Elle Says Stuff

So you wanna be a self-published romance author?

I’m starting this post on the evening before my first self-published book comes out. I wish I could say the month of January flew by and I just can’t believe my book release is already here! But January was half a year long and I’ve been an anxious mess with impostor syndrome burning hot every day.

I figured I would learn some things about myself in this process, so this first part is more about the mental experience as a new author going through the self-publishing process:

  • As of this writing I have 14 pre-orders, plus a few friends I know for sure will be reading via Kindle Unlimited. Having pre-orders is a blessing and a curse. Blessing because wow, people are interested based off a cover, a blurb, and my sparse attempts at “marketing” over social media! And some have even said as much through social media and that is just the coolest fucking thing. But also it’s daunting, because I am terrified my book will be a disappointment, even though I have written, revised, edited, and prepped the shit out of this book multiple times since I first submitted it for pre-order at the beginning of January. In fact, I was still making small changes to the manuscript a few days before the Amazon cut-off, mostly to convince myself that no, this book is not as terrible as your bar self-esteem demon wants you to believe.
  • What did help with some of the self-doubt was having a few early readers (I hesitate to call them ARCs because the process was a lot more casual than that). So I did receive external feedback before setting the pre-order date. The feedback was mostly positive with a few things that weren’t effective. Now did I have the chance to resend my early readers the revised version so I could get a “yes that’s better”? Nope. But if I can’t trust myself to absorb feedback and execute rewrites that fulfil the need, self-publishing is going to be a pretty difficult venture moving forward. Especially because I may not always have early readers, and at the end of the day, the onus is on me to tell my story well.
  • While we’re on the subject of forcing my work on friends: in my times of doubt I had to trust in the people who know me, who tell me what I am doing is good. Get you some people like that, people who will shower you with compliments and people who will be kind with their honesty. Both will get you through the rough days.
  • I think this process solidified more than anything that I want to write things from the heart. I don’t want to chase tropes or niches necessarily, though my work is not free of them. The good stuff comes from the heart. There are attributes to this story that anyone who knows me well will say, “Ha! That’s totally you!” Some of my own experiences live and breathe in this book. But I also had to do a lot of research. A lot of half-sentences abandoned in the early draft so I could figure something out with some quick (or not) googling. Take the time to do that. It’s very exhausting to come up with everything from scratch.
  • The best erotic romance I have read makes me feel things on a personal level. This is not what all erotic romance does, but it is the kind I enjoy reading and the kind I want to write. I wanted my characters to be truly good for each other with a promise that would grow as people together. I hope this book connects with people the same way I have connected with other stories. But I also hope you enjoyed the sex scenes too.

Now for some more process-specific notes:

  • Make backups. Date them. Make them often. Then set up a Google Drive and have it sync and back up your stuff some more. Google Drive has built in version history, so you’ll have backups on backups on backups. I cannot stress this enough. Only sync your Google drive to one computer; from experience, this fucked me up a couple of times before I realized it wasn’t worth it to have it synching two computers at once (probably not an issue for most of you out there these days, but hi, I come from a family of many gadgets).
  • I made my own cover. I designed the inside of my book. Those are things I wanted to do because I have a stupid amount of experience, both personal and professional, in making documents Pretty™. You do not have to do all of these things to self-publish your book. The cover is important to draw in potential readers, yes, but your work doesn’t need flashy chapter headings and intricate section dividers. The magic is the words themselves. It just makes sense to me and my perfectionist self to have a book design that I think is worthy to footnote my work.  
  • Since apparently I am super high maintenance when it comes to self-publishing, a cool revision/editing thing I did was send my drafts to Kindle (with some preliminary formatting of course) and read through them that way. It is a lot easier to spot things with less words on a page. That way I could pretend to experience it as a reader, too. Admittedly the built in “highlight and note” feature isn’t my favorite to notate necessary changes, but I made it work. At the very least, it made me slow down and focus on improving the work.

In closing, this might have been one of the most challenging and difficult things I’ve ever done. Clearly I am not unique in that, but I might just ignore the internet for a week and hibernate. See y’all on the other side. ✌

Elle Reads

Elle Reads (1/30/21)

Well the first month of 2021 is almost on the books. Oh and my first book is releasing on Monday 2/1/21 so maaaaybe check that out?

For this week’s readings, I have only one question: Do you like flirty bad boys falling for the precious nerdlets in their life? Yeah, I thought you might. This week I re-read and finished the webcomic Long Exposure by Mars Heyward and read the book Smash & Grab: RELIC #1 by Maz Maddox.

