A Signed Starseed Giveaway!

Enter to win one of two signed paperbacks from The Starseed Trilogy!

It has come to my attention that I have not done a giveaway in FAR too long! Since I love my readers so much this is simply unacceptable. I can only say I’ve been quite occupied with wrapping up The Starseed Trilogy and diving deep into The Bonegates Series. 🙂 Plus, the holidays are coming up and signed books make the best gifts, don’t you think?

To remedy this, I’m giving away a signed paperback to two lucky people. The novel can be one any of the four published paperbacks in my Starseed Universe (Rogue Fae is not in paperback and hence excluded).  To enter the giveaway, you must complete TWO of the following tasks:

1) Download a FREE copy of Prophecy of Three from Amazon or Kobo and send me a screenshot of your proof of purchase via email (ashleymcleo(at)gmail(dot)com).

2) Follow me on either Bookbub (Ashley McLeo), Facebook (Ashley McLeo Author), or Instagram (a.mcleo). Screenshot that you’ve followed me, email me at ashleymcleo(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll document it.

3) Leave an honest review for any of my books (there are five of them) on online retailers and send me the review link (ashleymcleo(at)gmail(dot)com).

All of these options are free and thus everyone has an equal chance to win. Please remember you must send me screenshots of your entries or your efforts will be for naught. I will not be able to keep track any other way. And you must complete TWO of the above tasks. I will be documenting. This giveaway ends November 1, 2018. Entries after that date will not be counted. The winners will be chosen by random.org. Best of luck to everyone who enters!

Five Things I Learned Writing My First Novel (and what you should avoid!)

Did you know roughly 80% of Americans aspire to write a book? Also, that most (some disparagingly high percent I won’t bore you with) of them–like millions of people–will never write the book burning in their hearts. While that number is high and surprised me when I first heard it, the stat that most people never end up writing that novel did not. Why?

Because writing a book is damn hard.

Did you know roughly 80% of Americans aspire to write a book? Also, that most (some disparagingly high percent I won’t bore you with) of them–like millions of people–will never write the book burning in their hearts. While that number is high and surprised me when I first heard it, the stat that most people never end up writing that novel did not. Why?

Because writing a book is damn hard.

And, in my opinion, writing your first book is the hardest of them all. The inertia of writing the first book, which is usually not so great compared the subsequent ones (especially after the first draft), is difficult to overcome and most people simply can’t/won’t/don’t want to do it.

Fair enough. There are lots of things I can’t/won’t/don’t want to do in my life, but writing books is not one of them! Still, I honestly think more people can write that book burning in their hearts if they simply prepared themselves for the realities of what writing a book means. Hint: Not usually romantic days at the coffee shop, occasionally staring out the window, and then typing out gold. Though, good grief I wish it was!

As I’m currently writing my seventh novel (three of which are in current stages of drafts), I feel like I finally have enough perspective to communicate what I learned writing my first. Some of these tips, specifically the last three, may be more suited to an indie author, but I think they’re all valuable. So, here it goes!

  1. It will take WAY longer than you think to write that novel. Like exponentially longer. This is one of the hallmarks that makes a first book stand out from the ones that come after. And the reason why it takes longer is simple:

You are learning gobs about writing a book by actually doing it.

This is the best way to learn (IMO) but takes so damn long. And can be very disheartening. Especially, when you get to the end of your first draft, which probably took years, and realize it’s not very good (there may be some exceptions to this, but I haven’t met any).

Just know, you’re in good company there and that most of the writing is actually editing anyhow. Once you start editing that sucker you can make it better, what you want it to be, what you dreamt it would be. But it won’t just spring into existence like that, especially not in a weeks time, or hell even a few month’s time!

If you think writing is for you just know now, you must be patient with yourself.

2) Not everyone’s an expert. 

Once you have that first draft done and have gone through it a few times it’s time to find some beta readers!

SIDE NOTE: PLEASE never ask anyone to beta read your first (Hell, even your second draft, unless you’re doing a beta swap). Like I said, the first draft of your first novel probably isn’t very good, and I consider it disrespectful to ask someone to put in their time reading something that the author has barely edited. If you do this, be prepared for those who offered their time not to finish reading your work.

Now that that’s out of the way!

Finding beta readers can be fun, and a lot of people can be a pleasure to work with and learn from, but there’s always two sides to every coin. For Prophecy of Three, my debut novel I had about 15 beta readers. I felt having so many opinions could only help me make it as good as it could be.

Man, was I wrong.

