Teen Bookfest by the Bay

Friends.  Wow.  Where to even begin?

This weekend, I drove down to Corpus Christi to be a signing author and a panelist for the third annual Teen Bookfest by the Bay.  It was my first time so I had no idea what to expect.

I don’t know how else to say this other than it was one of them most incredible experiences of my life.

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It all began with a welcome dinner at the Art Museum of South Texas, where the event coordinators and sponsors had put together a wonderful meal (plus chocolate-covered strawberries!).

Each author was also presented with our very own swag bags, complete with snacks, chocolate, t-shirts, name badges, water bottles, and sea shells.  Let me tell you, I have never felt so spoiled in my life.

After dinner (and a quick trip down to the water’s edge to take pictures of the USS Lexington lit up in blue, it was back to the hotel.

Sadly, my straight hair, which had been so beautiful, was no match for Corpus Christi humidity.  That’s okay.  I’ll straighten it for Comic Con.

The next morning, we were all awake bright and early.  Early enough, even, to watch the sun rise over the water from my hotel balcony.

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Then, it was off to the festival.  Before breakfast (again, provided by our sponsors and the wonderful librarians who organized the event), I dropped my books off with the others at the sales table.  It was then that I began to realize that I recognized several of the titles being sold alongside mine.  One of which happened to be one of my favorite books of all time, Seven Tears into the Sea by Terri Farley.

“Wait a minute… Is she here?!” I gasped.

That’s when I remembered that the day before, when I’d first arrived at the hotel, I’d ridden up the elevator with a woman named Terri.  I’d been chatting with a woman who’d written one of my favorite books and I hadn’t even realized it.

Needless to say, I completely fangirled out when I met her for the second time.  Terri Farley, it turns out, is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.  She’s also a huge animal lover and has written a non-fiction book called Wild Horses.  I can’t wait to read it.  It’s a beautiful books and features photographs by a National Geographic wildlife photographer, basically my dream job.

After a brief welcome, it was time for our first panel.  Now, I’ve never been one for public speaking. I remember in college, I would prepare slide shows so I would have something to read.  But my fellow authors on the panel, Laura Stampler and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, were so friendly and wonderful and sweet.  They made me feel right at ease and we spent most of our panels laughing.  And talking about books, of course.

At first, I’ll admit, I felt a lithe intimidated.  After all, Laura is published by Simon & Schuster and Guadalupe has won multiple, and I do mean MULTIPLE awards.  I’m just a little indie author from a small town north of Dallas.  In what universe was I worthy to sit next to them and act like I deserved to be there?

But then I thought to myself, “You know what?  No.  You worked your butt off to get here.  You and all the indies.  You’re out there every day fighting the stigma that independent authors aren’t as good as those who’ve been traditionally published when you know that that simply isn’t true.  Not just because you love your books, but because you’ve read and loved so many other indie books.”

So instead of sheepishly admitting that I’d published my own books, I proudly told our audiences that I’d learned the ins and outs of publishing, marketing, formatting, and cover design.  I told them of my friends and colleagues in the independent community who’ve written fantastic books, ones that I recommend over and over and over again.  I told them of the anthologies to which I’ve contributed, including Ever in the After, a charity anthology that will benefit Lift 4 Autism.

When my panel wasn’t presenting, I snuck upstairs to listen to my friend Miracle Austin’s panel.  She (and this is where I get to start name-dropping) shared a panel with multi-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.

Seriously, this guy has done it all.  I can’t even begin to list his titles, awards, accomplishments, Marvel comics, X-Files, all this super cool amazing stuff.  And the best part of all is he’s SUCH a cool, nice person!  As I was on the escalator back down to the first floor, I noticed him walking by.  Being the elegant and mature grown-up person that I am, I yelled out, “Mr. Maberry!” and began running UP the escalator that was going down.

I introduced myself not as Jacqueline Smith, but as Miracle Austin’s friend, and basically fangirled all over the place.  But seriously, how else do you act around such a legend?

Speaking of Miracle, I just have to take a moment to thank her.  Not only for her unconditional love and friendship, but for telling me about Teen Bookfest by the Bay in the first place.  Without her, I would never have known to send in my name and my books.  Not only is she an absolutely amazing author (Jonathan Maberry even says so!), she’s the most genuine, sweet, wonderful, sparkly person you will ever meet.  I am so fortunate to be able to call her my friend.  She’s a rare one.