Long Exposure is the story of Jonas Wagner, a senior in high school who gets paired up with his old bully, Mitch Mueller, for an environmental science project. They decide to investigate a flood that once wrecked their town and end up stumbling into a seemingly abandoned, fenced off area of the forest where they both gain surprise superpowers! From there Jonas and Mitch navigate high school, concerned friends, shitty parents, a suspicious black vehicle that seems to follow them wherever they go, and coming to terms with their feelings for each other.

I started this comic ages ago and remembered I hadn’t checked in on it in awhile. Then it took me about 20 minutes to track it back down because I’d forgotten the name and also hadn’t bookmarked it. But I found it and it’s now COMPLETE! There are also print editions available at Indy Planet, which offer some additional gorgeous cover art.

Long Exposure is a quintessential soft, nerdy boy meets hard, angry boy love story. The art style is grunge-y and incredibly unique. The characters are relatable, especially Jonas; I really appreciate a protagonist who is not conventionally attractive. It gives the comic an edge of authenticity, as if it could have happened down the street in your own hometown. Now that Long Exposure is complete, check out the Mars’ upcoming webcomic, Ride Or Die, or support them on Patreon!

In Smash & Grab, paleontologist Simon is working late in the basement of the American Museum of Natural History on preparing a newly-discovered fossilized dinosaur egg when he’s attacked by mysterious and scary men in black. Then he’s rescued by a snarky bat-wielding punk with a pink mohawk named Dalton. After a quick explanation that the fossil of Simon’s focus is being sought by a cartel-adjacent fossil collector, they escape on the road to avoid capture. Oh and did I mention Dalton can also shape-shift into a raptor? As Simon and Dalton road trip south from New York toward Dallas to escape the vicious hitmen after them, they start catching feelings for one another.

This was the first book I’ve read that went anywhere near the “shifter” trope. Smash & Grab is so full of charm and personality and man, I really have a thing for flirty, tattooed bad boys, I guess. The plot and action scenes in this story are solid, as well as the relationship that blooms between Simon and Dalton (Dalton’s “Pretty Simon” pet name now lives in my head rent free). Given that this one is part of a series I’m very excited to read the next installment.

Also, if you are more keen on listening to your stories, an audiobook version of Smash & Grab was released this month.

Elle Reads

Elle Reads (1/23/21)

I’ve been in a huge funk since the holidays ended. Like, I’m past hanging in there. I’m a pinched nerve. And this week the heavy weariness of everything culminated into me happening upon some dark romance/erotica: a two-part-so-far novella series and a yaoi comic.

Stigma by Marloong – available on TappyToon

Stigma is the story of Sehyun and his chance encounter with Boris, a young man with a troubled past who lives with his older sister Elena and her daughter, Anya. Boris rescues Sehyun from a group of assailants in a dive bar bathroom, and the story progresses as their lives continue to overlap.

I don’t want to give too heavy of a synopsis because a LOT happens in this series. I realized after reading this I might have a thing for sad, broken boys finding happiness with each other, so this hit a lot of my interests. There’s a fantastic found family with diverse characters, and the way the story gets into each of the main characters’ pasts was a welcome distraction from the darker overtones. The dialogue is spot on and rarely cringeworthy (which in my experience is typical for yaoi titles).

And then there’s the art – it’s absolutely breathtaking and stylish, with a raw edge that lends to each character’s personality. There are several moments of quiet scene-building that never feel forced or tiresome, creating an intense atmosphere around the action.

You can read the first few chapters for free on TappyToon, or the entire scan on Mangago, though I strongly suggest supporting the artist if you are able. Major trigger warnings, too, so please be mindful!

A Taste of Ink (and its sequel, Lost in the Linework) is available on Amazon, B&N, and Apple Books.

A Taste of Ink follows Trinket, who lives with his architect boyfriend, Zee. Trinket makes a last minute decision to get a tattoo to commemorate his and Zee’s 2-year anniversary. At the tattoo shop, Trinket meets Mini, an irresistibly brash tattoo artist, whose salacious small talk gets under Trinket’s skin as easily as his needle and ink.

I basically mainlined this story and its sequel, Lost in the Linework, over the course of a day. This is the sort of storytelling (and heat) that rewrites my coding and typically requires me to sit and ruminate for a few days. But I’m not, because if I don’t get this review out, I may combust.

