Review: Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink

Angel of Greenwood book coverAs soon as I knew this book existed, I bought it. It’s set amidst the Tulsa Race Massacre. I have a special interest in that event because I grew up in Tulsa and knew nothing about it until about five years ago. It blows my mind that this is something that was “forgotten.” It makes me so mad, but it fits right in with all the Republicans who are insisting that the unsavory parts of our history shouldn’t be taught in school because it might make some little white kids feel guilty. A little guilt never hurt anyone, and it would make it easier for them to understand their privilege. I think this is actually quite important. 

The Setup

But anyway, on to the story itself. It’s actually a rather unlikely love story between Angel and Isaiah, the town’s angel and a rough-around-the-edges boy. Isaiah in particular is secretly passionate about poetry, philosophy, and Black rights. He’s a big follower of W.E.B Du Bois and so he hates Du Bois’ nemesis, Booker T. Washington. Their school is named after Washington, and Angel is a fan of his and thinks Du Bois is too much. 

A Bit of Philosophy

So I had of course heard about both of these men, but I knew very little. But when Isaiah and Angel get thrown together for a unusual summer job arranged by their English teacher, they talk about the two philosophies on improving the rights of Black people. From their discussions, it was clear that Du Bois was more aggressive while Washington advocated for quieter change. I sort of imagined it as analogous to the differences between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

But I happened to stumble across an article about Washington in The Atlantic and learned a little more about him—his main belief was that individual industry would bring Black people into the country’s economy, and they’d then become valued by everyone. Basically, hard work was critical, but it wasn’t just working hard—it was also working smart. He founded the Tuskegee Institute and ensured that a lot of Black men were trained in trades that would help them join the economy like he wanted. So I thought it was interesting and a little subtle, even though it’s kind of clear to me that that approach is never going to be enough. 

However, the economy perspective not working reminds me of migrant laborers who make it possible for us to have inexpensive fruit, all because they’re being exploited and working for criminally low pay. Also, there are a lot of other people from Latin America that make up a good portion in the back of the house in restaurants across the country, some legal, some not. Their value in our economy (keeping prices low and keeping restaurants open) does not outweigh the hatred that so many people have for them for not being white. 

The Story

Anyway, back to the book. Angel and Isaiah fall in love while riding around in a three-wheeled bike with a sidecar and a bin to store books so they can share books with people in the Greenwood community. This was all in the days leading up to the attacks, which started a little after midnight June 1st, 1921. Each of them plays an important role in helping their neighbors. Despite the bravery and efforts of real people like Angel and Isaiah, it’s known that a several hundred people were killed that night. 

Although everything in the story obviously leads up to the attacks, that night doesn’t dominate it. It really is a story about young people who are living in a rather idyllic place but who are aware that they are privileged to be there, and also know that nothing in life is guaranteed. 

Summary

The book does what historical fiction does best—it shows that the people who lived through significant events were real people who the reader can empathize with. You will root for both Angel and Isaiah not just to end up together, or even just to survive, but to actually to show the greatness within each of them. And the book delivers on that. 

As a totally not important side note, I also absolutely love the cover. It’s dramatic and somehow captures both the violence of that night but also the peacefulness the character Angel embodies. 

Quiet Quitting

I’ve decided to change things a bit with my fiction writing. It doesn’t make sense to keep putting my heart, soul, and pocket book so energetically into my fiction writing. So I’m quiet quitting. 

That doesn’t mean I’m not writing anymore, but it does means things are going to be different. 

A Great Idea

Thursday I went to office hours for a BookTok class, and they gave me some great ideas to try on TikTok. One of them was to look in the Kindle version of my books and find all the text that had been highlighted by readers in order to quote them in videos (overlayed over flipping pages). This is really a good idea, because while some of what gets highlighted is mundane, I also see stuff that is more interesting and profound show up. So I went and bought all of my YA books on Kindle. And I soon discovered that not a single person has highlighted anything in any of my books, including the one that came out in 2020.

This just says FAIL. It doesn’t matter that my first book won some small awards and the next two also did well in a national contest. It doesn’t matter that there are a handful of people who really believe in my work and me as a writer. Ten people does not make a writing career. Virtually no one reads my books, no one follows me or interacts with my posts on social media, and no one reads my blog posts. It’s hard to deny that I have completely failed as a writer. 

The Effort

At the beginning of my journey, I took lots of classes on writing as a craft, and even went and got the MFA. All that was great, and I improved dramatically. I know I am a good writer. But I’m not quite good enough for the publishing industry, and there is no way for me to get there without help from someone in that industry, but I have been denied access to those people (300 agent and editor rejections sends a clear message). I’m simply not good enough for real traditional publishing, despite having done everything you’re supposed to do to get there, and promises that if I just “keep trying” it’ll definitely happen. This from people who write “inspirational” posts about how they queried 35 agents before FINALLY landing one. Puke. 

Trying to Not Feel Sorry for Myself

Faced with this rejection reality last year, and a comment from my book coach that my work wasn’t quite publishable (this was a surprise to me—I thought what we’d been doing the whole time was making my work publishable, not just throwing my money away), I got depressed and even somewhat lost the ability to enjoy reading (which was probably the worst part). So earlier this year, I decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d just go ahead and put my work out there rather than sit on it forever, even though I knew they weren’t going to be the best books they could be if I’d been able to find a major publisher. I thought that I’d just need to focus on marketing. Self-published authors obviously have full responsibility for their own sales. 

Social Media

I threw myself into learning about marketing and especially learning how to step out of my comfort zone, as self-promotion is very unnatural for me. I did everything I could, even going all-in on TikTok/BookTok, which in retrospect is kind of crazy—I’m someone who generally won’t even have my picture taken, and here I am getting on camera several times a week. But I didn’t take off on TikTok, where I cap out at about 230 views on every video, with very little interaction, despite several months of posting nearly daily and interacting with other BookTokers (again, way outside my comfort zone, but I did it anyway).