Yes, a lot of readers had great input and I took their advice into consideration and I believe it made the book better. But some people–some people–let me tell you, they just want to hear themselves talk. These are often the people who are the harshest (not constructive, just cruel-which I’ve been lucky to avoid for the most part), or say the exact opposite of what others say. However, in my opinion, the worst beta readers to have are people who do not understand or enjoy the genre you are writing.

For example, one time I had a beta reader continually comment on the lack of romance in a novella I was tinkering with. Then, when it got to the end and hinted at a romance said the novella should have started there, at the very end. But my novella wasn’t about the romance, it was about one woman’s journey through a tough time . . . the romance would come later and I wasn’t really interested in that. This woman, as you may guess, is a romance writer, whereas I am a fantasy/paranormal writer who dabbles in romance from time to time. My work is not about romance, nor did I tell her it was (that’s another thing, be clear to your beta readers what they are signing up for!). Her expectations were unrealistic and therefore I had to discount much of what she said. Not a win-win for either of us. I feel like if I was a newer writer and less confident in my ability I would have taken all her advice to heart along with my other beta readers good advice and been very confused. Side note: Every other beta reader understood the story as a non-romance and liked it, so I don’t feel like discounting her opinion is out of line in the slightest.

Be clear about what you’re writing (stick to 1-2 genres when describing), find beta readers in your genre, and don’t give them your crappy first draft.

3) Your novel is not a multi-cross genre novel, and if it is, there’s probably a problem. 

I see this ALL THE TIME, and I DID IT TOO. 😉 We write our first novel and think there are so many unique elements of all the genres we’re ever read. It’s fantasy-sci-f-historical fiction-womens adventure-AND-crime thriller all wrapped into one. It will appease all audiences! It will sell!

Nope.

You’re just going to confuse a hell of a lot of people. Also, if you’re considering indie publishing this is terrible for your marketing. Probably it isn’t great for pitching agents focused on traditional publishing either. Like I said, too confusing, and people don’t want to be confused when they read a book. They want to be swept away! Entertained! Immersed in a different life! Learn something (non-fic). Not think: What the hell was that I just read?

Let’s put it this way, you’re trying to please everyone with one mega-book. But it will never work (maybe if the book is a million pages long but whose going to read that?!). Instead of trying to please everyone, please a niche you love.

So, instead of putting all your amazing ideas into one book, probably making it harder on yourself, why don’t you just pick a few? A few ideas that fit nicely within the parameters of 1-2 genres and go from there?

You’ll have a much easier time finding an audience and that’s a major key to a writers success.

4) Keep your expectations low and you’ll be much happier with your results.

Of course, everyone, and I do mean everyone, wants that spectacular, best-selling debut novel. And because everyone wants this novel and the experience that comes along with it, that means it is very unlikely you (or I-oh wait this already wasn’t my experience!)  will be the one to get it.

I believe the lightening-strike, millionaire-making debut thinking is even more prevalent in the traditional publishing community. Which is unfortunate, since the fact is that most debut novelists in the traditional publishing industry do not even earn out their advance, let alone become a bestseller.

At least in indie (independent author) community, there’re subcultures such as the 20 books to 50K community, where the numbers tend to think of their writing career as a marathon, not a sprint. Something to build over time through hard work, learning from each experience, and growing with your craft. This is the belief I subscribe to as well.

In fact, I did not want my first novel to be the best thing I’ve ever written, the thing people knew me for, the shining star in my career. Because after that the only way to go is down and I figured it would be pretty anti-climactic and sad to peek before I knew what the hell I was really doing. To be honest, as I was nearing the end of my drafting of Prophecy of Three the idea of keeping my expectations low for my first book launch seriously saved my mental health when I actually launched the book.

I’m not saying my book flopped. It still sells, and will continue to sell; I hope even more so when I begin to experiment with paid advertising. It’s a good book, and I know it. But it’s probably not the best book I’ve ever written or will right. And that’s OK because I was prepared to grow with every book, and not have a mega best seller the first time around. I didn’t expect miracles to happen or hordes of crazy fans to come out and buy it or to make it on the Today Show. I expected to sell my book for years to come, fulfill a lifelong goal, and launch myself into a new career.

And, if you want a healthy author career that spans years, perhaps even decades, I suggest you think of your career as a marathon and not a sprint as well.

5) Probably one of the most important things I learned from publishing my first book and the thing I wish I’d done more of, was to give away as many books as possible to strangers.

