Wednesday, January 29, 2014

If I Speak True blog tour + #giveaways

Hi guys! It's here--it's finally here! If I Speak True was officially released on Monday, and I wanted to share it with all of you (plus, there's a couple of giveaways, including a DVD of Ever After at Kristalyn's, paperback/ebook giveaways and an Amazon gift card)! But first, the blurb:

If I Speak True
Dahlia Kennedy's sixteenth birthday marks a decade of mysterious dahlias arriving and strange, lonely dreams of being in a forest. The only difference this birthday, however, is that for the first time, someone is there with her. And he's practically from a whole other era. The more often Dahlia visits Rowan in his land of Ambrosia, the stronger their connection grows. But... is Ambrosia real? Is he real? What is going on between the two of them, exactly, and why does he insist that she keep it to herself? As secrets usually go, however, it's only a matter of time before everything comes out. And when Dahlia finds out the truth of who Rowan is, who she is, and how he really feels -- it’s beyond anything she could have ever imagined. (Add to Goodreads | Purchase at Amazon)

And now, for the blog tour:

Blog Tour Schedule January 27th – Kristalyn Thornock at The Sarcastic Palmtree (Release Day/DVD giveaway)
January 27th – Cassandra at Cassandra Lost in Books (Release Day)
January 27th – Meg at Book Groupies (Release Day)
January 28th – Kaitlin at Reading is My Treasure (Review)
January 28th – Lisa at Dizneeee's World of Books
January 29th – Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (Author Interview)
January 29th – Cheyanne at Cheyanne Young (Author interview)
January 30th – Eugenia at Chasm of Books (Author Interview and Review)
January 30th – A. Kerr at Kerrific (Review)
January 31st – Jenna (JL) at Avid Reader Musings (Writing Playlist)
January 31st – Ella Johnson at Mymcbooks Blog (Spotlight/giveaway)
February 1rd -- Eugenia at Chasm of Books (Shaver dream cast)
February 3rd – Heather Rosdol at Buried in Books (Review)
February 3rd – Rachel at The NerdHerd Reads (Dreamcast)
February 4th – Penny at One Writer's Journey (Author Interview)
February 4th – Dana at Dana Square (character interview)
February 5th – Beverly at The Wormhole (Author interview and book promo spot)
February 5th – Kaycee at My Crafty Zoo (Deleted scene and recipe)
February 6th – Kimberly Lim at Kim's Reading Lounge (Review)
February 6th – Dianne at Oops! I Read A Book Again (Review)
February 7th – Janie Junebug at Women: We Shall Overcome (Guest Post)
February 7th – Jodie at Books for Company (Lyrics written for If I Speak True)
February 7th -- Colleen at Cici's Theories (Plant meanings and their correlations to the characters)

Thanks for sharing in my excitement, guys! :)

About the author: Jessica BrooksJessica L. Brooks resides with her husband of over sixteen years, three awesome daughters, and a plethora of pets in Central California, where fog, frost, triple-digit heat and various items of produce arrive bountifully, depending on the season. She has an affinity for both coffee and owls, and loves to connect with fellow readers and writers on most social networks like Goodreads, Twitter and Pinterest. You can also connect with her on her blog, Let Me Tell You A Story. Jessica shares reviews for her favorite books on Afterglow Book Reviews, spreads writing and author love for independently-published authors at Indie Ignites, and salutes all writers (no matter what stage in their writerly journey) at Operation Awesome.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Over on my personal blog, Chasing The Crazies, I'm celebrating my two year blogaversary today! It's a bit overwhelming for me because when I first started blogging I thought there was no way anyone besides my family would actually read what I wrote. And honestly, that was okay. I approached my blog as more of a personal journal, rather than a format to spread my thoughts on writing and publishing as a whole.

But then a crazy thing happened. One day I got a new reader. And then a week later a few more. Slowly over the years my following reached a respectable number. And today, I'm eternally grateful to all those people who think enough of me to read my words three times a week.

I've had a lot of people ask me about blogging, and what do I personally get out of it?

Today, I want to share the triumphs and tragedies of actually having a blog. Hopefully, this information will help you consider whether or not you want to start a blog of your own.

1) Pick a topic. Any topic.

In order for your blog to be successful, in my opinion, it needs to have focus. If you're a writer, talk about craft. If you're a reader, perhaps share reviews. Whatever your passion is, use that as a source for your posts. Readers will follow you if you have a specific topic you focus on each and every week.

2) Commit

If you're going to have a blog, you have to commit to posting at least once a week. If someone is going to invest their time in following you, then they are going to want to see original content. If you're not going to do that, be honest about it on your blog. Tell the readers when you plan to post and let them decide if they want to follow.

