2022 Writing Sum-up!



So this is the time of the year where I try to reflect on how the last twelve months of my writing life went. Was it… productive? Fun? Fulfilling? Disappointing? What did I learn? What did I do well? What could I improve for next year?

And, you all… a LOT happened this year, and my small potatoes writing career took some big steps. So let’s take a look!

first, the numbers

  • Words written: 55,000 (The Ninth Circle) + 77,000 (Time’s Orphan) + 22,000 (Night of Ash) + 60,000 (Inky & Heater IRL) = 214,000 words (3 complete, 1 partial)
  • Words revised: 77,000 (TO) + 22,000 (NoA) + 99,000 (ItC) + 75,000 (TBA) = 273,000 words (4 books)
  • Words published: 22,000 words (1 book)
  • Words queried: 99,000 (ItC) + 75,000 (TBA) = 174,000 words (2 books)
  • 2022 Total Words Worked: 758,000 words

Sales Numbers: 650+ self-published books sold. Another 200ish downloaded for free. (Draft to Digital makes it little harder to distinguish between which books were bought and which were downloaded for free)

And the Goodreads numbers.

  • Odriel’s Heirs: 165 ratings / 4.33 stars
  • Burning Shadows: 17 ratings / 4.94 stars
  • Idriel’s Children: 50 ratings / 4.34 stars
  • Night of Ash: 9 ratings / 5 stars
  • Time’s Orphan: 8 ratings / 4.88 stars
  • The Gatekeeper of Pericael: 84 ratings / 4.34 stars
  • Into the Churn: 4 ratings / 5 stars
  • My Goodreads total: 341 ratings / 4.34 stars

For reference, the 2021 total was 214 copies sold, 136,000 written, and 554,000 words worked. So yeah. Obviously, still small potatoes. But numbers wise, this years kicked the pants off of last year in pretty much every single way, and that wasn’t even the best part!

The best parts

  • I got not one, but TWO publishing deals with Whimsical Publishing, and I absolutely ADORE working with them. It has been the best experience. And not only that, but I actually had another 2 publishing offers from small presses this year. 😱 This was new and exciting territory for me, and I was absolutely thrilled to make the leap from self-pub to small press with a publisher that loves me books as much as I do. 💛
  • Then, my YA paranormal, The Ninth Circle, got picked up for a WriteHive mentorship with EJ Dawson! 🎉 What?! Is this even real life? The first call was so awesome, and I can’t wait to whip the manuscript into shape with them!
  • The Gatekeeper of Pericael was a semi-finalist in the Book Blogger Novel of the Year Awards. I love my upper middle grade fantasy, but it can be so hard to market, so this was an exciting moment!
  • Odriel’s Heirs got over 100 Amazon ratings and finally got BookBub US and International marketing deals! 🎉 I was so stoked to get more exposure for my first book child, and I definitely had a positive experience with these. Fingers crossed I can get more books accepted in the future!
  • I got accepted to be a participating author at both OwlCon 2023 and StoryBound Fest 2023! StoryBound Fest will be my first in-person author convention, and I’m pretty nervous! So that’ll be an exciting new challenge for next year.

What I learned

  • This year, I really nailed down my outlining process with the Save the Cat formula, which really helped me churn out those first drafts. Thanks to Story Genius and an obsession with K-drama, I also had a crucial epiphany on how to develop likable, relatable characters.
  • I love dual-POV and the depth it brings to a story. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.
  • I grew a lot more comfortable as a critique partner and have collected a few more writing friends who I can reliably swap feedback with.
  • I also was able to consistently read and review books on my book blog here! 62 and counting this year! This has been great way to give back to the writing community, bring more traffic to my little site here, and also sharpen my critiquing skills.
  • I learned how to create decent covers in Canva Pro! This was a super fun tool for my creative process and marketing purposes, but if I ever self-pub in the future, I’m glad I can use this as a viable option to cut costs. (However, if anyone has any recommendations on graphic design online resources, they would be so appreciated! I definitely still have room for improvement. 😅
  • Making playlists for my books and WIPs on Spotify is ridiculously transportive, and I can’t believe I didn’t discover this earlier. I now have a playlist for every single one, and it is an amazing way to get in the writing mindset and pivot quickly between WIPs.
  • Finally, I learned that small presses can be amazing, and honestly I wish I had investigated/considered them a more with first two books I queried.

What I still need to work on

  • Oh boy. So much. I’ve been making some strides in the last few months, but the balance of writing and social media engagement still eludes me, although I feel like I’ve grown more comfortable being my ridiculous, goofy self in reels and selfies. And I actually have a TikTok now – who would’ve thought that?!
  • Advertisements. I tried again this year, buutttt still failing big on this one. If anyone wants to point me toward some learning resources, I would LOVE that.
  • Querying agents. I had several full requests this year, but per percentage of queries I send out, my numbers are nothing to write home about. As I’ll probably end up querying two WIPs next year, I definitely want to focus on sharpening my query materials to boost my request stats next year.
  • Minimizing publishing expenses. Although writing is definitely more of a passion project for me than a business (thank goodness for the day job!), I definitely want to start streamlining my expenses so I can write long-term without permanently denting my wallet. Moving to small press helped immensely this year, and while I hope to publish more with small presses in the future, if I ever selfpub again, I’ll be streamlining my process to cut costs.
  • A brand? Right now I’ve been kind of all over the place: YA Epic Fantasy, MG Fantasy, YA Sci-fi, YA Paranormal, YA fairytale retelling, YA romance… I know one day, if I decide to really get serious, I’ll probably need to pick a lane of some nature, but right now I’m just having fun, so I’ll save that conundrum for future me.

Goals

So what can I go after? As always, I try to keep my goals measurable and attainable.

  • Get Time’s Orphan out into the world on February 8th, and officially complete my first series. 🎉
  • Launch Into the Churn on April 4th… and cross my fingers that it does well enough to write the sequel. 🤞 (p.s. If you read it and want more, don’t forget to rate, review, & spread the word on social media!)
  • Revise my YA Paranormal with my mentor and toss it into the query trenches
  • Revise my YA Romance and storm the query trenches with that one too!
  • Attend Storybound Fest and live to tell about it. (Did I mention I was nervous?!) 😅
  • And of course, write the next book. I have three outlines waiting for me, but I’m not sure which will win out here, so it’ll be exciting to see what I’m working on next.

