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.

Review: Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Vincent and Theo book coverI’ve recently become aware that there is actually a decent amount of YA nonfiction out there, as I’m working on one myself, although mine is more technical than narrative. One of the authors I found is Deborah Heiligman, who wrote Charles and Emma about Charles Darwin and his wife, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. I bought that book, but the first one I decided to read was her one about Vincent van Gogh. 

Vincent and Theo is a great exploration of Vincent’s rise as an artist, and all his stumbling along the way, as well his relationship with his steadfast brother Theo, who literally and figuratively supported Vincent pretty much all his adult life. This is basically a birth-death portrait of both of them, and it starts off describing their rather commonplace, middle-class childhood in The Netherlands. Their father was a pastor and they had several sisters and everything seemed pretty normal and positive in those days. Vincent and Theo were close despite a four-year age gap, even pledging to always be there for each other in their late teens. Their uncle worked in the art industry as an art dealer, and it was expected that both Vincent and Theo would go into that field. Vincent had no intentions of becoming an artist in the early days. 

So Vincent did come of age and start working as an art dealer. But it didn’t take long before some of his more difficult personality traits emerged and although they tried moving him to London, it really didn’t work out. This period was really the point at which his mental health challenges started to emerge. Vincent floundered around for a while and became intensely religious for a period of time, trying to make a career out of evangelism. But this ultimately didn’t work out, either, and he floundered some more before finally deciding to become a draftsman. He threw himself into this with unrivaled intensity, drawing and painting in watercolor (which he actually still called drawing) to train himself to render things accurately. Eventually he started working in oils, and became a full-fledged painter. Theo literally supported him through all of this, sending him money for rent, food, and art supplies, sometimes sending paint directly. 

Although he had no responsibilities except to his own development as an artist, Vincent didn’t do that well. He tended to not eat or generally take very good care of himself, something he did his entire adulthood. He got romantically involved with a prostitute who had first one child and then another (not Vincent’s) and they moved in with Vincent. Poor Theo was then responsible for two adults and two children, and the woman’s mother was somehow involved in all of this. It just sounded messy to me. During all this, Theo is encouraging Vincent but still saying he’s not skilled enough, so he’s developing, developing, developing. Eventually Vincent and the woman split up, Vincent moved around a bit, and then he finally started having the beginnings of success. He became part of the European art scene after Theo managed to sell some of his pieces. From this point on, Vincent was a real artist, but he also truly struggled with his mental health and he still wasn't pulling in much actual money. He and the artist Gaugin lived together and encouraged and challenged each other, drinking together a lot, as well. 

Although the author never says it, it sounds to me like he had classic bipolar disorder, the variant with full psychosis (bipolar I). And his habits of not eating and not taking care of himself—and also drinking excessively—are some of the worst possible things bipolar sufferers can do. I’m not sure why, but the drinking in particular makes it immensely harder to regulate feelings, which is the downfall of a sufferer. Things can spiral up or down, neither of which is a good thing. And of course this one in the days before Lithium. Untreated bipolar disorder is a nightmare. 

Everyone knows of the incident with Vincent cutting off his own ear. We sometimes trivialize that—it even seems kind of funny. Heiligman doesn’t go into detail about it, either, but think about it—he took a razor and cut through the skin and then all that cartilage. And anyone who’s ever cut their ear accidentally knows how painful just some dinky little cut is. This would have taken Vincent real time. It just makes me ill thinking about it. He also delivered the ear to a prostitute at one of the brothels he frequented, something he later felt really guilty about. He did eventually recover from this incident, but after trying to keep painting and having some more ups and downs, his struggles continued and eventually he shot himself somewhere in his torso from what I gather. He survived initially but was still mortally wounded, but it allowed Theo to reach him and spend time with him before he died. 