On Twitter, I’ve been trying to post regular content three times a week, and there is literally only one person who ever likes my tweets (an old friend). On Instagram, where I also try to post three times a week, I usually get five to fifteen likes, mostly from people I know in real life. So my social media "strategy" is obviously not working. 

Blogging

My blogs are even worse. I made my first post on this blog in January of 2017 because I knew you were supposed to have a platform to be taken seriously by the industry, especially agents, and blogging seemed the least intimidating way to start. “Platform” was the buzzword. Even though my post views have always been in the low doubt digits (sometimes in the single digits, actually), I kept going because I believed that eventually I could turn the tide, and then I’d have all this content. For many of those years, I managed to post something every single week.

I’ve tried different things to pull in readers, with no success. I also have a blog for my romance pen name, and I actually get more views on there even though I almost never post. I have another blog about my art that I get similarly low views on. My blog efforts are obviously not working either. 

Forging Ahead

With all this mounting evidence that for whatever reason, I can’t make myself a successful writer (the most obvious reason is that maybe I’m just a bad writer, but I really don’t think that’s it), I thought I would give it one more full-effort shot and actually pay an expensive publicist for help with my release of Ugly in June. Although it’s hard to definitively quantify the results of that because a lot of it involves longer-term impact, it seems to have been a total bust (especially considering how much I spent—many thousands of dollars). I’ve made about twice as much on Always the New Girl, released four weeks before, than I have on Ugly. But the money is laughably low so it doesn’t really matter much, anyway. 

Income

Since my first book was released 2.5 years ago, I have made less than $550 on book royalties. Contrast this with how much I’ve spent on writing, and it’s clear that this is an irrational pursuit. Since 2018 alone, I’ve spent nearly $89,000 on writing related expenses, from tuition, to editors, to software. Last month I sold a total of ten copies of my five self-published books, totalling $19.80 in royalties. Here’s a chart showing lifetime cumulative sales for all my books:

Chart showing cumulative royalties

Clearly, staying the course is completely insane. 

The Change

Last year, with all the agent rejections, I went through a bit of an existential crisis with my writing and thought I might give it up. But I didn’t seem to be able to stop. Then, when I hired the publicist this year, I decided that if this doesn’t work, I should seriously evaluate whether I should keep going. It didn’t work. So as I concluded above, I shouldn’t keep going as is, but as I learned last year, I probably can’t just quit. So I am going to keep writing fiction, just at a much lower energy level. 

I am continuing to work on Uglier, and I also have a romance I’ve just sent to my editor and will do final edits on it, but that’s all I’m going to do. I’m considering submitting the romance to a publisher that does offer an advance, but I’m not decided on that. If not, I’ll publish in November. When Uglier is ready, I’ll send it to the line editor and then publish it, and then I’ll figure out if I should work on the third book in that series or the third romance, or something else. I still have a draft of Sadie Speaks floating around somewhere. It needs a full rewrite, but the story is pretty solid. 

What’s Different

But I’m not going to keep making pointless social media and blog posts, I’m not going to constantly look for small and cheap promotional opportunities, I’m not going to enter any more contests, I’m not going to do any more freebies, and I’m not going to check my sales every day. I’m basically dialing back the energy. I’ll stop setting myself up for failure after failure, and just deal with the one long-term failure of low sales. 

For now, I’ll be giving more attention to the nonfiction and the picture book writing and illustration. I think both may be a direction I could still have some success with. I don’t “believe it with all my heart” or anything stupidly naive again, but there is a nonnegative chance. The only way I can find out is by trying. I have a great idea for a nonfiction book for teen and college students that I’ve started working on (plus I’m working on short nonfiction for adults for real magazines). I’m also working more on my art (I actually decided to withdraw from the degree program I was in, so I have more time to focus on what I want) and will soon be starting to work on sketches for the two picture book manuscripts I have ready. 

Future State

So I don’t know where things will end up, but I do know I will never be a YA novelist published by a major publisher. I’ll keep putting my work out there, but I’ll always know it isn’t as good as it could be. And that is still hard for me to accept, but there you go. 

So if you are one of the handful of people who really like my work, thank you and don’t worry—there will still be more of it. Uglier is actually coming along quite nicely right now. You will love what Nic has done with herself and a new character just barged into the story, and she’s going to be fun.

Meet Fea!

New Book Release

I’ve just released another book this past Wednesday: Fea, the Spanish translation of Ugly. Here’s the cover:

Fea book cover

Obviously it’s just the Ugly cover with the carving swapped out and the tagline at the bottom translated (and way longer than the English version). 

The book is available pretty much everywhere, like my others (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google Play, and Kobo, and you can order it at your local indie shop). See my landing page for links to all the places you can buy it and the book page here for more details.

Translation Experiment

This translation thing is kind of an experiment. Several writers I know do get translations of their books and they actually seem reasonably well with no marketing. (Nobody knows how to market in a foreign language they don’t speak.) One writer said people just find them. I think this makes sense because the problem of discoverability that I’ve been dealing with is partially a result of the explosion in self-publishing—which while not exclusively in English books, is predominantly English work. Other languages aren’t overloaded with so many books to choose from.

So the chance of coming up in a search that someone is making on Amazon or wherever is simply much higher. I decided to start with Ugly because of the timeliness of the subject matter. Although it’s probably much more of a current event in the U.S., I am sure that some of the other progressive places in Latin America (plus Spain) have people questioning their gender identities and exploring those ideas. I suspect there aren’t very many such books out there, so I’m curious to see what happens. 