So yeah, it’s been an incredibly fantastic writing year for me, and I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and the people that have supported and encouraged me along the way. 💛 Here’s to more growth and adventures in 2023. As always, thanks so much for reading!

So thrilled with how much I’ve grown this year as a writer and so proud of these two books. I can’t wait to see them out into the world!

Author Interview: Valinora Troy

Author interview time! Thanks so much to my twitter friend and fellow indie author, Valinora Troy (she/her), for participating in a Q&A! (Also as a reminder, if you’re interested in being featured in one of these author interviews, please feel free to reach out via email/social media/or carrier pigeon!)

Valinora Troy is a Children’s Fantasy writer, living in Ireland. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing specialising in Children’s & Young Adult fiction. She has published short horror stories for adults. She has recently served as a round 1 judge in the CYBILS award, elementary/middlegrade speculative fiction.

Hayley: Hey Valinora! Thanks so much for letting me ask you a few questions! I read your debut middle-grade fantasy, The Lucky Diamond in spring, and absolutely loved it! It’s actually funny because one of my critique partners and I were just discussing the other day how hard middle-grade is to get right, so I actually have loads of questions for you. Prepare for an onslaught!

Valinora: Thanks so much, Hayley! I’m thrilled to be featured on your blog, and I have my defences ready so fire away!

Hayley: First of all, I loved how in The Lucky Diamond, your cast of kids felt both capable and yet they definitely still felt authentically children. For an age group transitioning between young childhood and teenage-dom, how did you find this balance? Any particular inspiration(s) you draw from?

Valinora: I’m so happy you found them convincing! I started writing The Lucky Diamond when I was about six. I kept re-starting the story every year until I finished a full draft when I was 14. The five siblings (and Lucky the Diamond) have been there from the start, so I was their age as I wrote the original story. Of course, I have rewritten and developed the story since then but the characters haven’t changed to any extent. Part of me hasn’t either, I am still a child at heart!    

Hayley: Aw I love the idea of your childhood story finally coming to the page! The second thing that totally stood out to me in The Lucky Diamond is how capably you handled a large cast on a big adventure. There are lots of characters in our band of heroes, and yet all of them had a unique voice and relationships to those around them, and I was never lost in who was who in the scene. This is something I feel like a lot of authors (including myself) struggle with. Any tips or advice on how to navigate a novel with large groups?

Valinora: I’m from a large family (5th of ten children) so it was natural for me to have lots of children in the story when I started writing. Rewriting the book as an adult, I seriously considered reducing the number of characters – but Yvonne would never forgive me if I got rid of her or any of her siblings, so they all had to stay! To get around the challenge of having so many characters, I split them up into separate adventures, which actually benefitted the revised story line. Multiple POVs also helped. I think it’s important to know your characters really well and be clear on the role each one plays in the story or scene so you, the author, don’t lose sight of them! 

Hayley: That’s so awesome that your own experiences brought authenticity to Yvonne’s big family! The Lucky Diamond also gave me *huge* Narnia vibes while I was reading it. Something about your style just totally screams classic, feel-good fantasy adventure, so I’m curious, what would you say are your biggest writing inspirations?

Valinora: I’m very flattered! I read as much fantasy as I could get hold of when I was a child, and of course I read the Narnia stories as well as lots of other fantasy books but reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was 9 or 10 was hugely inspirational, especially when it came to creating a secondary world and setting high stakes. I’m very drawn to Tolkien’s idea that the humble and overlooked ‘ordinary folk’ can save the world, and children slot into that category! I’m also inspired by Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom stories (books 1 -5) as well, because the contrasting free and charter magic is a super depiction of good and evil. I love magic systems! (Can I mention certain spell rings or yanaa here??)

Hayley: Oh man. I LOVE the Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series. That probably explains why I liked The Lucky Diamond so much! (And your talk of spell rings and yanaa is totally going to make me blush! 🤣) I haven’t read The Lucky Diamond’s sequel, Revenge of Queen Rose yet, but how many books are you envisioning for this series? Is that something you plan out beforehand or do you play it by ear?

Valinora: The Lucky Diamond, Revenge of Queen Rose and The Great Forest (which I plan to publish next year) wrap up the Queen Rose trilogy. I have a follow on story with the children already drafted, and a second one with one of the side characters as protagonist also awaiting revision. I didn’t plan to write the series at all; the books were written as the ideas popped into my head. However I have a middle grade horror series with an over-arching story in mind so I am determined to plan that one out in advance (it will be a first for me!)

Hayley: OOooo! Middle-grade horror sounds right up my alley! So, do you have any other upcoming plans? Do you think you’ll stick with the middle-grade fantasy, or are you planning on jumping to other age groups or genres?

Valinora: I have a lot of characters in my head at the moment demanding I write their stories, and they are all kids so definitely planning to stick with middle grade for the moment! I want to start my horror series next year. I’ve another fantasy world that’s longing to get written too as well as a paranormal/monster tale that’s hanging around for a while. If only I could stop time for a bit or split myself in three so I could get them written. But then maybe that would mean three times the amount of reading, writing and sleeping to do!

Hayley: I can definitely relate to all the story ideas clamoring for attention, but all of that sounds like so much fun, I can’t wait to see what you come out with! Thanks so much again for participating in the lovely Q&A; now it’s time for a Lightning Round!

o    Favorite genre to read?

Fantasy, all ages

o    A favorite word?

Serendipity

o    Favorite character you’ve created?

Ches in book 2, he was such fun to write

o    Favorite winter tradition?

The three hour long present opening ceremony on Christmas day (accompanied by a few nice beverages) – there’s a lot of us and we open presents one at a time!

o    Advice for aspiring indie authors?

Never lose sight of why you’re doing this, and remember you are in control of the deadlines, so give yourself lots of time and don’t put yourself under pressure. Oh – and do the research and a marketing plan in advance, instead of playing catch up all the time like I do!


