Squirrel!

squirrel-nut-cute-animal-nature-grass-1920x1280

When I first started writing three years ago, I put my publishing schedule together each year in January. But last year it didn’t work out so well. After several troll attacks that really had me questioning why I bothered to do some of the things I do, I took a step back from writing, from promoting, from pretty much everything involved in publishing books. As a result, I finished fewer novels than I had originally planned. It was a frustrating time for me, but with time came the ability to let it all go.

So now, I’m on a roll. I’ve figured out my publishing schedule through the end of 2015 already, and for the last 8 days, I’ve written over 6,000 words a day. It feels great. I guess the only thing getting in my way is that thing that distracts every writer. I call it … SQUIRREL!

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank page to a writer. Even for someone who’s prolific, a writing goal set for the day is an obstacle to get over. That’s where the squirrel comes in to make things even more difficult.

Today I was typing out my first paragraph of the day, and it crossed my mind that I hadn’t checked on the health of a friend of mine who had a fall off his bike. I thought I should probably stop writing for a minute and send him a text.

SQUIRREL!  squirrel-nut-cute-animal-nature-grass-1920x1280

Fact of life for a writer: Any excuse to stop writing can and will present itself in the midst of writing towards a deadline.

I knew I’d meet my word count goal by lunchtime, so my friend’s text could wait. I convinced myself to get back to writing and leave the texting for later.

I typed another paragraph, but as I started on another, I thought of a puppy I’d seen online that I really wanted to buy. I could just go look at her adorable picture once more…

SQUIRREL!

I had 1,500 words done and suddenly, I thought it might be a nice idea to do a load of laundry …

SQUIRREL!

And send an email…

SQUIRREL!

And post something to Facebook…

SQUIRREL!

And, and … and …

SQUIRREL!  SQUIRREL!  SQUIRREL!  SQUIRREL!

I think you get the idea. The writer’s bane is a bunch of wild squirrels. The only way to manage them is to herd them into a little corner of the room and deal with  them after the word count is done. :)

The interesting thing is that once the writing is done, the herd of squirrels has dwindled down to almost none, little bastards that they are.

 

 

iBooks kicking it up a notch … for my author and blogger friends …

In case you’re as clueless as I was about iBooks tools and affiliate program, this is for you!! I plan to start putting all of this in place in the next two weeks as I ramp up for an amazing 2015. This goes for bloggers and authors who are looking to earn more income from book referrals and sales, or who are looking for ways to fund great promotions for their readers.

Did you know?…

iBooks offers 7% commission to affiliates, and you don’t need to be a direct upload author to get in on the action.

Even bloggers and regular non-published folk can be affiliates. Anytime anyone buys ANYTHING at the apple online store following one of your links to get there, even computers and such, you get 7% commission on it. [I’m pretty sure about the hardware thing. But if I’m wrong, at least I know it works for music, movies, books, applications, and things like that. Working off memory here.]  This works for 24 hours after they’ve followed your link. And no, you do not need to link to a computer. Link to your books or the books of other authors’ books and if they buy anything in the online store after following that link, you get commission credit.  I use my affiliate money to fund promotions. It’s free, it’s there for the taking, and my readers love promotions, so why not take advantage of it?

iBooks also has these great author tools to help market your books on iBooks. I talked to several authors whose income on iBooks has surpassed their income on Amazon. (whoa nelly) These people are using these tools. I’ve linked to them below.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard this before from the iBooks people directly, here’s the explanation, provided to me by one of the two Apple iBook reps: Apple makes it impossible for iBooks people to contact you about this stuff. They have told their reps they cannot and they don’t give them access to it (email addresses of authors) anyway. They call it a concern for privacy. I call it hamstringing-oneself, but what do I know.

Anyway, iBooks is becoming a contender in the ebooks retail space, despite their inability to properly market their services and despite their ridiculously inadequate book search capability, and what with the KUpocalypse, I figured getting the good word out there about other programs is important. We need to be survivors to be career writers in this day and age; survive to thrive, baby.

Thus, here is a link to the affiliate sign-up: https://itunes.phgconsole.performancehorizon.com/login/itunes/en_us  and http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates

And here is a link to various author tools you have access to, including the ability to make widgets, banners, and other helpful links directing people to your iBooks portfolio:

1. for iBooks badges to use on your sites: http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/resources/documentation/badges.html
2. to make links to your or others’ books: http://linkmaker.itunes.apple.com
3. auto link maker: https://autolinkmaker.itunes.apple.com
4. banner builder: http://banners.itunes.apple.com
5. widget builder: https://widgets.itunes.apple.com/builder
6. general FAQ about iBooks: http://itunes.com/iBooksFAQ
7. guidelines about how you’re allowed to use Apple badges and so on using social media: http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/resources/documentation/identity-guidelines.html

All of these items were provided via this document: https://itunesconnect.apple.com/WebObjects/iTunesConnect.woa/ra/resources/download/iBookStoreMarketingAndAffiliateKit/zip
And here as well: http://www.apple.com/itunes/working-itunes/

Best of luck to all of you getting more sales across several platforms!

Who wins in the race to the bottom?

I haven’t gotten up on my soapbox in a long time, mostly because every time I do, trolls come after me online, but oh well. Sometimes the need to express myself outweighs the strength of my self-preservation instinct LOL.  Here’s my latest opinion piece about the reading and publishing communities. >> WARNING: Grab some popcorn because this is long. But I hope you read the whole thing because it’s important. FIRST, I talk about great authors disappearing and SECOND I talk about a very disturbing trend in the publishing market with regard to Amazon.

GREAT AUTHORS DISAPPEARING THEMSELVES

I read a long post from Cassia Leo (an author who writes really fun, very emotional, original romance novels) about how she’s going to kill her pen name and start her career anew with another one and not tell any of her old fans what that new name is.

Does that sound crazy to you? It does to me because I know how much work it takes to build a fan-base; but I DO understand what has motivated her to do this, and I wanted to share those thoughts with you because they concern us all, readers and writers alike. Not only are we talking about author/reader relations but also Amazon and its pricing and promotional strategies and how they’re affecting your reading experience in a negative way.

Cassia spends a HUGE amount of time online talking with her fans. I mean, literally talking to them live in chat rooms, on Facebook walls, on online events, and by private message. She does a TON of promotions, often discounting the price of her books to 99¢ or FREE for long periods of time.