3)  Respond

If a reader takes the time to ask a question, or leave a comment, respond in a timely manner. If that person has invested time in reading your post, you need to acknowledge that and thank them for reaching out. This simple act of courtesy will get them to return to your blog time and time again.

4) Always, Always, Always, Be Professional

A week ago on Twitter I saw a very high-caliber literary agent post that she wants to see social media contact info in query letters. This tells me that agents are starting to research what authors do and say, not only on Twitter, but on their personal websites and blogs. So remember even though you may want to unload on an agent who sent you a form rejection on a full, or curse out an author who wrote a book you didn't like - DON'T do it. Use your blog to showcase your personality and writing - not your bias.

Blogging is a huge time commitment, but I have made many contacts and grown as a writer because of it. Really think through if it is something you want to commit your time to. If you do, I say go for it! There are many people out their just itching to read something new and interesting from an aspiring writer!

Have questions about blogging? Share them with me in the comments!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Checking in: New Year's Resolutions?

TGIF, everyone! Is it really almost the end of January? I hope your 2014 so far hasn't been as breathless as mine!

My post today will be a short one: the complete draft of my WIP must be on my agent's hard drive by mid-February, and these last three chapters aren't going to write themselves! Though this is a self-set deadline, I am sticking to it as best I can. This project has been ongoing since the spring of 2012, and my main New Year's Resolution is to get it in fighting shape by May.

In publishing, after all, so much is out of our control, and it can be hard to set concrete goals. Though it's difficult to stop thinking about getting an agent, or getting a book deal, or selling x many copies by the end of the year, it's usually best to focus on the things that are within your power: finishing a chapter, nailing that revision, creating a kickass marketing plan. At least, it's certainly always helped me!

So this post is to check in with all of you. Where are you so far with your 2014 writing? And where do you hope to go?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cut Out For This: A Tribute to My Hero

I like the success stories about men and women in their late seventies who sit down and write their first book, getting it published through careful planning and tenacity. 

I had a great English teacher who published her first novel in 1984 and then taught thousands of students how to write before she took up novel-writing again in the new century. When she finally finished her latest novel (really polished it), she spent a solid month working on her query letter and nabbed an agent in a week. From there, it sold quickly, as if she were an old pro at this getting published thing. 

In the meantime, she had overseen and edited the high school literary magazine for years, written countless recommendation letters to colleges and scholarship committees, proctored countless exams, and worn out countless red pens. She lived and breathed storytelling. I love that. 

Occasionally I look around me at the other mom-writers who somehow manage to squeeze more out of their time in the day than I do, that somehow manage to write GREAT fiction that I love to read and promote, and I think, Maybe I'm just not cut out for this.

That's when I think of Mrs. McDonnell. To be honest, I don't know how old Mrs. McDonnell was when she published her first book, or this more recent one. I was raised never to ask a woman's age. :) I just know that when it happened, I felt inspired. I realized that it's never too late, and that no amount of time spent breathing storytelling is wasted time.

So in tribute to Mrs. McDonnell, I'm highlighting her newest book, published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers first in 2008, then again in 2010.

Goodreads  Amazon
SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD ANNE ALWAYS thought her mother was kind of quirky. In fact, her mom’s taste in 70s-esque furniture and mysterious frequent business trips were just the tip of the quirky iceberg. When her mom doesn’t come home on time from one of her long jaunts, Anne isn’t too surprised. But when a day late turns into a few days late, Anne knows something is very wrong. 
She tries the hotel number that her mother left her, but it has been disconnected. Then a strange man keeps leaving messages on their answering machine, looking for a woman who doesn’t even live there. However, when Anne discovers a lengthy letter from her mother explaining why she has disappeared, the fabric of Anne’s relatively normal life is torn to pieces. Despite her shock, Anne must pull herself together and protect herself—from people who want to find and hurt her mother, and the strange new boy who may change everything.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Copyright laws and writing: Not the best combination

Today we're going to talk about music and writing and being inspired and then not being able to share that inspiration because of the big C: copyright laws.


I know I'm not the only one who's ever been inspired by a song and written a scene around it, because I've seen writers galore over the past few years share their "writing playlists" and favorite songs and explain why this or that music lead them to write something that made a big difference to their story line. We, as creative beings, naturally find inspiration in music; in the rise and fall of our emotions as we go along for the lyrical ride and see the pictures in our mind's eye that the ride provides. Problem is, most of the time the very music that spurred us to new creative heights can never even be shared in our books, due to copyrights.*

First example: I've read a book on more than one occasion where a character referred to the classic Beatles birthday song as, "the Beatles birthday song" (I had to do this, myself, for If I Speak True). I'm going to be honest here. At first, I was annoyed. What the heck was "the Beatles birthday song"? Why not just share what they were talking about? But a little further into my writerly years, I figured it out. (Okay, actually, just recently, when my editor was like HEY YOU CAN'T SAY, they say it's your birthday -- that's copyrighted!**)

Example number two: The song everyone's sung about a thousand times before reaching adulthood? (Hint: The lyrics start like this: Happy birthday to you... Happy birthday to you...) That's copyrighted as well. Shocking, I know. And I guess there's a bit of a disagreement there. (Click here to read more about the song sisters Patty and Mildred Hill wrote in the late 1800's that's being challenged in Federal Court.)