I really need to follow your advice about not putting myself under pressure! I always get so caught up in my arbitrary deadlines.😅 Thanks so much to Valinora for the fantastic interview! To read more from Valinora, you can check out her socials and books at the links below. Thanks so much for reading!

Read more from Valinora here: Twitter, Instagram, Website, The Lucky Diamond, & Revenge of Queen Rose

Author Interview: M.L. East

Time for another author interview! Thanks so much to my twitter friend and fellow indie author, M.L. East (she/her), for participating in a Q&A! (Also as a reminder, if you’re interested in being featured in one of these author interviews, please feel free to reach out via email/social media/or carrier pigeon!)

M.L. lives on a volcanic island somewhere in the Pacific, bunkered down with many imaginary pets in a cozy little shoebox. She’s been reading and writing books, poems, and lyrics since age three or four-ish, maybe five, back when paper was a thing. Her debut novel “Trick of the Spotlight” brings us a scandalous exposé of the K-Pop music industry. A Series of Falling Stars is inspired by events recounted (in strict confidence) by a former (totally non-fictitious) acquaintance who found herself swept up in the destructive vortex of a certain 5-man group.

Hayley: Hey M! Thanks so much for letting me ask you a few questions! So first off, of course I absolutely loved Trick of the Spotlight. The book was so fun, the characters so strong, and I absolutely just flew through that K-pop goodness. What first inspired you to write the book?

M: Hi there, Hayley! Thanks so much for having me! It’s always a pleasure doing business with ya! There are lots of things I haven’t really told the world that I’m going to unleash here, because if anyone should get my scoops, it’s my darling Hayley!

Ah, Trick. What inspired me? I’m wordy as all get out, so let’s just open with a tl;dr: My best friend inspired me. The end.

So, these characters have been living rent free in my head for a bit over a decade now and, as my bestie turned editor will attest, they’ve been written into lots of different universes over the years. Publishing a book was a childhood dream of mine, but life is busy, I have lots of dreams, and I hadn’t actually finished a book since the sagas I used to write as a kid.

One of the only people to read my recent work was my best friend, and she was just fabulously rabid about my writing–laughing and crying alongside me throughout the twists and turns, just as obsessed with my characters as I myself am, and always eager to read more. Our favorite thing to do together in our college years was to pry open a bottle of wine (with any and everything but a proper wine opener) and pass my book back and forth as we read it aloud. (I shouldn’t put this in past-tense. We still do this every time we get together! It’s a riot! 😂) 

So, I’m going to put credit where credit is due: I never would’ve published this series if not for her hounding me about it for years. It was partially a strategy to get me to write more because she wanted new content, but at her behest, I agreed to publish, but only after I’d reworked the universe a bit and reincarnated the characters.

And here’s the other scoop–the really scandalous one! I was never actually a fan of K-Pop before writing these books! *cue gasps of shock, horror, and disgust* 😱😱😱

Maybe it’s no surprise to those who know I live in Tokyo, but I was actually always very exclusively, snobbishly into good old-fashioned J-Pop, whereas my dear best friend was inclusive and loving of all the Pops. And let me just say: she was a K-Pop fan long before the wave hit the west–what a hipster. Anyway, we used to bicker about it all the time in high school, all in good fun. So, to make up for all my ribbing over the years, I decided that the book I was publishing for her would be set in a K-Pop world. We’d also shrewdly decided it was a good way to reach a strong, established audience. The joke’s on me though; I had to do a lot of research to make this series accurate–awkwardly infiltrating concerts, snooping around Seoul, studying Korean, etc.–and over the course of my deep dives into K-Pop, I couldn’t help but fall prey to the genre. My own dear sweet bratty little creations forced me into their fandom!

I kept this a secret for a long time because I was afraid of being outed as a poser in the K-Pop community, but I guess I finally feel comfortable admitting it because I now know how loving the community is, and I’m now no longer posing! 😂

Hayley: Ha! What an epic origin story! Your friend sounds so awesome, and I would never have guessed you weren’t originally a K-Pop fan. The detail you put in Trick of the Spotlight is amazing and reads so authentically – you totally nailed it. And the sequel to Trick of the Spotlight, Face the Music, took the narrative from the main character’s perspective and expanded with four more point-of-views from our favorite K-Pop band. My first dual-POV novel is coming out this spring, and I have to admit I was a little intimidated when I first started writing it! What made you decide to make the leap to five? Any tips on writing a big ensemble cast like that?

M: Multi-perspective writing is absolutely a challenge, but I adore it above all else! I really enjoy getting to immerse in different minds–feeling their emotions, learning the way they look at the world, how their past, present, and future influence them. And I always knew that I would end up steering this series toward lots of POVs because back when I first started crafting these characters in another universe, that was how I used to write them. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t open with multiple POVs though. Because the names are unfamiliar to most English speakers, there ended up being a lot of complaints about my large cast, so I know now it was ultimately better to give readers the space of a whole book to get used to their names and personalities outside of their heads before taking the plunge into each POV! 😂 I think Trick also really helped people fall in love with Kit. I never wanted her to be just some Mary Sue. I wanted everyone to relate to her and enjoy being in her headspace.

As an adult, I’m able to globetrot and I’ve lived as an expat in a number of cosmopolitan cities around the world, but as a little girl, my only chance at exotic escape and foreign adventure was through writing, so I always wrote in first person. I’ve tried third person a few times but it’s always unbearably stilted for me, and I can’t seem to connect with the characters.

There are limits to writing from one person’s perspective though, of course. When I was little, I had no trouble making my one character the Chosen One-esque center of the universe–hyper-involved and informed with all goings-on, occasionally magically omniscient even. But now, as an adult, writing human characters with real flaws and struggles and limits is much more fun for me, so, if I want to create the kind of complex plot-twisty story I enjoy, it can only be covered from multiple angles.

To me, the most important thing about a large cast is properly distinguishing between them. I’ve read a lot of multi-POVs that don’t draw clear enough lines between the characters’ voices, and I feel this isn’t realistic. If you asked three different people to describe the same conversation in the same room, they’d all dwell on different things. I feel that multi-POVs should be true to that. But, even aware that this is crucial, I’m not immune to making this mistake; I’ve caught quite a few dissatisfactory scenes in my own books where I’ll occasionally get lost and forget whose head I’m in. I’m going to have to keep working hard on this as I go, but it’s worth it to me!