She has done this discounting so much, in fact, that now many of her readers have decided that they’re never going to pay regular price for her work. Some have actually verbally attacked her for daring to price her books at $3.99 — which in case you didn’t know, is still often less than HALF the price of traditionally-published ebooks. Cassia is a single mom who also takes care of an elderly ailing parent. She supports her family solely with her writing income.

Cassia’s books have made it to all the bestseller lists. She regularly launches a new book and has it zoom right to the top of the charts with amazing reviews from readers. She writes well, and readers love her stories. So why is she getting attacked?

The lesson that Cassia has learned, and that I learned a while back, is that if you try to be all things to all people, there is a group of readers who will start to get angry at you when you fail at that, and they will attack you. And you WILL fail at pleasing everyone all the time; it’s just not possible.

Being a writer, having readers attack you –people who you bend over backwards to treat like gold — is soul-crushing. It makes it impossible to write anymore. It makes you want to run away and never come back, which is what Cassia is going to do, in a way.

Writers work in the business of creation. Creators put a piece of themselves into everything they create. Most of us have worked 9-5 jobs before becoming authors, and it’s true to say that writing books is not like other jobs. Each book or short story or whatever ends up holding a piece of US inside it, every time; it’s a very personal thing.

We will sometimes discount the price of that very personal creation to raise awareness of it and hopefully get wider distribution of it. That’s the necessary business end of things. We need readers to be successful! (duh) Maybe you didn’t realize this, but just in case there’s a misconception out there, I’m going to clarify one point: Indie authors don’t EVER discount the price of their work because they think it’s not worth the full retail price.

We price our creations (books in this case, but also music, works of art, etc.) at what we consider to be a fair level, and occasionally lower the price to help sell more of them to more readers. Do we have to do this? No. As indie authors, we are in charge of our pricing. Is it nice for readers when we do this? Sure. Everyone has a book budget, and it’s nice when it can stretch further. Can we afford to do it all the time? No. Absolutely not. And here’s why you shouldn’t expect us to:

When writers can’t afford to support themselves as writers, they have to stop writing.

It’s as simple as that.

The question to ask yourself as a consumer of books is this: Do you want to have great books available to read? Sure you do. There’s nothing more annoying than sitting down with what you hope is a great book and realize you bought a total stinker. That’s wasted time you’ll never get back, and time is very precious to all of us.

As a reader who wants to read great books, it behooves you to support the authors who write books you love, so you can have more of them in the future. And when I say “support” I mean not just online on their fan pages, but financially … by buying their books.

The number one way you can support your favorite authors is to NOT PIRATE EBOOKS. It’s sickening for a writer to go on a pirate site and see her books being stolen to the tune of hundreds of copies an hour, knowing she’ll never see a single penny of royalties for those downloads. It’s ridiculous to me and any thinking, rational person that readers who wouldn’t dream of shoplifting from their local grocery store would happily steal ebooks from writers. Pirating is stealing. There’s no way around that fact. If you pirate books, you’re stealing from an author who you obviously otherwise admire. Crazy, right?

People who steal ebooks are selfish, obviously, and in being selfish they end up hurting not just themselves, but the writer they like and all her other readers. My own writing schedule has slowed way down as a result of the disappointment I’ve experienced seeing pirates steal from me. That means less books for my fans. How is that right or fair to the reading community?

The other way readers can support their favorite authors is to be respectful. Fan-girling is cool, but when it turns ugly, it turns really ugly. Demanding that someone lower their prices or send you a free book because you think you deserve it is being disrespectful and downright rude. (yes, people do this) Threatening to leave bad reviews if the books aren’t priced how you think they should be priced is blackmail and awful.(yes, people do this too) If you don’t like the price of a book, just don’t buy it. There’s no need to go on the warpath over it. Readers should vote with their dollars not their inner mean-girl.

I know most readers wouldn’t dream of doing these kinds of things ^^; it’s the bad apples that spoil the whole barrel of good ones. But sometimes even good people get carried away, especially when they can live in the anonymity of the online world, free of witnesses. You’d be surprised how many of my true fans have stolen ebooks from me on pirate sites and thought nothing of it. I’ve received some apologies by email, so I know this happens.

I know that online social media makes it seem like we all need to be personally connected all the time, but the truth is, it’s the stories that matter. You read to escape everyday life. Being online constantly with thousands of readers doesn’t leave a whole lot of stress-free time for writing or just living. I love being online with my readers, but I’ve had to learn how to temper that with time for family and time for writing too. So if your favorite author isn’t always available to you, please don’t punish her for that. We’re people too, with families, with responsibilities to those people and others, and we have a full time job trying to create, from nothing, new worlds filled with interesting people with exciting lives.

A RACE TO THE BOTTOM

Last, I’m going to send out a dire warning to the entire book-reading community. I hope I’m wrong about all of this, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’ve been an indie author for almost 3 years now, with several bestsellers and lots of time spent studying the numbers. I see lots of changes coming very fast that I think will end up hurting us all, writers and readers alike.

Amazon, a company I love to work with and respect very highly, has engaged in a race to the bottom of ebook pricing with several other online retailers and subscription service providers. As a result of their campaign to offer the lowest prices anywhere, the average price of books has gradually gone lower and lower, to the point now that many readers expect all books to be 99¢ or free.

Is this good for readers? On the surface, sure. It’s awesome. You can now buy ten books instead of just one. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, let me tell you…

Have you noticed that the quality of the books has gone down while the quantity has gone up? Because I sure have. And I’ll tell you why I think that’s happening, and why it’s happening at a very accelerated pace right now:

Amazon has this new deal, where if an author joins their subscription service with a 99¢ book, and someone who subscribes to that service downloads that book, the author will earn $2.00 in royalties.

Say whaaaat?  Yes, it’s true. You’ll have to ask the number-crunchers how this equates into a good idea financially for Amazon (who incidentally sells a lot more than just books, so if you save money on books, I guess you have more money to buy other products from Amazon, right? — so they don’t necessarily lose out) but for now, let’s just forget their profitability. Let’s look at the authors involved.