I’ve talked mostly about Vincent here, because although the book itself spends as much time on Theo and his own tribulations (he didn’t have an easy time of things, either, although he doesn’t seem to have had any significant mental health challenges), the whole reason for the book is because of how important Vincent became in the art world. And that never would have come to be without Theo’s support. Interestingly, their mother had some of Vincent’s paintings but didn’t keep them safe, and they didn’t survive. Nobody in his family saw his successes except Theo, forever viewing him in terms of his earlier failures. Theo, on the other hand, was 100% committed to sharing Vincent’s work with the world. Sadly, he barely outlived Vincent. Both Vincent and Theo contracted STIs from all their cavorting at the local brothels. Theo’s syphilis killed him, cruelly sending him into madness beforehand. But his wife, Jo, took over being Vincent’s advocate, and it is because of her dedication—a direct result of Theo’s dedication—that so much of Vincent’s work has survived. Theo and Jo’s son, who they named Vincent and who was still a baby when his uncle and father died, didn’t go into art, but he did help found the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

Normally I don’t talk as much about an entire book when I review it, but I just found this story fascinating and full of things I didn’t know. But one of the things that makes the book stand out is how personal it feels. Obviously Heiligman doesn’t know with certainty how each of the brothers truly felt, but they sent heartfelt letters back and forth sometimes almost daily, and she worked off of those. Some purists may prefer to just read the translated letters directly, but I liked (and trusted) Heiligman’s interpretation. If you are wanting to understand more about who Vincent and the most important person in his life really were, and what they were like, this is a great book for that. It may technically be YA, but it will appeal to anyone interested in the brothers’ story. 

February Ad Results

I planned to do a review this week, but I can’t seem to break out of this reading slump. I’m reading a book I really like, a YA biography of Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo, but I didn’t finish it in time to review it this week. 

So instead, I’ll just give an update on my advertising efforts for Finding Frances that I focused on in February. I ran a Bargain Booksy ad on February 16th and I did sell a few books on that day. I started a Facebook ad campaign on the 25th and I have gotten some sales out of that, enough to move up in the top 100 of two of my categories. This is cool because it means anyone searching that category could feasibly see it on the first page of the results. 

Finding Frances category ranks

I also ran two Kirkus ads, one in their magazine on February 15th. I haven’t seen anything from that, but if I am lucky, that’s more likely to be paperbacks, I suspect, and there’s a major delay in reporting those so I won’t know for a while. The other ad I ran with them was on their website and started February 14th and ran for two weeks, and that one probably was a bit of a bust because I didn’t see any clear sales on Kindle books except on the Bargain Booksy day and right after the Facebook ad started. I also ran 10 separate targeted ads on BookBub for the book. It was so strange—I had a terrible click through rate, and my two Amazon ads that actually advertised the sale price never got a single click, even after being shown to nearly 1000 people each. I think BookBub does offer help with creating effective ads, but my guess is it’s not free. Anyway, I hope I get some more reviews out of all this advertising. 

I’m still working on prepping my new releases. I finally got both Always the New Girl and Ugly sent off to Kirkus for their reviews today, and I should have them back by May 2. This meant I pushed Always the New Girl’s release to May 10. Ugly is still June 7. The Always the New Girl cover is almost finalized. It looks really good. I’m actually planning to release all but the Kindle version through Ingram Spark instead of going to each distributor directly (except I will do Amazon Kindle myself). I also plan to put both of them on BookSprout, which is a site you can put ARCs (and older books) on to get reviews. I’m also probably going to do a review tour with Goddess Fish, which I did for Finding Frances, when I got 7 good reviews. I plan to submit both books to BookBub as New Release features. I doubt I’ll get that, but it’s free to try, so why not. I guess I’m going to do everything in my power to get some momentum at the beginning. I don’t have high expectations, but I figure I should give it the old college try. Rah.

