Book Releases, Elle Says Stuff

Two new books, lots of thoughts, and the future

Whoops, I had two books come out since my last post.

  • PRODIGY is a novel about a surly genius AI programmer who takes on a project to perfect a sex bot, which includes a wunderkind live-in assistant that he eventually falls for.
  • OF BONES & TWILIGHT is a novella full of rural magic and smut and cross-country travel. (AKA Elle imagines a story where RDR2 has more gay witches and beast men)

These might be the last books I self-pub for 2021 and I have some thoughts on that. Okay, a lot of thoughts.

I’m still pretty green to self-publishing, much less the queer writing community as a whole. Gotta say, self-publishing is absolutely terrifying! And I’m saying that as someone who can do everything from the ground up—the writing, of course, but the book design, cover, promotion attempts, etc.

I’ve never felt as vulnerable as I did when my first book released. I could see from the KDP reports that it was being read, that people had bought it, but when a few ratings trickled on Goodreads, I had that moment of “oh shit OH SHIT WHAT I AM I DOING I CAN’T HANDLE THIS.”

Thankfully that feeling has died down considerably, and I just wanted to talk about some of the things contributing to that, among other thoughts I have at this point in my writing process.

1) I set up my Twitter writing account in November 2020, right about the time I had done exactly enough research on self-publishing to say, “Shit, I can do this.” From there I just sort of binge-followed authors whose books I enjoyed or whatever suggestions Twitter threw at me.

Somewhere between my first book coming out in February and working on the next three that were scheduled to release by June, some priorities in my personal life began to shift. I started having a lot of inward questions about my gender presentation, which is in no small part due to the fact that my day job has had me working from home since mid-March 2020. I realized not having to put on business casual clothes, with the added pressure of also applying makeup, was actually a huge relief. That only contributed to further internal dialogues with myself—namely, I no longer felt comfortable being perceived as a woman, or feminine in any way. I’m convinced writing from male perspectives absolutely played a role in this mindset and that’s definitely a blog post for another day.

The realization that I was trans realigned me to start following more loudly queer writers. And in the midst of all that, I can say as of writing this that I feel like I’ve found a nice little corner of writer twitter that feels like “my folks.” This has skyrocketed my confidence in my writing. And now I’m eager to write more transmasc perspectives—out of personal desire and affirmation, as well as the need for more transmasc voices in the writing market.

2) I’ve mentioned on other posts about how releasing four books in the span of six months started with more of a clerical error on my part. But you know what? I fucking did it. When I load up my Amazon author page and see those four books next to each other, I feel a huge spectrum of emotions—pride, confidence, terror, elation.

But most of all, I feel relieved. Because I’ve spent the first half of 2021 hustling to meet these self-imposed deadlines and now I can take several steps back and breathe. I stand by the work I published, but there were several instances where I wished I had more time. Maybe as writers we never really shake the feeling that we always could have done more for a book, done better by a story, but the crunch absolutely didn’t help in that regard.

When I set my three WIPs up for pre-order, they were mostly fleshed out in how I wanted them to go. But I overestimated my ability to give appropriate focus to what I needed to. One example: NOCTURNE’S THRALL had more interior book design, and I wanted that for my other books, but there wasn’t much time to play around with that when it came down to it. It took all I had just to get them all formatted into EPUB in time for AMZN’s pre-order submission deadline.

There’s a reason people take years to write books—you need that breathing room.

And next time I am FOR REAL not submitting something to KDP until the draft is complete.

3) It took these four books for me to realize where I want to stand in this amorphous writing community. Trad pub doesn’t interest me at this time; I am simply having too much fun doing what I want, and I especially do not want trad pub to be a barrier to more trans voices in the market. Do I wish I had the marketing and promotional smarts to flip my books to a wider audience? Of course. But I also bask in any attention I do receive. Reviews trickling into AMZN and GR feel sincere. I have no idea how anyone finds my books outside of my Twitter followers, but it feels like I’m doing something right, even on a small scale.

Finally—I want to talk about the future! I of course have about twenty WIPs on deck, but I’m going to let them actually simmer this time around. (Note: twenty is 100% an exaggeration, but it is more than five and that feels like A Lot.)

I’m hoping to get back to reading more regularly and reviewing things that I thoroughly enjoy/wish I had written on this blog, because I find great merit in examining why I like things or why they click with me so well. I also have a mighty urge to support all my wonderful Twitter mutuals’ writing.

I also maybe kind of want to design book covers for other indie authors? It’s something I enjoy so much even though I am not professionally trained in graphic design.

I also want to work on posting more casual writing—be it something serialized, or fanfiction, or what-have-you. Because despite all this “needing to breathe” I need to do, I am a teensy bit addicted to that instant gratification of putting something out there and getting an immediate reaction.

But mostly I just want to continue settling into this feeling of community, and contributing positively in whatever way I can.

So uh, watch this space? I’m sure I’ll be getting into a multitude of shenanigans for the back half of 2021, and I’m so excited to share every bit!

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 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.