If you’re a writer of quality material, you’re generally not writing 99¢ books, unless they’re just serials or short-stories or on a special promotion (like first book in a series, or temporary sale to increase readership). A good writer can get $4.99 or more for her work without too much trouble, and that’s a fair price: $4.99 for many hours of entertainment is way cheaper than a 2-hour movie.

But a writer who can’t write well or who is happy writing little short stories can churn out all kinds of stuff at 99¢ and then make a killing with this new Amazon deal. All they need is a download, not even a full reading of the book!

Did you know that great authors, people with thousands of genuine 5-star reviews, are talking about taking full novels and breaking them up into pieces and selling them at 99¢ per piece so they can continue to earn a fair royalty? Yeah. That’s how bad it’s gotten. Authors who want to continue to be authors have to be survivors too. When Amazon does something like this, we have to adapt, and unfortunately, everyone loses (everyone but Amazon, actually).

So what kind of material are YOU seeing online? Have you seen quality go down and quantity go up? Do you find it harder and harder to find books you like? If you answered YES, well, you’re not alone. That’s all about the race to the bottom.

Think about it: If you pay 99¢ or less for a book and it sucks, you don’t get too bent out of shape over it. You move on. But if you pay $4.99 for a book and it sucks, well, you definitely have something to say about that. So when books are priced higher, writers have to respond by either upping their game and writing quality material or stopping writing altogether. Bad writing at $4.99 is not a sustainable model. Bad writing at 99¢ is. We’re seeing that now, thanks to Amazon.

So I’m asking you this: which is better for the readers? A glut of crappy books that may or may not be worth what you pay for them, or a system of pay that rewards good writing and punishes bad writing?

I’m no finance wizard, but I AM a voracious reader, and I can tell you right now I’d rather spend $5 on one awesome book than 99¢, 5 times on 5 crappy books that pay some not-so-talented writers $10. Call me crazy.

I’m going to (finally) finish this piece by saying that I LOVE AMAZON. Without Amazon, I wouldn’t be living as a writer. Amazon has changed not only my life but the book-reading experience forever, and mostly in a very good way. And the people who work there are always coming up with new things to improve the customer experience. Sometimes they get it really right, and sometimes they get it really wrong, but at least they’re trying.

But, it’s important to remember that Amazon is not a person; it’s a business — a business struggling to remain profitable. Amazon knows that to be the #1 online retailer, it needs sales. Sales of ANYTHING, not just books. So if books become a loss-leader for them, where they basically give them away for free or it costs them money to “sell” them, but consumers spend more time on the site and buy more things, they’ll do that. I think this race to the bottom is a very short-sighted plan, causing good writers to disappear, but hey, like I said, I’m no finance wiz. All I know is that as my income drops, I have to come up with a plan for myself and my readers that will keep me writing and them buying my books.

Writing Software : A How-To Video

I use this software called Scrivener to write with. It’s kind of complicated to learn, so I put together a video for my writer friends showing how I go through and set it up to write and compile the book for the Kindle format. Share this post if you have writer friends, please. :)

http://youtu.be/Mec7TH3dVgA

Starbucks and Books

I’ve been writing this romantic serial novel called Just One Night (purchase links below if you’re interested). I’ve gotten a ton of great feedback, and really the only negative feedback I’ve gotten has been about the potential future cost.

As serial novels become more popular, we’ll see more and more of this conversation, I’m sure. I’ve touched on the pricing issue before in a long blog post HERE, but I thought this was worth a mention one more time, from a slightly different perspective.

I price my books according to page length, for the most part. I rarely offer promotions or sales on my books because they are so fairly priced as it is. With the romantic serial parts, so far they’ve been 99¢ because they’re about 100 pages long. I’ve had some readers suggest that if I charge more than 99¢ they will not buy those parts. I’ve also had some readers say that if I have too many parts in the serial, they won’t keep buying.

Here is my official response to those comments:

COMPARISONS

FANCY STARBUCKS COFFEE

ELLE CASEY ROMANTIC SERIAL

  How much does it cost?   $3.50-$5.00   99¢ – $2.99 depending on length
  How long can you enjoy it?   10 minutes unless you don’t mind cold coffee   1-3 hours
  How many times can you enjoy it?   Once   As many times as you want
  Does it make you laugh?   Nope   Yes
  Does it make you cry?   Not unless it’s too hot   Maybe
  Does it make you get tingley?   Not unless someone roofied it   Definitely

I think you see where I’m going with this.

The point is, before you as a reader decide out of hand that you’re not going to pay for something, think about what it is you’re actually saying. If an author prices by the page count, you cannot get ripped off. You will pay for exactly what you get.

I realize some authors out there are charging $2.99 for a 75 page book. That’s not something I’m doing, but is it wrong to do it? No, of course not. They’ve assigned that value to their work, and readers who agree with the value will pay it. And since these books are on the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists, I have to believe there are a TON of readers out there who agree.

Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll increase my prices. But for today, this is where I stand on the matter, and I hope the vast majority of the readers out there will agree that my work is worth at least a little bit more than a cup of coffee (even though I’ve priced it significantly less than one.)

PURCHASE LINKS

PART ONE

US: http://amzn.to/1fOqwF8
UK: http://amzn.to/1crXxT8
Canada: http://amzn.to/1fOra5A
Germany: http://amzn.to/OJXFIo
France: http://amzn.to/1lpikyR
Italy: http://amzn.to/1cfC7xU
Spain: http://amzn.to/1fw8Lpt

KOBO: http://bit.ly/1kSst76

BARNES AND NOBLE: http://bit.ly/1g0aO6d

My obituary

A story mostly unrelated to books but hopefully inspirational …

Last time I was at my mom’s house, I was going through old boxes of things that had to either be thrown out or kept, depending on their worth to me after having been stored for 3 years. I ran across some surprising things, but none more so than my obituary.

At some point in my late 20s, early 30s, when I was a struggling single mom trying to figure out where my life was going, I wrote out my obituary to try and ‘design’ who I would be when I died (hoping, of course, that I’d have plenty of time to get there.) I think it might have been part of a self-help book’s exercises or just something I thought that would help me clarify my vision for myself.

Anyway, I was happily surprised upon reading it to find that at age 45, I have become that person I wanted to be back then. I could literally die today and that obituary being read wouldn’t make anyone scratch their heads in confusion. I’m really proud of that.

And now I know in order to stave off the Fates from taking me earlier than I want to go, I must write another obit for the new and improved me!