Twitter Drama and Advertising

It’s kind of funny that my last post, 3 weeks ago, was all about social media and my plan to be all involved, because literally the next day Twitter locked my account without cause. I had posted a link to a Medium article I published that day that talked about a racist Zoom-bombing experience I had that was awful, and how I didn’t think that the way the presenters handled it (pretending it hadn’t happened after kicking him out of the meeting) was right. I talked about how  upsetting it was even for me (a lot) and how I wasn’t even a target. By ignoring it, the presenters kind of gave tacit approval of what had happened, or at least they didn’t convey how wrong it was. So that was my article. Not very salacious. Two hours after I linked to it, Twitter locked my account, claiming I had broken one of their rules. The email said I had broken “the following rule,” which was a blank line, so I had no idea what rule they thought I’d broken. But I read their rules, and I hadn’t broken any of them. I assumed that their automation picked up on the word “bombing” and flagged it automatically. So I filed an appeal (which was linked to from the original email), expecting a person to look at my tweet and realize it was the opposite of rule-breaking. However, a few hours later, I got an email stating that they had determined that a violation had happened, so they would not overturn their decision. Then they again tried to tell me which rule I’d broken, but again left it blank. How anyone could look at my tweet linking to basically an anti-racist article and call it a problem is beyond me. Maybe they haven’t heard of Zoom-bombing? Because I looked on Twitter before posting that tag, and it’s been used many times, sometimes by people bragging about doing it. And I’m a problem? It boggles the mind. I filed another report with customer service a couple days later, and after a week I still hadn’t heard back. When I go into Twitter there’s a screen with a message about my account being locked and a link to cancel the appeal and delete the email, which seemed the only way forward at this point since my appeal was denied and they weren’t responding to my followup. So I decided, what the hell, I’ll just delete it and repost without using the word “bombing” anywhere. I went in to do this, and in order to delete the tweet, you have to check this box admitting you did something wrong. I was like, I didn’t! So I didn’t click the box and went in and filed another ticket with customer support. It’s now been almost two weeks and I haven’t heard back. They indicate that you should hear a response within a few days but sometimes it takes longer. It’s infuriating to me that they won’t even tell me which rule I supposedly broke. How do they think that’s acceptable? 

Anyway, apparently I am no longer going to be on Twitter, because I refuse to admit to wrongdoing after doing nothing wrong. But I really sort of need that account for promoting my writing and having a social media presence, so this is really frustrating and unfair. And they’re denying me that for no reason at all. I’m so pissed.  

Other than that drama, the past week has been filled with an intense campaign of Finding Frances promotion and advertising. It’s been on sale for 99 cents (Kindle only) since February 4th, through the 24th. I started an ad campaign on BookBub on the 5th, but that actually didn’t go anywhere. BookBub emailed me to tell me to try something else because I was getting no clicks. Then early this past week, an ad went live in the Kirkus Reviews magazine that came out Tuesday, and I have an ad running on Kirk’s website for last and the coming week. Then on Thursday, I also ran a BargainBooksy ad, which did result in some sales. I don’t know how many yet, but it brought me up to a rank of about 65,000 in the Kindle store (normally I’m down around 1,600,000) and I got in the top 100 of one of my categories for a little while, which is great. But these are small wins, and my BookBub ads (I redid them and am now running 10 separate focused ads) are totally flopping. I really don’t know what to do with this book. I think I may just have to admit defeat after this month if I don’t see significant sales. This is a tough business. 

I am still in the process of preparing to publish Always the New Girl and the prequel, as well as Ugly. I’ve pulled all the Always the New Girl stories off Vella and they’ll be officially gone after 60 days. The Ugly Vella is still publishing, three episodes per week, so I figure I’ll let it finish (mid-March) and then pull it from Vella, too. I haven’t had a single read on that one, not even one free episode. But I almost have the covers for Always the New Girl and the prequel finalized with my cover designer. Once she finishes those, she’ll work on the one for Ugly. I’m figuring out my pre-publishing activities at this point. I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to go wide (publish everywhere) or focus on Amazon for a bit. I’m leaning toward wide. Always the New Girl will be available in ebook and paper and the prequel in ebook only. As soon as the cover is finalized, I’m submitting Always the New Girl to Kirkus for a review (I prepaid). Then I’ll release it (and the prequel) April 26th. I’m going to put some ARCs up on BookSprout to see if I can get some reviews soon after release. Once the Ugly cover is finalized, I’ll also submit that to Kirkus for a review. The release date for that is June 7th, and I’ll do BookSprout ARCs for it, too. I’m also looking into BookFunnel, which allows you to do promotions with other writers. I’m thinking I may do a FreeBooksy for both of the novels soon after release to see if I can get some traction. Not that I expect it to work, but I figure I should try. 

So even though it is all depressing and seems pointless, I’m moving forward. Maybe I’ll eventually catch a break some time. 

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy book coverJosie is one of those amazing characters who, like a handful of incredible people I’ve known in real life, wants more out of her life than what she’s been dealt as the daughter of a brothel narcissistic prostitute—and she’s willing to work for it. It’s the 1950s in New Orleans and life is hard for a lot of people. But Josie’s observant and smart (both academically and street-smart), and she has a great deal of self-respect. It’s virtually impossible not to like her and root for her. 