So of course, with us being writers, we get all deep and try to find ways to refer to the song instead of flat-out quoting it, hoping our readers will understand. (Or is that just me?) But if we're wanting our books to be timeless (not all, of course are written to be so) and not easily dated, then there's got to be a better resolution to this problem.

My resolution was writing two songs myself, then clipping lines from them and throwing bits of those into the scenes.*** Will it resonate as well with the readers? I'm not sure, but I hope so.  

How about you? Have you written your own songs in order to include those little "moments" in the story line? Listed the title and let the reader go from there? Have you ever been pulled from a story because a song was mentioned? We'd love to hear about it in the comments.

* I was going to share a copyright photo or image here, but all of the ones I found appeared to be under copyright. (The big C was from Wikipedia Commons.)

** For a great explanation of what is usable and considered "fair use" book-wise, check out this post on Jane Friedman's blog, by Brad Frazer; and the Creative Commons website.

*** According to one website, the moment you have officially "recorded" a song, it's already copyrighted. You have every right to then go online and file for a copyright of it. Anybody want to sing a little ditty for me? ;)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What's Your Outlook for 2014?

Happy New Year! I love January. It means the start of a new year and fuels hope that the next 365 days will bring laughter, joy and hopefully the fulfillment of dreams  - both big and small.

I am not a resolution kind of girl. Rather, I like to make small goals that I strive for every couple of months. Last year I worked for my first publishing credit. Then I worked toward another. I wrote like crazy and queried my first novel.

While it was a frustrating (and nerve-wracking) process, I achieved my goal. No, I didn't get an agent, but I got great feedback from the writing community (and agents) and improved my craft way beyond my wildest dreams.

So what are my plans for 2014? Here is what I posted on Twitter...

My motto for 2014: Cheer on your friends' successes and stay positive. Have faith and know your time will come soon!

Notice I didn't write "get an agent" or "sell a book." While I think these are tremendous goals, I also think they add unnecessary stress to your life. Sure, these goals are what every writer hopes to achieve, but in many ways they are things that are out of our control.

You can write a great book, but maybe it's just not catching an agent's eye. Or perhaps the market is too inundated with the topic. That doesn't mean you didn't write something worth reading - it just isn't time.

Yes, getting an agent, selling a book would be awesome, and I will still work toward those things - but my goals are more focused now on things I can control:

- Improving my writing craft

- Continuing to build relationships in the writing community

- Providing more informative posts for writers on my personal blog

What about you? Do you make resolutions or create small goals for yourself? What do you hope to achieve in 2014? I would love to hear about it all in the comments!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Numerical Motivation 2014: Using Spreadsheets To Increase My Word Count

The Words Per Day 2014 spreadsheets are finally finished! :)

I incorporated some of the features from the NaNo Tracker and added a few new features to make them easier to set up and use.

All the setup is done in one sheet. I created three versions so you can set one annual goal, monthly goals, or set a daily goal for each month. Whatever works best for you. :) All versions can be used on either an every day, Monday through Friday, or weekends only schedule. Just enter an X in the box next to the schedule you prefer and clear the other boxes.

Click images to enlarge.

Annual Goal:
Monthly Goal:

Daily Goal:

I've also included a WIP Calculator. The titles can be entered at the top for easy tracking, then enter your daily total word count and it will calculate words written for that day.

On the monthly entry pages, it will pull in/calculate your selected writing schedule, daily goal, weekly goal, and monthly goal. You'll only need to enter your daily words in the green column. It will also highlight the current day.

The Stats sheet shows your progress over the year.
And all sheets contain links for easy navigation within the workbook. :)

To download:

1.  Click one of the links below.

Annual Goal
Monthly Goal
Daily Goal

2.  After you click on a link, you will get something like this :

Click File and then click Download.

3.  Open the file.

Chrome: Click the button in the bottom left corner of your screen.

Internet Explorer: Click Open on the bar at the bottom of the window.

Firefox: Click OK in the window that pops up.

Once the file is open, you might need to enable editing. To do this, simply click the yellow Enable Editing button at the top of the spreadsheet. If you don't see this button, you don't need to do anything--you should be good to go.