The best advice I can offer is really get to know your characters. Write their backstory even if it’s just for you. Interview them like you’re interviewing me. Scratch way beyond the surface–okay, their favorite color is navy blue, but why? Their favorite food is curry rice, but why? What’s their hobby? Squirrel watching? Pickling turnips? Carving soap? Challenge yourself to pick something weird and explain it, because there are no boring humans on this planet. Everyone’s weird and interesting and unique, so the more you flesh them out, the less you’ll have to worry about them blending together. Asking the hardest questions will help you to get to know your character, and the better you know them, the better you’ll understand how they see things, how their brain sounds when it thinks, and the better you’ll be able to write them

Hayley: That’s really excellent advice! I don’t know if I’ll ever move to more than two POVs, but if I do, you can bet I’ll be coming back to pick your brain! Also, with series authors, I’m always curious to know if you’re team plotter or team plantser? Do you have all those twists planned out before you even write the first word of book one, or are you along for the ride as you’re writing as well? Would you ever consider flipping sides?

M: I love how pantser wasn’t an option in there because you know that no series author in their right mind would ever write all these complicated books by the seat of their pants… but see, I’m not in my right mind! 🙃

My god, I wish I were more of a planner. I really do try. I make a rough outline of everything that’s supposed to happen, starting big and then working my way smaller. But once I actually get to writing, everything goes to heck! 😂 My characters never listen to me, and they’re always hiding things from me, and they just expect me to clean up after every last one of their messes. Half the time, they shock me as much as they shock you. It’s like my brain isn’t connected to my fingers sometimes when I’m typing. I’m staring at these words popping up on the screen, reading them for the first time, and I experience the mortification, the devastation, the disgust, the shock, the adoration, the hilarity just like any other reader.

I do try to force my hand now and then but it never seems to work; the atmosphere becomes strained and the characters grind to a halt and turn and glare through the fourth wall at me. So, part of my process has just become rewriting each book twenty to fifty times until I’ve gotten it right and everyone’s happy. (Well, happy as in true to form, because who are we kidding? We’re two books in and nowhere near the HEA so everyone’s miserable right now lol 😅)

That said, I don’t enjoy making my readers wait years between books; I’m always eager to overshare right away. So, I’m making an honest effort to adjust my method for the upcoming books and expedite the process, but I also don’t want to churn out quantity junk instead of quality junk, so we’ll see how it goes. Prolific writer that you are, do let me know if you have a tried and true template/method/flowchart/mind-map. You’d save me so much self-inflicted misery! 😂

Hayley: Ha! I can’t say my plots always go as planned either, but I become more of a plotter with every book. Save the Cat Writes a Novel totally re-invented my writing process, and I highly recommend! But since your books are obviously very music-oriented, are you also a very music-inspired person? Is there a playlist or a song that you think captures the spirit of your books?

M: Yes! Let’s spill some more beans! I am two humans. In my other life, I am a songwriter and musician. By night, a singer. And by night, an author. See the problem? I never sleep. 😂 I tried a day job too for a while but that was a little much. Art, creation, and nightowlism is where it’s at! But yeah, all those scenes about composing and recording and rehearsing, they’re written from the stance of someone who lives and loves that life! My two brands are actually insanely different from each other though, and I don’t like the two of them to bleed into each other and dilute the magic, so my other identity shall just have to remain a secret!

My taste in music is pretty eclectic, and as I was saying, not exclusively K-Pop, so the songs that inspire my writing are all over the place! I’ve made something of an attempt to craft a Spotify playlist of a few I felt really fit the vibe, but the songs don’t exactly fit cohesively with each other. As the books themselves range from hot to heartbreaking to horrifying, naturally the so-called playlist is a bit of a roller coaster too.

Having read my books, if you want to cry and angst out, listen to ‘The Painter Song’ by Norah Jones.

Hayley: That’s so cool! That’s awesome that you can use those experiences in your writing. But geez, how much talent can one person have?! How’s it feel to be one the universe’s chosen ones?! 🤣 Seriously though, both Trick of the Spotlight and Face the Music left us on some juicy cliffhangers! Could you let us in on how many more books you might have planned and when we might get book 3?

M: I know for sure that there will be a Book 3 in this series. I have at least that much planned because there are obviously a lot of loose ends left to tie up. What I noticed in the process of writing Book 2 though was that there’s only so much you can do in one book and things end up getting shaved off at the end in the interest of finding a decent place to wrap things up. Book 2 still ended up a chonker despite it ending at an earlier junction than originally planned. Perhaps such is the hazard of having such a large cast that I try to equally divide time between. So, having learned that lesson, I fully acknowledge that I have a vague list of things I want to happen in this series before I’ll be satisfied and I have no way of knowing how many books that will take. As I mentioned earlier, my brats have a way of throwing curveballs at me and inducing unplanned plot twists so maybe we’ll finish up in 5 books?

When I’m writing, it tends to take over my life in entirety. I eat, sleep, breathe, and… well you know, these books. So, I’ll be fully honest and admit that I’ve barely written a word in Book 3 so far. As a part of my aforementioned effort to make writing more smooth this time, I’ve done extensive planning with my editor and started to map out scenes in advance and I know the bones of what’s going to happen… but yeah, scarcely a word actually written. I’m giving myself a little break. But not an unproductive break! See, Books 1 through 5ish are the canon books. But I have quite a few bits and pieces coming together for books simply within their universe.

I’ve done some pretty extensive work on Star-Crossed, a back-number book that tells Saichi’s wild and tragic story–how he became the man he is, how he met Mino and joined Vortex, and all the ways that things had to go wrong before they could go right. You may have noticed that his perspective was absent in Book 2 despite everyone else getting a fair shot at the pages; this back number is why. I needed some serious time to get used to the inside of his head before I could bring his perspective into canon. I’m so excited to share his story with his fans! If you want some idea of the bittersweetness to come and want to try immersing in his head, check out the playlist for ‘Star-Crossed’ here. It’s a much smoother listen than the other playlists I mentioned earlier.