What new heights shall I reach for this time? I know that continuing to help others while reaching for my own dreams shall be top on the list. I’m excited about the other prospects as well. Now that I know it is possible to design my own dream life and then live it, I realize: the sky’s the only limit. And then, maybe it’s not my limit. Maybe there’s more.

Anyway, I highly recommend you take the time to write your obituary today. I strongly believe that you become what you think about most of the time, and also that you strive towards the goals and dreams you have for yourself even subconsciously, as long as those goals are clear.

Write ‘em down, y’all. Make it happen.

Oh, and happy Monday.

You have been TRICKED in the bookstore by publishers

I had a reader-fan write me and ask me for advice about formatting her paperback book that she just wrote. She’s moving from reading to writing. Yay! Her questions led me to write this post.

As a reader, I used to walk into the bookstore, head over to the section that housed the books I like to read, and search for the biggest, fattest one they had. Why? Because I loooove to read, and I especially love to extend the experience out as much as possible. That also meant I’d search for series. If it was a series full of fat books, more’s the better. Auto-buy.

When it came time to format my own books for paperback, I came at the project from a different perspective: I wanted to make my book as affordable for readers as possible. That means fewer pages is better since a printer charges me by the page (and hence, the reader pays by the page). To get fewer pages, it’s very easy; you simply make the font smaller, use a font that’s more compact, use smaller margins, smaller line spacing, and a bigger book footprint (9×6 instead of 8×5). I took an 89,000 word book and printed it out in just under 200 pages.

And then something weird happened.

Readers complained.  They complained that the book was too short.  I tried to explain that it wasn’t short, it was just small, but they didn’t agree. They didn’t listen to my discussion of word count and a comparison of my book’s word count and the word count of a bigger, fatter book on the same shelf in the bookstore.

Confused and frustrated, I conducted an informal poll on my Facebook page. I asked my readers this question: Would you pay more for a book that was fatter, knowing it had the same word count as a book that was thinner or smaller? I explained the conundrum of an author/publisher who was trying to make her books more affordable, so they would understand the issue.

You know what they said? Every single person responded that they’d happily pay more for a bigger book, even while knowing it wasn’t any longer word-wise than another book. Many said they would feel like they were getting more for their money, even while admitting it made no rational sense.

I also took a stroll over to my bookshelf and pulled off a few titles that are in the same genre as the book I had just published. I was shocked and appalled at what I found in there. Huge fonts, massive line spacing and margins so big I could have taken classroom notes in them. No wonder I read these books so quickly!  They weren’t nearly as “big” as I thought they were when I bought them. All this wasted space that should have had words in them was just empty. I paid for that emptiness, when all along I thought I was paying for words.

Did you know that Amazon puts “actual page count” on the ebook when there is a paperback of the same book? They use the paperback page count to show readers what they’re buying.  In essence, just by tweaking the formatting of my paperback, I can have an ebook that says 350 actual pages or I can have an ebook that says 195 actual pages, even though it’s the exact same book. Which one would you buy?

I wanted to fight the system, but I couldn’t. Readers told me what they wanted, and even though my heart was in the right place before, I had to give them what they were asking for now. I also know that if I decided to become a one-woman crusade against selling empty space to readers, that I would get punished for it. People who didn’t realize what I was trying to do would proclaim me the ripoff author who charges way too much money for books that are tiny.

I went back in a re-formatted my paperback to increase the page count by about 125 pages. I made the margins smaller, the line spacing bigger, the font bigger. I caved to the pressure from the publishing industry and raised the price of my book to cover the cost of the additional pages. Lo and behold, the readers stopped complaining about it being short. And I sold more of them.

I guess you could say that I’m outing myself on this blog post, but I’ve already done that on my Facebook page. It frustrates me that I feel like I’ve been forced into making readers pay more. I also posted this because I wanted you readers to know that you should NOT trust page counts given by Amazon or publishers. You should not trust the width of the spine of your book.  The only real measure of a book’s length is the word count, and even then you have to know whether the word count includes the front and back matter and any sample chapters of other books included. That could add thousands of words to the length and it wouldn’t really be the story they were measuring.

I believe that all authors should include the word count of their manuscript in the description so readers really know what they’re buying. I’ve already done this for several of my books, but I will be doing it for all my books in the future.  We could change this practice in publishing, people. Speak out! Tell authors and publishers what you want!  If you need some inspiration, go take a look at what’s on your bookshelf. Compare the fonts and the margins and see how much empty space you’ve purchased in your reader lifetime.  Oh, and try not to think about how many other books you could have purchased with all that extra money. :)

You know you’re an online bully when …

I was thinking about the online bullying of authors, after reading the article about Anne Rice and the bullying she experienced (she is not alone – lots of us have suffered from this sickening trend), and it struck me how strange it is that a person who might be perfectly nice in public can become a menacing troll online, under the cover of anonymity. There’s a petition directed at Amazon here, by the way, if you want to sign it. I did.

Impulse control

Online bullying is an impulsive behavior. When I’ve seen it happen and the comments start piling up, it’s almost inevitable that the original poster removes the original post and sometimes they end up deleting entire websites and online profiles as the fallout comes crashing down and it spirals out of control. People start or enter conversations without stopping to think. They let their fingers fly and allow passion to take charge. They get all riled up and start saying the craziest things. We don’t do this in polite company. When we’re upset with someone, we pause for a moment to reflect: should I say that or not? This is why I believe not permitting anonymous posting on Amazon reviews and Amazon forums would stop this behavior. When people know that what they say will be assigned to their names, they pause to reflect and act like they would if they were standing in front of you.

Could it be that they just don’t realize?

Anyway, as my mind was wandering like it often does, I started thinking … what exactly is an online bully or a troll? What are the behaviors one might assign this moniker to? As I came up with a list of things I’ve seen and experienced as an author, I realized that it’s very possible some people might act as bullies while not realizing that’s what they’re doing.  And then I was thinking that maybe those people would stop, or at least pause and consider their actions before taking them, if they had a list of bullying behaviors to which they could compare their own.  With that in mind, I’ve created this Jeff-Foxworthy-inspired post.