I have a skimming problem when I read. My eyes dart down the page to catch a line up ahead, and I have to force myself back, often re-reading paragraphs. I get lost. Half impatience, half short attention span. But for this book, I hung on every fucking word. Every sentence pushes this story forward, charged with tension or sex or well-narrated exposition that gets in, does its job, and gets you moving again. There’s few words out of place, if any. The prose carries you, effortless. The details are exquisite – the poetry Trinket gets tattooed on his body (which I also want to read now), the concepts of possession and permanence, feeling trapped and provided for all at once. A single sentence starts poetic and ends in shivers.

Wouldn’t have thought I was interested in anything with cheating–it’s always been something I skip when I go on TBR adding sprees–but now I’ve seen the light. And the light is really fucking beautiful and forbidden and hot. The dirty talk in this story has flavors — Mini’s is raunchier, pushing the envelope, while there’s a sweet, yearning intensity to the exchanges between Trinket and Zee.

I don’t think I’m supposed to be rooting for Trinket to make a choice one way or the other, and that’s fine. I’m perfectly content to sit back and watch as opposite edges of Trinket’s life escalate, curving toward one another, like waiting for a comet to strike the earth. If you’re at all interested in dark romance/erotica/kink, please give this a purchase!

Elle Reads

Elle Reads (1/15/21)

As a firm believer that reading helps me become a better writer, I’ve decided to track some of the books I read over the course of a week. I’m not going to set any specific reading goals because, as those Nationwide commercials say, life comes at you fast.

This week I ended up reading two books that have similar subject matter: tabletop RPGs! I have played a few in my time and always enjoyed it, though sometimes I don’t feel I have the patience to do them long term. That and I tend to want to spend too long creating my character and pouring over all of the details. But my nerdy heart definitely enjoyed that they were an important detail in these two books!

Please note that these reviews will feature some spoiler-y aspects of these stories, though I promise not to give away any major plot twists!

Roll For Initiative by Alex Silver

Roll For Initiative is a novella focusing on video game designer Gui and his friends, who are all avid tabletop RPG fans. His new roommate Paz works at the local coffee shop and is responsible for delectable and indulgent baked goods popular among Gui’s group of friends. However, Paz is initially icy and pedantic about the space that he and Gui share. He takes to leaving his complaints on sticky notes for Gui to find the morning after, as their work schedules are opposite one another. This combined with Gui’s late hours as he slogs through a pre-release crunch for his work’s new release, Day Dreamer, leaves Gui feeling equal parts frustrated and exhausted, enough for him to confront Paz, where their tension boils over into some much-needed stress-relief.

First off, can I just say how relatable the whole roommate situation is? They’re such a necessary evil that almost everyone has had to deal with. I feel like the tension between Gui and Paz was nailed perfectly, especially when it comes to a steamy head. I’m kind of a sucker for frustration sex, and Paz gets Gui riled up in all the best ways that leads to some pretty hot encounters.

I also love books where we get to see some intimate details of a character’s hobby or passion. For this story, it’s Paz’s baking. As someone who enjoys baking myself, I absolutely loved all the descriptions of baked goods that Paz creates (especially because CHOCOLATE). Baking is a special kind of love language on its own, and Gui is precious in the way he adores and inhales Paz’s confections.

Coincidentally, I’ve read a few criticisms of romance stories lately where readers DNF based on miscommunication between the main characters. What I enjoy about Gui and Paz’s story is that eventually they do break down their walls and talk things out, and only then do they allow their feelings for one another to grow.

Roll for Initiative is the first book in the Table Topped series. The series is set to follow others in Gui’s friend group, and I think Roll for Initiative does a fantastic job at introducing these characters. I definitely want to know more about them, especially Theo, who is trans, and Jude, Gui’s younger brother who also aspires to work in video game design. Theo and Jude are featured in the book of the Table Topped series, Charisma Check, which releases on January 18th, 2021.

Favorite lines:

“The last thing I need is another scramble to find new housing because my dick thinks it has good ideas. It doesn’t.”

“This week I’ve learned there is a correct way to align the boxes in the pantry, hand the toilet paper roll, put away the cutlery, and just about everything else. A correct way that differs from the way I’ve always done it. Not that I’m bitter about it.”

Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak

Natural Twenty is the story of Leo, a florist who loves flowers to the extent that they cover his body as the subject of his tattoos. He runs Wild Things, a florist shop in the city of Lincoln, and outside of work his only obligation is to his needy Staffordshire terrier, Angie. On his way to work one morning, Leo notices a new storefront opening down the street from his flower shop, a bookstore called The Lost World. Intrigued by a clever sign and some LGTBQ+ friendly decor, Leo makes a point to stop in, where he meets Jay, the bespectacled curly-haired owner, who he is immediately smitten with. Soon Leo is invited to The Lost World’s game nights, where he plays D&D with Jay and Edward, Jay’s gloriously fashionable best friend. As Leo and Jay grow closer, bonding over books and a trashy 80’s cop show, they both learn how to open up to one another.