Yes, I know, you (and I) spent years working on this one project. Shouldn’t we be paid for it? The answer, of course, is yes. Artists should be paid for their work. We should not be expected to entertain people for free just as starlets are not expected to star in movies for free and athletes are not expected to play in arenas for entertainment, while the team owner reaps all the financial benefits. But seriously, that post for another day. And while I believe we should be paid for our work, I also believe that as a new author, on your first, second, or even third book (depending on your specific scenario), it’s in your best interest to get your book into as many hands as possible. Get as many eyeballs on it without making it a hassle for those eyeballs.

This means giving away your book for free.

And before you start wailing about it, just remember, the traditional publishing industry has been doing this for YEARS. Why? Because it works. People talk about things they love or hate. If you want people to talk about your book, you have to make it easy for them to get it. If they don’t know you, this may mean flat out approaching them (or more likely posting about it) and offering that book up for free! No barrier to entry.

Since Prophecy of Three’s release, I have learned to give out more advanced reader copies. And since I’ve done so, my sales have improved. With each free copy given, the chance that a reader reviewed it was higher. With that review being public, another person is more likely to hear of my book and buy it. In short, if you give out a free book and that reader has any sort of social media or friends or family or voice that they like people to hear (who doesn’t?), it’s possible they will tell someone else about your book. And that is how you get the ball rolling on the best form of organic marketing–word of mouth.

Honestly, I could go on. There are many more things I learned after publishing my first book, but those are probably the top ones and I can’t go on writing for forever because I have books to write, you know? So, I’ll leave it there for the day and save any other tips for future articles. If you’re already an author, or are an aspiring writer, and would like to leave a comment or question, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What was the biggest thing you learned about publishing? What are you discovering for yourself if you’re writing your first novel?

And please, now that you’ve read about my experience, try not to make the same mistakes I did. 😉

Happy writing!

Siren Falling – Final Teaser! Releases 7/31/18

Just because our stories are difficult and uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they aren’t ours.

Hey there!

Can you believe Siren Falling, A Starseed Universe novella featuring Selma’s adventures in New York releases NEXT WEEK!? I sure can’t! This novella took me longer to write than I care to admit. Selma was a tough nut to crack and her story was, in truth, a hard one to tell. She didn’t act like so many of the noble heroines I read about and at times, I was ashamed of her. There were a couple of instances when I thought about throwing in the towel on the story, worried I’d never get it right or readers wouldn’t connect (to be fair I still worry about the later, though I fully believe the story is right now). Still, I love Selma as she is in The Starseed Trilogy, and just because she’s quite different in the novella doesn’t make me love her less. It simply means she changed as we all do. With writing Selma’s story I learned a very important life lesson.

Just because our stories are difficult and uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they aren’t ours. 

So, I told it. As it was, raw and uncomfortable as hell. I hope you enjoy it, even if Selma upsets you at times, and without further adieu here’s the last teaser!

Siren Falling excerpt

Selma had wandered deeper into the enchanted forest than she’d expected. She bit her lip, sincerely hoping Kayla, or better yet, Abby, was running late too. Then she wouldn’t have to hear Abby complain about tardiness. Following the path less populated, Selma wound through the forest toward the front of the ballroom where the string quartet played. She was rounding the final patch of trees before she would have to cut across the slim strip of the empty dance floor to Kayla’s domain when suddenly a figure materialized in front of her.

Selma gasped as her eyes locked with the most captivating man she’d ever seen. He was well over six feet tall with perfectly white teeth and piercing, storm-gray eyes. And while Selma would have happily stared at him all day, she was quickly becoming aware of something cold and wet chilling her skin. Tearing her eyes from the man, she looked down to find a stain smeared across the front of her dress and the man’s glass, hanging limply in his hand, empty. Drops of red wine covered the floor between them. Her mouth closed and lips flattened.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Hell, look what I’ve done. I’ve ruined your dress.”

The world flipped again. Where there was a brief annoyance, now, only arousal existed. Selma’s skin tingled at the man’s voice, pure bliss in a room full of chatter.

“Please, there’s no reason to be sorry,” Selma assured him. “Look, the silk is already drying. I’m sure I can get the stain out. I—” She snapped her mouth shut when suddenly, his eyes glazed over. Hormones, born of siren magic, were slipping through her lips. Her powers had acted on instinct, without her even noticing it, sensing within Selma her overwhelming desire to have this man.

But I’ve always been in perfect control of my magic.

“You certainly came around that corner fast, didn’t you? It’s her fault too, Andrew.” Another voice, feminine, and cold cut through the moment, slashing Selma’s desire. From nowhere, a woman placed her hand on the man’s shoulder—a left hand adorned with giant diamonds.

End excerpt

Uh oh, I think she’s in trouble!