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I have so many other stories I could tell you from this weekend.  I met Ann Redisch Stampler, author of After Party, Where it Began, and How To Disappear.  Again, one of the absolute sweetest people you could ever hope to meet.  I ate lunch with Diana Lopez, whose novel, Choke, became the Lifetime Original Movie The Choking Game.  I reconnected with my friend, Amanda M. Thrasher, author of The Greenlee Project which, in my humble opinion, should also be a Lifetime Original Movie.  I met other amazing and sweet and friendly authors like Manuel Ruiz, Brendan Kiely (rhymes with smiley), and illustrator Evan Turk. And again, the best part was how genuinely NICE and open and inviting these exceptionally talented authors are.  God, I felt so accepted and welcome and fortunate.  What an incredible experience.  Truly.

Finally, the amazing librarians, Debbie Carroll VanZandt and her team are simply the best in the world.  They genuinely love and care about their kids and work tirelessly to promote reading and literacy and to make reading fun for these teens.  And wow, do they know how to make authors feel spoiled and special.  We wanted for nothing all weekend.  Honestly, I’ll never be able to thank them enough.

All I can truly say is that I’m counting down the days until next year!  Thank you all again for the experience of a lifetime.  It’s one that I will never forget.

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Spring Has Sprung

Hello, friends.  I’m sorry I haven’t been updating as much as I should.  Life, as usual, is quite busy.  My sister is home for spring break so I’ve been spending as much time with her as I can.  We went to see the stage production of The Little Mermaid on Sunday and once again, I cried my eyes out because Ariel is my childhood hero.  Then yesterday, we spent the morning at the Arboretum.

It was a beautiful day and the best way to welcome spring.

As for book updates, I’m having so much fun writing the third book in the Boy Band series.  I think it’s going to be my favorite.  I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

I’m also helping my cousin (whom I only recently connected with on Facebook) publish her book of poetry/memoir.

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The photo on the cover is hers as well.  It’s been a new experience.  This is the first time I will have published a book that is not my own.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to publish it so that the royalties go directly to her.  I think I’ve finally got it all sorted, but it’s been a challenge.

Of course, I’m hoping to one day get to the point where I publish a LOT of books, not just my own and my family members, and I’ve had some requests.  The thing is, I can’t work for free.  With Margaret, it’s different since she’s family.  Even still, I don’t want to be a pay-to-publish company, or a vanity press, if you will.  I want my authors to get paid.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the sort of money that would allow me to make an offer or a payment up front.  I think the best way to do it would be to publish and keep 25% of the royalties while the other 75% go to the author.  But that’s not going to happen for a while.  I’m still trying to make a name for myself as an author.  That’s my ultimate dream.

On the other hand, I am very seriously considering offering my services as a cover designer.  I have thousands of images that would work for book covers (NOT stock images) and it’s something I really and truly enjoy.

What do y’all think?

Indie Books and POGs

Last night, I found my old POG collection.  If you grew up in the 90s, chances are you also collected the little round pieces of cardboard that were apparently meant to be a game but really ended up just being shiny little circles we accumulated and hoarded like Smaug’s treasure in The Hobbit.

As I was looking through my old POGs, I noticed one had a ghost on it.  I thought, “Oh, that’s cute.  I should take a picture of it with Cemetery Tours.”

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So I did.

But I didn’t stop there.

Slowly but surely, my little idea to take a picture with the ghost POG became a full fledged POG and indie book photo shoot.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken pictures of several (not all) of the indie books I own.  I have a whole photo album that I’ve dedicated to the #IndieBooksBeSeen movement on my Facebook page.

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There is a rhyme and reason to my madness.  Despite the fact that we call ourselves “Independent” authors, the truth is we are very much a community.  No one works alone.  We have editors and graphic designers and reviewers and marketing experts.  And we have each other.  As independent authors, we support each other 100%.  That’s one of the first things I learned about the community and one of my very favorite parts of being an independent author.  I never expected the warm reception or astounding support system when I first published Cemetery Tours, but it’s there.  And it’s so, so, so amazing.

