#SpeakOut Against Sexual Assault

This week’s blog post comes a couple days earlier than usual to help support the Book Sparks #SpeakOut campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault.

The campaign is raising money for the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC). Today, April 19th, 30% of all proceeds from the sale of It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany will be donated to KCSARC (be sure to email your receipt to alyssa@sparkpointstudio.com to verify the purchase!). It’s a great opportunity to grab a new book and do some good!

About the Book:

From master storyteller Amy Hatvany—whose writing has been hailed as “gripping and emotionally honest” (Stephanie Evanovich, New York Times betselling author)—comes a provocative and compelling novel about two friends whose lives are changed by a drunken kiss.

I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong.

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever.

In alternating points of view, It Happens All the Time examines the complexity of sexual dynamics between men and women and offers an incisive exploration of gender roles, expectations, and the ever-timely issue of consent.

About the Author:

Amy Hatvany graduated with a degree in Sociology only to discover most sociologists are unemployed. Soon followed a variety of jobs – some of which she loved, like decorating wedding cakes; others which she merely tolerated, like receptionist. In 1998, Amy finally decided to sell her car, quit her job, and take a chance on her passion: writing books.

Her background in sociology inspires and informs much of her writing as she tackles timely and controversial issues in her novels including mental illness, domestic abuse, and alcoholism. She is the author of BEST KEPT SECRET, OUTSIDE THE LINES (a Target book club pick in 2012 and a Costco Pennie’s Pick in 2013), THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, HEART LIKE MINE, and SAFE WITH ME.

Amy spends most of her time today with her second and final husband, Stephan. (Seriously, if this one doesn’t work out, she’s done, kaput, no more husbands.) She stays busy with her two children, Scarlett and Miles, and her “bonus child,” Anna. Their blended family also includes two four-legged hairy children, commonly known as Black Lab mutts, Kenda and Dolcé.

When Amy’s not with friends or family, she is most likely reading, cooking, or zoning out on certain reality television shows. Top Chef is a current favorite. She eagerly awaits auditions for the cast of “Top Author.” (“Quick Edit” instead of “Quick Fire” Challenge? C’mon, producers! That’s gripping television!)

About KCSARC:

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) provides sexual assault-related services for people of all ages in King County, WA, while working toward the ultimate goal of eliminating sexual violence and abuse from our communities. We’re on the frontline with victims and their families, ensuring that all people affected by sexual assault get the treatment they need and advocacy they deserve. We’re also at the forefront of change, guiding public policy development and delivering best practice education to create safer environments for everyone.

KCSARC’s overall purpose is to alleviate, as much as possible, the trauma of sexual assault for victims and their families. Our mission is to give voice to victims, their families, and the community; create change in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors about violence; and instill courage for people to speak out about sexual assault.

General Status Update 4/7/17

I couldn’t think of a particularly specific topic to blog about this week, so this post will just be a general status update: what I’m working on, current goals, future projects, etc.

I’m trying to wrap up the first draft of Serafima’s Stone in the next month or two. I’m very close to finishing the primary story line, and then have to fill in some secondary plot points. I’m moving into a new house at the end of April, so my free time is a bit limited until then. However, I’ll be setting up a designated writing space (as opposed to my current writing space, aka sitting on the couch with the TV oh-so-temptingly sitting on the other side of the room…) in the new house, and am hoping this distraction-free space will help me focus and increase my productivity. The new house will also have a patio space, so maybe once the weather gets nice I’ll write outside.

In addition to working on Serafima’s Stone, several plot bunnies have been jumping around in my brain. While Serafima’s Stone is of course the highest priority, I have spent some time exploring these other plot bunnies. Follow the muse! Writing something is better than writing nothing, right? Even if it’s not what you meant to work on…

Oh, hai!I'z yer personal plot bunneh fur today!.png

Anyway, these other plot bunnies will form the foundation of novels I’ll work on more specifically once the Gaslight Frontier Series is completed. You can look forward to an urban fantasy novel, a post-apocalyptic/humorous novel, and an epic fantasy novel down the line.

Because I’m moving this month, I’m not officially taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo. If you are, though, I’d love to hear about your progress (or struggles!) in the comments!

The Most Effective Advertising Strategy I’ve Found

I’ve mentioned a bit in previous posts that I haven’t put a lot of time or money into advertising. When I have, I’ve mostly felt that it wasn’t worth it. However, I’ve finally found something that’s given me good results, and the best part is it’s free!