I don’t even know where to start with this book. A tall, hunky florist with sleeves of tattoos? An adorable rambling bookstore owner with an amazing back piece with pierced nipples? Leo and Jay are both such wonderful characters and the love that blossoms between them is stunning. I also loved Edward and the many references to Castlevania that came along with describing his eccentric style and cosplay persona.

I loved how the use of flowers and their meanings gave a time honored tradition a new spin. Whether the author already had this knowledge or did their research, it absolutely worked for me. I enjoyed pausing the story and looking up what certain flowers looked like, as I hadn’t heard of a lot of the varieties mentioned. The chapter subtitles that mentioned a type of flower and its meaning were a lovely touch.

The steam in this book is extremely hot and contains some of my favorite tropes: height difference, titillating dirty talk, partners switching up their roles in bed. And it’s perfectly counterbalanced by gorgeous, romantic prose that never felt contrived or corny.

I also enjoy walking away from a romance book with a message, no matter how simple. One of the main conflict resolutions in Natural Twenty is asking for help from those you love, and it’s one that resonates with me personally. It’s tough, and it takes a lot of vulnerability to rest your burdens on others. I think it was handled with grace in Leo and Jay’s story.

Oddly enough (because there are only so many D&D puns) the second book in the Roll for Love series is also called Charisma Check and comes out January 19th, 2021. It focuses on Edward, the elegant and eccentric best friend of Jay, and his cosplay arch nemesis, The Masked Gentleman.

Favorite lines:

“You can’t trip and fall into somebody’s ass.”

“So why, hours later when I was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, could I feel nothing but a heavy weight on my chest and a sinking feeling of loneliness?”

Elle Says Stuff

Some notes on why I do it

Someone asked me recently what got me into writing romance. It’s kind of like one of those “where were you when…” questions, except I actually remember.

At some point during the pandemic, I discovered Kindle Unlimited. I haven’t read for fun since before college, and though I enjoyed some of the assigned reading, I rarely read for fun during and afterwards.

I signed up for the trial, and here’s where my memory gets a little hazy. The first book I “borrowed” was an erotic romance. It was hetero and written for the bullies-to-lovers trope. I don’t even remember what encouraged me to check it out. But I devoured it. Binged it like a comfort show.

And then, I started poking around. I found the subreddit r/eroticauthors and started reading experiences and researching the trade. I discovered a whole system behind self-publishing romance to make money, an entire process that could be learned and implemented and potentially mastered. The more I read, the more it felt like something I could actually do.

I grew up like a lot of other queer writers probably did—reading a shitload of fanfiction. I wrote some too, though thankfully it is all lost to the sands of time (not for lack of trying—I still have documents on my computer that pre-date high school). Back then I gravitated toward m/m slash and often stayed up late chatting with my fanfic writer friends over AOL. At some point, I grew out of it, or I stopped making time for it, because you can’t exactly turn in slash fanfiction for your school writing assignments.

The first teacher who saw something in my writing was my sixth grade English teacher. She gave me extra credit projects where I published mini poetry books. She encouraged me to try out for a specialized school in the area, where I later attended.

I participated in a lot of academic writing classes. In high school I was able to “major” in creative writing. In junior year we were required to take a class that delved into the possibilities of taking our craft further—colleges, submissions to lit journals, all that jazz. I found a college in Chicago that had an entire department devoted to Fiction (may it rest in peace) and I was hooked.

The fiction department’s methods were unlike the rigorous peer critique I’d experienced in high school. We sat in semi-circles and read our stories aloud, after which classmates recalled the parts that spoke the loudest to them and talked about what was working. We didn’t revise, we rewrote. We studied forms of storytelling and then imitated them and then read published works that also imitated them. It drew me back to loving writing at a more basic level—just get the story on the page. Worry about everything else later.

But after college, I struggled to keep writing. I don’t think it’s fair to say that academia ruined my ability to write, but post-college I couldn’t seem to get my ass back in the chair. I moved home from Chicago and got an adult job and got caught up in life for a while. I think there was too big of an expectation to “make something” of my writing, and even though I had come in contact with a lot of different ways to write and be published in college, nothing fit for me. I didn’t want to be a journalist, I didn’t want to write clever copy for Groupon, and I didn’t want to teach.