4.  Don't forget to save your file when you're done. :) Also, Google Drive doesn't like 97-2003 format (xls). If you want the 97-2003 format (xls), leave me your email address in the comments or email me by clicking the button under "Email Me" on the left, and I'll send it directly to you. Just FYI, I don't have access to versions of Excel older than 2007, so I'm not sure how making the file 97-2003 compatible will affect the functionality.

The workbook and worksheet are protected to protect the structure and the formulas. Like the NaNo Tracker, I added a password to these ones because I put so much time into them. I'd like to keep my signature on them. I've been over them and tested them several times, but it's still possible I missed something. If you find any issues with them, please let me know and I'll make corrections.

If you want to share the files, please do. I just ask that you use the links below and that you give me credit, link back to my blog, and let me know in the comments or on Twitter @abbyannis. I'd love to check it out. :)

Annual Goal:
Monthly Goal:
Daily Goal:

Please note: If your computer is telling you it can only be downloaded as read-only, you probably need to save it to your computer, close it, and reopen it before it will let you make changes. If all else fails, leave me your email in the comments or click the email button on the left and I'll send it directly to you.

Mac Users: If you can't get it to download, please email me by clicking the button on the left or leave me your email in the comments. I'm happy to send it directly to you. If it's opening in read only, try the instructions found here: If that doesn't work, let me know what it's doing, what type of error messages you're getting, and I'll try to figure it out.

Any questions, please leave them below.

Happy writing! :)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Two Anniversaries, A New Release, and a Giveaway!!

January is a special writing month for me. It is the anniversary of two very big milestones in my career. On January 20, 2011, my very first book, Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers, was released from Career Press, making me a published author for the very first time.

Two years later, on January 21, 2013, another huge milestone - my very first novel, To Trust a Thief, was released from Entangled's Scandalous imprint.

And this year, yet another huge and wonderful milestone - the final book in my very first trilogy, A Bandit's Betrayed Heart (Blood Blade Sisters #3) will be released by Entangled's Scandalous imprint on January 13th.

Two anniversaries and a final installment release are just too much of a pile of wonderful to pass up without a celebration :) does a $20 gift card sound? :D Just fill out the form below and I'll announce the winner next Thursday :D

Monday, January 6, 2014

Derailing a Rewrite

After a crazy second half of 2013, I picked up my first book to continue with rewrites. I had a mostly-clear idea of what needed to change and why, and had already made a start on about 20 pages in a new opening. What's more, I was loving the new opening, and the freedoms that came with my main character's change in circumstances--turns out, moving down in Victorian society completely transformed her expectations. And my own!

So I was chugging happily along with my rewrites, and had nearly reached the point where these pages would mesh up with a section of text from the original version.

But then, it didn't.

I'd gone in a completely different direction, and now trying to get the two versions to meet was like trying to join the two sections of a transcontinental railroad and discovering they're different gauges of track. So I tried a different transitional scene, one that logic told me would lead to where I wanted it to.

No go--wrote myself right into a dead end. Time to step back and take stock of the-pages-that-be, as opposed to the-pages-that-were.

My plan is to do a completely new outline from scratch--without looking at the detailed one for the previous version. If a scene or plot point genuinely belongs, it'll come back to me. Hopefully.

And perhaps this strategy will let me see this version of the story more objectively, and let it develop its own voice organically. I've resigned myself that it may mean a complete and total rewrite, for the betterment of the book.

And that's the ultimate goal, isn't it? To keep growing and learning as a writer, to craft better books? (Yeah, ask me again in a month or so, when I'm kicking myself for doing things the hard way, hee hee.)

But I want to hear from you--have you ever ditched an entire manuscript to start over and survived to tell the tale?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Create Happiness

I've been reading both personal resolutions and writing goals, and I've decided to combine mine into a single guiding principle:

Create happiness.

Creating happiness means:

I will make the things that makes me happy. It may be a novel, a picture book, a short story, or a drawing -- if I am expressing something, that is enough.

I will make things to make others happy. Writing what I want does not mean I'm talking to myself. I can't guarantee that everything will be published -- no one can! -- but I'll think of what a reader or viewer would like and write for them. 

I will try to make other people happy. First is my family -- I won't let my goals and struggles get in the way. I will aim to make them happy, and I will also reach out more to others as well and grow the circle of the people in my life.

I will create happiness in myself. I can't make problems or sadness disappear but I will strive to appreciate the good that I have and live in the moments I have been given.

How much clearer it would be to post a word count goal! Reach it or fall short, words end up the page either way. But creating happiness is only a principle, and it's ambiguous by design. 

The worlds we write carry over into the real world, for ourselves and our readers. I aim to increase my creative output this year without shutting the door. Mine will not be a refuge or flight from real life, and I will not let writing be a struggle that wears me down. I hope to find flow, joy, and peace in the creative process and create greater happiness in myself and others.

About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, comes out from Spencer Hill Middle Grade in June 2014.