Finding a Spanish Translator

Finding a translator was interesting. First, I needed a literary translator, not someone used to doing marketing copy. When I started searching for translators, most do business work and the first literary ones were so expensive—like in the range of $7000 for my 90,000 word (about 400 page) book. I could not justify that kind of expense. After some more searching, I decided to try Upwork. I put together a project and a max budget and got a lot of bids right at my max budget, naturally. But then I got one from a translator living in Bolivia that was hugely lower than my max.

Too Good to Be True

At first I thought a couple things: this was probably too good to be true, and if it is legit it might not even be ethical. I thought about the ethical aspect and decided that because cost of living is much lower in Bolivia, it makes sense that she doesn’t need as much money to make the project worth her time, which is obviously different for people living in the U.S. or other expensive countries. She set her rate. So I think it’s okay. 

Too Good to Be True?

But I still wondered if it was too good to be true. So I asked her to translate the first few chapters, slightly less than 10% of the book, and I’d pay her 10% of the fee and then have a couple people look at it to make sure it’s a good translation of the book in terms of accuracy and tone. My friend Gwen was willing to read it. And in a stroke of luck for me, my house cleaner had once seen some of my books lying around and asked if I was a writer. It turns out that her son is a writer too, and by chance he also is transgender, which made my book an even better fit. She asked him if he’d be willing to read the sample, and he agreed. So that was great. 

It's All Good

Both of them said it was a good translation. They noted that it was a little more formal in Spanish, but that that was probably just the nature of the language, which makes sense to me. Like there’s a point where someone calls Nic a “lesbo” and that was simply translated as “lesbiana,” which is the same as “lesbian” would be translated. This formality is also a result of the fact that she translated into what is called Neutral Latin American Spanish, so we avoided country-specific words (which of course also means there’s less slang, because so much of slang is country-specific, in any language). But anyway, she ended up doing the whole book and now it’s out in the world. 

What About Italian?

Another possibility is Italian. Supposedly that market is desperate for more books. I have a good Italian friend from my grad school days who works as an English to Italian translator, so I asked her if she’d be interested in translating my book. She doesn’t do literary translation, but has a friend who does. So we’re going back and forth about that. Her rate is much higher (it’s actually in line with what my original budget was for the Upwork project), but this is obviously to be expected because Italy’s much more expensive than Bolivia. But it’s still a decent rate that is be worth trying. I’ve told her I can’t do it now but if she’s still willing to do it in January, I’d be able to do it then. This isn’t finalized, but I’m guessing it will go ahead, so I’m really curious to see how this goes. 

Uglier

And during all of this, I’m working on the sequel to Ugly, which is tentatively called Uglier. If the translations do well, I’ll need to get Uglier done, as well. So I’m really curious how all this is going to go. 

Review: Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Girl, Unframed book coverI’m a big fan of Deb Caletti and have reviewed some of her books here (One Great Lie, A Heart in a Body in the World, Essential Maps for the Lost, The Nature of Jade, and Stay). But I’m going to openly admit that I didn’t love Girl, Unframed as much as the others. This is probably because it places celebrity front and center, and I’m pretty much not remotely interested in celebrity. But the book still drew me in because of a particular device Caletti used, which I’ll talk about below. I’ve been in a major reading slump and still had no trouble getting through this one, so I think it would resonate more with people who do find celebrity interesting. 

Sydney, the fifteen-year-old main character, is not herself a celebrity, or even particularly enamored of it. But her mom’s a very famous movie star who’s sort of moving out of her prime at this point. Sydney attends a boarding school in Seattle during the school year and I think spends most holidays with her grandma (I think also in Seattle). But summers are for bonding time with her mom in San Francisco.

Leading up to the summer where she’ll turn sixteen, Sydney’s got a bad feeling about the visit. She can’t shake it, and it stays with her even after she gets there and meets her mom’s new boyfriend. Her mom is typically aloof and not super-interested in Sydney as a person. She’s definitely a narcissist. And the boyfriend is someone Sydney never quite trusts or likes, even though on the surface he seems fine. But there is something going on, because the house is being watched and there’s some tightly wrapped up art in one of the empty rooms. 

It’s not just Sydney’s misgivings that clues the reader in. Caletti puts a little text at the top of each chapter that lists evidence in a criminal investigation. It’s never enough to say what actually happens, but there’s no doubt that Sydney is right and something really bad is going to come to pass. This keeps the reader engaged because you’re looking for clues to try to guess what it could be and who will be the presumed victim. 

Sydney’s relationship with her mom isn’t great, which is down to her mom’s selfishness, really. But even more importantly, she’s not in as strong a position as she used to be. Sydney’s seeing evidence of some financial trouble, and her mom's relationship with the boyfriend doesn’t seem great. But she’s still famous and going out into the world with her is an experience. 

I’m going to admit that the bad thing that eventually happens actually did surprise me. One of the things that I actually questioned throughout the book was Sydney’s almost age-inappropriate wisdom and insight into the injustice in how women are positioned in society. But the ending actually made this make more sense to me. 

In the end, I enjoyed the book even though it’s not my favorite, so if you’re a Caletti fan, check it out (especially if you enjoy reading about celebrity). 

Review: Deathless Divide (Dread Nation #2) by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide book coverThis is really quite the book. I read and enjoyed the first book, Dread Nation, a bit ago and I admit I didn’t remember all the details. And I remember overall liking it and being impressed by it, but I also saw some flaws that I found a little distracting. Deathless Divide completely upped the ante. Even though I didn’t find it perfect, I still gave it 5 stars on Goodreads because it’s such an ambitious book that takes a long, hard (and subversive) look at US history and comes to some conclusions that are hard to swallow, all while spinning a great, entertaining yarn. The worldbuilding here is amazing—alternative history is such an interesting thing on its own, where what really happened has to be balanced with the fictional changes to still feel feasible, but when you add on a fantasy element, that makes everything even more complicated. And where I think this book shines is its rich authenticity and harsh realism. If zombies really had risen on the Gettysburg battlefield, the story Ireland tells here is 100% believable. 

