blown away.