You know you’re an online bully when …

    1. You’re not a forum moderator, but you go to the forums and “police” them anyway, scolding, lecturing, or taking action against other posters when they do things that don’t follow your rules of proper behavior.
    2. You see a message from someone online discussing an author’s poor behavior, and then seek out that author online and say negative things to or about her, like a judge meting out a form of punishment. And/or you incite others to join the fray.  The overriding thought here is: “We need to teach that author a lesson.”
    3. You write a negative book review for a book you haven’t read.
    4. You write a book review that includes negative personal judgments about the author.
    5. You do anything online with this thought providing the impetus: “Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll show her…” or “I’m going to teach this person a lesson…”
    6. You down-vote positive reviews for any reason other than it was not helpful to your buying decision. e.g. You use down-voting to manipulate an author’s ranking as a form of punishment or retribution.
    7. You threaten physical violence to an author.
    8. You threaten to harm the reputation, career, sales, or income of a writer.
    9. You accuse an author of buying reviews or gaming the system when you have no actual proof and only suppositions based on detective work that consists of reading reviews and finding them suspicious.

I’ve probably missed a few, but these are the ones that I’ve seen and/or experienced. If I think of any others, I’ll add them later; or you can comment below if you think of some I forgot.

 

 

Money grubbing authors? Readers, before you paint, make sure you have the right brush.

I received an email from a ‘devoted fan’ who was dismayed to find that I’ve started writing a romantic serial novel. You can find Part 1 of Just One Night here. She accused me of being another one of those “money-grubbing authors” who rip off their readers.

Wow. Can I just say that again? Wow. I’ve never been called a money grubber before and I can tell you this right now: I don’t like it.

I’ve seen a lot of press about a certain author who shall remain nameless, who writes this type of fiction and charges $2.99 per episode or part. These books are bestsellers, which means this author and her work are very popular with lots of readers. But there is a very vocal minority who is speaking out all over the place (reviews, blogs, Facebook, messages to me) about how this is a horrible practice, and as a result, all authors who write serialized fiction are being painted with the same brush. We are all, apparently, money grubbing wankers.

The only thing I’m going to say about this author or any other charging $2.99 per episode is this: if you don’t think the value is there for your money, don’t buy the book! No one is forcing readers to buy these books, right? On top of that, no reader has the right to decide for other readers what they should or shouldn’t spend for books, so getting angry at people who do buy them is completely out of line. Yes, share your thoughts. No, do not attack other people. Do you cry foul and launch verbal missiles at publishers charging $10 or more for an ebook? No, most people don’t. They just either buy the book or not. I’ve seen some pretty nasty messages to this indie author online, though, and I just don’t understand that. Why attack someone over their pricing? People can charge whatever they want. Vote with your dollars, readers. Being angry and nasty isn’t going to help anyone; it just makes your day suck.

Should you be a reader of serialized romance? It all boils down to value for me, as I believe it should for anyone spending money on any product.  Ask yourself how much entertainment you get out of that thing you bought and how much you spent, and decide if you could have spent that money elsewhere and been more entertained. If the answer is yes, then don’t buy another. If the answer is no, then buy the next one. It’s that simple.

Now, since I’ve asked not to be painted with the brush used on other authors, I’m going to show you why it makes sense that you judge me by my work and my actions alone.  What follows is the email I sent back to my ‘devoted fan’.

Here’s the deal:

1.  Serialized fiction is not new. It began in the 17th century. Many classics were written this way … Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alexandre Dumas, and many many other authors used this form to publish their work. It fell out of favor with the advent of high speed presses, cheaper books vs, income per capita, and then the internet later, but still there are some modern-day authors who’ve done it, Stephen King being one of them.

Sometimes “old-fashioned” things are really cool and shouldn’t disappear. Part of the joy of being an indie author is the ability to write in whatever format you want instead of the format publishers want (you know, those same outfits that charge over $10 for an ebook).  Right now there’s a movement in several genres to bring this back, and it’s not because of the money for many of us. Yes, there is at least one author out there who is doing it in a way that suggests it is about the money, but to paint the rest of the authors on the planet with a brush suited to one author would be unfair, don’t you think? And like I mentioned above, many people find good value in these serials, which is why they’re bestsellers.

2.  Serialized fiction the way I’m doing it — I hope and believe — will make the reading experience more fun for the readers because they have the opportunity to share their thoughts with me as the serials continue, for the first time putting readers in the position to be able to guide the characters and story arc to some degree.

This story, JUST ONE NIGHT, is not already written. I haven’t even started part 2. I’m waiting for readers to comment on the website link I provide inside the book about Part 1 so I can take their thoughts, wishes, and desires into consideration as I write the second episode. Show me one other author actively doing that out there.  I’m the first I know of, and I don’t do it to make my job easier. It makes it harder!  … But more fun.  I believe after I do this successfully, other authors will join in and you’ll start seeing more of what I call “crowd-sourced fiction”. Have you ever read a book that you wish the author had written differently? Gotten upset because an important detail was overlooked?  Well, this is your chance to make it right.

3.  I put out a lot of material. It can be a monotonous job to some degree if I don’t change things up now and again. That’s why I change genres frequently. It’s also why I do co-authored projects. It’s also why I’ll join anthologies and write a couple short stories here and there. Writing in this serialized format helps me stretch my writer wings and stay motivated to keep putting out great material on a frequent basis.  Would you rather I take long breaks and publish less frequently? Most of my readers would say NO to that.  I do what I can to keep my readers happy, because they support my family and me. It’s that simple.

4. Let’s do some basic math.  Is it really all about the money, as some readers assume?  Take a step back and think about this for a moment:

I’ve offered the first book for 99¢. It’s 100 pages (I’ve already formatted the paperback, so I know this) or 25,000 words. One of my full-length novels is about 85,000 or so, and I charge $5 for that.  So for 30% of the book, you’re paying 20% of the price.

My royalties on a 99¢ sale is 35¢.  On a $5 book it’s 70% or $3.50.  Anything under $2.99 has 1/2 the royalty rate (which is why you see authors often charging this $2.99 amount.)

Let’s say I charge 99¢ for Book 2 also, $1.99 for Books 3 and 4 and $2.99 for Books 5 and 6 (this is not necessarily my plan, but it’s good for illustrative purposes.)  In total, for 150,000-word story (about 600 paper pages – a monstrous romance novel), you’ll pay $12.00.