As an alternative history novel set in the time of the US Civil War, this book obviously deals with race and the harsh truths of the abuses people of color have borne over the centuries. It excels in showing us two different individual perspectives we first encountered in the first book: Katherine, the uptight rule-follower, and Jane, the irreverent free-spirit. Both are older Black teens (I think they’re still that young) who have trained as zombie killers (dispatchers? destroyers?). As the book opens, they are on a journey with some other people, trying to find a safe place to exist. There are unsurprisingly some problems, with all the zombie hordes lumbering around. After all the problems come to a head and Jane and Katherine get separated, the book gets a lot darker when we rejoin Jane. The time we spend with her is uncomfortable, and I wondered how things were going to turn out. Some things seemed unresolvable. Katherine’s journey isn’t as dark, but it still reflects the harsh reality of her world—and her ability to manage everything while making sure things go as planned. I still found the ending of the book satisfying, even if everything didn’t get wrapped up in a perfect, pink bow. 

Don’t tell the history-denying book-banners about this book, because they wouldn’t like it. Sometimes fiction can tell the biggest truths. 

Review: The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

The Perfect Escape book cover

Suzanne spoke at a meeting of one of my writing groups a few months ago, and she was really entertaining but also had some good info for writers. So I decided to check out her work, and I started with her debut YA, The Perfect Escape. 

This is a romance featuring Kate, a white girl who loves theater but has an unsupportive father, and Nate, a Korean-American academic overachiever. They meet at a zombie-themed escape room in Seattle, where they both work, and they become friends after he gives her a ride home and accidentally leaves her wig in his car.  

Setup

Kate’s father runs a cutting-edge robotics and home automation company that is constantly pushing out products prematurely. Their pilot and current products are all over Kate’s house, much to her chagrin. These various devices monitor her while her fathers travels, and malfunction all the time. Her father is unwilling to support her in theater pursuits, instead trying to force her in “practical” directions. She knows the only way to escape his plans for her is to do things herself, because she’s more or less a prisoner in her own home. So she gets the job at the escape room as a starting point and plans to move to New York on her own.

Nate is a scholarship kid a fancy and expensive boarding school full of super-entitled jerks, including one who thinks he can pressure Nate into helping some of them get better GPAs through fraudulent means. Nate doesn’t want to do it, but he is considering it because his family really needs the money because his dad’s just lost his job and his mom makes very little money.

A New Option

But then something new comes up with Kate: a zombie-themed survivalist competition with a big monetary prize. This is Kate’s main escape plan, but she needs a partner, so Nate it is. This is a much better plan for Nate than helping out the entitled rich white boys. As Kate and Nate get to know each other better, they find they like each other more than either expected. They really gel. Nate’s long-term crush throws a wrench in the works, but Kate and Nate still decide to join in the competition. 

Once they start the competition, they discover it’s serious business, not all sunshine and roses. There are robot zombies moving around trying to “get” all the participants. It’s a lot of fun seeing Nate and Kate work together and figure out how to deal when things go completely haywire. Because things do go completely haywire, and it ends not at all to plan. You kind of wonder how they could possibly work things out, so seeing it happen is very satisfying. 

June 2022 Royalties Update

So in the past six weeks, I’ve released three self-published books and it’s been really interesting. I know a lot of people really don’t have any idea how many books writers really sell. It’s kind of like money and some people are probably reticent to speak about it. But I don’t really care, so I’m going to talk numbers a bit, because things have been really interesting with these releases (also the numbers are so low it doesn’t matter). 

First, for a reference point: Finding Frances. This book was published by The Wild Rose Press so my numbers come from them. They don’t get instantaneous records of sales and instead they come in in batches. With the exception of copies I bought directly from my publisher, I’ve made just under $100 in royalties over the lifetime of the book (over two years). Note that that does include royalties on copies of the books that I’ve purchased on Amazon myself (I’ve done this a few times, maybe 10-15 copies). In contrast, I made close to $150 in May alone from sales of Always the New Girl (Kindle and paperback). 

Charts

Because I am a nerd, I made a chart showing total royalties over time and another one just showing individual book royalties over time. The first is going to be far more interesting after another couple months go by because right now you can only see Finding Frances royalties. (Though it’s somewhat interesting since you can see how flat it is—they’re coming in pennies at a time.) This is through May, so it technically includes Always the New Girl numbers but not Ugly numbers. 

chart showing total royalties over time

There seems to be a tiny uptick in Finding Frances sales in April and May—this is just coincidence because of the delay in reporting, so it can’t be related to my new releases coming out. But if I see growth over the next few months, I may be able to attribute it to the exposure with the new ones. This next chart shows monthly royalties over time. 

Chart showing royalties over time

You can see quite a gap between July and December of last year—I literally did not sell a single copy of Finding Frances between August and November 2021. Fun times. You can also kind of see Always the New Girl and Ugly presale numbers on the far right of the chart—that blue dot in the upper right is Always the New Girl, and the green dot just above the yellow line is the the 2 copies of Ugly I sold in May. 

Ongoing Sales

Sales have continued on Always the New Girl in June and sales for Ugly have also been surprisingly good (again, for me). As of June 17th, I’ve sold 13 ebooks of Always the New Girl, 4 of Ugly, and 1 of Binding Off, and in paperback I’ve sold 4 of Always the New Girl and 23 of Ugly. These are not numbers that “real” authors would feel anything about (except shame), but for me they are amazing. Going four months without selling a single copy sets your standards pretty low, but I’m actually selling books. More than one a day. Of course I am curious what will happen over the long term, but I’m feeling good that at least I’m off to a good start. 