I’d lost my love of reading, too. I couldn’t focus on the words on the page long enough to get invested in any story, no matter how interesting it sounded or how much I felt I should read it or how many people said it was the best thing they’d ever read. Instead I put my post-college time into video games, stories I could interact with and control to some degree. I caught up on movies and TV shows I’d missed out on during childhood.

So, fast forward (almost a decade now, sheesh), and I have a spouse and a kid and it’s a global pandemic and I decide I’m gonna start reading again, goddamn it. Turns out it was the skeleton key that unlocked my need to write like discovering an abandoned workshop.

The first romance book I read wasn’t even a niche I wanted to read again, but it cracked the newly unlocked door wider. Of course after spending so much time in academia I thought romance was beneath me; that’s a hard stigma to escape regardless of where you study creative writing. But now I was reading something that actually did captivate me, had me reading at night before bed like a kid under the covers with a flashlight. And there was sex.

How the fuck did I forget you could write stories with sex in them?

I happened to be working on a Serious Piece at the time that was going nowhere. I was 40k words in and vaguely knew what I wanted to happen, but I kept chopping it up, taking parts out that I later slid back in, changing characters, changing plot. It was like I wanted too badly for it to be something instead of just letting it grow.

As a break, I started toying with one of those fresh out of bed ideas you get sometimes. I’m an avid user of Google Keep, so I jotted down a note: “High end restaurant run by vampires, only open at night, and only hires vampires.”

From just the idea, I sat down and wrote 20k words over the course of a weekend. I sat back from it and wondered how it had come so easily, realizing it was fun, and it didn’t feel like it had to be anything.

And now I’m self-publishing it. I wrote a book, edited the fuck out of it, made a cover, made the inside fancy, sent it to a few friends to give me their thoughts (all positive and encouraging!) and now it’ll be posted to a place where other people can read it. It’s kind of surreal, even though it’s not exactly something I can write home about.

As I started down the path of branding (ick) and marketing (ugh), I discovered there was an incredible queer writing community on Twitter. I dug through Amazon, following authors and adding books to my “to read” list as if I was scavenging for rations. Then, when I actually got around to reading some of my finds, I encountered stories that pushed the shallow boundaries of romance in my head. Stories with raw feelings and flawed characters who sometimes hurt one another and then had deliciously dirty make up sex. There were stories that touched on mental health, consent, and BDSM safety without detracting from the story at all.

I wanted to write stories like that, because I was beginning to learn that romance didn’t have to just be about getting the girl or the guy in the end—though if I took anything from all my research, it’s that you better have a goddamn happy ending or so help me! Romance could be about growth, about the complexity of relationships, about how we see ourselves anew when someone accepts the good parts with the bad. An entire world I hadn’t thought possible seemed to bloom in front of me, and I realized the bi teenager writing Harry Potter slash that I’d grown up as was still very much a part of me. I’d done a disservice to myself as a writer by leaving her behind, by forgetting the things that made me love writing, because of what I thought storytelling was supposed to be. I feel impassioned again, I have ideas that I want to grow and flourish, and I’ll be damned if I let myself lose that again.

Book Releases, Nocturne's Thrall

Listen to an audio sneak peak of Nocturne’s Thrall!

With the release of Nocturne’s Thrall right around the corner, I thought I’d dust off the old “bought this to make a podcast that never happened” microphone to record an excerpt from the first chapter. You can find the excerpt linked below on YouTube:

Book Releases, Nocturne's Thrall

Nocturne’s Thrall – M/M Vampire Romance – Coming February 1, 2021

Introducing Nocturne’s Thrall, a breakout m/m erotic romance set in Chicago, featuring vampires, fancy food, and good wine. Available on Amazon & Kindle Unlimited 2/1/2021!

Brokenhearted aspiring chef Javi del Toro starts a promising new position at Nocturne, a high-end restaurant only open at night. He falls in love with everything about the job—except for Nocturne’s owner, the cold, disinterested Adrien Volt. Javi is determined to win Adrien’s approval but quickly realizes his goals may be about more than just professional validation from his boss.

Adrien Volt hides in plain sight as a member of Chicago’s vampire collective. He devotes himself fully to running his business and has little personal life to speak of. But then the new hire in his restaurant catches his eye, and Adrien is drawn to Javi’s unbridled passion and natural talent in the kitchen. When Adrien discovers something sinister is lurking in Javi’s past, he’s suddenly compelled to do everything in his power to keep Javi safe.

As Javi and Adrien stumble through their feelings and learn to trust each other, their lives clash and overlap in dangerous ways, forcing both human and vampire to decide what it will take for them to be together.

Preorder on Amazon (Available for Kindle Unlimited)