There are several ways that authors support each other.  I have friends who Tweet and Retweet.  I have friends who share dozens of Facebook posts.  I have friends who review every book they read.  Me?  I definitely try to review at least every indie book I read.  But I like to take pictures.  It’s my favorite method of communication.  Funny, for a writer, I know.  But there’s a certain love to a beautiful image that words really can’t express.

I take pictures because these books need more exposure.  I want each and every one of these authors to know the same kind of love and praise and success that their traditionally published counterparts experience.  I want them to be interviewed and reviewed by Entertainment Weekly and fly to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List.  I want independent books to become mainstream.  And I think they are well on their way.

 

 

World Book Day

I haven’t been very good about blogging recently, but I simply had to take a moment to wish you all a very Happy World Book Day!

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I don’t think I even need to tell y’all that I love books.  I love to read.  I love to spend hours at a time perusing my local bookstore for new titles, new adventures.  Becoming an author has only deepened my appreciation for the written word, and for all the hard work that goes into transforming a story into a book.

Just a few short years ago, writing and publishing a book was a pipe dream for many.  It was reserved only for the chosen few, the traditionally published elite.  Big companies and corporations decided whether or not your work was worthy of publication.  Those companies do good work.  Most of my favorite books are traditionally published.

But times are changing.  There is a real movement to take the independently published novel mainstream.  And of course, as an independent author, I’m all for this.  Indie books are real books.  Independent authors are real authors.  They’re more than authors.  They’re also publishers and designers and marketers and editors and formatters.  I’m almost inclined to say that you have to be at least a little crazy to be an independent author, because who would willingly do all of this work for a pay-off that isn’t guaranteed?

Well, we would.  And I do believe it’s worth it.

So today, when you celebrate World Book Day, I challenge you to read a book by a lesser known author.  Take a picture of an indie book.  Leave a review on Amazon or on Goodreads.  You may not believe it, but every little bit helps.  Every sale, every post, every review, is a step towards taking this very noble and worthwhile industry to the masses.  Readers make everything possible.  And we, the authors, will never be able to thank you enough.

In the City

Hello, friends!  Just a quick update!  I may not have any more deadlines for a while (Yay!) but life is still as busy as ever!

I’ve been enjoying a wonderful few days, celebrating the impending Christmas season with friends and family.

A few of my girlfriends and I had a Christmas crafts night.

Then my mom and my sister and I took a trip downtown to see the world premiere of the opera Becoming Santa Claus.

And life is only going to get busier!  Tonight, my friend and I are taking my sister out to celebrate her birthday.  Tomorrow night, a group of my friends from high school and I are going with our English teacher (our Mr. Feeny, if you will) to see MacBeth.  Thursday night, I’m going to a bachelorette party and Saturday is the wedding!  So much fun and merriment and all the while I keep thinking, “Oh my goodness!  I have to get the new book out!”  Then I remember it’s already out and I think to myself, “Oh, yay!  I love it when that happens!”

The new book is doing great.  And Boy Band is getting some new love because of it!

I’ve had two reviews in the past week that I particularly love.  One is from a new friend down in Mexico named Bryan.  You can check out his review here!

He also took this fabulous picture and I’ve got to be honest, it’s one of my favorite book portraits ever.

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The other is a review I believe I already shared, but I love it so much, I’m just going to share it again.

I love all my readers and reviewers and friends so, so much!  I don’t know if you realize it, but you make so many dreams come true just by doing what you love!  Thank you, thank you!

I hope you all are enjoying this most wonderful time of the year.

Wonderful Christmastime

Hi, friends!  Well, the new book is out, I enjoyed a wonderful evening at the Sanger Library as my last public book even for the year… I’m ready to enjoy the holidays!

It’s funny, I’ve had so many deadlines this year that every time I look at my phone and see the date, I think, “Oh my gosh! I need to hurry up and…”  And then I remember that I HAVE no more deadlines this year!  Yay!  It’s a pretty great feeling.  Not gonna lie.  And I’m proud of myself for sticking to them.  Now I just have to get them out of my head and relax and enjoy.  I’ve never considered myself a workaholic, but I am very goal oriented and I usually have to have SOMETHING I’m working on or toward or else I just don’t know what to do with myself.