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Review: Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth

Not My Problem book cover

Not My Problem is another book that broke through my horrible reading slump. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I managed to do it in just over a week (fast for me right now). It’s incredibly funny but still has enough teen angst to make me happy (I do love to watch characters suffer).

Aideen is the star of this YA contemporary novel set in Ireland. Aideen is dealing with a pretty difficult home life in the best ways that she can, just trying to hold it all together. She doesn’t really let people in, not even her one real friend. So when Meabh, a girl she’s thought of as a sworn enemy for years, convinces her to “help” her by pushing her down the stairs, Aideen surprises herself by doing it—for the right reasons, not secret revenge. Now Meabh and Aideen are going to be weirdly tied together. The act also basically conjures another friend, a boy named Kavi who is a sufferer of verbal diarrhea. 

This one act triggers a whole series of other incidents that turns Aideen into the unofficial school fixer. Not everything goes exactly to plan, but that makes it all the more interesting. And in the process of fixing other people’s problems, she makes new friends, all while her one long-term friendship is falling apart. Her mom is cracking up a bit, too, and Aideen’s pretty stressed out by that. But she feels like she has a handle on everything. It’ll be fine. 

One of the things I liked about the book is that the problems the kid have are perfect—they show the range of things teens deal with, from overly strict parents to an accidentally submitted assignment full of profanity. Some are relatively trivial, while others are a little more consequential. But they all feel big to the characters in the story. Another cool thing is that the language the kids use has the flavor of Irish dialect, so it’s extra interesting. A final great thing about the book is the relationship Aideen and Meabh form—it’s a mundane but sweet lesbian relationship, not one rife with trouble and issues. 

This one’s definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of contemporary YA. 

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Some Early Writing

I didn’t really start taking writing seriously until 2013, but I’ve always enjoyed writing and would often do writing projects, all the way back to elementary school. My mom’s cleaning out her closet and stumbling across stuff from when my brother and I were kids, including some of my old writing. Middle school was a really terrible time for me, with friends betraying me and other crap, and one of the things I did to cope was to write for the school’s monthly newsletter. The way we worked back then (it was still the 1980s, after all), was I would handwrite it and turn it in so someone could type it up in newsletter format, and then they’d photocopy it and distribute. 

The Horoscope Debacle

I wrote a horoscope column every month and occasionally did other things. I did the horoscope because I thought astrology was stupid and illogical and I was actually mocking it by making crap up rather than pretending to consult the charts. Things like “Your parents have a party and Aerosmith plays at it.” Not super clever. But whatever. Being me and 13, I wasn’t always exactly on time with my column. One month I was a little late, but got it submitted at the last minute.

The next week, the woman who ran the newsletter was stressed out when she saw me, and I learned that the minister at the church across from the school had complained about my horoscope column so they decided to stop running it. But because I was late, they thought I wasn’t going to submit it at all, so it ran that month even though the asshole church dude told them not to. It still annoys the crap out of me. I was mocking it, you dipshit. It reminds me of when people get upset about articles from The Onion because they think they’re real. Idiots. 

I was so annoyed back then, but I was determined to figure something out. I knew I just needed something that split students up into a reasonable number of groups, 10-ish or so. We all had a homeroom, and while I don’t remember at all how those worked, I do remember I convinced the newsletter lady to let me run forecasts based on your homeroom. So that’s what I did. If you were in Mrs. Smith’s homeroom, you were going to have a surprise visit from a long-lost relative, for instance. So I got to stick it to the minister guy. Stay in your lane, jerk.

But anyway.

Unintentional Subversion

My favorite thing that came out of that body of writing is a memorable article called “Dogs of All Kinds.” Remember that somebody else typed this up. This is important, as even then I was pretty good with language and was careful. I’m just going to share an image of the article. Check out the first sentence of the third paragraph.

Dogs of All Kinds article
Some early subversive writing

Why yes, I suppose some people do. My friend concluded that I was subversive even back then. I think it’s so funny. 

But you can also see that I hadn’t yet been converted into a cat person at that point. Things have changed.

When Lightning Strikes Twice, and It’s the Good Kind

I am not sure how this happened, but I finally had a stroke of luck this past month not once, but twice. If you are familiar with BookBub, you will know it’s popular among ebook lovers. It features books that are on sale (or normally priced low) in a daily email. Writers don’t sell through them, as they just link to the various stores where readers can download their books, but these emails go out to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. You can pay for ads with them, but the dream is to get a Featured Deal or one of their other features. I’ve applied for a Featured Deal for Finding Frances about six times and been turned down each time. 

BookBub also has a feature called New Release for Less, which obviously applies to new releases only, and the max price is $4.99. I applied for Finding Frances back in the day, and it didn’t get selected. I dutifully applied for one with both Always the New Girl and Ugly. To my amazement, they actually selected Always the New Girl for one. I was shocked. It goes out to 810,000 subscribers and only costs $110. I was obviously really happy about this, and mine is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, May 24th, two weeks after release. So I thought that was my good luck for the moment, and I was happy that one had been selected since I had hired the publicist for Ugly, so both books would be getting a boost. Then a couple weeks later I was even more shocked when BookBub also selected Ugly for the new release feature. I mean, this kind of massive good luck hardly ever happens to me. Ugly releases on June 7th and the BookBub feature is running on June 21st. So I’m really curious to see what kind of impact this has on my sales. And of course I’m also excited for the upcoming Ugly release because I have the publicist. 