Book Boast, formerly known as Newsletter Swap, allows authors to connect with people who send out regular newsletters featuring book deals. The process is very simple. If you’re an author, you fill out a form for your book deal (including the discounted price, book links, cover image, and description) and then search for newsletters that may be a good fit. You can filter the newsletters by the genres they feature, and each newsletter has a description and the total number of people subscribed. You simply request for newsletters (as many as catch your eye!) to feature your book, and if they accept, you’re good to go!

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If you have your own newsletter, you can post that on the site. You fill out a description of your newsletter, the genres you want to feature, and the total number of subscribers you have. Then you’ll start receiving requests for promos, and you can choose which ones you’d like to feature. Book Boast gives you specific links to use in your newsletter so that they can track how many clicks each book gets. This is then used to give a score to each user: a ratio of how many clicks links in your newsletter get vs. how many clicks your book deals have received in other newsletters.

I used Book Boast to promote my Grigory’s Gadget anniversary deal, and saw a huge increase in the number of books being sold. While I did also use Amazon’s marketing service a bit, most of the sales increase was attributed to Book Boast (based on the analytics Amazon gave me, and the timing of sales vs. newsletters being sent out).

The key to the success of this process is that subscribers to these newsletters are specifically book fans. Some newsletters are author newsletters, some are explicitly book deal newsletters. When you send your book out to the right newsletter, you’re sending it directly to your target audience.

Since switching from Newsletter Swap to Book Boast, a few features (and limitations) were added. The bad news is, for free members, you are limited to being accepted to 10 newsletters per month (this was not in place when I used the service; I was accepted to 14 newsletters in March). Some cool features that were added, however, were book giveaways and group giveaways. I haven’t used these new services yet, but I think they have a lot of potential.

The paid plans ($10 per month or $20 per month) let you get more features, like being accepted to unlimited newsletters each month, and adding people who download your book to your own newsletter via MailChimp or MailerLite.

Overall, if you, like me, are an author looking for an easy but effective way to get more exposure for your book, I highly recommend you check out Book Boast. Or, if you have a newsletter and want something more to offer your subscribers, you should check out Book Boast as well!

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Recently, I joined a book club run by one of my best friends which focuses on promoting critical thinking, especially in terms of the political and social issues of today. The book club is called Books for the Resistance.

We kicked-off the book club with a classic: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Published in 1985, this book continues to resonate with every new wave of readers. It’s a striking look at social issues including sexism, reproductive rights, classism, environmental issues, and the sometimes at-odds struggle to feel safe while also feeling free.

The book follows Offred, a so-called Handmaid, who is one of the few women in Gilead (formerly the United States) who is physically capable of bearing children. As a Handmaid, she is assigned to a family-of-sorts, where her sole role is to conceive a child from the Commander. There are few freedoms in Gilead, especially for a Handmaid. Communication with the outside world is controlled by the militant government, and may be entirely propaganda and lies. Societal roles are strict, inspired by Puritan values.

The details of the establishment of Gilead are scarce, told second-hand through Offred. Some details the reader is given include the fact that there was some sort of coup that overthrew the previous government; at one point, all bank accounts belonging to women were frozen, forcing them to depend on the men in their lives; and issues infiltrated society ranging from environmental disasters to a strong cultural shift against sexual and reproductive freedoms.

Is it any wonder this book continues to resonate with people? It takes these issues to the extreme, and forces the reader to take a good hard look at them. It’s not a pretty sight, but Atwood weaves hope throughout the story. There are whispers of dissent, rumors of an Underground Railroad-type system helping people escape to Canada. The tale ultimately seems to view society in an optimistic light: things can take a turn for the worse, but they will never stay that way. Society will find a way through, to move forward. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think? Are you excited for the Hulu series?

Meet the Characters: Edmund Sokoll

(Image source: Sergey Samuilov)

For this series, I’m going to delve into the characters of Grigory’s Gadget in the style of those fun/silly surveys that pop-up on social media from time-to-time. I’ll also include name pronunciation, because I know a lot of people have been asking about that! (That being said, you can pronounce the names of my characters however you like, I’ll just be listing the “official” pronunciation) This post will be about Edmund Sokoll.

WARNING: Mild spoilers for Grigory’s Gadget contained in this post!

Name: Edmund Sokoll (ED-muhnd soh-KOHL)

Name Meaning: Edmund – From the Old English elements ead “wealth, fortune” and mund “protection”; Sokoll – Slavic word for “falcon”

Age: in his 50s

Physical Appearance: Light skin, short gray and brown hair, blue eyes, his right leg is a mechanical limb

Hometown: Unknown

Family: His sister is the pirate Captain Snezhana Krupina of the Hell’s Jewel; his son is Alexi Sokoll

Relationship Status: His wife, Alexi’s mother, died sometime before the story. It is implied that, somehow, Edmund was responsible for her death.