But I DO have a lot of things to work on.  For one thing, I’m beta-reading my good friend’s first book!  Her name is April, but you might know her as A Well Read Woman.  I’m very much enjoying her book.  It’s taking me a bit longer to read than most books, however, because I’m going through and making notes.  I really enjoy beta-reading, especially because it means I get to read books before they’re released!

April was also sweet enough to read Boy Band and she wrote one of my most favorite reviews of all time.

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And no, I don’t JUST love it because she included a One Direction gif.

After I’m finished beta-reading, I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the books on my TBR list for 2015.  I’m not sure I’ll finish them all by January 1, but I WILL finish.

If I could have one wish this Christmas, it would be for independent authors everywhere to enjoy the same amount of recognition, respect, and readership as our traditionally published colleagues.  If you have a reader in your life, visit Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com and check out an independently published book.  I guarantee you you will make an author’s Christmas dream come true.  A reader’s as well.

Love you all!

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21

Today, my little sister turns 21.  I could very well make this a sentimental post about how she’s my best friend in the world and how she’s crossing a major milestone and how I’m so thankful to have her in my life, and all of that would be very, very true.  I don’t know where I’d be without her.

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In honor of her birthday, I decided to release my new book, Backstage, the sequel to Boy Band, a day early on Kindle.  I did this, in part, because she loves the first book so much.  We’re both big boy band fans in real life, and she was the one who really pushed me to finish the first book and to publish it.  She enjoyed Cemetery Tours also, but not like Boy Band.

That being said, I hope you all enjoy the second book!  I did my best not to end it on as BIG a cliffhanger as the first one, but rest assured there is a third one in the works!  Sam and Mel’s story isn’t quite finished yet!

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Love you all!

Backstage on Kindle

 

The Writer’s Christmas List

Hello, friends!  How are all of you?  Sadly, I am still battling The Crud.  I thought I was getting better, but then Monday night I had a bit of a relapse and it hasn’t gone away.  It’s not horrible, but it makes you feel just gross enough to not want to do anything.  Blah.  Thankfully, I get to work from home so I don’t have to go out and infect the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, in my sickly state, I don’t want to work.  I just want to sit around and snuggle with my kitty and watch Disney movies.

As I was getting ready for bed last night, I couldn’t help but think that this virus has seriously gotten in the way of my Christmas shopping.  And THAT gave me an idea for a blog post.

Ladies and Gents, may I present to you…

The Best Gifts To Give To Your Writer Friend This Holiday Season.

*Please note I am NOT writing this as a suggestive hint that all of you need to buy me presents.  This is just a fun little list that I came up with for all writers.  Not that I speak for all writers.  You know what I mean.*

  1. Books.  This one, I think, kind of goes without saying.  We’re writers.  The only thing we love more than writing is reading.  You can never go wrong with books.
  2. Gift Cards.  Let’s face it, most writers are poor.  And even if we’re not, we can be hard to shop for.  Gift Cards, especially to Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or Starbucks are always appreciated.
  3. A Bottle of Wine.  Insert stereotype that authors really, really, really like to drink here.
  4. Scented Candles.  Okay, maybe this is just me, but I love lighting a scented candle while I work.  It brings me so much peace and makes my work environment so pleasant.  12246903_10206808044093322_3679859631548650627_n
  5. Scarves.  We’re writers.  We love scarves.
  6. Homemade Cookies.  Honestly, this is probably the best present of all.  I’d so much rather have a good friend make me something (especially something chocolate) than go out and buy me something.
  7. A Book Review.  The very best gift you can give to any writer anywhere is a book review.  Just a few short sentences about how much you enjoyed their book.  Book reviews are invaluable to writers.  It’s free and it only takes about three minutes of your time, if that.  Best.  Present.  Ever.
  8. Giving Their Book as a Gift.  You want to make a writer’s holiday season merry and bright?  Give their book as a gift to someone else.  That is better than buying the writer themselves a car.  Okay maybe not, but it’s almost just as good.
  9. Donate to a Good Cause.  Last year, instead of buying gifts, my mother donated to charities in our relatives’ names.  I thought that was a great gift.  Great causes to donate to for your writer friends include literacy and education charities.  Also the Humane Society because everyone loves animals.
  10. Quality Time.  To me, nothing is better than quality time spent with those you love.  Take your favorite writer friend out to dinner, or go drive around a look at Christmas lights and drink some hot chocolate.  Bake cookies and watch a Christmas movie.  It’s the season for gift-giving, true, but it’s more so the season to love and appreciate the people in your life.  It’s the moments, not the gifts, that will last a lifetime.