Josie’s mother couldn’t care any less about her, but fortunately there are some people around her who do care about her in their own ways. The woman who runs the brothel knows she’s smart and frequently helps her, and some of the other prostitutes appreciate her and treat her well. But the people that treat her best are Charlie, an older bookshop owner, and Charlie’s son Patrick, who’s only a little older than Josie. She sometimes spend the night in the loft of the shop to be somewhere other than the brothel. 

But Josie’s got a million things going against her. It doesn’t matter to most people who she really is, but only where she comes from. When she and Patrick manage to befriend a rich college girl who doesn’t know Josie’s past, Josie starts dreaming of going to Smith College. But her regular, everyday life is throwing obstacles up right and left, with things falling apart. But Josie is unflinching and resourceful, and although you have no idea how she could possibly make this all work, you have no doubt she’ll figure out a way. 

I read this book in the middle of my 2021 reading slump and still devoured it in three days—even though I’m not a big historical fiction reader. I loved this book, and really, despite the fact that Josie (fictionally) lived seventy years ago, she’s as strong a female character as in any modern YA story. 

Review: Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1) by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn book coverBree Matthews is a girl with a plan that will help her deal with her mother’s recent death. It also is academically sound and will help her in other ways, even though it will also unexpectedly lead to her getting involved in ancient lore she never knew was real. 

Bree and her best friend Alice begin a residential high school for high-achievers at a major university in North Carolina at the very beginning of the book, but things go awry on their first night when they accidentally witness some magic at an outside party they aren’t supposed to be at. By Chapter 3, they’re in a police car and in trouble with their program. Although Alice doesn’t remember it or know what happened, Bree does remember, even though she’s not supposed to, and she also isn’t supposed to know about the existence of a group called Legendborn.

“His mouth spilling words into the night like a cold wind until they swept away my intention to stay and replaced it with his command that I leave.”

Thus begins this urban fantasy full of excellent Arthurian mythology, which made me happy (I’ve always been a big fan of the Arthur legends for some reason and even took an Arthurian literature class in college). Deonn uses a lot of the existing mythology while not being afraid to shake some of it up. For one thing, Bree is Black, so she already doesn’t fit the very white world of the legendary (Celtic) Briton Arthur, who is purported to have lived in the middle of the first millennium and fought the Saxons off. So now, Bree has a lot more going on that trying to do well in her tough classes and deal with the casual racism all around her. She has to learn about the Legendborn and how she’s involved, and also some rather interesting stuff about her mother. Bree also finds out that some pretty bad stuff is going on with the world, and she has a role in fixing it but isn’t entirely sure she wants to.

The mythology in the book is really interesting, complex, and unique, and any fan of Arthurian lore will enjoy it, as will fans of urban fantasy in general.

Social Media Frenzy

Frenzy probably isn’t the right word, but I have decided to really commit to being more active on social media, because apparently that is the best way to get attention on your books (nothing else has worked, for sure). And apparently TikTok is the most important one for authors, because BookTok is a big thing and authors swear it brings them readers. So I’ve opened an account there, too. But there’s that old rule of making sure to not only do marketing. You’ve got to have real non-promo content, too. This is not easy for me as I never think anything I do is interesting, unless I’m making it up.

So I have a plan. I’m going to get back to doing those staged book quotes I’ve done on Instagram for a while. But I’m also going to post that content on Twitter, as well as links to my reviews posted here. And I’ll post the Medium essays I’ve started writing on Twitter, as well. Occasionally I’ll post pictures of my books and links to them, including the Vella stories while they’re up. For TikTok, I’ve started making these really dumb videos of me holding different books, with a quote from the book appearing over my head. And I’ll be posting content to Medium once a week, too. With the exception of Medium, I use all these accounts for everything I do, not just writing YA or art or whatever. And there will still be cats. I have this schedule I’m planning to follow: Twitter M/Th/Sa, Instagram Tu/F/Su, TikTok W/Sa, and Medium M only. I’m going to continue posting my reviews to the website here and adding those to my Pinterest boards. 

Anyway, if you are interested in following me on any of these platforms, here they are (and don’t ask me about the TikTok user name … grr):

I do also have a Facebook page you can follow if you feel like it: https://www.facebook.com/Kelly-Vincent-Young-Adult-Author-106808441724806. I don’t do much with it right now, but I needed it to run ads on Facebook, so it’s there now. Feel free to follow.