How many hours do you think it will take you to read a 600 page novel? Now divide that by 12. That’s how much you’re paying for the entertainment I provide. My royalty in this split scheme would be $6.27, but if I charged $12.00 outright, I’d make $8.40.

So essentially, writing serialized fiction, I do more work (working with readers to make a better product) for less money.  Add on top of all this that I have to pay for cover art, editing, website changes, and all the other expenses that come with publishing a single part of this serial, and you’ll see that it’s not just about the money.  It’s about a lot of hard work and dedication to the process and to the fans.

Judge ME by MY actions.

In the end, you’re going to make your decision about me as a writer and me as a person, and use that opinion to decide whether my work is worth spending your hard-earned money on. I would like to think that you’ll look at ME for that and what I DO, and not what another author might be doing.

The bottom line is this: if you like my work and you look forward to reading what I write, then buy my books. Invest in me. If you don’t, if you feel as though I charge too much for my work, don’t invest in me. Invest in someone else who gives you a better value for your buck.  I believe that my work is worth what I charge, and that I could actually charge more and still have a very big following. But I try to keep my prices affordable for the vast majority of readers because I know what it’s like to spend a lot of money on books. I’ve done it all my life. Making an income as a writer makes it possible for me to keep being a writer. No one should expect me to apologize for earning a living at this.

If you got  this far in the message, gold star!  I hope this clears up any misinformation that might be floating around out there about my latest adventure, at least about me personally. Thanks to those readers who are willing to give this a shot. I’m having a ball so far and I really appreciate your feedback!

What I’m up to lately and some rambling / grumbling

Hello, readers. It’s been a while since I’ve posted any rambling thoughts, so I figured it was about time I go there again.  Weeee! Rambling thoughts!

I’m currently working on several projects. Number one is MacKenzie Fire, which is the sequel to romance Shine Not Burn that was published last summer. I expect this book to be finished sometime in March. I was originally shooting for February, but for reasons expressed below, it’s not going as quickly as I’d expected.  I’m also working on Mismatched, a romance I’m co-writing with author Amanda McKeon. If you like Irish guys and fun girlfriends, you’ll love this one! I’m also starting a romance serial that will be launching in February, title to be announced and cover to be revealed soon. I’ll be putting it out in parts, and the first couple will be available for 99¢ so you can try it and see if you like it for a low price. I like the idea of putting out a book in parts and using reader feedback to help build the next parts. Let’s hear it for crowd-sourced romance! Yay!

I’ve also been on a cover-making binge. Sometimes this happens to me, almost like a compulsion I can’t control. I come up with a very basic idea for a book and suddenly I find myself searching cover photo stock sites trying to find something that leaps out at me.  It’s possible this is writing-avoidance behavior, but at least it’s productive!  It’s very motivating to write a story when I have a cover sitting there on my desktop staring at me.

This week alone I made three different covers for different stories I have floating around in my head, and I just adore them! They turned out so well. [insert girly squeal here]  I was never trained to do any kind of art work, but I sure do love making book covers, especially when the concepts just sing for me like these did.

I know you probably want to see the covers now, and I really, really want to post them here for you, I swear!  But I can’t.  [sad face] Why? Well … sigh … because this really annoying thing has been happening lately, and I have to do what I can to stop it. Here comes some grumbling, y’all.  Grab a snack.

I posted a few of my covers really early before the books came out last year, and then suddenly noticed another author or two using the same title as my book or the same cover model with similar designs for their covers. Some of them published their books before me, and some after, but since I put the covers out so far in advance, I have to wonder if the earlier publishers copied or if it was just a coincidence. In any case, whether innocent or intentional, it was annoying.  I’m not the only one this has happened to.  It’s getting more and more frequent as new authors come in and some of them try to ride the coattails of those ahead of them.

Did these authors deliberately copy me?  Maybe not.  I’ll go so far as to say probably not. But I figured it was better off to be paranoid and wait before publishing my stuff too far in advance. I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this felt more like trickery. I’m always up for helping my fellow indie authors (or any author, really), but I’m not cool with people trying to trick Amazon’s system into bringing up other people’s books with mine by using same title or by them doing other things like putting my name in their keyword searches.

My reason for not wanting this stuff happening to my books is because I worry that my readers will be misled and then have a less-than-enjoyable reading experience with my name somehow associated with it. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I’m not the only one.  There are some grumblings amongst other authors about this kind of thing, especially those writing in the romance genre.  It seems like the more you hit the bestseller lists, the more people come after you and try to use your name to boost their sales.

That leads me to another subject that’s been on my mind.  Trolls.  You know those beasts who lie in wait under bridges and when you try to cross, they require you pay them some coinage?  I’m not talking about those trolls.  I’m talking about internet trolls.  They’re way worse.  I’d much rather deal with a beast I could pay a quarter to and then walk away from.  Internet trolls are mean little a-holes who stalk you relentlessly for the pure black-hearted joy of it, and unfortunately, I’ve had to put up with them for the last year way more than I ever did before.

What do internet trolls do to authors? They post fake 1- and 2-star reviews on our books so they can’t qualify for bestseller/highest rating lists at Amazon, thereby making our books less visible to potential readers. That hurts sales and income. They downvote good reviews which does the same thing. They accuse us of doing self-serving things when all we’re doing is trying to help people out or be kind. They post nasty comments on blogs and forums about us. They upload our work to pirate sites. The list goes on and on, but to say their impact is minimal is ignoring the facts. Trolls can destroy the writing careers and/or reputations of hard-working, talented authors.

The biggest toll the internet troll’s activities take on authors is not limited to financial stuff.  Trolls cause massive emotional damage to authors and their families. I can’t quite find the words to express how it makes me feel to work as hard as I do and then see petty minds working so hard at breaking me down. ‘Disheartening’ isn’t sufficient to cover all the emotions that I’ve dealt with lately over this issue. This affects my work and my life at home, which then means it affects my family and their happiness too.

It’s so easy to be a troll online. No one can see you, find you, or manage your behavior. An author can’t respond to attacks because then the trolls recruit other trolls to punish the author and it gets worse. People who would never say a nasty word to a person face-to-face become the most vicious, mean-spirited jerks you could ever imagine. Being nasty makes them feel powerful and in control, smarter, better, more well-read, more educated, and a thousand other things that are just illusions. It’s so very sad that they can’t see this, that they can’t see it just shows how petty they really are, attacking while in hiding. Trolls are cowards.