Saichi’s story isn’t the only one I’ve been playing with either! I put a lot of work into creating my supporting cast in these books. In real life, everyone around you has a past, present, and future; a story to tell. I try to emulate that and give everyone a unique personality in my books, and I’m always so excited to see those side characters get love and enthusiasm from my readers. My latest obsession is playing with their stories–some of them revolve around Kit and Vortex, and some of them don’t–and I think writing these fun little novellas within the universe will be a good way to keep my stamina up for the main canon! I also just want to be able to give more content to my darling, patient readers. I like to tell myself I’m good at giving my dear Kit-Kats and Vortexans everything they don’t know they want, so I’m hoping these little side stories will be satisfactory cud to chew on between books! (That was a super gross metaphor. Why do I do this? The inner Midwesterner surfaces again lol)

I gotta say; there was a time when you posted a screenshot of your very detailed and structured release schedule for all your upcoming books and 1) I was extremely impressed with your work ethic, your planning, and your rigorous timeline; and 2) I saved said screenshot as a model for how I aspire to be as an author. You are an absolute model for the entire indie author community and if I had even a shred of your discipline we might be on said Book 5 by now! 😂

Hayley: YASS playlists! Totally listening to that at this very moment. And, ack! I’m totally blushing. I’ll have to go back and look at that release schedule and see how totally off-base I was. 😂 But I so appreciate the encouragement, M, and I can’t wait to read all your Star-Crossed books! Thanks so much again for participating in the Q&A. It was so fun, and now I’m looking forward to book 3 more than ever! But now, it’s time for a Lightning Round!

o    Favorite book?

Favorites in the last decade: All the Light We Cannot See, Where the Crawdads Sing, スプートニクの恋人. Old forever favorites: Light a Penny Candle, Gai-Jin, Little Women, Watership Down, The Hobbit

o    Favorite quote?

“Believing you won’t break is half the battle.” – Oh Saichi

(I’m sorry. I know he’s my own dang character and it’s cringe af to quote him, but I just can’t stop thinking about it! 😂)

Here’s another (real) quote I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” – James Clear

o    Favorite trope?

Oooof… not always proud of all that I never get sick of but here goes…

Forbidden love. Angst. Soulmates. Slow burn. Us against the world. Love triangle. Locked in together. Amnesia. Fake marriage. There’s only one bed. Honesty through alcohol. Strong/gruff with a heart of gold (tsundere). Fake it til you make it love. Coming out/awakening together.

o    Favorite song?

I Will by the Beatles

o    Advice for aspiring indie authors?

Write for you and no one else. You don’t have to write what sells or what’s popular or follow any industry rules because you’re indie. Enjoy your creative license and create something truly original and unique.


So, so true! Thanks so much to M for the amazing interview! To hear more from M, you can check out her Twitter here for updates or Vortex’s official site here. Till next time, thanks for reading!

Author Interview: M.E. Aster

And today I’ve got another fun author interview! Thanks so much to my twitter friend and fellow indie author, M.E. Aster (he/they), for participating in a Q&A! (Also as a reminder, if you’re interested in being featured in one of these author interviews, please feel free to reach out via email/social media/or carrier pigeon!)

M.E. Aster lives in the country with their parents, their youngest sister, and their three cats, Ghost, Boo, and Snickers. They also maintain a full-time job in customer service. Aster has an educational background in music performance, web design, and computer programming, but they have decided to pursue writing as their favored career path. M.E Aster is the author of Three Halves of a Whole, Take His Place, & Hopeless, Breathless.

Hayley: Hey Mandy! Thanks so much for letting me ask you a few questions! So I’ve read Three Halves of a Whole, and I would definitely describe in as a deeply emotional read. What first inspired you to write it?

Mandy: Hello Hayley! Thank you so much for interviewing me! My inspiration for Three Halves of a Whole was actually real life events. I had a friend that I based Riley off of although we definitely didn’t have as much romantic connections as I wrote into the story, but he was the main inspiration for it. It was one of the first stories I ever finished and thought–wow I wanted to share this with people. Looking back after publishing three more books, I see so many things I could have done better, but I am still proud of that story, and it holds a special place in my heart.

Hayley: Whoa. That is really intense. Thank you so much for sharing. So I haven’t gotten a chance to read Take His Place yet, but are there any common themes or elements readers should expect from your novels? Any tropes you love or love to avoid?

Mandy: So Take His Place is very different from Three Halves of a Whole. It is a slow-burn, friends to lovers romance with a HEA. Although the stories differ in a lot of ways, romance pretty much always plays a theme in my stories, and almost all of my characters are queer. 

As a kid growing up, I never had any books about gay or trans or queer people in general, and now I want all my stories to represent some part of that spectrum. And as for tropes, I am a sucker for them so I am sure most of the traditional romance tropes will show up in my books eventually.

Hayley: Aw yay! I love happily ever afters and some romantic tropey goodness! I also absolutely love the reels on your TikTok! They’re always so catchy and poignant, and they make me itch to crack open your books right away. How do you go about making such accurate visual representations of your stories? Do those kinds of visuals help you in the inspiration process, or do you mostly make them after the story is written?

Mandy: Aw thank you so much! I am so honored that you like my reels. I am fairly new to Tiktok and making reels for my books/characters, but I have always loved making moodboards and aesthetics for my stories, usually at the planning stage to help give me inspiration. For some books I have a vivid picture of everyone already in my head, but other times I more have a personality and not so much a look, so I will browse Pinterest and put together inspiration boards to get me motivated. I have one for each of my books, and it really helps me to get in the mood for the story I am working on.

Hayley: That’s so cool! I used to be obsessed with Pinterest but have never tried it for book inspiration. I’ll have to try that out. So, I’ve seen you post about your full-time day job before and your three cats Ghost, Boo, and Snickers, so it seems like you stay really busy. How do you go about balancing your full-time job and the other aspects of your life with your writing schedule? Do your experiences in your job influence or inspire your writing in any way?