So I had been not really working on any YA fiction at the moment, and focusing on trying to get these two adult romances out that I’ve had on my computer for a while and work on the YA nonfiction book. But my friend pointed out that with the issues dealt with in Ugly and all the awful anti-transgender/anti-queer laws horrible states are passing right now, it might make sense to start working on the sequel to Ugly. I have the basic story for that one, as well as ideas for two more after, so I think she is right. I’m finishing the first romance first (I’m a couple weeks away from having that ready for my editor), but then I’m diving into the sequel for Ugly. It will be the first new writing I’ve done in YA for a while, so it’s going to be a bumpy ride in the beginning. But I'm sure I'll get into the swing of things quickly enough. 

Review: Breathless by Jennifer Niven

Breathless book coverI am a big fan of Niven’s first book (All the Bright Places—it’s one of my favorite books) so I’ve read both her others, including Breathless. One thing that I like about her books overall is that they’re all different. Her first two feature dual perspective, on the girl’s and one the boy’s, but in this one, she sticks with the single protagonist, a girl named Claude who’s just about to graduate high school when the book opens.

At first, everything’s just fine—everything’s cool with her parents, her best friend and other friends are all great, and she has a boyfriend she likes well enough. Her boyfriend is of course desperate to have sex, and she’s been putting it off. It’s not a moral dilemma for her; instead, she just isn’t sure if this is the guy she wants to first have sex with. Which she firmly believes is not “losing” anything, thank you very much. When an opportunity presents itself and she very clearly choses not to sleep with him, it’s pretty clear to both of them that this is her final decision. So that’s over, but she’s unfazed and re-fixates on a long-time crush. 

But this isn’t the only fissure in her otherwise just-fine life. Her dad shocks her—or takes the floor out from under her—by telling her he’s leaving. She is torn up about this, and her parents have insisted she not tell anyone, even her best friend (Saz), which is torture for her. And then, Saz has a new girlfriend she’s really into, and Claude feels a little left behind. Not to mention the fact that she and Saz are planning to go to different colleges several states apart, anyway. 

To make things worse, her mom has decided the two of them are going to go away to a tiny island on the coast of Georgia, where neither her crush nor Saz will be. And then when she gets there, it turns out that there is no cell service except in the general store that is open at the whim of the store owner. How’s she supposed to stay in touch with everyone?

But that’s all just setup. Really, this is a book about first love when it happens at that weird quasi-adult time of your life. Because soon after Claude meets a down-to-earth guy named Jeremiah who works summers on the island (I mean, seriously—the dude wears no shoes), her world starts to shift. But Claude is pissed off about being away from everything she cares about, so it’s not all sunshine and roses with them at first. But soon they start to bond, and promise each other they won’t fall in love. This time she feels differently about sex and her new boyfriend in general. They don’t necessarily follow all their own rules, either. 

It’s enjoyable to see Claude grow as her experiences expand beyond the smallish Ohio town she grew up in. She wasn’t exactly naive in the first place, but it’s one thing to be aware of differences and another to experience them. She and Saz have some work to do, and she’s also got to figure out how to feel about her dad, because the split is all about him. By the end, Claude has figured out things well enough to move forward with the next stage of her life. The book features a rather open ending, which often I don’t like, but I did here. It feels more authentic this way 

Thick Skin Needed: Book Reviews and the Author

A lot of writers, when they’re first starting out, are really sensitive and often afraid for anyone to read their work at all. They eventually get braver, and anyone serious about it will develop thick skin, because you pretty much have to if you want to improve as a writer. I think critique is probably the most important thing for a writer to develop their skills. You have to learn how to convey what’s actually in your head, and only other people can tell you if you’ve accomplished that. The quality of the critique definitely matters, so it’s important to find people that are roughly at your level (or a little better), so you can all grow together while giving each other relevant and not-too-advanced critique (which isn’t helpful). The thing about critique is that you always submit your work hoping that they’re going to turn around and say, “This is perfect. Don’t change anything.” This never happens with a good critique group (if it does, find a new group, because they’re not doing their job). So you have to get used to people telling you things you’re doing that don’t work, and so on. The only caveat is they’re not allowed to be mean about it. Most of the critique partners I have been with for years can take virtually anything at this point. But we’re all also nice to each other and we all know the critique is truly just trying to help. So you get that thick skin.

But reviews are another matter. It’s one thing to have your work read by a few people who know you and your work, and a totally different thing to have strangers read the work you poured your heart into. Because here’s the thing about strangers: some of them are mean. Some people actually feel obligated to “tell the world” about a book they don’t like. Which is stupid because the fact that you, just one person, didn’t like a book says nothing about that book. It’s all about the numbers. Any book that has a lot of ratings is going to have a handful of ones and twos even if the average is over four. Conventional author wisdom is that you shouldn’t read your reviews, especially those by randos on Amazon and Goodreads. If you do decide to do this, you’d better have that thick skin in place because there’s going to be some pain. Reviews by the major review sites like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly are kind of another matter since these are by professional reviewers, so we sort of value their opinions more. However, it is still true that one person’s reaction to your book does not indicate how everyone else’s reactions will go. 

As a case in point, I’m going to talk about my experience with my book Always the New Girl, releasing on Tuesday. I entered this book as an unpublished manuscript in the 2021 BookLife Prize (BookLife is an arm of Publishers Weekly focused on indie books). They take self and unpublished books. It ended up being a quarter-finalist in that contest, getting a perfect 10/10 score. I’m going to share the review here, as it’s really good. 