Education: unknown

Religion: None

Greatest Strengths: great fighter and leader, great at rallying people to his cause

Greatest Weaknesses: He is short-sighted and has an enlarged and fragile ego

Favorite Color: Purple

Hobbies: piracy

Biggest Goal in Life: Find the Bronnerush and harness its power to gain infamy as the most notorious pirate at sea

One Year After Publishing Grigory’s Gadget – What I’ve Learned

Sunday, March 12th, marks one year since Grigory’s Gadget was published!

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Since about a year has passed since publication (wow!), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in terms of writing, publishing, marketing, and more.

In terms of writing, I’ve discovered that it gets a lot harder after publishing a book! There’s an added pressure that simply doesn’t exist if you’re an unpublished author. Now I need to finish the next book – people are waiting! I can’t just push it aside for months or years, nor can I switch gears to work on a different project. Well, I could, I guess. But my personality won’t allow it!

One thing that surprised me about this process is which distribution channels sold the most books. Most information on the internet would suggest that eBooks are the way to go in this regard. However, as you can see on the chart below, I’ve sold almost a majority of my books through vending events and consignment.

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I have attended 8 vending events since publishing Grigory’s Gadget (and I have two more this month!). These events, combined with selling books by word-of-mouth, have proven to be the best way to get my book out there.

Smashwords was my second-most successful distribution channel, thanks in large part to their sale events they have multiples times per year. Amazon, via Kindle Direct Publishing for eBooks and CreateSpace for paperbacks, was also successful.  Books sold through Indiegogo and Amazon were pre-sale books. IngramSpark by far is the least successful distribution channel. I still suggest that self-publish authors utilize this channel, however, if you have any interest in getting your book into brick-and-mortar stores.

Another factor that contributes to the success, or lack-there-of, of each distribution channel is the fact that I haven’t done much in the way of advertising. I’ve dabbled a bit in Facebook and Amazon ads, but never saw an impressive return on either. I’ve done a couple interviews, and had my book reviewed on a few blogs. I’ve also started to utilize Newsletter Swap, which actually seems to have boosted my sales quite a bit. (By the way, if you haven’t already, you should join my email list!)

For now, I still won’t be putting a lot of money and effort into advertising, since writing is still a (passionate) hobby for me. For the time being, most of my writing-related efforts will be directed toward the actual act of writing. I need to finish the first draft of Serafima’s Stone!

Have you grabbed a copy of Grigory’s Gadget? In celebration of its anniversary, Grigory’s Gadget will be on sale throughout the month of March!

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Find the eBook on Amazon and Smashwords!

Get the discounted paperback through my CreateSpace eStore using the code 8CAZ5J8X!

Battling Aggressive Writer’s Block

Apologies for being silent on my blog lately! I meant to post this on Friday *oops*. I’ll be resuming my schedule of posting every Friday again starting this week!

Recently I’ve been fighting a new breed of writer’s block that I hadn’t really experienced before. Usually, when writer’s block hits, it’s more passive. It’s a lack of inspiration, or a lack of motivation. Lately, however, the writer’s block has been more aggressive. It’s been an active force insisting my writing isn’t good enough, that my plot doesn’t make sense, that my characters are horrible and not relatable.

I’ve determined that this now comes with the territory when writing as a published author.

Before I published Grigory’s Gadget, writing was purely a hobby. I did it for myself to exercise creativity. It was fun and amusing. I couldn’t have cared less if the plot would make sense to anyone else, or if the characters were well-written. That wasn’t the point, before.

Now that I published a book, however, those things do matter. As I write the first draft of Serafima’s Stone, I’m acutely aware that my goal is to publish it, and that the book therefore has to be worthy of publication. When I wrote the first draft of Grigory’s Gadget in 2010, I didn’t care if it was good. I allowed it to be bad. And allowing it to be bad meant that I allowed myself to keep writing. Fixing the bad parts comes with editing and rewrites. The first draft shouldn’t have to be good. The first draft won’t be good. It just won’t.

So here I am, struggling to believe the statements I just typed. I need to allow the first draft of Serafima’s Stone to be bad. That’s the only way I’ll finish the first draft. The only solution to this breed of writer’s block is to just keep writing, in spite of the critical voices in your head. Keep writing, even if you don’t particularly like what you’re writing. It can be fixed later.