I have thousands of really amazing, dedicated, loyal fans – absolute angels. They send me messages and hang around my social media sites to stay in touch. They invest their time and money in my work.  They support me in every way imaginable, and they waaaay outnumber the trolls. People tell me I should just ignore the minority and focus on the majority.  It’s great advice and most of the time I can follow it.  But sometimes I can’t.  Sometimes the person in me who believes strongly in the tenant “Do no harm” cannot fathom the meanness it takes to be a troll, and it makes me terribly sad to know there are people out there like that coming after me. I’m a nice person! I help people out all the time. I’m a mom and a sister and a mother and a daughter.  I work hard to support my family.  I give to charity.  What the heck did I do wrong to attract this kind of attention?  I ask myself those questions and get no good answers. Then I find it hard to do anything, least of all the thing that lures the trolls in, which is writing and being visible online.

Does this mean I’ve stopped writing?  No, of course not.  I write every day.  But I will say that I’m more distracted when it comes to my writing. I’m taking a little bit longer to publish a book than I used to – 6 to 8 weeks instead of 4. I also don’t go to my favorite online writers’ forums and post helpful tips and stories for other authors. That hurts me the most, I think. I love helping others realize their dreams.  I love giving people the benefit of all my mistakes so they can get on the right path faster than I did. I’ve had people tell me I helped launch their new career, helped them become a full-time writer, inspired them to reach for their dreams.  Now all of that has been taken from me; or at least it sure feels that way. Talk about a downer.

I’m not the only one this has happened to. I’ve seen several authors who worked their way up the ladder just disappear. If you search hard enough, you can usually find a farewell post from them online, citing attacks and other very unhappy circumstances that forced them into seclusion.  I just find that terribly sad.  I don’t want that to happen to me, but I can see the beginnings of it. An author came after me when I told an online forum that I was going to stop posting, telling me I owed the writing world my advice regardless of the harm it caused me and that I should just suck it up for the good of the many instead of the good of the few (‘few’ meaning: me and my family).  I’m sorry, World, but I will never put the rest of you before my family.  It just ain’t gonna happen.

I don’t know how long this situation will continue for me or what will happen next.  All I do know is that I love to write, I adore my readers, and I don’t ever want to let them down or stop living the life I have right now. I have a dream that someday people who wake up in the morning with angry thoughts will eventually either change their attitudes or find another target, but I know that’s not realistic. In the meantime, I’ll lean on my support structure of readers, fellow writers, friends, and family, and I’ll keep doing what I do best and that’s tell stories.

An interview! Meet the girl behind AESTAS, an amazing romance book blog

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aestas-book-blog2

For those of you who don’t yet follow Aestas Book Blog on Facebook or her website, I highly encourage you to check her out. She is the most active romance book blogger I have ever seen.  She’s always on Facebook, reading, talking about books, sharing bargains and good reads, and hosting awesome giveaways.  She is one of the most indie-friendly bloggers out there, which makes her very near and dear to my heart.  She helped launch my career into romance writing and I’ll forever be grateful to her for that!

I was shocked out of my gourd when I realized that she’d never been interviewed by an author before.  When I sent the idea her way I was expecting a “no, I’m too busy” response.  Seriously, I’m pretty sure she never sleeps.  I see her Facebook feed going all day long and we live in different time zones!

She graciously agreed to let me interview her, though, so we all get to benefit.  Take a gander at her answers to my questions about blogging, reading, and where the romance market is headed…

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Hi Elle!!

First, thank you so much for having me here!

Hi, Girl-Behind-Aestas!  It’s my pleasure.  I’m so glad you agreed to be here with me and my readers. :)  I have about 100 questions for you, but I’ve cut them down to 10.  I’m afraid you can see by the ones I chose how much I struggled to limit myself.  So … let’s get started.

1.  I’ve read your bio on your webpage, so I know Aestas is not your “real” name. Care to share the meaning behind your choice of name?

About a year before I started my blog (or honestly even considered the remote possibility of blogging) I started a Goodreads account with the username “Aestas”. It was a name that had very special meaning to me. I was new to the online reading community and Goodreads seemed like an awesome way to get started and find new books. Over the course of that year, I built up a wonderful network of friends on there who all knew me as “Aestas” and called me that. So when I finally decided to start my blog, it just seemed natural to keep the name. And so…. Aestas Book Blog began :)

2.  You have one of the most popular romance book blogs/Facebook pages in the known universe with over 26,000 followers on Facebook (as of the time of this interview), and it grows bigger and more popular every day.  How long have you been blogging about books?  How did you grow your fan-base so quickly?

I’ve been blogging since April 2012. I didn’t really do anything in particular to grow numbers though so the growth has been entirely organic. I just love books, love reading, and almost as much as that, I love talking with other people about the books and sharing recommendations and such so the blog really gives a great platform to facilitate that and I’m really just lucky that there are so many other people out there who love chatting about the books they love as well.

3.  What got you started with your book blogging?  Was it something that just jumped out at you as an obvious thing to do for a bookworm or did someone push you in that direction or otherwise inspire you?

I honestly think it was the sheer volume of books. There were too many books to keep up with and I needed a way to organize everything. At the time I started it, I didn’t really think anyone would actually pay attention to my blog — I thought maybe a couple friends might check in every now and again but I never dreamed it would actually become something that people visited regularly. But my husband actually sort of nudged me in the blogging direction originally. He’d been suggesting I start one for a while and I guess the timing of everything just worked out here.

4.  You’re active on your Facebook page all throughout the day, seven days a week.  When do you sleep?  Do you have a family?  Another job aside from blogging?

Haha! Sleep?? I’m not sure I remember what that is! In all honesty, I don’t sleep much. I’m constantly thinking of just one more thing I need to do, or just one more book I need to finish, that sleep just doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I’m married to my high school sweetheart who thankfully is extraordinarily supportive and understanding of my crazy reading addiction. He’s even written a few guest reviews for the blog! I also do have a job aside from blogging too so I’m on the go and traveling a lot — which all feeds into me not sleeping very much, lol. My phone and iPad are pretty much glued to my side at all times ;)

5.  You have some guidelines that you ask authors to follow when submitting a book for review by you.  Tell us about those and how they came to be.