Pick up your copy next week to read what happens! And don’t forget to leave a review. 🙂

Siren Falling Pre-order link.

All the magic,

Ashley

Siren Falling

Writing with Color – Representation in Writing

As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: EVERYWHERE.

As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: see the previous blog post!) To answer the first question you need only read one of my novels, all of which include POC and LGBTQ peoples in important roles. While some writers (generally white-cis-writers) may shy away from writing people from other backgrounds and cultures I think it’s of the utmost importance. Why, you ask?

Because I write to reflect the world around me, and that world is full of diversity. Even in my upcoming series, The Bonegates Series, which is set in Faerie and therefore I could literally make the world as I wanted it, I could not conceive any other way of writing. In fact, in The Bonegates Series, I took it a step further, giving unnatural hair, skin, and eye colors to certain characters because- why not? It’s fantasy!

The argument is constantly brought up that writers do not want to offend those of other cultures by portraying them incorrectly and while I see where they are coming from I believe it far more offensive to delete them entirely. A monochromatic, cis world, where everyone is able-bodied becomes unrealistic. Perhaps for historical fiction or very, very small town settings, it could work but overall, the world is full of color and writing should be too.

Now, as for portraying people incorrectly/rudely/stereotypically, there’s a really simple way to avoid this (if that is your intention). Ask someone from whatever group you’re writing about and talk to them. ASK if what you are writing is offensive. I recently had this experience with a fellow writer who uses a wheelchair. I asked her to read my work and pay special attention to how I portrayed the character in a wheelchair (Alistair from The Starseed Trilogy). She was very pleased to read and was a great help at giving me insight into how a person using a wheelchair may take one of my character’s dialogue. Don’t know anyone from the particular group you are trying to include? Find a writers group on social media and put yourself out there. I’m sure someone will be happy to help.

Another reason I believe it’s incredibly important writers write a diverse cast is because what we write trickles into other industries. If my books ever get made into a movie, I want there to be no question that certain characters look a certain way. If the cast is white-cis-washed it will not be because I didn’t do what I believe is right.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, I believe there need to be more characters of color/minorities because I’ve had the experience where a reader of color actually said “I don’t think any of these people are dark skinned” when I used the term “tall, dark, and handsome.” Well, actually, one was. He was even described (briefly-but I don’t believe in banging the reader over the head with such information either. That’s annoying as heck!) as such, but that did not register. I don’t blame the reader for this, I blame our culture. We’ve been white-and-cis-gender-washed for so long, that now, readers simply insert cis white man/woman in their mind even if the author explicitly wrote the character as a POC/minority/perhaps has a prosthetic limb. This tells me we need MORE diversity and we need to say it OUT LOUD, not just in our mind or imply it softly. We need to make this mainstream. To do that, more writers need to get over their fear and simply write the world as it is. Big, diverse, full of color and love for all.

Character Motivations (?) Writer Talk

Please prepare for some major writerly musings . . . 
As an author, I’ve received the feedback

Please prepare for some major writerly musings . . .

As an author, I’ve received the feedback “I’m not sure this character knows what they want”, one or two times. I’ve also given that same feedback and felt it justified giving it. However, the more I read and research the craft, the more I begin to question if that feedback is helpful. I question this for one primary reason:

How many people do you know in life, who actually, seriously, one hundred percent know what they want?

Yeah . . . I know, right? If you have an extremely self-aware group of friends and family, I’d still expect this answer to be “not a lot”. I only recently realized what I wanted to do for a career and I’d been thinking about that for . . . oh, only about half my life. And this knowing what you want thing extends to much more than just a career! There are so many other aspects of life one could question what they want. Kids? Marriage or no? Where to live? What should I eat? What sort of movement practice is best for me? Political parties? Religion?

Every time you answer or even attempt to answer, one of these questions, I swear five more spring up.

Recently when I read about younger characters (young adult genre or new adult genre) I try to cut them some slack. It’s entirely possible they have no idea what they want, and you know what? I don’t blame them! I’ve always found it ridiculous that we ask a 16-year-old to choose what he/she wants to do for the rest of their lives. Most adults don’t even know what they want in life (I’ll cut them slack too), why do teenagers need to know? Societal pressure is why so many people are searching hard for something else to fulfill them. Or spend time procrastinating on social media instead of pursuing the thing they claim to want (side hustle, a book deal, a happy family, a pre-paid trip to Bali). Maybe the character is meant to act a little sporadic (obviously there are limits because I don’t need to know everything the character does-I only have so much time for a book) and make some bad choices that don’t seem in line with their “wants” because you know what? THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY WANT ANYHOW. I mean, maybe they do, however, if the story is well-crafted that will probably change anyhow around 50-60%. Plus, the addition of seemingly crazy behavior is not only realistic, but it’s likely adding conflict, which is necessary for any story.