But first I’m going to explain a little about the book in case you don’t know it. It’s a little odd, and I always planned to self-publish it and never even tried to sell it because of its oddness. The book came about only because of something one of my writing instructors told me. I had written this short story based on a scene I had removed from Finding Frances when a critique partner (wisely) posed the question of whether it was really needed in that book. It definitely was not. So I created a new character and put her in the situation I’d originally had Retta in, and ran with it. It turned into a revenge story and I liked it a lot. My instructor casually suggested I write several more stories about this character. At first I didn’t think much about it, but then I thought of several other stories I could tell about Sarah. So there were seven stories I ended up with, one while she’s in eighth grade, the others in her last two years of high school. The stories were all pretty long (the eighth grade book is 20,000 words, or over 70 pages). I struggled with how to present this. A collection of short stories? A novel? I decided to do it as a novel in parts. So I assumed the reader read them all in order (short stories would ideally fully stand on their own) and structured it that way. My goal was that each part would stand on its own plot-wise, but that the overall book would have a clear character arc. Because of the nature of it, not all the characters were there throughout. Some important characters disappear and others don’t show up until later, which is a no-no in a typical novel. There are varying time jumps between the parts, and the eighth grade story was pulled out as a prequel. So the book I submitted to the contest and Kirkus started with the original story, the revenge one. And I think it works. And it clearly did for the BookLife Prize reviewer. Here’s what they said (this also published on their site here):

Plot: This plot delves into serious bullying and other grave social issues that can impact teens, and it accurately portrays the extraordinary importance of social media in kids’ lives.

Prose/Style: Vincent writes convincing teenage dialogue with all of the meanness and profanity that can surface at that age. Vincent’s style is spare and to the point, giving just enough detail for to engage the reader’s interest and imagination.

Originality: Vincent’s second YA novel, Always the New Girl, started out as a series of short stories, each of which is well thought out and fully developed. Vincent has woven them together masterfully.

Character Development/Execution: With parents who can be described as negligent at best, Sarah is out of necessity a fiercely independent young woman trying to find her way in the world with very little adult support, but she is able to make good choices for herself and forge a future that should turn out well. Vincent depicts Sarah as an utterly believable character whom one cannot help but respect.

Blurb: Always the New Girl is a carefully considered and executed coming-of-age story about a resourceful young woman who matures from a somewhat rebellious high school junior into a successful senior on her way to college, all with very little help from the adults in her life, but a lot of help from her friends.

So that made me feel great, when I got that back and then found out it was a quarter-finalist. It stalled out there, as the reader for those books probably just didn’t feel the same about it. Perhaps they felt like the Kirkus reviewer did, like it was a hot mess. I can’t directly quote the Kirkus review here because I opted to not publish it. But I can summarize their main issues, which I do here:

Unsatisfactory resolution: There wasn’t a good resolution at the end

Fractured time

Rushed pacing: Pacing feels rushed in each of the parts, like they were written separately and just crammed together

A disjointed story: The various threads never come together 

Unnatural character change: Sarah’s changes in her interests seem to be because of the narrative, not a natural thing

Incomplete and weak characterization: Characters are interesting when first introduced, but are gone before they’re developed enough

Inauthentic teen culture

Some of these really do surprise me, like the resolution issue. I really disagree—I think the resolution is solid. There is a storyline with her mom that isn’t resolved, but it’s intentional because that’s life—it’s not always neat and tidy. But Sarah herself is on a clear path at the very end, which came across in the BookLife Prize review. The next two are clearly related to the structure. The BookLife reader totally got it—they went along with the short story concept—but the Kirkus reviewer didn’t seem to find this acceptable in a “novel.”  It cracks me up that the BookLife reader said I’d woven them together “masterfully” and the Kirkus reviewer thought they were thrown together haphazardly. I mean, man, is this subjective. It’s also funny that the BookLife reader specifically called out Sarah’s authenticity and the Kirkus reviewer thought her growth was unnatural. I also am surprised at the fact that the Kirkus reviews thought the teen culture I wrote about was unrealistic. It is true that I don’t have a lot of experience with actual teens today. But I read tons of YA, so I know teen culture as it’s represented in YA fiction, which is what I’m writing. So yeah. I think I’m good. But I wondered if the reviewer isn’t widely read in YA. I have no idea how they assign books. 

So that was an unfortunate waste of $375. Oh, well. At least it was on sale. Doesn’t mean I won’t try again. Finding Frances got a star, after all (I think only about 10% get them) and the Ugly one was mostly positive. Even my romance got an overall decent review. I just have to move on and do whatever I am going to be doing (once I figure that out).

Ugly Cover Reveal and Plans

If you’d looked at the books section, or are on Instagram, you would have already seen it, but in case you haven’t, here is the new cover for Ugly, which will be out everywhere on June 7th:

Ugly book cover

Today, I have Always the New Girl, Binding Off, and Ugly all loaded into Ingram Spark (the distributor for paperback, B&N, Kobo, and Apple), and I’ve uploaded files to Amazon for Kindle and Google Play directly. Although I’m still waiting for everything to be finalized and pushed out, I’m basically ready to go. The only thing that will change anything is if I get nice reviews from Kirkus for Always the New Girl or Ugly (I should have those both back by early this week). If that happens and there’s a good quote I can pull out of them, I will add them to the book cover and resubmit those. 

My publicity campaign will begin in the last week of May, which I can’t believe is coming up so soon. The passage of time is relentless. But as soon as Ugly is released, I’ll have five books out (including one romance), which seems like a number that is easier to make some progress with. I’m actually not sure what I’m going to work on next in the YA fiction world. I’m actually focusing right now on my YA nonfiction book and on getting my two romances out, because they’re close to ready. Then I’m going to return to YA fiction and do something. Maybe work on Sadie Speaks, or maybe work on the sequel to Ugly, depending on how things go. 

Review: Google It: A History of Google by Anna Crowley Redding

I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve been struggling to get myself to read for months. It’s a strange thing, given how much I’ve loved reading all my life. I recently did manage to finish another YA nonfiction book, which was really engaging and it’s only the reading weirdness I’ve got going that made me take so long to finish it. 