I’ve had many authors chuckle through my review request questions. I guess they came about because there are a lot of books out there and I needed to find a way to make sure that I was finding the ones that I would be most likely to love. At the end of the day, each reader is different — one person’s favorite book might be one that another person can’t finish. But that’s a huge part of the beauty of reading — we can all find something that we like. The trick is actually finding it. Personally, I don’t like to ever go into books blind. While I keep my reviews spoiler-free, I do actually like to know certain things about a book in advance of reading — and these things often will tell me how likely I am to love a book. This is the reason why most of my ratings are quite high — not because I just hand out high ratings, but more because I just do a lot of research before starting.

I think the tricky thing though is to be aware of the fact that those answers can’t be the only thing I base my decision on. A lot of it is just my ‘feeling’ toward the idea of that story.  Several of my favorite books have stepped outside of my regular ‘happy’ zone and I’ve still loved them. So there are always exceptions to the rules. But in general, my questions are extraordinarily helpful to give me a feel for the story I’m considering reading.

6.  What do you see as the newest trends in romance writing?

Everything and anything. The romance world is been growing so fast that the possibilities are endless. We’ve got billionaires, Doms, rock stars, bikers, the guy next door, the unlikely underdog hero, the uber Alpha males, bad boys, military guys… you name it, it’s available. Literally every day, new books of every type are being released in each romance sub-genre and so it’s pretty much guaranteed that everyone will be able to find something that they’ll love.

It might sound weird, but I don’t want there to be any clear trends. The books that I love most and that I spend all my time searching for are the ‘different’ ones — the ones that stand out to me and make me go ‘wow, I have never read anything like this before’. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there will always be a measure of similarity between them since they’re all romance but personally I look for books that either put their own spin on a popular trend or even step outside of the trends entirely and show me something I’ve never seen before.

7.  Do you have any thoughts about where the romance genre is going or should go?  What would you like to see more of and less of?

You know… it’s funny, I’ve been sitting here thinking about this for the last few minutes and honestly for me, I just want to see good writing and good stories. I love how with all the books that have come out in the last several years, the selection of stories to choose from is nearly endless and new books are being released each and every day. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, and I hope they just keep more and more books coming. It’s pretty much bookworm heaven to be honest. I feel like a kid in a candy store with all these choices.
Personally, I have to say that my favorite types of stories are either standalone novels with resolved endings, OR (and I love these equally) series of books withOUT relationship cliffhangers. I want to read a complete story — either that or a part of a completed story that leaves me in a good place. Honestly, with the volume of books out there, it messes with my mind too much to be left hanging in the middle of a zillion series with unfinished stories waiting for sequels. I mean, there are always exceptions, but I generally do prefer resolved endings.

8.  What’s your favorite part of being a blogger?

Without a doubt, it’s chatting with the readers who participate in the discussions. I love how we all share recommendations and share an enthusiasm for the same kinds of books. It’s so wonderful!! I also love the thrill of finding these brand new books that literally no one has heard about — it’s like treasure hunting! Also, connecting with all the talented authors of these beautiful books I’m reading — they’re all so kind and sweet and it’s exciting to work with them and publishers too to help bring more exposure to the books I love.

9.  You have people suggesting books to you every single day of the year, sometimes many in a day.  How do you keep up?  How do you decide which books will be read and which won’t?  How many books do you read in a month?  Tell us what you consider the perfect romance novel.

I go entirely based on my mood. I never schedule my reads and I don’t usually commit to deadlines for review. This allows me complete freedom to genuinely choose the absolute best book for me in the moment. In the end it’s better for everyone this way because chance are a lot higher that I’ll love it if it’s a book I want to read as opposed to a book I have to read. There are a lot of books though and I guess it can be overwhelming if you think of them as a whole. But I think the best any of us can do is just go through our reading lists one book at a time and enjoy each one to it’s fullest as we go :)

The book I end up reading is almost always a last minute decision. My friends often joke to me when I tell them what book I’ve decided to read that “Yeah, yeah, I believe it after you’ve started”. But I very rarely will fully reject a book unless it has things that I know I’ll hate in it. I’ve had times when a book didn’t interest me at the time I heard about it but then randomly a month or two later, it caught my eye. So I don’t like to say ‘no’ per se. I have a “top TBR” of about 25 rotating books but I mean, a brand new one is almost always popping up and, if it really catches my eye, it can often jump to the top of the pile, and then sometimes I’ll go back and pick one that I’ve had on my list forever. Honestly, there’s no system. In the end, it’s all about my mood and what book I find best suits it.

Interestingly, I used to read a lot more before I started blogging. I find that blogging slows me down in many ways because I post updates as I read, I have to make graphics to go with each review, and also even writing the reviews takes a while, so I used to read about 5-6 books a week but now it’s probably less.

My perfect romance novel? … oh gosh, that depends on a lot of things and there’s such a wide variety of them that I love. I think the tagline of my blog says it best: “Books that make my heart race, have a beautiful love story, and a happy ending.”

10.  How do you feel about movie adaptations of popular romance novels?  Are there any you’re looking forward to?  Do you have some favorites we can go rent on iTunes or Netflix?

I love that they’re happening!! I mean, I have the same fears and reservations as anyone else but I’m willing to reserve final judgement until I see the finished product and until then, I just love watching the process of them getting made. Right now, I’m most looking forward to Fifty Shades (movie) and Outlander (TV) but I know that several other of my favorite books and series have gotten deals so we have a lot to look forward to in the next few years. I’m excited for all of them!

I have to say though that a few years ago, I used to literally see tons of movies and watch many TV shows, but honestly since I started blogging I’ve barely watched one movie a month and really haven’t kept up to date on any shows so I don’t really have any movie recommendations for now. Hahaha, but ask me for a book recommendation and I can give you hundreds!! :D

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Aestas

Aestas Book Blog

Follow Aestas in these places:

Aestas Book Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

Come meet me in Florida!

Next Tuesday, December 10th, at 5:00pm I’ll be signing books and talking about my publishing journey at the North Palm Beach Public Library on Anchorage Drive.  I’d love to meet you!

If this isn’t enough to tempt you to make the trip, let me just add that a very special guest might be making an appearance, and if you don’t come and this person does show up, you’re going to kick yourself in the pants for not coming.  :)

Hope to see you there!!

xoxo

Elle