Review: The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd book coverMaddie has several things she’s passionate about, but none of them are the things she’s “supposed” to care about. She’s a cheerleader dating one of the school’s finest catches—the quarterback—and everyone has forgotten a disastrous incident in junior high, where she outed herself as a nerdy and very enthusiastic comic book fan and was laughed off the costume contest stage. The only thing she could think to do was pretend it never happened, and never, ever mention comics in front of anybody ever again.

This is fine except for the fact that she still loves comics, especially one she’s been following for years. After her safe, at-home acquisition of the final issue of her favorite one falls through, she’s desperate enough to head out to the local comic shop—in disguise, of course. But even this doesn’t work, as the shop is sold out of the last issue. Somehow she talks the high school kid—Logan—working the register to loan her his copy of it. She’s hoping he doesn’t recognize her. 

Turns out, Logan knew exactly who she was. And much to Maddie’s surprise, the two become friends, bonding over comics, and she feels the pull of the life—and the pop culture—that she genuinely loves. It distracts her from the friends and pop star she’s supposed to love. She doesn’t really know how to handle it all, afraid her world will come crashing down if she’s not careful. But treating your new friend like a dirty secret doesn’t go well, so she’s got some thinking to do. 

The book celebrates nerd culture and while the resolution didn’t read entirely believable to me (I’m just not convinced cheerleaders and LARPers can actually mix), it was still an entertaining light romance.

Review: Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

Enter Title Here book coverRahul Kanakia’s pathologically competitive and high-achieving teenager Reshma Kapoor may cause less bloodshed than a favorite literary psyche authors love to explore—the serial killer—but she’s a fresher voice and even more deliciously warped. Early on, Reshma ponders her social life, concluding that “Alexandra is probably the closest thing I have to a friend. Which isn’t that close, because she’s not actually my friend at all: she just sells me Adderall sometimes.” This is exactly who Reshma is. She’s laser-focused on maintaining a perfect GPA in order to be valedictorian so she can get into Stanford. She will stop at nothing to make that happen, and if drugs give her the edge she needs, so be it. It is a joy to watch her, waiting for the train wreck. 

On the opening page, we see an email to Reshma from a literary agent impressed with Reshma’s “brassy and articulate” voice in an article she wrote for The Huffington Post. The agent offers to read a novel if Reshma happens to have one. Reshma has never given fiction the time of day, but she seizes this opportunity to stand out from other Stanford applicants and claims she has a nearly-complete novel in progress. This is a tiny little fib, but she thinks two months is plenty of time to write one. Reshma’s literary pursuits don’t change her valedictorian goal, so we are still taken through the world of high school high achievers, which is complex and rife with emotional turmoil and questionable ethics. Although Reshma isn’t the exact stereotype of such a student, she is an extreme that anyone who’s been part of that world can believe. Kanakia makes her shenanigans fun to watch. 

You don’t have to like Reshma or people like her to enjoy this book. In fact, you may find yourself rooting against her, which I feel is fine. It’s still worth picking up. 

2022 Reading Challenges and Last Year’s Recap

Every year I report on my reading challenges and set the plan for coming year. I didn’t do that well this year. I have been in a reading slump for much of the year. 

First, the Recap of 2021

I signed up for the same three challenges I did in 2020, the Goodreads, the King County Library’s 10 to Try, and BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge. 

For Goodreads, I set it to 110 for 2021. I technically did finish this, but only because I counted picture books, which take 10 minutes to read (often less), so they really don’t count. I checked against my spreadsheet where I track my reading, and I actually did do better than I thought: I read 87 non-picture book books. So I didn’t hit the 110, but I seriously thought it would be way lower than that. I didn’t finish either of the other two challenges, though I made decent 

For the KCLS 10 to Try, I read the following:

  • Makes you laugh - Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
  • About the future - The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
  • Epistolary novel (Written in letters, emails, etc.) - Dear Rachel Maddow: A Novel by Adrienne Kisner
  • Set where you were born - Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
  • Published this year - Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy
  • Re-read an old favorite - The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
  • About pop culture - The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

But failed on the following:

  • Recommended by staff - You Should See Me in A Crown by Leah Johnson
  • Non-human characters - Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • By a Black author - Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

I’m disappointed in myself. If I had tried, I could have done it, especially the two YA ones. I read many other books instead. 