Mandy: Honestly I have not been doing the best job balancing things lately so I will get back to you on that…

I don’t know what happened but I used to find so much time to write, and now I am lucky if I sneak in an hour a day. I do work full time at a grocery store, and I also help care for my youngest sister who is disabled. Add that in with the cats and life in general and I feel like I am always busy.

But my work experiences have definitely inspired a lot of my stories. Kaleb in Take His Place is based off a guy I dated who I met at work. I also name a lot of my less likeable characters after people or customers who irk me. I actually attempted to write a version of my life as a story once as well, but I put that on the back burner because it hit too hard at the time, but I might come back to it one day.

Hayley: Oof. It definitely sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate, and I hope you find more time for yourself and your writing soon! I’m totally smiling about the naming unlikable characters after customers that irk you though. That seems rather therapeutic!🤣Can you give us any hints on what you’re working next and when readers can expect your next book to launch?

Mandy: Well my next book actually launches on Nov. 29th, which is coming up way too soon in my opinion (I hope it’ll be ready by then.) It is an omegaverse novella titled Hopeless, Breathless featuring a timid alpha and his omega best friend. It is my first time dipping my toes into this kind of romance, but I have always loved reading this trope, and I had just as much fun writing it. If you are interested in checking it out, it is available for preorder right now for only 99 cents!

And as for my next story, I think I am going to focus my attention on finishing my Kindle Vella story Dancing With Monsters once Hopeless, Breathless is published. It’s a rockstar romance with tons of angst and once I finish it on Vella I want to make it available as an ebook and a paperback as well!

Hayley: Yay! I’m sure you’ll nail the book launch, and a rockstar romance sounds like so much fun. Thanks so much again for participating in the Q&A. I really enjoyed the interview! Now it’s time for a Lightning Round!

o    Favorite book you’ve read lately?

I am currently reading Face the Music by M.L. East and I am loving it! It is the sequel to Trick of the Spotlight and it is sooooo good!

o    Favorite quote?

I have always loved this quote by Oscar Wilde…“You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love.” I don’t know why but it has always resonated with me. I am definitely in love with the idea of love, that is for sure.

o    Favorite show?

This is a hard question…I have so many shows I love, but I think if I had to pick just one it would be Dr. Who. That show was such a big part of of my childhood and although I wasn’t as a big a fan of this current season, it is still very special to me.

o    Favorite season?

I always want to say that Autumn is my favorite season but where I live (Texas) it really doesn’t exist. I love the cooler temperatures and the leaves changing and the festive atmosphere and all that, but here it’s more like “oh wow it’s 80 degrees instead of 100 degrees nice.”

o    Advice for aspiring indie authors?

My only advice is to write the story you want to read. You can try and pander to what is popular or what is selling, but if you aren’t enjoying it, then it won’t matter. And yes, you might not be a bestseller or make a lot of money, but if those are your goals then maybe being an indie author isn’t the best path. I attempted to query and find an agent and a publisher but in the end, I just wanted my books out in the world, and I wanted control over what I put out there. That’s why I chose to be an indie author and self publish, and if that is what you want to do, then go for it. You got this.


Aw, that’s definitely good advice! Thanks so much to Mandy for the fantastic interview! To hear more from Mandy, you can check out his Twitter here for updates. I hope you all enjoyed this interview, because I’m totally loving them and hopefully will be able to do many more in the future!

Author Interview: Shelby Elizabeth

I’m so excited to announce I’m going to start posting fun little author interviews as part of this bookish blog as well! And for our first author interview, it’s my pleasure to introduce Shelby Elizabeth, a fellow indie author of young adult novels!

Shelby Elizabeth is an English teacher in Upstate New York. She’s also a major geek. When she isn’t writing about fantasy worlds or romance, she can be found reading, playing with her nephews and spending time with family, or watching just a bit too much television. She is the author of the Celestials trilogy and a standalone contemporary romance novel, Don’t Hate the Player.

Hayley: Hey Shelby! Thanks so much for letting me ask you a few questions! Reading your Goodreads bio, I see you’re a big fanfiction writer! What are some of your favorite fanction works and how do you think that’s influenced or inspired your novels?

Shelby: I started out writing fanfiction, and wrote one as recently as early 2022! I can’t advocate it enough. It really helps you find your voice and hone your craft–and it’s a lot of fun! My favorite fanfics to write let me explore big moments in my favorite characters’ stories. Introspective pieces that really dig into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. I’ve actually reworked pieces of fanfics into my books!

Hayley: Very cool! Hearing you talk about it definitely makes me want to give it a go. I also see that you’re a teacher! How awesome! How does your role as a teacher influence or inspire what you write in your novels?

Shelby: Thanks! Classroom conversations generate a lot of ideas, haha! Whether it’s random side conversations (with colleagues or students) or interpretations of a class text, the environment inspires creativity for me.

Hayley: So, though I have Stars Begin to Burn downloaded on Kindle and Don’t Hate the Player is definitely on my TBR, I haven’t gotten a chance to read either of them yet! What are some common themes or elements we can expect from your books?

Shelby: That’s awesome! I always have found family in my books. It’s one of my favorite tropes, and I love exploring different types of found family dynamics. And at least one character will be a geek in some way. Riley (Stars Begin to Burn) loves Harry Potter. Eli (Don’t Hate the Player) loves music. As for common themes in my books, some favorites are exploring shades of gray and recognizing the power of love (platonic, familial, and romantic).

Hayley: That sounds absolutely lovely. So I see you’ve both finished a series (Celestials) and written a standalone (Don’t Hate the Player), but do you prefer writing one over the other? When you write your series, do you plot the whole thing out from the beginning or do you just see where the story takes you?

Shelby: I love the challenge of writing a series, but I also love the succinctness of having one book tell a whole story. I plan to do more of both–and series of connected, standalone books, as a happy medium. For my Celestials trilogy, I knew how books one and two would end when I started it, and had a rough idea for the end of book three. I knew all of the big events, and filled in smaller arcs as I went. Some projects I outline a lot. Others I outline the big things and fill in.