This well-researched book but Crowley Redding covers the entire history of Google, from the early relationship of its founders through about 2017 (the book was published in 2018). So it is definitely already a little out of date, but it’s a thorough examination up to that point. 

Crowley Redding covers several main stages of the company’s existence in three parts: Frenemies + Homework + Lego = Google?, Google It!, and Impossible Goal + Attempt (+/- Success) = Moonshot. Because this is a YA book, the first thing the author sets up is the foundational idea that Google was new—that there was a world in which there was no quick way to easily found out answers to questions, obscure or not (my mom told me this hilarious story about a time she and her friends were drunk one night and debating some fact, and one of her friends called a library in Hawaii because they were still open, and got his answer). She covers the earliest days, with the cute little story about Sergey and Larry really disliking each other on first meeting at Stanford, but eventually working together on a grad school class project that became Google. She covers the basic idea behind Google—that a web page’s value is defined more in terms of how many pages link to it, which eventually led to the famous algorithm called PageRank that allowed them to score individual web pages. They originally called their project BackRub, which is obviously a terrible name. They liked the idea of the word googol but weren’t particularly good spellers, so we now have Google. Soon, they had their first investment check and actually turned it into a business, at first operating out of a friend’s garage before finally getting more money and moving into an actual office building in the late 1990’s. I had to laugh when the author mentioned Y2K—it was such a big deal, and I had an internship in the summer of 1998 that asked me to write a Y2K countdown clock for their internal website, which I did in Java. It must have run on their site for the next year and a half. Anyway, everyone knows that Google started as a search engine, but the first time it branched out from basic search was inspired by the 9/11 attacks, when people were searching for information, but Google wasn’t designed for up-to-the-minute news. Google News was soon born. Then came advertising on the search page and Google Shopping. And soon afterward, they brought in an actual CEO. 

The second part of the book is more about Google as a company in the modern era, after it had a huge headquarters and tens of thousands of employees. Google Books came to be, and then Gmail. Then they went public. Soon there was Google Earth and Maps. And YouTube. Then Niantic emerged (I had no idea they were behind Pokemon GO!, but they were). Crowley Redding addresses the formation of their now-parent company, Alphabet. And somewhere in all this, she has a short discussion of the China thing. To me, this is a clear sign that Google isn’t as innocent as they claim to be, but perhaps that’s just me. 

The last part of the book really tries to look forward, focusing the various “moonshot” ventures Google (or Alphabet) is trying. These are basically the really extreme ideas of things that are probably hard to do, and are likely to lead to failure, but seem worth trying, anyway. They are getting into AI and other research for a variety of projects, including self-driving cars, machine translation, drones, wearable tech, Google Home, rural Internet service via balloons, space travel, and slowing aging. 

So the book covers a lot of ground, even if the last four years or so aren’t addressed. I’m sure there are more academic explorations out there, but this would be a good place for anyone to start learning about Google’s history. Crowley Redding does a pretty good job of not being too admiring, and presenting different sides (at least to the point of knowing it exists if you want to find out more). 

Publicist and Always the New Girl Cover Reveal

I have been in this weird really bad reading slump, where I’m not just reading slow, but I’m actually not reading at all, except when required. It’s weird and I think it has me a little unbalanced, but when I’m lying in bed at night, the silly games I play on my phone seem easier than reading. I’m still hoping to get back to reading like normal. But we’ll see. In the meantime, I apologize to anyone who likes reading my reviews. 

I am still prepping for the upcoming releases. Always the New Girl and Binding Off (the prequel) are coming out May 10th, and Ugly June 7th. I have submitted both the novels for Kirkus reviews so I am hoping they are at least good enough to extract a quote from. If so, I will add them to the covers. I have final versions of the May book covers from my designer:

Always the New Girl book cover
Binding Off book cover

I love them, but I still need to finalize the paperbacks. I want to add the Kirkus quotes if possible (which aren’t due back to me until later this month), and I am getting help on the back cover book descriptions from a publicist I hired, so I need to update those. So I’m hoping that all comes together in time for the release. Worst case, the paperback versions are a little delayed.

My cover designer is also still working on the Ugly cover, but I should have that back well in time for release. More significantly, I’m going all in on this release, as I’ve hired a professional publicist this time. I’m spending quite a bit of money to see if I can find actual readers, something I’ve struggled so much with on Finding Frances. People seem to like that book, but I can’t get it in front of anybody. And I think it’s going to be even harder to find the audience for Ugly, since this one will appeal more to teens than adults (adults aren’t as interested in gender identity stories as (some) teens), which isn’t as true of all the others. So I’ve paid for extra marketing efforts, so the whole package includes reviews (obviously not guaranteed positive, but hopefully), BookBub ads, Amazon ads, some Amazon listing optimization, and other stuff I don’t remember. It may not work. I definitely won’t get my money back in earnings, but I’m hopeful I can at least reach more readers who will also be interested in my other books. 

Other than the releases, I’m not currently working on any YA right now, which feels a little weird, but there you go. I’m busy with art school and am working on finishing up a couple romances under my pen name, and once I’ve got those done and released, I plan to get back to Sadie Speaks, or possibly (if sales go better than I expect), the sequel to Ugly. Or maybe both. My crystal ball isn’t working right now. 

Finally, the social media strategy I talked about earlier is still going on, as I am posting pretty regularly on Instagram and TikTok (generally three times a week on both). I'm still locked out of Twitter, and I don’t see that ever resolving. My Medium article writing has suffered a bit was I definitely couldn’t keep up with my weekly plan, or even biweekly, but I’m doing the best I can given my pretty busy life at the moment.