 

December Tidings

Hello, friends!

Oh my goodness, it feels like it’s been a while since I last posted.  Probably because it has been.  This has been quite a week though, let me tell you!

First of all, I hope all my American friends had a splendid Thanksgiving full of good food and good times spent with family and friends.  My Thanksgiving was pretty excellent, although as soon as I got home from our friends’ house, my throat began to hurt and I spent the next three days on the couch with The Crud that’s going around.  Thanks, Dad.  Fortunately, I didn’t get it nearly as bad as he did.

In much more exciting news, IT IS FINALLY DECEMBER!  It’s time for snowflakes and hot chocolate and Christmas lights and movie nights by the fire and all those wonderful winter things!  Now of course, once Christmas is over, I won’t be nearly as excited about the cold, but for the next 25 days, bring on the winter chill!

Even though it’s only the first day of December, it’s already turning out to be an incredibly busy month.  I’m giving a talk tonight at a local library about NaNoWriMo and what to do after you’ve finished your manuscript.  If I can figure out how to post the Power Point presentation here, I will.

I’m also giving another talk at another library NEXT week, but I need to check in and make sure everything is still on schedule for that!

Also… BACKSTAGE WILL BE AVAILABLE IN EXACTLY ONE WEEK!  I’m so excited for y’all to read it.  I would post the first chapter here, but it contains MAJOR spoilers for the first book, so I’m afraid y’all are just going to have to wait a week!  You can, however, enter to win a signed copy of BOTH BOOKS on GoodReads.

Once Backstage is released, I’m going to take some time just to enjoy the holidays, spend time with family and friends.  But I’m also going to be investigating a few new publishing platforms as well as a few new projects.  Oh, and I’m also going to be catching up on a LOT of reading.  My goodness, I am so behind.

Happy December, everyone!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

(Except for, you know, when it’s warm and sunny).

 

NaNoWriMo 2015

We’re five days into National Novel Writing Month and I’ve got a confession to make:  I haven’t been keeping up with it very well.  I’ve written a little bit and brainstormed a lot, but I’m nowhere near where I should be in the grand scheme of NaNoWriMo.  There are a few reasons (or excuses) for that.

First of all, I spent a long weekend in Houston and didn’t return until Monday afternoon.  At that point, I was exhausted and had a lot of unpacking and pictures to go through.

Second, with only a little more than a month before Backstage is released, I’m devoting most of my time and energy into making sure it’s ready to go by December 8.  Those of you who’ve published your own books know that that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for much else.

Finally, I’ve been having a difficult time figuring out how I wanted to begin my NaNo book.  I think I may have figured it out last night, but I’m still not 100% sure.  Sometimes, you can’t force it.  You just have to let the words come naturally.

I am, however, SO excited to see so many of my friends and colleagues and total strangers participating in NaNoWriMo this year!  It’s a fantastic way to get people writing and to get some fantastic new books out there.  It’s also proof to me that the written word is thriving.  There are so many rumors and reports and literacy and society’s love of reading being on the decline, but even if they’re true, there is so much love for NaNoWriMo and so much enthusiasm and excitement for reading and writing new books that I can’t help but feel optimistic about my trade and profession.  I love books so much.  I always have.  And it’s so encouraging to see so many others sharing that love.

NaNoWriMo will always hold a special place in my heart, particularly because it gave me the opportunity to write something new, something that I guarantee I would not have written otherwise.  Boy Band is the book that was not supposed to exist.  And now, here it is, a year later and I’m getting ready to release its sequel.  How cool is that?

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For those wondering, that little guy in the picture is Simon the NaNo Dragon.  He’s my November writing buddy.

Fellow writers and aspiring authors, enjoy your NaNoWriMo experience.  Write well.  Write what you love.  You never know what may come of it.  And if you get behind (or if you haven’t started on time – oops!), don’t get discouraged.  After all, it took me TWO months to finish Boy Band.  All you need to know is that you can do anything.  And you will.  Just keep writing.