Hayley: I love the flexibility there! But what’s next? I know from Twitter you’re working on a Pegasi novel for Nanowrimo, and I think I saw a teaser that you might also be thinking about a volleyball inspired romance? When do you think we can expect to see your next work? Do you think you’ll stick to YA or do you have plans for other genres and age groups?

Shelby: I have an idea for an MG fantasy series using Greek myth at some point, but for now I’m sticking to YA. My current focus is a series of interconnected standalone fantasy romance novels called All the World’s a Story. Shakespearean inspired, with magical creatures. The first one, Lady of Dragons, is in the editing phase and should release next year! The second, Lord of Pegasi, is my work-in-progress. I might write the volleyball romance next, and set it in the same school as Don’t Hate the Player. I found I like alternating between contemporary and fantasy, though fantasy remains my focus.

Hayley: Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers! Now it’s time for a Lightning Round!

o    Favorite book you’ve read lately?

A Curse of Hope and Shadows Parts Two and Three by Katherine Macdonald

o    Favorite quote?

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – J. K. Rowling

o    Favorite trope?

Friends to lovers! And found family.

o    Favorite season?

Spring or fall.

o    Advice for aspiring indie authors?

Write what you want, when you need to. Just keep writing as long as it makes you happy. Oh, and before you publish, build up hype for your book by sharing snippets and info about the characters. It makes a huge difference to have people excited to read your book on release day, instead of telling them about it after you’ve published (trust me on that).


Yay! Thanks so much to Shelby for coming on as our first author interview! I really enjoyed your passion, and I can’t wait to read your books! To hear more from Shelby, you can check out her Twitter here for updates. I hope you all enjoyed this interview, and if you’re an author interested in an interview please feel free to drop me a line! As always, thanks for reading!

Book Playlists!

Music Meets Books!

So, I’m not a musically inclined person by nature, but I decided to try to make some playlists for my books, and I absolutely loved it! Listening to the playlists added this whole other dimension and put me right into the book so I could experience the scene play out. So cool! Naturally, since it was so awesome, I had to share. Below, are the playlists for the entire Odriel’s Heirs series, and I’ll be sure to add them to their page on this site. I’ll also release the playlists for Codename: CNDRLA and my 2023 sci-fi closer to publication!

I hope you enjoy them and as always, I’d love to hear your suggestions and recommendations if you have any!

Odriel’s Heirs

Burning Shadows

Idriel’s Children

Night of Ash

Time’s Orphan

Night of Ash out 27 Sep & Time’s Orphan release in February!

Thanks for reading!

A Writing Update

Things are happening!

We pause the usual book reviews, for a writing update! It seems like there’s a lot going on lately, so here’s the quick scoop on my upcoming releases and works-in-progress (WIPs)!

The Biggest News:

🥳🥳🥳 I SIGNED MY FIRST BOOK DEAL! 🥳🥳🥳

I’m so thrilled to announce first young adult science fiction is coming to Whimsical Publishing in Summer (ish) 2023! If you’re interested in updates, definitely keep an eye on my Instagram and Twitter for more developments!

Writing Contest News:

In the NYC Microfiction Challenge, I made it to the final round! 🥳 Winners will be announced in September, and I’ll be sure to post my final entry and feedback here!

I submitted Odriel’s Heirs in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off! This contest is still in the early stages, but I’m excited to see the review of Odriel’s Heirs from Booknest.

I submitted The Gatekeeper of Pericael in the Book Blogger Novel of the Year Contest, and it made it into the semifinals! 🥳 Finalists are announced in September, but the competition is crazy steep this year, so my fingers are crossed tight!

What’s going on with Codename: CNDRLA?

I know this WIP is a favorite of many of my Betas and CPs, and it probably seems like it’s been in the query trenches forever! And yes, reader, it does feel that way sometimes! But, seriously it’s a good thing! I still have a handful of full requests I’m waiting to hear back on from agents and publishers. The process just takes a really long time! I’m hoping I’ll have an update by the end of the year, but we’ll just have to wait and see. 😊

When’s the last book of the Odriel’s Heirs series coming out?

Time’s Orphan (Odriel’s Heirs #3) is with my Critique Partners for revision this month, and I’m hoping to release ARCs this Fall for a February release. If that seems too far away, you can check out Night of Ash (Odriel’s Heirs #2.5) in the meantime! Night of Ash is the follow-on sequel novella to Idriel’s Children, and ARCs are available now before the 27 Sep release. If you’d like one, just give a shout.

Also, I’m in the process of creating paperback versions of Burning Shadows and Night of Ash, so if you’re interested in having the whole series on your shelf, you can! I’m hoping the paperback versions should be ready in time for Night of Ash’s release.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below! As always, thanks for reading!

Hey, why’d you redesign your covers?

So the big news this week is that I got my Odriel’s Heirs and Idriel’s Children covers redesigned! And so many people have asked me why, I figured I’d write a post about it (mostly because I’m too tired tonight to do anything else productive. 😂)

So when I first was looking for a cover designer for Odriel’s Heirs, I’d never commissioned art of ANY kind before, and at the time, I thought Odriel’s Heirs would be the only book I ever wrote. (Seven books later, let’s all laugh together. 🤣)

So, I wanted something that could double as both character art and a cover. And although Dominique Wesson did a fabulous job of capturing the characters… based on anonymous feedback from NetGalley, the original cover designs were getting somewhere around a C-. Ouch. And to add to that, my BookBub deal requests kept getting rejected, and I suspected it had to do with the covers.

Fast forward to 2022, and the original cover designer is crazy busy and almost impossible to schedule, and I’m no longer a huge fan of seeing the character’s faces on the cover. I’d rather give the reader more flexibility to imagine the characters and commission character art separately, like the wonderful pieces by @stephydrawsart_ below. (But if you ever want to make my LIFE, I adore fanart.)

Anyways… Of course, I wanted all of the covers to match, so I briefly considered trying to get a character art cover similar to my first too… but then I saw Fay Lane’s work and totally fell in love.

And now here we are! I’m also hoping that the new covers will expand my audience, and I can still use the original covers as marketing or promotional tools. Maybe one day, I’ll shell out for a character art cover of Time’s Orphan so I can have two complete sets. But for now, I’m so thrilled with the new look and can’t wait to see them all in print together before too long!