People not knowing what they want and acting a little crazy to figure it out is a truth in life.

So, now when I read and come across a character who doesn’t seem to know what they want I think that character is simply believable. Astringent “want” is no longer needed for me to feel satisfied. As long as they figure out their real “want” eventually in the story and complete their arc I’m usually happy anyhow. For the rest, I’m just along for the ride.

 

Rising of Three Teaser

Villains are just like us. They have motivations and beliefs, things they love and hate, and things that make them tick. Noro, of The Starseed Trilogy, is no exception.

Hello!

Disclaimer: This post may contain spoilers for those who have not read Prophecy of Three or Souls of Three.

We’re about two months away from the release of Rising of Three, Book Three of The Starseed Trilogy and I CAN’T WAIT to share Sara’s story with you all! She’s just bursting to step out of the limelight of her older sisters Lily and Evelyn.

But to be honest, Sara will just have to wait because today, I wanted to take a twisty little turn and give you a brand new point of view. The villain, Noro.

Noro is a nasty piece of work to be sure, but like the rest of us, he isn’t without his own insecurities and motivations. If you’ve read Prophecy of Three or Souls of Three, you may have caught them. But perhaps you didn’t, and if not, here’s a little insight into what makes Noro tick.

Rising of Three Excerpt:

Noro swooped down the sloping hill through the frost-covered trees, his pace quickening as he approached the abandoned zoo. In the short time since he’d left the new fata of Earth to replenish their magical stores, much had changed. Noro and his First Order Acolytes had furthered the fata cause more in two weeks than they’d managed for millennia. Infiltrating power systems, claiming humans, and creating a current of chaos to effectively undermine human confidence was a splendid start.

The humans won’t need to worry themselves over their fate much longer. Noro flew faster and the largest hut in the park, King Dimia’s personal quarters, came into view.

Learning that his first children, powerful beings sculpted into exactly what Noro needed, had perished at the hands of Eve’s sisters was the last straw. No longer would Noro make concessions for those magical creatures who did not welcome the reign of their ancestors. Nor would he hide in the shadows, skirting around weak humans. No, he would use them as they used the land they were born to. The land they seemed to have little respect for. The same land that made them powerful. The land he would take.

No one born on Earth knew how sweet their world was. They’d never seen their home die as Hecate was dying. Never witnessed the plants and creatures within it wither to nothing. The magic fizzle from their souls.

Soon, the creatures of Earth would understand. And as humankind’s power dwindled before their eyes, the fata would take up their reign.

The witches will pay for what they’ve done. If only Seraphina had consented to help, none of this would have happened. I would not still be called a fool. Fata would not dare gossip behind my back, even as I toil to make them powerful once more. I’ll show them. He shot fifty feet above the trees and magic born of fury flew from him, splitting the tallest oak in the park like lightning.

No matter the amnesty Dimia promises I’ll see to it Amon and Empusa receive vengeance. Dimia does not yet understand how his daughters have changed. How their human blood has tainted the fata within them. How they are no longer his. I shall make him see

End excerpt.

Did that change your perception of Noro? Let me know below!

All the magic,

Ashey

P.S. You can pre-order Rising of Three NOW, right here!

Short Stories? Yay or nay?

What’s your take on the short story?

Hello!

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a while and am wondering what you think.

Short stories? Do you love them or hate em or could really care less? Personally, I’m not a fan UNLESS they are in a universe I love. If Deborah Harkness or Queen JK Rowling herself wrote short stories I’d be all over them. But as stand-alone works, I probably won’t even pick them up. There’s just not enough there to entice me (I like BIG, ROUNDED worlds!) and I’ve read so many that end on an ambiguous note, which is not for me. That being said, I’m thinking about writing some in my fantasy universes. Mostly they would take place in The Bonegate Series universe, but I do have a few outlined for my Starseed Universe. The vast majority of these stories would be digging into side characters I find compelling and who have an extensive story all on their own. The one hitch would be these stories would only be available to my Advanced Reader Team and The Coven, my exclusive mailing list (you can sign up for The Coven in the sidebar, if interested). A sort of “thank you” for being amazing readers.

So, what do you think? Would you be interested in receiving short stories to supplement the worlds you’ve come to know and love?

Let me know in the comments section and if you’re not already signed up, sign up for my newsletter to receive the shorts when they’re ready!

All the magic,

Ashley