For the Read Harder Challenge (which is a lot harder than the others) I managed to complete only 8 books of the 24 on the list (pitiful!):

  • Read a non-European novel in translation - The Disaster Tourist: A Novel by Yun Ko-eun and Lizzie Buehler
  • Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author - Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger and Rovina Cai
  • Read a middle grade mystery - From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color - Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker
  • Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada - Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
  • Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability - Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls
  • Read a food memoir by an author of color - Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
  • Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader - Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff 

I failed on the following:

  • Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel 
  • Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism - White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  • Read an LGBTQ+ history book - Queer: A Graphic History by Dr. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
  • Read a fanfic - A Wattpad story based on Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl (https://www.wattpad.com/story/61458965-coffee-kisses-a-cather-and-levi-fanfic)
  • Read a fat-positive romance - Take a Hint, Dani Brown: A Novel by Talia Hibbert
  • Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author - Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  • Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color - Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias by Pragya Agarwal
  • Read a book with a cover you don’t like - Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Read a memoir by a Latinx author - Children of the Land: A Memoir by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
  • Read an own voices book about disability - Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Mariene Nijkamp
  • Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain - Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
  • Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist - The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  • Read a book of nature poems - The Radiant Lives of Animals by Linda Hogan
  • Read a book set in the Midwest - The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan
  • Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness - Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  • Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die - Vicarious by Paula Stokes

I did start one of them (Take a Hint, Dani Brown: A Novel by Talia Hibbert) but I just haven’t been able to read much romance this year for some reason. I liked what I read so far, but it’s on my nightstand. I haven’t been reading too much at night. 

Now, the Plan for 2022

Okay, I’m going to go easy on myself. I’m going to scale things back and skip the Read Harder one this year. So Goodreads and KCLS 10 to Try is all I’m going to do. 

This year I’m going to count picture books and set a goal of 200 total books on Goodreads.That’s basically 100 picture books and 100 others, at least in my head. 

For KCLS 10 to Try, here are the categories and my intended books: 

  • The cover is your favorite color - The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
  • Set somewhere you've wanted to visit - Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats
  • The main character is over 50 - Gray Hair Don't Care by Karen Booth
  • By an Asian or Asian American author - Anna K by Jenny Lee
  • About a library or set in a library - Suggested Reading by Dave Connis
  • Set in another century - Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
  • A one-word title - Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • Recommended by a friend - Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Has won an award - Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
  • Recommended by staff - Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

December 2021 Update

It has been a while since I’ve posted. I’m still not reading a ton, which is part of the reason there aren’t reviews being posted. But I’ve got a few things going on now. Thursday, I got news of a Kirkus Review of Finding Frances that was actually really good—I didn't realize it at first, but it is actually a starred review. You can find it here. I was pretty happy to see it. I still don’t know how to get people to read the book, but at least I can be comfortable that when they do, it’s not crap. 

I mentioned a couple months ago that I would be publishing Ugly on Kindle Vella. I did that, and you can find it here. The first 12 episodes are released now, and new episodes release every MWF. It will wrap up in March. It’s 807 tokens in total. I’d love it if you’d read it, thumbs-up any episodes you read, and fave it. I’m going to be getting a new cover image for it soon (more on that below). For Ugly, I added author notes on each episode because apparently readers like that. I am planning to go back and add them to all the Always the New Girl episodes soon.

I am already planning to publish Ugly next year in eBook and print, and also Always the New Girl as an eBook/print book plus an eBook prequel. So I got in touch with the cover artist who did my romance cover (which I loved), and she’s working on the three covers for me. These will be for the real book, but I’m going to license the image(s) she uses on the covers so I can reuse them without text on the Vella stories. So I’ll be redoing all those images soon. 

In other news, I am working on an exciting new project. It’s a book proposal for a YA nonfiction book on what I do for my day job. I’m pretty stoked about this because there actually isn’t a book for teens about it, and it’s recently been called the “sexiest job” all over the media. There are a lot of books for adults about it, but these make assumptions about the reader that wouldn’t work well for teenagers. I think I have a really good chance of getting this published, so I’m working away at the proposal and sample chapters. 

If I am lucky and this works out the way I want—as long I’m smart about it and choose well—I would have someone who would also look at my fiction. I’m going to also try to find someone who does picture books in addition to YA fiction and nonfiction. I may not be able to manage that, but I’m going to try. 

We will see how things go. It’s hard to imagine the future at this point. 

The only other thing I have going on soon is a pretty cool trip to Egypt (as long as omicron doesn’t ruin it).