The new paperbacks of Odriel’s & Idriel’s are now available on Amazon, and I’m hoping to release Time’s Orphan advance review copies in the fall!

As always, thanks for reading!

Is a BookBub Featured (International) Deal Worth it?

Hey everyone! So, I’m sure most of you know that discounted promotion newsletters are a big marketing tool for authors, and BookBub is the generally accepted king of promo newsletters.

And, after maybe about a year of applying for a BookBub featured deal, I finally got a $0.99 international featured deal offer for Odriel’s Heirs. 🥳 So that means I discounted Odriel’s Heirs from 2.99 to 0.99, and for a $54 fee, it was included in BookBub’s daily newsletter in the young adult category to Australia, India, Canada, and the UK.

So, I thought I’d share the results for anyone else trying for an international promo. I will say, I did not do any other additional marketing during the BookBub deal. I know that’s recommended, but honestly, March and April were pretty crazy for me, and I could barely even keep track of what day it was. As a silver lining though, we know that these sales were due only to the BookBub deal. Also, the 0.99 deal was marketed as a seven day promotion, and all my books were marked down for that period.

31 Mar: 36 amazon+16 wide
1 Apr: 18 amazon+11 wide
2 Apr: 7 amazon+7 wide
3 Apr: 4 amazon+3 wide
4 Apr: 0 amazon+3 wide
5 Apr: 1 amazon
6 Apr: 1 amazon
7 Apr: 0
8 April: 2 wide

Total ebooks sold: 109
Total royalties: $39.67
Deal cost: $54
Loss: $14.33

Although people have massively varying results with the BookBub international deals, this wasn’t terribly surprising to me.

Odriel’s Heirs did have several things going for it: it won the 2020 Florida Indie Author Project in YA, it was the 5th place finalist in the Book Blogger Novel of the Year Awards, and it had 102 Amazon reviews (and 149 on Goodreads) with an average 4.4 rating.

But I knew the cover wasn’t super strong, I didn’t stack any other promos on top of it, and I knew the US deal is typically more successful.

Still, even though it was technically a loss, I was able to get my books out to 109 more people (across. the. world. 😱), and honestly, since my main goal here is exposure, that’s a win for me. But if you have any questions, feel free to ask! In the meanwhile, I’ll still be submitting every month to try to grab that US deal. I mean… who could resist that shiny brand new cover?

I’m totally in love with it. 😍 (Thanks so much to the designer, Fay Lane!)

Thanks for reading!

On Covers!


So after my last self-publishing post, I wanted to go into a little deeper review of some of the services I’ve used before. Specifically covers and editors since they’re so important, and I’ve used a couple different businesses. Please keep in mind this is just my personal opinion and experience. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

Custom Cover artists I’ve used

When I started looking for a cover for Odriel’s Heirs, I really had no idea what I was doing (as usual.) But I knew I wanted a cover that would also double as character art, so another author recommended Dominique Wesson. Her character art is absolutely stunning, but she is SUPER busy, so her commissions can take 6 months or more. As of 2020, a cover with 2 characters runs $200 and 1 character is $150. Although I really love the Odriel’s series covers, the NetGalley cover ratings have been relatively low: 25/35 for book one and 16/27 for book two.

For The Gatekeeper of Pericael, I really wanted to get away from the character art concept, but I still really liked the idea of custom art. So a critique partner helped me come up with an idea, and I found Illusstation on Fiverr to bring it to life. The full wrap around cover cost $200, and it only took a month! Definitely recommend if you’re looking for a custom art cover. NetGalley cover rating: 26/29

For my third book, I wanted to to do more of a graphic design style. I found Cal5086 on Fiverr and a cover cost me $170. Although I had to come up with the concept myself, turnaround was super quick, and although I haven’t revealed it yet, I really liked how it turned out.

For the Burning Shadows novella, I decided to try out 100covers, and they’ve been my favorite so far. I really like that they take a little survey of your tastes and what you’re looking for, and then use their knowledge of the design market to come up with a concept. (Which is awesome for my artistically challenged self) They assign you a project manager to work with, you can request changes, and they get back to you within the month. An ebook cover runs $100, and if I were to get a paperback it would be $200. I will definitely be using them again in the future.

other options

However! In the past year, I’ve also creeped around the internet for other affordable quality premade options, and compiled a list of other great cover artists/sites to maybe try one day. Just as a personal preference, I don’t consider artists that aren’t upfront about the cost, and while I’d consider something *amazing* for around $350, my usual budget is around $200ish for combined paperback and ebook formats.

Celin Graphics has GORGEOUS custom covers, but they’re booked through 2021, and run a little pricier at $350 for ebook+print. I might take this plunge one day, because they’re seriously beautiful, but it’ll definitely take more of a commitment. I’m also following them on Facebook for pre-mades, but I think opportunities are kind of rare, and I’m not sure how much they are.

Maria Spada @Mspremades: gorgeous premades that run $200 for ebook+print. Follow her on Instagram for a chance to claim them!

RFK Cover Design: $50-$75 for ebook+paperback premade – $25 for ebook only. Follow her on Facebook for a chance to claim them, but be aware they go SUPER fast!

Ebook Launch: $149 for ebook+paperback premade – $99 for ebook only.

The Cover Collection: $167 for ebook+paperback premade – $89 for ebook only.

Book Cover Zone: $89 for ebook+simplistic paperback premade – wide selection.

P&S Book Cover Designs: $120 for ebook+paperback premades – $70 for ebook only.

AMDesign Studios: All-in-one premade packages ranging from $79-$129. $29-$99 for ebook only. I subscribed to their email newsletter for first look.

Bailey Designs Books: $150 for ebook+paperback premade. $99 for ebook only.

Cauldron Press: $150-$250 for ebook+paperback premade. $100-$200 for ebook only. Follow the facebook page for the first look. Also, their custom chapter headers and title page art look pretty cool too.


Those are my favorites to creep on so far, but if you have any recommendations, I’d love to check them out! If I find any other options I like, I’ll be sure to add them. Hopefully this was helpful, and thanks for reading!